The Living Daylights
September 30, 2011 1 Comment
Title: The Living Daylights
Year: 1987. In 1981, ABC newsman Hugh Downs first said the words AIDS, referring to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, on television. By the end of that year, 121 were dead due to an illness no one understood. Six years later actor Rock Hudson and 16,907 others were killed by a virus that had people so terrified they avoided public toilets, air kissing became the standard hello and monogamy was viewed as not merely prudent, but life saving. In a year when a comedy called A Good Old-Fashioned Orgy (2011) can be released by a major studio, the mid-eighties hysteria over AIDS must sound like something out of science fiction to those who did not experience it. For reference, picture the hysteria over the SARS, the bird flu, the swine flu and the “Rage Virus” in 28 Days Later (2002) all rolled into one and you get the idea. Mobilized by Hudson’s passing and the countless others in the creative arts who were stricken, Hollywood took the lead while Washington slept. In addition to producing PSA’s and throwing lavish fundraisers the entertainment industry issued mandates from on high stating that it was now not just irresponsible to show casual on screen sex, but a matter of life and death. The ultimate AIDS film, also released in 1987, doesn’t even mention the virus. But when Michael Douglas walked into his kitchen to find a boiled bunny, audiences of the day understood; sleep with a stranger and you very well could end up dead. No one was immune to this plague, including James Bond. 007 producers had to take a long hard look in the mirror and ask themselves if in a world of Fatal Attraction there was a place for the bed hopping Bond. The fact that the first shot of the 15th Bond film is a beachfront military encampment that immediately bringing to mind Normandy is no mistake, 1987 could very well have been Bond’s D-day, and for more reason than a deadly plague.
Film Length: 2 hours 11 minutes
Bond Actor: Timothy Dalton. For the Silver Anniversary of Dr. No (1962) EON had some business to attend to before they tackled a worldwide pandemic; mainly, who would be their 4th Bond? Kiwi Sam Neil (later of Jurassic Park (1993) fame) was at the top of everyone’s list. Everyone that is except the one guy who counted and after agreeing to a screen test with Neil, Cubby Broccoli issued his veto. Broccoli wanted the debonair Irishman Pierce Brosnan who as fate would have it was coming to the end of his contract on the TV show “Remington Steele.” When approached, Pierce told producers it was his dream to play Bond ever since he saw Goldfinger (1964) as a kid and he signed on immediately. Producers then went ahead and cast Maryam d’Abo as the Bond girl for The Living Daylights and she and Brosnan began rehearsing. Then, showbiz politics reared its ugly head. At the 11th hour “Remington Steele” producers reneged on promises and yanked Brosnan back to the small screen for five more episodes of the soon to be canceled show. And just like that Brosnan was unavailable. Broccoli went back his Rolodex and called Timothy Dalton, his #1 choice to replace Connery back in 1969. At that time, the 24-year-old Dalton turned Broccoli down, thinking he was to young to play Bond, hence the lone Lazenby film. Now 40, T.D. felt he was ready and accepted his license to kill. As they have with every new Bond, EON put the full court press on the press and Dalton’s face was everywhere. The royals even got into the act making worldwide headlines when during a visit to Pinewood studios Princess Di gave Prince Charles a whack on the head with a breakaway trick bottle.
Dalton was introduced to Americans in the July 16, 1987 issue of Rolling Stone which featured The Grateful Dead on the cover. After making their way through articles about the first Bruce Springsteen solo project and the debut of the entire Beatles catalog on compact disk, readers found the headline Meet the New Bond. Same as the old Bond? Above the 24 point type were four black and white photos. The biggest was a head shot of a leather jacket sporting Timothy Dalton oozing sex off the page. The three smaller photos off to the side showed Connery wearing nothing but a towel while pointing a gun at Daniela Bianchi in From Russia with Love (1963), a head to toe long shot of a kilt sporting Lazenby, and Moore and Lois Chiles in those terrible WWI flying ace caps they wore while piloting The Moonraker. Talk about going all in for the new guy and trying to make the other three cats look like heals. In case readers missed the point of the not so subtle photos, the article by Gerri Hirshey starts “Good news Ladies, the newest James Bond does not hold a woman as though she were a sack of gelignite.” Message delivered; this is not your fathers misogynistic Bond (and bonus, he’s hot!) The piece goes on to stress this new Bond is returning to his humble roots. Dalton confirms by saying “My approach can’t be how am I going to play it? But what did Fleming write about? What made these stories work?” Dalton goes on to describe a different 007 then the one we have seen on screen in the pervious 14 films. His Bond is one who gets knots in his stomach before the action starts and one who needs pills and/or a stiff drink once it’s over. Dalton didn’t want a superman but a “flawed and vulnerable” lunch pail Bond. He feels that with Roger Moore the films “lost the humanity” and he sights Connery as his favorite 007. However, he takes inspiration for his Bond from Bogart’s Sam Spade saying his spy will be a ragged investigator who is “down trodden” and gives into vices because he has “given everything to being a soldier and this is how he copes.” As for the ladies, “he can’t love because he might be dead tomorrow.” For what it’s worth, Connery gave his blessing and Moore, ever the gentleman, went so far as to host an American television special welcoming the new guy into one of entertainments most exclusive clubs. Additionally, EON held a press conference where Broccoli & Co. say all the right things about being on board with this new direction. Still, I would have to think that more than one observer found themselves asking if EON was truly ready to let Bond trade in his cuff links and tails for a leather jacket that to quote Chill Palmer is “like the one Pacino wore in Serpico.(1973).” This is after all, the most successful film franchise of all time (and reminded so until this year when a little punk named Harry Potter took the lead) and Hollywood’s first rule is you don’t mess with success. So, are the guys in charge going to let the new guy just waltz in and do his own thing?
Director: John Glen. Everything Dalton said about this harder edged Bond sounds great on paper. So good in fact that if I’m not mistaken his ideas about this “new” direction for 007 would met with wall to wall praise when a “Blonde Bond” is introduced in 2006. But here were are in 1987 and timing, as they say, is everything. And “timing” can mean many things in film. Releasing a film at a “time” when audiences are ready for it is one part, and no small part at that. But an equally important part is timing while making the film. First and foremost, what talent, cast and production folks alike, are available? (Brosnan out, Dalton in) Next, do all those folks share the same ideas about where the film should go this time? This kind of timing can get tricky and can derail a project before it starts. Michael Wilson and Richard Maibaum wrote the script before a Bond was cast. As a result Wilson, by his own admission, wasn’t “exactly sure how to go about writing the part so we wrote it fairly middle of the road.” Timing. The Living Daylights, first published in The Sunday Times Magazine in February of 1962 as a short story, was the last of Fleming’s works to make it to the big screen until the 2006 reboot. Wilson used the story of a cello playing female assassin as a jumping off point. By keeping the Bond character bland, Wilson focused on plot in a way that we haven’t seen in the past few entries and he crafted what amounted to a cold war thriller first and a Bond picture second. A true “spy” thriller, The Living Daylights features a strong narrative with more double crossing and triple crossing than Miller’s Crossing (1990). It’s also the most contemporary Bond picture to this point, featuring such “ripped from the headlines” plot points as defecting Soviets, black market weapons, drug dealing revolutionaries and the Afghan mujahedin. Someone with a strong vision and steady hand like Terrence Young could have navigated Bond through this world. However, he hasn’t directed a Bond picture since Thunderball (1965). Timing. Current Bond director John Glen has little on his résumé to suggest he’s up to such a task. With his debut, For Your Eyes Only (1981), Glen delivered a tight thriller with a nuts and bolts A to B to C plot. In its simplicity, it worked beautify. Octopussy (1983) is much more fun but it’s a Road Runner cartoon without a though in its head. A View to a Kill (1985) is an embarrassment and proves that when Glen is not storyboarding superb action sequences, he is utterly lost. He has very little sense of story, less interest in character and while his timing in action set pieces is impeccable, he has no idea how to pace or beat out two people talking over a cup of coffee. (Think that’s not important? Take a look at a few films by a guy named Quentin Tarantino and get back to me.) When Dalton talks about how the Moore films “lost the humanity” I don’t disagree when talking about the last few in his run. However, I think the guilty party is not the leading man but his director. Would it kill Glen to use a close up, the most basic cinematic way to get an audience more involved in a character and bring forth his humanity? Now, Glen is handed a film where characters are double and triple crossing each other left, right and center. To make that work the audience must see the motives, understand who is playing who, and most importantly, to what end. (Exhibit A: Miller’s Crossing) So, with The Living Daylights we have a script heavy on story in which the main character was purposely kept “light,” a new leading man who wants to put his stamp on the main character by making him “dark,” and a director who’s strength, action, will be undermine by all of the above. Timing.
