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The James Bond Chronicles: 'Living Daylights' Ushers in Dawn of Dalton Era

The James Bond Chronicles: 'Living Daylights' Ushers in Dawn of Dalton Era

The exit of Roger Moore from the James Bond franchise opens the doorto better films, a return to espionage plots and an outstanding new lead. 

I am a big Timothy Dalton fan. Detractors of Dalton are lunatics. There, I said it. He is two parts Connery, one part Lazenby,and one part Moore, shaken not stirred. He combines the toughness and masculinity of Connery, the vulnerableromantic of Lazenby, with the refinement of Moore.

He is, in a word, “dashing.”

We get a fine introduction to Dalton, as the camerapushes in on his windblown, handsome features as one of his colleagues meetshis doom at the hands of a KGB assassin. Bond goes right to work as he chases down the assassin and struggleswith him in a jeep careening down the rock of Gibraltar. He dispatches the assassin, parachutes downto a boat, landing as the answer to any woman’s dream in most athletic fashion,and proceeds to leap into bed with her with his rakish smile.

Most of all, Dalton plays Bond barelytolerating the orders he is handed, and he does not suffer fools gladly. We meet a great supporting character inSaunders, an uptight by-the-book agent who had arranged Koskov’s defection. Dalton is all business as he prepares tohandle potential KGB assassins, obviously irritated by Saunders, and hijacksthe defection with his own plan. Dalton’s Bond is not afraid to get his hands dirty, whether it be putting abullet in Pushkin’s head with steel-eyed determination, leapingacross rooftops, skiing in a cello case, fearlessly posing as an Afghanunloading opium in a Russian truck, going mano-a-mano with a bulky Russianprison guard, or engaging in a outgunned shootout with Whitaker. 

On the romantic side, Dalton is a consummate seducer,balancing his handsome features and sexual prowess with the ability to appeartotally genuine. Despite lying to Karaabout going to meet Koskov, he turns on the charm big time, and we aren’t sure that he may be falling for her himself. He’s playful and wry – “glad I insisted youbring that cello.”   

Most of all, Dalton is an outstanding actor – and bywho have played Bond, but Dalton has quite a background in Shakespeare andother rather lofty works. He spent a lot of time in the theater. In short, his portrayal grounds Bond in a reality that is only matched by Daniel Craig’s interpretation. The result of his approach is that one-linersthat might have been played for laughs by Moore carry a different tone with Dalton. Most of them are deliveredto Kara, and because she is an innocent outsider, for him to say, “I gave himthe boot” is more for her and our benefit. In short, Dalton tries to find an actual emotional motivation forthe line rather than just tossing it out as a wink to the audience.

He is, to me, a complete James Bond. 

Story

This was a return to the espionage-style plot which Iprefer. The filmmakers wisely moved awayfrom the cackling villain who wants widespread destruction, instead focusing onCold War dealings. It’s a good plot -with Koskov faking the revival of SmertSpionam to stoke tensions between the US and the Soviet Union, all so heand arms dealer Whitaker can make a lot of money. Richard Maibaum is one of thewriters, and he and Michael G. Wilson crafted a strong story, albeit lacking inthe kind of thematic skeleton that held some of the earlier filmstogether.

This is also a strongly structured film. By that, I refer to the fact that the moviecan be divided into several self-contained sequences (usually numberingeight). Each sequence offers a centraldramatic question, which gets answered and leads us to the next sequence. The pre-credit sequence establishes Smert Spionam (and obviously the Sovietsmust be pretty good to have landed an assassin right in the middle ofGibraltar) and Dalton’s athleticism as the new Bond.

From there, we have a sequence where the central questionis, “Will Bond carry out the defection successfully”? He does, and in doing so, we get introducedto one of nice supporting character in tight-assed Saunders. There’s a nice tension between the two as Bonddisregards protocol and orders, deliberately misses Kara, and institutes analternative plan.

The next sequence’s tension revolves around Koskov’sdebriefing, which provides a clever way of providing exposition. The standout action sequence is Necros’kidnapping of Koskov, singlehandedly causing mayhem inside an MI6 safehouse. First, it establishes that Necrosis going to make for a great nemesis in this movie. He’s damn good at what he does. We are treated to a rare sight – a knock-down,drag-out fight between the nemesis and a minor supporting player in the safehouse kitchen.

That Bond is not involvedin this fight is actually a rather bold move. I like it because, as withSaunders, it just fills out the MI6 world a little bit more. The explosive “milk” bottles are a great trick,the score really soars here (alas, John Barry’s last), and the arrival of a fakemedical chopper to whisk off Koskov ends a tightly edited sequence. Plus it’s a black eye for MI6! Again, it’s a self-contained sequence withits own dramatic tension that advances the story.

And so it goes through the rest of the film. It’s one of the reasons the cut feelstighter and the storytelling more solid than the most recent Moore entries.

