007 Cinema Dossier: The Living Daylights (1987)

007 Cinema Dossier: The Living Daylights (1987)

“How do I blow up the room? Whistle ‘God Save The Queen’?”

Timothy Dalton steps into the role of Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007 in the 1987 Bond entry, The Living Daylights. His name had been bandied about for a number of years (as far back as On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, for which he felt he was too young for the role). And at the age of forty he finally slipped on Bond’s shoulder holster. Although Sam Neill came very close to being cast as Dalton was busy with another film. And Pierce Brosnan was not available due to his commitment to Remington Steele.

Behind the scenes, John Glen returns for the fourth time to direct, and introduces the new 007 with an stunt-filled, action-packed set piece on Gibraltar. Also returning is Peter Lamont as Production Designer (having worked on Aliens in the interim), costume design by Emma Porteous. Meanwhile, Alec Mills steps in as Director of Photography, his first as DOP, but he had served on the second unit of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Cubby Broccoli produces alongside Michael G. Wilson (who also developed the screenplay alongside 007 scribe Richard Maibaum), and Broccoli brings aboard his daughter, Barbara as Associate Producer. And it wouldn’t be a Bond film without those opening titles, still overseen by Maurice Binder.

The fifteenth Bond film celebrated twenty-five years of 007’s onscreen adventures. And it made Dalton’s incarnation a darker, grittier character. He is investigating a Russian general Koskov (Jeroen Krabbe) who insists his country is reinstating their Smert Spionam program; ‘death to spies’. What he uncovers is an arms deal lead by Whitaker (Joe Don Baker), heroin smuggling, and a plan to get Western and Eastern agents at each others’ throats. Aiding him is Koskov’s former girlfriend, Kara (Maryam d’Abo), who he has set up as a false assassin.

The returning cast includes Robert Brown as M, Desmond Llewelyn as Q, Walter Gotell as General Gogol. We are not only introduced to a new Bond, but also a new Moneypenny (Caroline Bliss). We also have a rather forgettable Felix Leiter in the form of John Terry. Also making an appearance is John Rhys-Davies as Russian General Pushkin.

This will always be one of my favorites if I may interject some personal reflections at this point. The Living Daylights was my first big-screen 007 experience, and therefore has become one of my favorites of the entire franchise. And as much as I enjoyed Connery, Lazenby and Moore, Dalton immediately became my James Bond. Seeing James Bond on a theater screen as opposed to my television screen completely wowed me. This was a long time ago before huge home theaters, and of course it was all pan and scan video.

I had been able to work my way through the franchise in a variety of ways, through rentals (in no particular order). And then through my friend, Steve, who owned all the Bond films and allowed me to view them in their proper order. We shared a lot of common interests, and his friendship with me was, and remains, one of the best in my life. And it was always because of our shared love of Bond, Trek, and countless geeky things.

On the screen, the story leans towards the leaner, and grittier, though still making Bond fairly unflappable and debonair looking. As I write this, there is a proliferation of gadgets, especially during the ice chase sequence with the Aston Martin. There’s also the subsequent cello chase which Glen conceived of, after he demonstrated that he could do it. But the gadgets and the chases don’t necessarily detract from the bit of edge the film has. One that was blatantly missing from all of Moore’s efforts (though there were hints of it a couple of times).

There is also a believable chemistry between Dalton’s Bond and d’Abo’s Kara. And it’s easy to see that 007 cares for this woman a little more than his usual female companion. In fact this is the first film where he only romances one woman, though the pre-credits sequence hints at something else. But through the rest of the film, Bond is a one woman man.

As usual, the film had a globetrotting and extensive shooting schedule, as the production traveled to Vienna. They also traveled to Morocco, Gibraltar, the UK, California. And the Pinewood Studios, the home of The 007 stage rebuilt after the fire. It was also used for the music video for the film’s theme song by A-Ha.

The final also featured John Barry’s eleventh and final score for a Bond film, and one of my favorites. As a personal aside (again) I played this cassette out on my Walkman. It went everywhere with me, and was very much the soundtrack for the later part of 1987 for me. The title song by A-Ha remains near the top of the list of Best Bond Songs (for me at any rate) and also features two songs by The Pretenders. One is the ballad, If There Was A Man, and Where Has Everybody Gone. That’s a tune which usually indicated the presence of Koskov’s henchman, Necros (Andreas Wisniewski).

Barry not only delivers an exciting Bond score, he is able to incorporate the themes and motifs from each of the three songs into the score. He then brings them to life wonderfully as they underline and recur throughout the film to highlight action beats and character moments. It also earned Barry his only Bond cameo; he plays a conductor for the concert at the end of the film.

And speaking of cameos, producer Wilson continues his habit of popping up in the film series, as does Barbara Broccoli.

As the film’s UK release date of 30 June, 1987 (31 July for North America) drew closer, posters, teasers, music videos and more had to be created. Brian Bysouth created the UK poster, which is my preferred art for the film. Meanwhile, photographer Jim McCrary, art director Jeffrey Bacon, and designer David Reneric created the blue, gun-barrel poster. That would become the North American poster and used throughout the advertising campaign.

Additional promotional material included a television special, Happy Anniversary 007: 25 Years of James Bond. Which, after it was aired, it was released to videotape, and is now included on The Living Daylights’ extras. A clip show that highlighted the history of 007, the ladies of his life, the gadgets, the cars. And the adventures, culminating in a very brief glance at the then, upcoming film.

Timothy Dalton proved ably, and easily, that he was the right man for the job and brought an edge that was previously missing from the series to the screen. Dalton, a classically trained actor took as much inspiration as he was able from Fleming’s original texts. And for me, he simply showed how me that British secret agents could take a little more rough and tumble.

Glen is more than comfortable in his direction of the film, and in that way, the film isn’t as forward moving as the series should be. It’s a new Bond, but familiar tropes, even with an edge. The shakeup in front of the camera worked very well, it would be a while yet before there is a shake up and rebirth behind the camera.

Still, it’s an all new 007 for a whole new era. The only downside being that Dalton only got to play Bond twice. But even as the film closed we are left with the reminder that James Bond Will Return.

Thank you again to DK Canada for being my Q Branch with their extensive 007 library including the essential The James Bond Encyclopedia. Other books include Bond By Design: The Art of The James Bond Films, and James Bond: 50 Years of Movie Posters.

  • Release Date: 6/30/1987
This post was written by
TD Rideout has been a movie fan since the moment he first encountered Bruce the Shark in 1975. As passionate about cinema as he is popcorn movies, his film education is a continuing journey of classics new and old. He is at his most comfortable with a book, a drink, his partner and his dog.
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