Reported Budget: $30,000,000 estimated. Same as Glen’s previous film but the money is much better spent here. Instead of rampaging through the streets of San Francisco in a fire truck and blowing up blimps, Glen puts the budget toward create a world of shifty Eurotrash types playing a high stakes game. The gritty look is consistent with these characters and frankly, I was surprised by how “right” the atmosphere in much of the film felt. There is a whole lot of screen space delegated to military iconography giving the film an overall feeling of occupation which is appropriate. The Eiffel Tower of the last entry gives way to remote airstrips in the Afghani mountains where horses (beautify shot in the desert land scrape) are ridden by hardened Arab rebels; not privileged breeders. Sure, we still get planes flying into the sides of mountains, but not before a hand to hand battle takes place on a cargo net hanging out of the back of said plane to give us one of the tensest Bond moments in a long time. EON even put a few bucks down on a brand spanking new Aston Martin. Smiles all around.
Reported Box-office: $50,096,000 USA and $191,200,000 Worldwide. A better take then A View to a Kill and right around Octopussy numbers. Spun as a success at the time, EON used the box-office numbers to prove audiences loved Timothy Dalton. In truth, the film came in at an underwhelming #19 for the year. This dark, topical Bond was passed over by audience who spent their hard earned money to place Three Men and a Babyin the pole position. Yah, you read that right. Ted Danson, Tom Selleck and Steve Guttenberg singing “Goodnight Sweetheart” to a shit covered infant was the #1 film in 1987. Have I mentioned how terrible main steam pop culture was in the 80’s? (I blame Ronald Reagan and Ernest) Timing is everything.
Theme Song: “The Living Daylights” performed by A-Ha or a-ha. Yah, these obnoxious pricks actually had their name spelled out a-ha in the opening credits. The Norwegian group, a one hit wonder in the states, managed to reach #5 with this tune in the UK. (The Brits also made Oasis the second coming of the Beatles so take this chart success with a heaping spoonful of salt.) To my ears, the song comes off as a poor mans Duran Duran tune and even features the same da da da staccato keyboard as the pervious Bond theme. But here is the true sin. Chrissie Hynde co-wrote (with John Barry) two Pretenders tunes, “Where Has Everybody Gone” and “If There Was a Man,” for this movie and both get buried. The former plays on hit man Necros’ walkman while the latter is featured over the closing credits. Are you kidding me? They picked Pal Waaktarr over Chsissie Hynde? “Take on Me” over “The Wait”? A-freakin-Ha … sorry a– freakin-ha, over the Pretenders???
Opening Titles: Less neon thankfully but more of the now standard naked chicks with guns. Near the end we get a little variation as one of the ladies looks to be covered in dirt as she emerges from water, another looks to be fishing with a hand gun, and the final woman, not in silhouette, makes like Dita Von Teese in a champagne glass. Meh.
Opening Action Sequence: Parachutes have become the Jose Reyes of Bond openings. For those not in the know, #7 bats in the leadoff spot for the New York Metropolitans and is often referred to as “the sparkplug of the offence.” For any fan of the game, every Reyes at bat is a must see because he is capable of doing almost anything at any given moment regardless of how poorly the rest of the team is going (this year, very poorly.) It’s like “pre-SUV meet tree” Tiger Woods at the Masters. When you saw him step to the tee it meant something great was going to happen. Ditto Reyes at the plate, you just know excitement is on the menu. Parachutes in Bond opens have become sparkplugs. Take the best three openings of the recent Bonds, Moonraker (1979), Octopussy, and most exciting, The Spy Who Loved Me (1977); they all feature parachutes in one way or another. So, when I saw four skydivers descending onto the Rock of Gibraltar, well, I was ready for some excitement. True to the “parachute promise,” The Living Daylights delivered. M explains that the penetration of the radar insulations at Gibraltar is only a training exercise, but it is one he doesn’t take lightly. Three of his double O skydivers land with no problem but 0013 gets stuck in a tree and is immediately shot with pink paint. “Your dead mate!” Oh 0013. He always did kind of suck at his job. Anyway, 004 is scaling a shear cliff when a carabineer is sent down his climbing rope. He reads the attached note, is none too pleased, and looks up to see an assassin cutting his line. As he falls to his death his screams catch the attention of another agent who turns to camera. Our first look at Dalton is dramatic and shows that this Bond is all business. It’s off to the races as Bond identifies the assassin and jump onto the roof of his escaping Jeep. Right away there is a physicality to Bond we have not seen since Lazenby flashed the 007 badge and it’s exhilarating to watch. The road, as all roads in Bond films must be, is on the edge of a cliff. Bond holds onto the roof of the speeding vehicle for dear life while fruit carts are upset, a Volkswagen Beetle has its doors knocked off, and monkeys are forced to react with displeasure. (Ed Note: I love monkeys). Somehow, someway, somewhere along the line the crates of explosives in the back of the Jeep catch fire and then the vehicle is launched off a cliff. In a fantastically executed stunt, Bond pulls his rip cord and is yanked out of the back of the falling, burning Jeep moments before it explodes. That the flaming debris from the exploded Jeep sets Bond chute ablaze is a nice touch. We cut to a bikini clad woman lounging on a yacht. She is on the phone, complaining about the quality of the local male population. “If only I could meet a real man” annnndd enter Bond, literally falling out of the sky. “Who are you?” she asks. Daltons Bond, James Bond response is a bit of a disappointment. I know he wants to make the character his own but this is your “I’ll be back.” Your “Go ahead, make my day.” Your “obviously you’re not a golfer.” Dalton just kind of under delivers the line as if it’s any other bit of dialog. Regardless, this open is an excellent intro for our new, more action oriented Bond. Further, the fact that a paintball exercise becomes a real fight with real bullets is a clever device. It’s a signal to the audience, letting us know that before it may have been a game but this time it’s for real. That said it’s still a Bond picture so of course Jimmy B must get the girl with a cheeky remark. Bond checks in with headquarters, informing them “I’ll report in an hour.” “Won’t you join me for a dink?” “Better make that two.” Dalton’s smirk when he delivers the line is as close to Connery as you can get without being the genuine article. We are off to an excellent start.
