Big week here at 007(x3) Weeks of 007. The Roger Moore days are behind us. We have passed the two men who played the character the longer and the one who played it the least. The brief Timothy Dalton era is here.
One of the amazing things to me about getting this far in the rewatch is just how much is left. Oh, we’re certainly more than halfway at this point, but with Dalton’s two and Brosnan’s four and Craig’s three (soon to be four), there’s still a whole lot of Bond to come, nearly 30 years of Bond actually. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at 1987’s “The Living Daylights.”
It is, as we have seen before, a definite attempt to reinvent the character. The movie strips away a lot of what came with the previous actor and starts building Bond back up from a sort of base model.
As people regularly note with Dalton, he’s a much more serious, much more gruff 007 than Moore. The latter’s time in the role, as we’ve noted, is marked by some truly over-the-top foolish moments. But Dalton is not against giving one-liners, in fact he does so here on more than one occasion (lines like “he got the boot” referring to Necros’ departure from the plane holding Bond’s boot). He also admits to being wrong (not wanting to go back for the cello), which we really haven’t seen all that much of. There’s even some slightly odd humor in the movie, most notably during the car chase when Bond ends up in the Aston Martin in the shed out on the ice and when he tells Kara Milovy to wave the passports at the border as they sled through on the cello case. “We have nothing to declare,” he notes, with her adding “except a cello.” Great moment in the franchise, just great.
But, yes, fine, Dalton’s Bond is far more serious than Moore, he’s far less involved with gadgets in “The Living Daylights,” and there are fewer women involved. New era, new Bond as evidenced early on by his gruff “Bond. James Bond” to the nice woman on the yacht in the Mediterranean. Again here though I’d like to point out that as soon as that happens and he calls in to base, he quickly ups the time he’ll report in from one hour to two because the nice woman handed him a glass of champagne. Gruff? Sure, but he’s still James Bond.
The person who is not themselves this time is Moneypenny. This is the first time we get a Moneypenny not portrayed by Lois Maxwell. Instead, it’s Caroline Bliss who will only play the role during the Dalton era. One wonders if she would have gone on to do more Bond movies if Dalton had as well, and if the Pierce Brosnan reset did her in.
Truly interesting though about Bliss as Moneypenny is that while she’s in a couple of scenes in the film, both are down in Q Branch. She is Moneypenny and therefore presumably still M’s secretary, but we don’t see her with M. In fact, if one hadn’t seen a Bond movie before one might think she worked for Q. This has to be a desire to redefine the character, to not have her too associated with Maxwell. Does it work? Yes, it’s fine, but it isn’t the same as the repartee outside M’s office.
Also of note here is Bond’s introduction. It is actually quite similar to the way Brosnan will be introduced in “GoldenEye.” “The Living Daylights” doesn’t offer Dalton’s face at first, he’s just one of the Double-0 agents in a group of Double-0s. Bond could be anyone. Now, when it’s Brosnan’s turn, he’s not standing there with a group of agents, but we get the same sort of shots of him from behind or too far to see his face until, finally, he is revealed. It almost feels as though the producers are really arguing that the man the part doesn’t matter, it’s the character.
For several weeks, I wrote about how the Bond girl in many a Moore movie was not the sort of helpless woman that is often thought of as the traditional Bond girl seen in the franchise. It is therefore incumbent upon me to point out that Maryam d’Abo’s Kara Milovy has a tendency to exhibit all the worst sorts of traits of the traditional Bond girl. She screams, she doesn’t follow Bond’s instructions, she does foolish things, she is duped by bad guys. She is, in short, the sort of helpless damsel in distress that the franchise ought to have moved past by now – did move past during the Moore era.
Is this representative then of what the producers feel like they need to do when resetting the Bond character? Or, rather, what they felt like they needed to do then when resetting the character? I don’t want to get ahead of myself again with Brosnan, but they’ll do it differently in 1995. Here, Kara Milovy is a misfire. A terrible misfire, but stay tuned for next week as we see what “Licence to Kill” has to offer.
No Bond movie is complete without a villain and “The Living Daylights” gives us two, neither memorable. First there’s General Georgi Koskov, Jeroen Krabbe’s would-be defector and more buffoon than evil. Then there’s Joe Don Baker’s evil arms merchant, Brad Whitaker. If he’s at all memorable it’s because Joe Don Baker comes back for a couple of Brosnan outings as a Jack Wade which might cause people to say, “Wait, didn’t the last Bond kill you?”
There is with “The Living Daylights,” as we have sometimes gotten in the past, no world domination plot, no truly massive threat to our existence. Sure, early on we get the whole Smiert Spionam thing and the alleged setting East against West bit, but that drops out pretty quickly and it’s never entirely clear what Whitaker and Koskov think they might get from it. And, while Smiert Spionam may be recognizable to fans of the Fleming novels, they don’t really get into SMERSH at all, and it isn’t even SMERSH doing anything. This movie is about making money off a drug buy and little else.
In the end, “The Living Daylights” is fine as an introduction to the Dalton era, brief though it may be. I don’t think they do a great job with either villain or Bond girl, but love Dalton’s take on the character. I constantly wonder though how different it really is from Connery. That is to say, if Moore hadn’t portrayed the character as he did for as long as he did, would the Dalton films seem so radically different? I’m betting they wouldn’t.
So, there it is, the first Dalton movie. Next week we get the last Dalton movie as Bond says a farewell to arms. Yes, next week 007(x3) Weeks of 007 will return with “Licence to Kill.”
photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment