Has enough time passed that we can finally give Timothy Dalton his role as James Bond?
While the Ian Fleming-created franchise, one of cinema’s oldest, is currently in hibernation, and the search for The Next 007 is currently underway, I’d like fans to take another look at the fourth actor to play James Obligation.
(Well, the fifth, if you count Barry Nelson in the 1954 “Casino Royale” TV movie).
John Glen’s “The Living Daylights” (1987) was Dalton’s first vehicle as Bond, after Roger Moore walked away from the underappreciated but hugely popular “A View to a Kill” (1985) and the icon of the Sean Connery series has embarked on the third hugely successful act of his long film career.
Dalton was a respected but unknown film and stage actor (his appearance in the 1980 cult classic “Flash Gordon” was arguably his best-known turn before 007).
Once Dalton left the role in 1989 and the Pierce Brosnan era began, it gave fans a chance to complain about the “dark and brooding” quality that Dalton brought. The actor still appears on franchise least-loved lists for playing Bond.
For long-time Fleming fans and anyone who really enjoyed Dalton’s two 007 vehicles, it’s time to consider Dalton belongs in Bond’s best company… if not top spot. Before you get shaken and stirred, maybe it’s time to revisit Dalton’s excellent trick in “The Living Daylights.”
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In the grand opening of the pre-title, Dalton’s Bond takes part in a NATO training exercise infiltrated by Russians. Not for the first time during the sequence, Bond falls from above and enters the frame like a cut Icaurus, landing on top of a luxury yacht, where a woman states into an old cell phone,
“Everything is so boring here in Morocco… nothing but playboys and tennis pros… if only I could find a real man.”
Yet when Bond shows up, he seems amused instead of aroused by the sex (unlike his predecessor Roger Moore, who played the character as an insatiable horn dog).
It begins in Czechoslovakia, as this Soviet-era Bond is tasked with rescuing General Koskov, played by Jeroen Krabbe. Bond then meets Kara d’Olivia D’Abo, a KGB assassin and cellist. Bond poses as Koskov’s friend, in order to get information from Kara about him.
It reminds me of when I saw this at the theater with my parents and I turned to my mother and asked, “Why does James Bond kiss the bad guy?” My mother’s response – “We don’t know, we’re trying to figure that out.” There is also a fake defector. The plot is really confusing.
FAST FACT: “The Living Daylights” made $51 million at the US box office. Its predecessor, Roger Moore’s “A View to a Kill,” grossed $50 million.
Villains are silly, with Krabbe (who has shone much more before and since) as Koskov and joined by Necros, a Simon of Bond lookalike who often strangles his opponents to death with a Walkman helmet, played by the actor Andreas Wisniewski.
John Rhys Davies has a great fake death scene and D’Abo plays Kara as the damsel in distress that so many “Bond girls” of that era were, as the show’s strong female characters wouldn’t arrive until the 1990s. D’Abo’s last line and closest to the movie is Kara exclaiming, “Oh, James!”
This is a transitional Bond film, as veteran director Glen, franchise composer John Barry and MVP actor Bernard Lee (as M) and Desmond Llewelyn (as Q) are still available. We meet the new Moneypenny, played by Caroline Bliss (replacing Lois Maxwell), who fails to woo Bond with her Barry Manilow collection (I’m not kidding).
We briefly ran with Felix Leiter, played by one, and did John Terry.
The stunts are doubly awesome for being CGI-free and so visibly dangerous. Yes, it’s real fire in a sequence, something you don’t see in movies anymore. Interestingly, Dalton and Pierce Brosnan’s introductory moments have them falling to Earth from above, like gods falling to Earth, symbolizing the actor’s career ascents.
Barry’s drum machine-enhanced orchestral score works, as does A-Ha’s cool title track (though it doesn’t live up to the MTV-injected highs of Duran Duran’s “A View to a Kill.” ). Maurice Binder’s cool title sequence, an overlapping of striking images, is devoid of the CGI miasma that has dominated these parts of late.
Dalton is intense, dark, suave and mean. It’s Fleming’s character, minus the crackling charisma of Sean Connery, the affability of George Lazenby’s What I’m Doing Here, and the detached demeanor of a game show host that plagued Roger Moore’s final episodes.
Dalton’s approach has a lot in common with Daniel Craig’s, but more so, as Dalton aims to make the character as believable as possible. Even the signature line “Shaken, not stirred” sounds like an actual drink order coming from him.
“The Living Daylights” is fast and takes off immediately. The title comes from Bond’s observation of Kara, an incorrect assumption after he grazed her from afar with a bullet: “Whoever she was, that must have scared her.”
The main villain turns out to be an arms dealer played by Joe Don Baker, having a peculiar summer – he also played the head of the secret agency that affects Bill Cosby in the mega-turkey “Leonard Part 6”, which opened five months later. Baker’s cheerful nut is shown with a gallery of life-size mannequins like Hitler and Napoleon, except they all look like him.
Among the action sequences is a big kitchen fight scene that doesn’t even involve Bond. My personal favorite is the car chase in 007’s extraordinary gadget-stacked vehicle, which becomes a low-tech sled up a hill atop a musical instrument.
A villain’s false passport name for Bond, their prisoner: Jerzy Bondon. Oh, the indignity.
At another point, Bond stabs a bag, tastes the knife, and states “Opium.” I’m no narcotics expert and I realize it’s an old movie cliche to do that, but shouldn’t Bond be tripping over a taste of opium?
There’s a lovely scene in Vienna, and because Bond only has eyes for Kara during the film (minus the yacht babe from the prelude), many considered it to be Bond’s “romantic” entrance. Not at all, and I suspect anyone who says they haven’t seen “The Living Daylights” since the 1980s.
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Yes, we see James Bond on a date (this is probably the first time 007 has courted since “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”) and there’s a sweetness that Dalton portrays, but that’s just the character who does his job and plays the role. the way Bond comes at Kara in the Ferris wheel is aggressive by today’s standards but, all political correctness aside, felt awkward in 1987.
There’s also the brutal moment much later, when Bond rips off a woman’s clothes (in front of her husband, no less) and orders her to stand naked and motionless, as a distraction, while he kills unarmed assailants.
It’s a really ugly affair, akin to Sean Connery’s Bond strangling a woman with her bikini in “Diamonds Are Forever” (1971). I mention these moments not to condemn “The Living Daylights” but to affirm why Dalton is the best 007 and why he is one of the best in the series: for lack of a better word, James Bond is a real bastard.
Most of these movies counter that with glamour, showmanship, and sex appeal. However, 007 is an awful human being and neither Dalton nor “The Living Daylights” romanticize him.
Yes, there is something appealing about playing a man who is in control of every situation, able to speak every language, physically and mentally capable of coming out on top (pun intended) in every scenario. Yet Bond is also ruthless, cruel and lonely.
Sure, he looks great in a tuxedo, has a liner ready, and plays a nasty game of baccarat, but he’s obnoxious, with a license to kill to boot. Dalton gives us the clearest insight into what Bond really is.
While other actors have interpreted it, it is James Bond.
FAST FACT: Ian Fleming is best known for writing 12 James Bond novels. He also wrote the children’s book “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, which became the beloved 1968 film starring Dick Van Dyke, Sally Ann Howes and Benny Hill.
While “The Living Daylights” may sport the perfect Bond, it’s not the perfect 007 thriller. A big reason is the third act, which begins with 007 and Kara as prisoners at a Russian air base in Afghanistan. This part takes too long, padding the 130-minute run time and losing focus, though it’s far from the worst.
Bond befriends Kamran Shah, a prisoner/desert warrior played by Art Malick (who later played the villain in “True Lies”). It turns out that Shah is the leader of the Afghan mujahideen, which, according to history, would later become the Taliban.
This sequence ends with Bond dropping a bomb on a Russian tank, while the mounted mujahideen praise him as he flies away. The angle of Bond helping would-be terrorists is, oddly enough, the same unfortunate twist that would be incorporated into “Rambo III” a year later.
Once 007 is airborne, the film also picks up its feet and hits us with an extraordinary stunt sequence, where Dalton’s stunt double gets into a fistfight with a henchman inside and outside a plane. soldier losing altitude.
Dalton reprized the role only once, in “License to Kill” (1989), ahead of its time, which was heavy and violent enough to be the first 007 film to earn a PG-13 rating.
This film’s poor box office and contract negotiations with Dalton led to the hiatus of the 007 films, until Brosnan stepped in and the films themselves became critical hits and box office blockbusters.
While Brosnan’s films are equally exciting and enjoyable, they are cheeky in the manner of Moore’s films and become more campy with each entry. By the time we get to Brosnan’s 007 swansong, “Die Another Day” (2002), we get an ice castle and Bond driving an invisible car.
When Daniel Craig took over the role in 2006, many noted that the series took a welcome turn into harder, grittier material…but the truth is, Dalton came first, decades earlier.
It’s time to revisit “The Living Daylights,” dust off Dalton’s license to kill, and consider that his ahead-of-the-time rendition may not have lasted beyond the 1980s, but has one edge that works even better today.