Bond’s Mission: “Stuff my orders” Bond barks at one point to his Venetian contact, a uptight snot named Saunders, who more then deserve our heroes scorn. The two meet at a Czechoslovakian concert hall just a stones throw from the boarder. Bond doesn’t even get a chance to take his seat and he’s greeted by a curt “You’re bloody late.” “We have time” a clearly annoyed Bond answers. Bond has always been the smartest guy in the room, but Dalton lets you know with a jab, not a smirk. Saunders points out their man, one General Georgi Koskov, who plans on defecting that evening. Gen. Georgi fears KGB snipers and he specifically requested Bond be on hand to protect him. After Bond and Saunders make their way across the street to a lookout perch, Saunders starts clucking about this being my mission so don’t muck it up and I planned this to the last detail and all of that kind of thing. When Bond asks what the actual plan is he’s told “Sorry old man. Section 26, paragraph 5, that information is need to know only. I’m sure you understand.” Dick. Georgi’s fears are realized when he no sooner sneaks out of the music venue and Bond and Saunders mark a sniper. Bond instantly recognizes the sniper as the female cello player from the concert. Saunders instantly proves to be useless by (A) not knowing how to turn on the night goggles and (B) jabber on as Bond tries to line up the shot on the sniper. Despite this nincompoop babbling away Bond has the presents of mind to smell a rat and simply shots the rifle out of the would be assassin’s hand. Georgi is grabbed by Bond and Saunders and quickly put into a car in the ally. When Bond discovers that Saunders master plan comes down to stuffing the General in the trunk (or as the Brits call it, the boot) 007 takes charge. “Where are you bringing him?” “Sorry old man. Section 26, paragraph 5, that information is need to know only. I’m sure you understand.” Touché ass hat! This is a crackerjack start that launches the plot twisting off into several directions. The coolest aspect from my point of view is Bond spearing the female assassin. In Saunders eyes, Bond missed the target because he didn’t want to kill a beautiful woman. We as the audience, based on our history with Bond, come to the same conclusion. However, it was not Bond’s weakness for the ladies but his professionalism that lead him to miss on purpose. “I only kill professionals, that girl didn’t know one end of a rifle from the other.” It was this decision to trust his gut that eventually allows Bond to unwrap the villain’s scheme. If Bond killed the woman, as Saunders points out he was order to do, the baddie would have succeeded and Bond most likely would be rotting away in a Gulag camp. Stuff my orders indeed. It’s a neat trick to play on the audience, taking our perception of Bond and his known soft spot for the fairer sex and turning it upside down. It’s also a sly and engaging way to reinvent Bond. A lesser film would have had an over written and awkward scene to tell us “this is a new Bond,” but here it’s seamless woven into the story.
Villain’s Name: General Georgi Koskov. Bond doesn’t buy his old friend Georgi’s defector story as well he shouldn’t. After all, “Nobody leaves the KGB!” Georgi is not your typical Bond villain. He’s a slimy guy who likes to mix it up who’s not so much bent on world donation as he is hooked on what gamblers call “the juice” or “the rush.” It’s not the winning, but the actual act of outplaying your opponent that supplies the enjoyment. The fact that he’s manipulating the Soviet and British governments ups the ante and for a true gambling junky; the higher the stakes the better. His deadly game involves knocking-off another Russian General, one Leonid Pushkin, and his convoluted plan involves getting Bond to do the dirty work. However, things go wrong right off the bat when Bond fails to kill Georgi’s would be assassin; actually Georgi’s girlfriend who the General was hoping Bond would kill as well. Whoops. No one, not even Bond, suspects any of this when Georgi is slurping down caviar during his debriefing. The debriefing, by the by, takes place at an MI6 safe house that somehow manages to scream MONEY and modesty at the same time. The MI6 headquarters was actually Stonor House which was built between the 12th and 14th century and was in the family for 800 years. As an American, this is the stuff of fairytales. Our “old” buildings have been around for 200 years. Hell, our country was “discovered” a short 500 years ago. Mind blowing. So, Georgi misdirects the Brits by giving them a list of agents that General Pushkin is supposedly going to bump-off. MI6 buys the lie and Bond is ordered to bump off Pushkin. No sooner is Georgi’s plan set in motion then he is immediately “kidnapped” by the KGB but not before the kidnapper and a faceless MI6 guard get into an amazing fight in the kitchen. Everything from an electric knife to a flaming grill to a scaling hot pot of water comes into play. It’s the best hand to hand fight scene in the film and Bonds not even in the building. It’s a strange choice and it’s also the point in the movies where things start spin a little out of control. Sadly, the film makers never quite catch up.
Villain Actor: Jeroen Krabbe plays Georgi perfectly. He finds the right tone and gives the character enough arrogance that you actually believe that he believes he can somehow pull this whole thing off. The other main baddie is Brad Whitaker. Whitaker is a black market arms dealer played by Joe Don Baker who is NOT that “Law & Order” guy who ran for president as I thought for about half the film. He is however that guy who chugs Pepto Bismol while watching the teddy bear on the wire in that wonderfully creepy scene from Cape Fear (1991).
Villain’s Plot: On the cover of the same Rolling Stone issue mentioned above, right next to Jerry Garcia’s beard is the headline “Inside the Weird World of Oliver North.” Before he was a conservative radio talking head he nearly sank the Reagan presidency with a little something called the Iran Contra Affair. Feel free to visit other corners of the internet to learn all the in’s and out’s of that ugly business but the CliffsNotes version boils down to U.S. Marine North being involved in dealing illegal weapons to our enemies. No doubt American audience saw a little of Ollie North in General Brad Whitaker. This guy is more in the classic mold of the broadly drawn Bond villain. He’s a crackpot who was never actually in the military but worships the intuition, kind of like those weird guys who were never cops but collect police memorabilia and talk like they know how to do police work. Wealthy thanks to his illegal exploits, Whitaker has men in uniform he commands but they are more like butlers and servants. His true army is a bunch of military figures in glass cases that he plays with as a 10 year old would GI Joe toys. Despite being bat shit nuts he is clearly good as his job as he lives lavishly and dines on what has to be the biggest lobster I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s good to be the fake General. He and Georgi are in cahoots and sell weapons and opium and diamonds and pretty much anything else you can unload illegally for large sums of money. Along with political assassination to attend to, the boys get spread a little thin. Perhaps they should have just focused on one international crime as opposed to all of them. The same goes for the writers. They create a situation where they must balance Georgi setting up Bond to take out Pushkin while setting up his girlfriend to be murdered. He’s also setting up MI6 to believe he’s defected while at the same time setting the Russians up to see him as a hero. That’s a lot of irons on the fire, but Glen and Co. then hook Georgi up with a faux General and the two run around smuggling drugs, weapons and diamonds? Why? Once again Bond producers fall into the trap of not trusting a nice tight story to be “big” enough. (See also The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)) So they drag in Whitaker and this whole other storyline that takes us away from what was interesting and different about this movie. It’s all starting to slip, slip away…
Villain’s Lair: Georgi is on the run and unable to return to the Soviet Union until his plan plays out so he spend most of his time at Whitaker’s compound lounging around the pool. This Moroccan base of operations is hidden in plain sight in the middle of the bustling city of Tangier. The massive building, situated on a cliff overlooking the sea, was actually owned by billionaire and motorcycle enthusiast Malcolm Forbes. Forbes housed his collection of 120,000 lead soldiers in the spacious home and was kind enough to let Bond producers use them in the film.
