The Living Daylights

August 30, 2011

There hasn’t been such a major shake-up in the James Bond universe since 1969, when a new actor was introduced as the elegant spy. That time, it was the soon-to-be-forgotten George Lazenby who stepped into Sean Connery’s shoes. He only lasted the one outing; Connery came back for one more, then was replaced by the safe, sleepy Roger Moore, who dominated the lucrative series through 1985’s A View to a Kill.

Now, it’s time for another, lesser-known actor to assume the license to kill. Timothy Dalton, 40, is the new 007, a Welsh-born actor with considerable stage and some movie experience. Dalton’s introduction in The Living Daylights occurs in one of those all-out stunt sequences that begin every Bond movie—this time a romp across the Rock of Gibraltar.

Dalton’s got the physical requirements for the role—he can leap onto moving trucks, duke it out with bad guys, hang from the back of a plane at 10,000 feet. But can he order a vodka martini “shaken, not stirred,” and make it sound authentic?

Dalton does exactly that.

Although his leading nose and slitty eyes make him look a little like a duck at first glance, Dalton slips into the Bond persona with grace. And something more—this is a Bond with more gravity, more guts.

Dalton brings a renewed depth to the Bond character. This is not exactly difficult, since Moore’s main strength as the previous Bond was his facility in wearing a white tuxedo as though he’d been born in one. Moore’s superficiality cued the Bond movies into increased frivolousness. The Living Daylights restores some of the flesh of the original Ian Fleming novels.

And the film itself is closer to Fleming’s spirit than usual. The filmmakers—producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, director John Glen, writers Richard Maibuam and Michael G. Wilson—are all veterans of the series, and they seem to have deliberately sacrificed some of the jokiness in order to get Bond back on track.

For instance, the story here is a very traditional espionage tale about a Soviet defector (Jeroen Krabbe) who leads 007 into a tangled web of arms dealers, led by an American quasi-military man (Joe Don Baker) whose arms-selling adventures are reminiscent of some of Oliver North’s exploits. These are not bloated, cartoonish villains, although there is certainly some fun had at their expense.

The film even nods to the espionage-movie tradition by playing a scene in a Ferris wheel in Vienna, the same setting for a memorable scene in The Third Man.

More significantly, the usual bevy of Bond babes is banished. Excluding the bit of crumpet from the opening sequence, Bond sticks to one woman throughout, a cellist (Maryam D’Abo) who accompanies him on his adventures. The old formula had 007 bedding at least three women per movie. Some have suggested that this is the “post-AIDS Bond,” but perhaps it also signals more maturity for the character.

The filmmakers haven’t thrown away their entire bag of tricks. The gadgets are here, including a laser-equipped Aston Martin and a key ring that exudes a deadly gas when the opening bars of “Hail, Brittania” are whistled. The film does the standard globe-hopping, ranging from Czechoslovakia to Morocco to sunny Afghanistan. And what would a Bond movie be without one of Maurice Binder’s corny credits sequences?

Having lauded the film for moving Bond in more ambitious directions, I have to admit that The Living Daylights drags a bit. The stunt sequences are still good, but elsewhere things do get slow at times. Perhaps a new director could be brought in next go-round to pep things up. But keep the new Bond.

First published in the Herald, July 30, 1987

Yeah, Dalton had everything except movie-starness. This one was, as suggested, an invigorating change from the previous Bond phase, though not as galvanizing a transition as Casino Royalein 2006. And maturity in James Bond? That is not the goal, exactly, as seasoned as Dalton and Daniel Craig might be. Also, I forgot to mention the theme song, performed by A-ha. I wonder why.