Characters

There’s a good range of leading and supporting work thistime around. Maryam d’Abo is appealingas Kara. The role is underwritten, andshe’s just handed the easily duped damsel role, which is a shame. At least she’s given a small arc – her desireto play cello in the big leagues – which she achieves. I’ve always like Joe Don Baker, and the ideaof an arms dealer so vain that he has wax figures of the world’s greatestleaders done in his likeness is amusing and very Bond-ian. Alas, the producers always seem to want tomake us Americans look like buffoons, so that’s how he comes across. I liked Jeroen Krabbe’s choices as Koskov – aSoviet general who is slimy, smarmy, and really nothing more than a conman. He isn’t driven by ideology, as Necrosappears to be, but just to fatten his own bank account.

Speaking of Necros, Andres Wisniewski joins the long line of German assassins to face off with Bond. He’s given several disguises and roles toplay while carrying out his job, which makes him a fine nemesis. Fans will also recognize him as a henchman in “Die Hard,” and you’ll all be amused tolearn he’s a practicing Buddhist.

John-Rhys Davies is one of the most reliable actors you’llfind. He’s great as General Pushkin, andthe scene where Bond corners him and prepares to shoot him is juststellar. It showcases Bond’s seriousnessas an assassin. Dalton is great here -demonstrating the same stone-cold demeanor Connery has when he offs theduplicitous doctor in “Dr. No.” Thescene has a subtext that would’ve been even more powerful had the actorintended for this role been able to appear – Walter Gotell. Pushkin was originally supposed to be a rolereprisal of General Gogol, whom Mr. Gotell had portrayed in several films.

That Bond is now preparing to kill Gogol,with whom a kind of friendship had developed, would’ve really made this scenesoar. Still, it works and works well.

Thomas Wheatley gets some good screen time as Saunders. Even he gets a little character arc,eventually joining Bond as a rule-breaker (“Why not? It’s only my pension”), providing him with some vital intelligence. The score telegraphs his death at the hands of Necros’ sabotaged glassdoor, and Bond’s anger mirrors ours at his death. There’s nothing worse than a characterachieving his transformation, then getting killed.

The irony of the Mujahideen as Bond’s ally is likely notlost on readers. It’s a strange worldsometimes. Art Malik makes for a fineally that Bond uses in his Afghanistan adventure. Handsome, educated, a good host to Bond, anda leader – very reminiscent of the rogues we often enjoy Bond associatingwith. 

A quick shout-out also to Ken Sharrock, who makes the mostof his few minutes of screen time as the jailer. Genre fans will notice John Terry from “Lost” as Felix Leiter; Virginia Hey (the white-clad beautiful “Warrior Woman” from “The Road Warrior”) as Pushkin’s mistress, and Nadim Sawalha as a policechief in Tangiers (he played Fekkis in “TheSpy Who Loved Me”).

Other Notes

This is a great location film — Gibraltar, England,Bratislava, Vienna, Morocco, Afghanistan. Deserts.  Snow. Rock above the ocean. The sweeping nature of the locales really establishes the film as a globe-hopping adventure. There’s plenty of action, Mr. Daltonapparently did a lot of his own stunts, and there’s some good humor and clevergadgets in Q’s lab.

John Barry’s final score is a strong one. He made use of synthesizer overdubs for thefist time, and it enhances the music to give it just a teeny bit of acontemporary feel. “Exercise atGibraltar,” the first cue in the film, is filled with his traditional strings,harps, and a bit of the James Bond theme during the climbing sequence. Somber horns come in as danger builds and theassassin begins taking out his targets, the tension rising as 004 realizes he’sup the creek. As Bond investigates themurder, his theme fills the soundtrack, then – BOOM – he’s off and running, and so is the score. Call-responsebetween horn sections kick in with the synthesized overdubs as Bond pursues theassassin and the fight on the Land Rover begins.

The music during the safe house attack (“Necros Attacks”)incorporates all the things that make Barry’s scores so transcendent. The melody and tension builds, plateaus, thensoars again as the attack rises in its severity. There’s the use of Bond-associated wah-wah trumpets,but this time Mr. Barry incorporates them in call-response mode with the melodyof The Pretender’s underutilized song “WhereHas Everybody Gone.” This is used incounterpoint with tubas and strings and a slower tempo when the action is notpeaking.

Conclusion

This is a very strong entry in the Bond series. I really enjoy it on almost everylevel. It does weigh down a bit towardsthe end, and the multiple villains muddies the plot just a bit. The first half is stronger than the second,so it isn’t a perfect film, but totally enjoyable.

3 STARS for THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS.

(Please note: per my reserved right to change my mind, Iam dropping “Man With The Golden Gun” from4 stars to 3; “Never Say Never Again” from1 star to 2.)

4 Stars

“Goldfinger”

“OnHer Majesty’s Secret Service”

“ForYour Eyes Only”

3 Stars

“Dr.No”

“FromRussia With Love”

“TheMan With The Golden Gun”

“The LivingDaylights”

2 Stars

“Thunderball”

“DiamondsAre Forever”

“TheSpy Who Loved Me”

“NeverSay Never Again”

1 Star

“YouOnly Live Twice”

“Liveand Let Die”

“Moonraker”

“Octopussy”

“AView To A Kill”

 James Bondwill return in “License to Kill.”

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