Villain’s Coolest Accessory/ Trait: Boys and their toys would be a wonderfully succinct way to describe Bond films to someone who’s never seen one. Whitaker takes this notion literally. A delusional nut, Whitaker walks around in a military uniform of his own design and insists his employee’s call him “General” even though he served less time then Dick Chaney. Kicked out of West Point for cheating, Whitaker fancy’s himself a military historian and master strategists. His little toy solders are displayed in beautiful glass cases where they are set up to reenact famous battles from history. Appropriately, Whitaker had hidden drawers installed into the cases which he can open with a push of a button to display his weapons for potential buyers. He also has the room rigged with strobe lights and speakers that pump out battle sound effects. Perhaps most bizarrely, the entry hall to Whitakers joint is lined with life size mannequins of famous conquerors from Genghis Khan to Alexander the Great to Napoleon to Hitler, all of whom have Whitaker’s face. If you’re starting to think the weapons dealer has a few veggies missing from his salad bar you’d be correct. Georgi on the other hand is a true General with an inflated sense of ego who’s a little to in love with his own scheming. He’s also merciless.
Badassness of Villain: Setting up your girlfriend to be killed by the Brits to legitimize your apparent defection is not a nice thing to do. Dealing weapons and drugs to finance freelance assassinations of high level government officials on both sides of the cold war certainty ups ones bad boy cred. But you want true badassness? Check this out. You know those big ass military cargo planes that can open up in the back so you can drive a dozen tanks onto the thing? There are big. I’d also imagine when they come in for landing they would be moving at a pretty good clip. Right, so if you put one of those planes coming in for a landing on one side of a runway and you had a Jeep speeding toward it from the other side of the runway, who do you think would win this game of chicken? Well, I don’t know who was piloting the plane but Georgi was driving the Jeep and the two hit head on. This would most likely reduce the Jeep to a grease spot but at the very least it would stop the Jeep dead in its tracks. However, the Jeep as driven by Georgi somehow goes through the cargo plane. I say somehow because we never see it happen but as the two collide we see an explosion the next shot shows the Jeep continuing forward but on fire. A dazed Georgi with a little dirt on his face is still at the wheel and jumps out of the Jeep which continues to roll along and then explodes. So yah, defying every law of physics to survive a head on collation with a plane while suffering not a scratch is rather badass … and bad directing. I’m calling you out here Glen. You had the dude jump out of the Jeep after he hit the plane. Why not have him jump out of the Jeep before the collision? A simple flip-flop of shots in the edit room would have done the trick.
Villain’s Asides/ Henchmen: Necros who very well could be the Arian James Bond. An expect assassin, he is fluent in several different languages, is a master of disguise and operates with a laser like efficacy. He can use exploding milk bottles or rigged sliding glass doors to take out targets (he’s not so good with a rolling pin.) However, his weapon of choice is his ever present Walkman. A Walkman is an ancient device used to listen to music while on the go.
Unlike an iPod it didn’t hold every song ever recorded, just the ones that were on the 90 or so minute “cassette tape” that was being played at the time. This limited setup required the listener think about what music he wanted to hear before he left his house. Once that decision was made the music fan then had to go rummage through all the other “cassettes” he owned, find the “album” containing the songs he wanted to hear, take the “tape” out of its case, and then get all pissed-off when he found GN’R “Lies” in his Cure “Boy’s Don’t Cry” case. Things were not easy in the 80’s. What the Walkman and iPod do have in common is the use of a wire to connect the “headphones” (an old listening device used before ear buds) to the component holding the music. Necros enjoyed walking up behind his victims and using this wire to choke the breath out of them. I enjoyed watching him do this. While not really henchmen, I want to point out two amazing Russian stereotype characters that I absolutely fell in love with. Rosika Miklos is a jump suit clad gasworks employee straight out of the “big girl. Strong, like bull” mold. (Picture Kristie Ally at her heaviest with a Russian accent.) Rosika, a MI6 contact who is tasked with getting Georgi out of the Soviet Union via the pipeline, introduces herself to the General by thrusting her amble bossism forward. After Georgi is put into the pipeline, pressure must be built up to launch him to freedom and Rosika must distract her supervisor because “switchboard will light up like Christmas tree” when Georgi is launched. Rosika enters her boss’s office and shoves his face into her cleavage only to push him away after Georgi is clear. “What kind of a girl do you think I am?” she protests and huffs out of the room. The other wonderful cliché is the Russian jailer. A short, thick, bald man (Picture Bob Hopkins at his least Roger Rabbitist with a Russian accent) he runs his four cell jail like a small town sheriff in a Western. When Bond and his lady are brought in he seems delighted. “I haven’t had a woman prisoner in a long time.” As he leads them to their cell he passes the only other prisoner, a scraggly bearded Arab man. “Good news!” the jailer barks at him, “you vill not be hung in the morning. (Beat) You vill be shot!” When Bond bends down to get his keys the jailer promptly thwacks him on the back with a stick. “I didn’t tell you to get down.” Bond begins to rise only to be thwacked again “I did not tell you to get up either!” It’s so nice to see someone who truly loves his job.
Bond Girl Actress: Maryam d’Abo. A former model of French and Dutch decent Abo parleyed her Bond girl role into additional “exposure” (wink, wink) in the September 1987 Playboy. In the issue she and other “Women of James Bond” take off all their clothes in a celebration of what it means to be a Bond girl. D’Abo can be seen posing with a white cat and cello. She also hosted a 2002 TV show called “Bond Girls Are Forever.” I love the idea of exploring what it means for actresses to be a Bond girl and the impact it had on their carrier etc. but the parts of the special I watched on Youtube don’t gets past the whole “I always dreamed about being a Bond girl” sound bites. I feel like the Playboy issue was more reveling. Thank you and good night! Don’t forget to tip your bartender. You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here. Thank you!
Bond Girl’s Name: Kara Milovy. A Czech cellist with bad taste in men, Kara is kind of ill define. She’s meant to be more bohemian than glamour girl but how crunchy can one who plays a Stradivarius cello in Vienna’s finest concert halls be? Regardless, I applaud the idea of trying to make the Bond girl more of a salt-of-the-earth type to go along with a rough and tumble Bond. Kara does have her moments in-between starting off as a plot devise and ending up needed to be rescued. At one point she reminded me of the babysitter in Goodfellas (1990) who ends up getting Henry busted thanks to insisting they go back for her “lucky hat.” Bond and Milovy are hightailing for the boarder with every cop in the country after them when she insists on stopping to pickup her cello. But instead of Bond ending up in his own private hell of dinning on ketchup and egg noodles, this turns out to be a good move on the part of Kara. Her insistence on retrieving the cello ends up saving her and Bond when the case is used as a snow-sled to freedom. There is also something classic, in a film noire/romantic/cinematic kind of way, about the idea of two fugitives running around Europe with a classical instrument in tow. The fact that it’s a comically large instrument such as a cello that can be used as a sleigh and a shield to block bullets gives it that Bond spin. Milovy herself is in the classic noire femme fatale model. She runs with exciting men who are more dangerous then she knows
and makes out with the hero in one scene while smacking him in the face the next. Even though she’s in well over her head, Kara shows a remarkable ability to role with the punches, like when she blows off the bullet hole in her priceless instrument and plays it like she were Willie Nelson playing his famously shredded guitar.
Bond Girl Sluttiness: So, that was all the nice stuff. Now the problem which sadly is no small thing. Kara’s kind of a dope. However, it’s not her fault. As we were watching the amusement park sequence which I’ll get to in a moment, the wife, who has been kind enough to take the Bond journey with me (IE tolerate watching the films with me) turned to ask “what year was this one?” “87” I said. “Jesus, I would have thought it was the early 70’s with this chick. They update the Bond character but the keep the women stuck in some kind of time warp.” “Well” I responded without even thinking “they may have gotten rid of old man Moore, but it’s still the same old dudes who write, produce and direct these things, and they are just getting older.” As I was saying it I realized just how true it was. Kara is a woman who is accomplished in a ridiculously competitive field and has climbed her way to the pinnacle of achievement. So why is she so easily used by men? She let’s her boyfriend talk her into the whole fake assassination thing that by the by, takes place during one of her performances. She is almost killed. Then she just kind of sulks around until Bond bursts into her apartment and promises to take her to find Georgi. She doesn’t know him from Adam but yah, it’s off Vienna where the film goes sideways. Bond is to meet Saunders at the base of the Riesenrad Ferris wheel at midnight. With time to kill, Bond takes Kara to the opera and on a carriage ride in a sequence containing some of the most poorly framed and jarring shots I’ve seen in some time. It’s like they decided they need a few more shots to fill out the carriage ride sequence and they sent Joe the intern out to get em. As the sun sets, the couple makes there way to the amusement park where Bond’s courtship of Kara is reduced to a montage straight out of any number of hacky 80’s teen romantic comedies. We watch the two giggling as they ride a roller costar, a tilt-a-whirl and I shit you not, bumper cars. Can you picture Connery’s Bond riding around in bummer cars? It’s laugh out loud absurd but it’s treated with the upmost seriousness. Right about the point where Bond wins Kara a big stuffed animal at the shooting gallery … get it? He’s a skilled assassin playing a game with a gun where oh f it. Anyway, right after 007 uses his elite training to win his girl a huge elephant she is frightened into his arms by a funhouse ghost. She bats those eyes of hers and says “take me on the wheel” as organ grinder music sets the mood. And with that, all the coolness and intrigue the Riesenrad Ferris wheel gained in The Third Man (1949) gets sucked out of the room along with any coolness and intrigue this film managed to build up to this point. The two get on the wheel and as they reach the apex, Kara gets the undeliverable line “is it real, or just a dream?” just before the wheel stops. “What’s wrong?” “I arranged it” responds Dalton looking like a Jr. High boy asking his crush to dance at the homecoming ball. “We could be here all night” says Bond as he moves in for the kill. As Harrison Ford once famously told his Star Wars (1977) director, “You maybe able to write this shit George, but you sure as hell can’t say it.” Kara then gets the ultimate “no means yes” line.
Bond Girls Best Pick-up Line: “Don’t. It’s impossible. I’ve known you only two days and all I can think of is how we would be together.” Bumper cars will do that to a woman.
Bond’s Best Pick-up Line: “Don’t think, just let it happen” Bond says as he lays Kara on a stuffed elephant. It should be pointed out that while Bond is getting rapey on top of the Ferris wheel, Saunters is being set up to be wacked by Necros. Way to do your job Dalton. Connery or Moore you are not.
Number of Woman 007 Beds: 1, well 1 ½ is more like it. Not that Bond sleeps with half a woman. That would be just too weird for a PG film and besides, Jennifer Lynch’s debut was still a few years off. No, what I mean is in the open after 007 is offered a drink by the woman on the boat, we never see him actually drink the drink but it is assumed he is no longer thirsty. Got it? Cool. So, the other glaring error in regards to Kara and Bond’s relationship is the writers mistook the idea of “monogamy” for “love.” The two are not the same yet the film treats them as if they are as inseparable as Angus Young and power cords. Bond sleeps only with Kara and does so three times; the awkward first time on the wheel, in Afghanistan after she calls him a horses ass, and then finally in her dressing room after a performance. With each passing encounter Dalton gets more weak-kneed and gooey-eyed until it’s clear he’s fallen for this woman. For the record, I’m cool with Jimmy B not adding multiple notches to his bedpost, but he should not have fallen in love, especially with this chick.
For Bond to fall in love there needs to be a damn good reason that is integral to his character (See On Her Majesty’s Secrete Service (1969) and Casino Royale (2006)). Otherwise, Bond is a “don’t love em and leave em” kind of guy; all the more so with Dalton taking Fleming’s Bond to the screen. Bond nailing Kara to gain her trust so he can then nail Georgi makes scenes. However, with Glen and Dalton treating Bond like he’s in love, the relationship chafes against the rest of the movie and disconnects Bond from who he is and ought to be.
Number of People 007 Kills: 5ish. The number is on the lower side but the film makes the most of each one. We get a great reaction shot from the assassin who killed 004 right before he goes boom. Seeing Bond has escaped out the back all he can do is look up at the agent and scream. Much later Bond finds himself in Afghanistan fighting alongside the Afghan mujahedin, a rough bunch of tribal freedom fighters. This was yet another ripped from the headline plot point as at the time the US and UK were aiding Afghan rebels in their quest to keep the big bad superpower called Russia out of their country. These very same people are now called terrorists and fighting to keep another big bad super power out of their country but that’s a discussion for another time. Bond teams up with these men who are making a delivery IE drug deal. It just so happens that they are trading opium for diamonds with General Georgi and his men. Bond decides to go after Georgi but first asks Kamran Shah, the rebel leader, if he can get some plastic explosive and a detonator. “I’ll see what I can do” Shah responds and scurries off. Wait. A drug dealer who delivers anywhere on horse back and can hook you up with military grade explosives at a moments notice? Get me that dudes beeper number. Or on second thought, maybe not. There is also something slickly sly about delivering narcotics in satchels marked with a red cross. Anyway, the Afghani rebels ride into battle for an all out attack on the Russian base in a sequence reminiscent of the gypsy camp raid in Form Russia With Love (1963) with a health does on Lawrence of Arabia (1962) thrown in. The horses ridding into battle silhouetted by the desert sands and sun makes for some of the best images in the film. But I was talking about killing. At one point, Bond takes the above mentioned plastic explosive and throws it out of the back of a plane to take out a bridge and send a Russian tank and Jeep into a ravine. (I’m not sure how many were taken out in this stunt so lets call it 2.) Another fantastic sequence features Bond and Necros slugging it out while (A) hanging on a cargo net that is (B) filled with the red cross opium satchels and (C) hanging out of the back of an airplane that is (D) being piloted through the Afghani mountains by Kara who (E) doesn’t know how to fly. This is so much cooler than fighting on top of a Lear jet as Bond and Gobinda did in Octopussy. It’s also 1000 times more terrifying. The long shot shows the net bouncing up and down behind the plane like a tube being dragged behind a boat. At any moment the net could smack the fuselage and by-by buddies. And yes, they did indeed stick two stuntmen on a net hanging out of the back of a plane. After going at each other and dumping the net’s cargo Necros finds himself hanging onto Bonds boot for dear life. In a water torture moment Bond takes a knife and slices his shoe lace ever so deliberately until final his footwear comes off and Necros is sent hurling earthward still clutching the boot. Freaking awesome. Finally, Bond appropriately employees a gadget to take out Whitaker. Bond is pinned down in the toy soldier wing of the faux General’s lair. Whitaker is spraying the room with bullets while Bond takes cover behind a statue. “I should have known you would hide behind that vulture Wellington” Whitaker bellows. I know nothing of Wellington’s military exploits but I find his beef to be most enjoyable. Anyway, Bond puts his key ring, which is ridged with an explosive, on the back of Wellington’s head and when Whitaker gets close enough “BOOM!” The statue smashes down on Whitaker who crashes into one of his glass cases. Busted by a bust.
Most Outrageous Death/s: Remember the arrogant schmuck Saunders who planned out Georgi’s defection to “the last detail” and then screwed up the operation worse than FEMA’s response to Hurricane Katrina? Yah, well somehow that guy still has a job with MI6. When Bond meets him after his little “Ferris wheel ride” with Kara, Saunders actually proves to be slightly useful. He reports that Kara’s Stratevest, known as “The Lady Rose,” was bought at auction by Whitaker. This proves to be the bit of info that Bond needs to link Georgi and Whitaker. Well done and all that but really, Moneypenny in her new capacity (More on that below) could have just as easily provided this info. Anyway, Saunders gets up to exit and thanks to a Necros booby trap is wacked with the sliding door which kills him instantly. This is actually a lot cooler than it sounds and not at all what is outrageous about this death; its Bond reaction to the death by door that makes this murder noteworthy. Now remember, Saunders sucks. He’s been all problems few answers. But when Bond sees Saunders has been killed, he flips. I mean he gets crazy pissed and completely looses his head. So bonkers and blind with rage is Bond that he recklessly runs out into the amusement park and accidently pulls his gun a 10 year old kid. Jesus man, you’re a pro, keep it together. And by the by, why weep for this incompetent douche? In researching the movie it’s clear that the whole “Bond gets angry thing” was very important to Dalton and that’s fine but he needs a reason to get mad. If Kara was wacked I would get it. But this jerk? And then to go and pull a gun on a kid? It’s a choice that backfires badly. Instead of making Bond look harder and darker it makes him look unfocused and unusually vulnerable.
Miss. Moneypenny: Caroline Bliss. Imposter. I’ll admit that was my reaction when I first saw the sex kitten that is the new Moneypenny. The first few times I saw her and Dalton together all I could think was “They look like they should be on the cover of soap digest.” But I was quick to warm to the new Moneypenny, very quick. By the end of her first scene when she invites Bond over for dinner to listen to her Barry Manilow collection I was instantly won over. Moneypenny is out of M’s foyer and now stationed in Q’s lab where she dose research. This is one giant step for women in the Bond universe and I’m over the moon that it was Moneypenny who broke the glass ceiling. Who knows, maybe one day a woman may sit behinds M’s desk? When searching for female KGB assassins Q comes up with Helga who uses her thighs to strangle and a girl who uses teddy bears to bomb. However, it’s Moneypenny who IDs the cellist Kara Milovy. Not only is she now contributing in a more productive way, I dig the new look. The whole deceptively shy eyeglass wearing librarian with the guarder hidden under her skirt thing works quite well. Keep up the good work Moneypenny.
M: Right off the bat, M gets a nice bit of business to work with. We see him rise from his costmary desk to brief four agents. They, in black, have their back to camera as M paces in front of them expressing his pride in his 00 unit being chosen for the Rock of Gibraltar training exercise. Then suddenly M’s dignity gets suck out of the door, along with the papers on his desk, as we realize the briefing is taking place on an airplane and the open door has reduced M to crawling around chasing his files. It’s funny and gives M some heart but I still haven’t 100% warmed to Robert Brown’s M. I think he can be overly harsh to 007 but such is the way of things. One of the more disappointing aspects of The Living Daylights is General Leonid Pushkin but thorough no fault of his own. Pushkin is played by John Rhys-Davies who you might remember from such roles as Gimli in Mr. Jackson’s Lord of the Ring trilogy and Sallah in two of the three Indian Jones films. (There are only three Indian Jones films. I heard rumor of a forth somewhere around 2008 but it doesn’t exist. Hear me?) Pushkin is the Russian General Georgi accused of reinstating SMERCH (Death to spies) and going after British agents, like poor old 004. Bond gets orders to kill the General who M and 007 have “known for a long time” and had “several dealings with.” When Bond finally gets the General pinned down at gun point, Bond brings up the matter of the dead agents. “My condolences” Pushkin snaps “we had nothing to do with it.” The line is funny and perfectly delivered, but here is the rub, the Pushkin part was originally written as General Gogol. Think about our history with my favorite Russian and you start to see how this plot line of killing the General could have been so much more. Had Bond been sent to kill Gogol, and had he had the “My condolences” exchange with him, and had Georgi been trying to set Gogol up to be killed by Bond; well the film would have been so much tighter and much more emotional. Bond’s doubt in his good buddies Georgi’s story would have made a lot more sense. The double crossing would have had a stronger resonance. I mean, the movie would have just been better all around. Alas, Walter Gotell who plays Gogol was ill at the time and EON couldn’t insure the actor. Timing. So the Pushkin character was written and dear Gogol, in his last Bond film as it turns out, appears in only one scene at the very end. The scene not only feels shoehorned in (most likely because it was) but is so poorly done as to be eye rolling bad. Gogol, now with the arts and immigration department or some such nonsense is meeting up with M and Kara after one of her performances. After some silly back and forth about Kara now being exempt from all the bad things that go along with living in the USSR we hear a commotion and see Kamran Shah and 5 of his rebel buddies come bursting in the door. This is a black tie event and the Afghani folks, of course, are dressed in the same gear they wear into battle because those are the only clothes Afghani rebels would own you see. Also, being Afghani rebels, the go nowhere unless they are armed to the teeth. So yes, they enter the lobby of the exclusive concert hall brandishing AK-47’s. The crowd is horrified until a “no it’s cool, they are with me” moment happens. Kamran then apologizes for missing the performance, “We had some trouble at the airport.” Reuniting the cast on stage for one last comical bit where all loose ends are tie up with a laugh is simply hack work. But where’s Bond? Ugh, you, me, and everyone who has ever seen a bad movie knows exactly where he is as Kara slinks off to her dressing room. Garbage. I’m truly tiring of Glen, time for some new blood behind the camera as well.
Q:All the press around the release of this film was about the idea of “making Bond more human.” However, it’s Q who becomes a real person. Again finding himself in the field, Q is forced to run up a rather long flight of stairs. As he reaches the top, he is understandably winded and pops some kind of pill before he can get on to the next bit of business. I enjoyed this bit of vulnerability and it added depth to Q, a character that sometimes gets the short shift. In his lab he now has Moneypenny as well as a boom box that shoots missiles. “It’s for the American’s; we call it a ghetto blaster.” Q also takes great amusement in making an underling sit on couch that promptly swallows him. Making like Nelson on the Simpsons, the old man enjoys the moment with a little Haaa Ha.
List of Gadgets: Saunters may have the operation to get Georgi out of the Soviet Union planed to the last detail, but he doesn’t have Q. Once Bond takes charge, he and the extremely capable Rosika Miklos stick Georgi into a pipe cleaner and launch him through the gas lines to freedom. In the 80’s there were two novelty items that were considered must haves for you average yuppie car owner. The first was some kind of variant of the “Baby on Board” sign suction cupped to the back window. The other was a keychain that would respond to a whistle. My parents had both and while our custom “Mets fan on board” sign was OK because it was a nod to me, the whistle keychain was a pain in the ass. The idea was, when you lost your keys, you could simply whistle and the keys would then respond with a beep beep beep. The problem was the keychain would beep at everything from a cat’s meow to a Prince song on the radio. I hated the God damn thing and soon enough so did my parents and apparently the rest of the county as the whistle keychain faded away with the tacky “____ on board” signs. Now, if we could get rid of those “My kid is an Honor Roll student at PS 105” and “Rick Perry for President” bumper stickers, well then we would be onto something. Anyway, Bond gets one of those whistle keychains only different. When he whistles the top of “Rules Britannia” the keychain emits a nerve gas, good for knocking out Russian jailers. If 007 gives a wolf whistle then the keys go all Michael Bay. And finally, it’s equipped with a key that opens 90% of the world’s locks. Making up for the lame-ass sunglasses Moore had in A View to a Kill, Dalton gets binocular spectacles. And that would be it. Except if memory serves, I saw Q monkeying around with some kind of four wheeled contraption…
Bond Cars: Aston Martin Volante. For Bond fans, seeing an Aston Martin is like being in the ball park for a 12th inning walk-off homer or sitting in the front row of a Springsteen show for a Jungleland encore; it’s a reason for celebration. What I’m trying to say is the Aston Martin is the official Bond mobile and its return is met with much joy in fanboy land. The Living Daylights gives us the latest model, a convertible in black (a new coat of paint according to Q) and while no adjustment would allow a cello to fit comfortably into the back, Q did add some of his trademark modifications. The radio has a police band so 007 can monitor the cops’ chatter which proves to be useful even if the chatter is in Russian and the scanner has no built in translator. That’s what the girl is along for. Lasers have come a long way since the grey Aston Martin driving Connery’s most precious parts were threatened by Goldfinger. Now the Aston Martin has its own Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation weapon which is shot out of the wheel hubs and can effectively cut a car in two at the baseboards while not slicing the tires in the wheel wells. The tricked out auto also comes with missiles that can shot out the front and a rocket booster that pops out of the back. The skis and the spiked tires however were a bit much. Kind of like the sling rope thing that Connery just happens to have when he needs to hang off the side of a building in Diamonds Are Forever (1971) the skis simply appear when the plot in the film demands. (Yes, I know Q made a quip about “winterizing” the vehicle but I don’t buy it and neither should you.) The car also comes equipped with a feature that frankly I’m shocked isn’t included on all of Q’s stuff; a self destruct button. This makes so much sense as to be silly to not include. Think about the most recent real life “Bond moment” we’ve experienced, the SEAL raid on bin Laden’s Abottabad compound. A super secret stealth Black Hawk, a creature we never even knew existed before this operation was shot down and the SEALS were forced to blow the bastard up. You think Q, Bond and crew want SPECTRE or the Russians getting their hands on precious teck like “Little Nellie?” Since the Aston Martin was blowed-up Bond needed other modes of transport including an Audi, a horse drawn carriage and the back of a fruit truck. Traveling like a hobo in the back of a fruit truck 100% succeeds in giving Bond that “gritty” edge that Dalton so strived for.
Gadgets/British Government Property Bond Destroys: The paint job on the Aston Martin didn’t survive the self destruct.
Other Property Destroyed: Monkey’s are awesome. (If you don’t get why I can’t explain it to you; you simply will never understand.) Monkeys perched on cliffs observe Bond upset fruit stands and knock doors off Volkswagen Bugs on Gibraltar. A guard wall is also smashed by a Jeep which then blows up before plummeting into the sea below. Bond also sends folks in Jeeps tumbling earth bound when he destroys an Afghanistan bridge and a few Russian military vehicles along with it. Speaking of the People’s Property, after tossing Necros off the cargo plane, Bond grabs his girl and drives a Jeep out of the back. The plane, along with it’s half a billon dollars worth up opium, goes up in smoke. Bond also takes out both Napoleon’s and the Duke of Wellington’s forces by sending Whitaker through the glass that enclosed the Battle of Waterloo. Finally, the single bullet hole thorough the Stradivarius cello could run the British tax payer a cool $175,000 American.
Felix Leiter: It’s the return of the CIA’s best man, Ladies and Gentlemen, put your hands together for Americas greatest hype, I mean hope, Mr. Felix Leiter! Not seen or heard from since the 1970’s, Felix comes back with a grand scheme to get Bond attention. He convinces two ladies to pose as prostitutes, puts them a red convertible, and sets them loose. They encounter their target right at the very moment he could use a set a wheels to evade those pesky Russian cops. They approach, they proposition, the porn horns kick in, and Bond is in the car. The chicks then pull a gun on Bond who thinks he is being robbed. Dear Bond fan, let us take a step back at this moment. This is James Bond, 007. He has escaped death countless times, killed the population of Road Island four times over, and completed ninja school in three days. You think he’s going to let himself get stuck up by two hookers? OK, it’s a new, darker Bond you say. That whole ninja school stuff is no longer relevant. Fine. This Bond, in this very movie, pulled a gun on a kid because he was upset. Don’t yah think two broads robbing him would, I dunno, send him into an OJ Simpson type killing spree? Well, that’s not what happens either. Our bigger, badder Bond smiles and offers his wallet. Ugh. Well, at least Felix had a good reason for kidnapping 007. When Bond is brought into the cabin of the boat where Felix is stationed everything becomes clear. Felix went through this big setup and risked getting two women killed by a skilled MI6 agent because… Ummmm……. Well, Felix and Bond have a drink together and then…Felix says something about working the same case from different angels and … oh screw it. Nothing. There is no reason, at all, to even remotely include Felix. He contributes zip, zero, nada. His return, after six films and 14 years means absolutely less than nothing. Have I mentioned how it’s time for Glen to be shown to the door, impolitely if necessary?
Best One Liners/Quips: While driving the Aston Martin, Bond delivers the understatement of the year “I’ve had a few extra options installed.” “We have nothing to declare… “… except the cello” aint bad either.
Bond Timepiece: I get the idea of having a less ostentatious Bond and a wardrobe to match. On the other hand, it’s not like Moore was flashing a Rolex or Patek Philippe around town. There are earthy, durable and dependable timepieces a man of Bond stature could be seen wearing without compromising his street cred. However, in the name of keeping real, I guess, Dalton decided that knowing what time it is isn’t important when embarking on international secrete missions.
Other Notable Bond Accessories: Now that’s very Bogart. Like any noire hero worth their salt, Bond smokes. Gone are the cigars and back are the Lucky Strikes (We don’t actually see a brand and I would be curious to know what tobacco Bond prefers.) He smokes in M’s office, he smokes at the dinner table and even thought we never see it, I could picture Jimmy B and his lady enjoying a post-coitus puff. Dalton himself was a chain smoker according the Rolling Stone article so it’s a bit odd that Bond doesn’t look like he knows how to hold a cigarette. When one is a smoker, the fag between the fingers becomes a sixth digit and rests naturally. Bond however looks like a 15-year-old sneaking a drag under the bleachers. Back to the wardrobe, Bond has a neat suit he wears for the Georgi mission which can be converted from a tux to a black ops outfit with the aid of some Velcro. Roger Moore didn’t care for guns so his Bond rarely brandished one and if he did, it was 007’s trusty PPK. Dalton on the other hand had no issue squeezing off a few rounds from a Walther WA 2000 sniper rifle which is an almost comically huge gun. He also sprays some lead around Afghanistan with an AK-47. Good on yah Timothy, break out tobacco and firearms.
Number of Drinks 007 Consumes: 5, and the majority are martinis. However Bond starts out with a glass of bubbly with the chick on the boat. The first drink Dalton orders is a Vesper … well, I don’t know if it’s a proper Vesper but he does request it shaken not stirred so let’s not bugger flies. The point being Moore never ordered a martini and now right out of the gate Dalton delivers the famous shaken not stirred drink request. While on the boat with Felix, Bond has an appropriately American drink, Jim Beam on the rocks. Kara mixes him a martini and asks “did I do it right?” Bond approves before passing out thanks to the Mickey Finn she shook (not stirred) in. Finally, he gets a non-Ruffie spiked martini at the end of the film in Kara’s dressing room.
Bond’s Gambling Winnings: I guess the gritty 007 doesn’t frequent fancy world class casinos. However, the concierge in Tangier recognized Mr. Bond immediately and asked if he would like his usual suite. It’s worth pointing out the joint was considerably nicer than a Holiday Inn. As if that wasn’t enough, Bond then simply picks up the desk phone and presto; he has two tickets to the opera that night. So would it kill him to walk into a decent casino? If so, there are more than a few dive gambling halls in the world, hell I’ve been in some of em myself. We could have had Bond sitting at a $5 blackjack table with a one armed dealer, or seen him shot some dice with vagrants in a poorly lit back ally, or he could have even visited Michael Vick’s place for some good old fashioned dog fighting; something to get the man some action. But no, not a penny risked or won.
List of Locations: The Rock of Gibraltar. It’s something I’ve heard all my life and knew nothing about. Turns out this “rock” is no Blarney Stone but more of a cliff. Located at the south end of the Iberian Peninsula this monolith stands like a century guarding the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea. A British position since 1713, Spain contested the UK’s presences and in 1991 the British removed all troops. Cool stuff! The pipeline Georgi is launched through ends up at some kind of castle fortress I wish we got to explore more of. Vienna is a city that just lives to be shot for a film as proven in The Third Man, one of those rare movies that actually succeeds in making the setting a character. A young John Glen worked on that film as a junior editor so he knows how to milk the old world town for all its intrigue and outside of the awkward fairground scenes he does a very good job. In fact, the whole film has a great feeling of “place.” Not quite as strong as say Don’t Look Now (1973) or the underrated Munich (2005) or the incredible The Third Man, but Glen does a very good job of using cold war Europe to establish a tone which keeps the audience aware that no one is to be trusted. This film is at its heart a first class cold war thriller and therefore unlike any other Bond and the intrigue is heightened by locations both grand and simple. The apartment where Bond first encounters Kara is everything I would think of a European city flat. From the height of the ceilings to the tiled floors to the long windows and wall paper between everything feels right. I was reminded of Krzysztof Kieslowski “Three Colors Trilogy” which simply blew my mind when I fist saw it. Red (1994) in particular just grabbed me an put in Europe unlike anything else I had ever experienced and while The Living Daylights doesn’t come close to that, it has shades of it. Glen, as much as I’ve been dumping on him, deserves great praise for making me feel like I’ve stamped my passport in a way that only From Russia With Love, Thunderball, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service have when it comes to past Bond films. It just a shame he couldn’t hold this sense of place for the entire film like in the fairgrounds or the final joke of a scene. The Afghani desert stuff is first rate and the Tangier scenes are equally strong making it all the more disappointing that the illusion was crushed by a few missteps. I also feel the need to point out, for no reason at all, that whenever I hear mention of Tangier I immediately begin to sing “If you see her say hello…” If you understand, you are indeed a fellow traveler.
Bonds Special Abilities Displayed: Welp, he’s driven it all and now’s he proves that he can outrun skiers, snowmobiles, cars and the entire Soviet Boarder Patrol while sitting in a cello case. That feat along makes the fact that he can get a cargo plane aloft on a short runway seems almost negligible. More impressive perhaps is rolling a Jeep out of the back of said plane moments before it crashes into a mountain. The Jeep is on skids you say? Jimmy B will simply smash into a wall. But how does that help get a Jeep off the skids you ask? Doesn’t matter, he is already off to a great restaurant in Karachi that he knows. All par for the course at this point in the game. What impressed me was Bond’s knowledge of US Civil War history. When he walks in on Whitaker reenacting the battle of Gettysburg with his toy soldiers Bond immediately corrects him “Pickett’s charge is up Cemetery Ridge, not Little Round Top.” Jesus man, I’ve been to Gettysburg several times and I couldn’t have told you that.
Final Thoughts: Bond the 15th could have been, should have been, one of the greats. From the opening shoot, the cold war bursts into the James Bond universe like never before. Add in a healthy dose of Afghani rebels, an Ollie North clone, the Middle East opium trade, and the unspoken AIDS epidemic hanging over everything like a cloud and The Living Daylights has some heavy lifting to do. Sadly, and somewhat predictably, the film nearly collapses under the weight. Writers do themselves no favors by piling on more conspiracy plot twist then were covered up in faking the moon landings or forging Obama’s birth certificate. Add the fact that the villains are not all that interesting and as the rash of recent comic book films have proven, every superhero needs a good villain. Then there is the not so small matter of Mr. Timothy Dalton. I’ve kind of skated around the new 007 and that was by design. I will tackle Dalton in the next movie when I have the entirety of his brief run to evaluate but I will go out on a limb and say, well… his Bond has issues. However, John Glen doesn’t do his new leading man any favors. Let’s once again return to the idea of timing. Take the scene where Bond fights Necros on the cargo net. Earlier, Bond had set a bomb to go off on the plane. Now that he finds himself and his lady on that plane, he must disarm the bomb. Bond gets up to leave the cockpit and Kara asks “Where are you going?” “To defuse a bomb” Dalton replies in an over delivered line straight out of the Bill Shatner playbook. He then encounters Necros in the back, they fight, and Necros falls out of the plane clutching Bond’s boot (which is freaking awesome.) When 007 returns to the cockpit, Kara asks “What happened to Necros?” This is a Bond staple that has been used in at least half of the films up to this point; Bond kills bad guy, Bond girl asks what happened to bad guy, Bond gives a piffy, punny response. But Glen steps on the punch-line. Dalton’s delivery of “He got the boot” is literally cut into so as to bury the line and kill the joke. Then, Dalton goes to leave the cockpit again and Kara once again asks “Where are you going?” “To drop a bomb.” Dalton delivers the nearly identical line in a nearly identical situation with the same urgency he used not 5 minute previous. Yes, Dalton oversells the line but make no mistake; this was not Dalton’s fault. Glen has his actor running around the plane like he’s Benny Hill chase women around a park bench and the director has no apparent interest in beating out the scene. It’s like he said “Oh man let’s just get thought this so we can watch the plane blow up, OK?” This is not Glen’s first rodeo; he and the writers need to support their new guy. Making him do all this unnecessary business, stepping on his lines, making him fall in love, having him pull a gun on a kid, putting him on freaking bumper cars… it’s no good. As I pointed out above, everyone working on the movie needs to be in the same ball park and at times it feels like Wilson, Glen and Dalton aren’t even playing the same sport. I can’t emphasize enough how much of a drag this is because Bond 15 does things no previous Bond has, does them well, and when it works, it’s enthralling. Glen actually manages to create atmosphere at points and individual scenes and sequences, especially at the top and in Afghanistan, are fantastic. The problems is other scenes are complete off tonally and as the movie progresses it looses focus until it’s one big mess. By the end the film has no clue what it wants to be. I’m reminded of a line from Roger Ebert’s (in my opinion overly positive) review of You Only Live Twice (1967). He called the film a “million-dollar playpen in which everything works but nothing does anything.” The Living Daylights is the other side of that coin. It’s a multimillion-dollar playpen which tries to do everything and in the end it doesn’t work. Timing.