The Bond: Timothy Dalton in his first of two. Producer Cubby Broccoli initially offered him the role in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but the actor turned it down, saying he was too young. Broccoli offered him the part multiple times in the ensuing years after Sean Connery left again and as Roger Moore’s single-picture deals always left the possibility open. Finally, at 40, Dalton felt he was the right age, but when production for The Living Daylights was first scheduled, it conflicted with filming for Brenda Starr and Broccoli was forced to look elsewhere.
Various actors–including Sam Neill–tested for the role, but another long-time prospect won out: Pierce Brosnan. He was best known at the time for the NBC television show, Remington Steele, in which he played a character similar to Bond. The show was cancelled when he signed on, but after an outpouring of fan enthusiasm and an uptick in the summer ratings, NBC ordered one more season right before their option to do so ran out. Still under contract, Brosnan was forced to leave the movie. By then, filming for Brenda Starr no longer conflicted with TLD‘s and after finishing the former on a Saturday, Dalton began working on Bond the following Monday.
The Release: June 30, 1987 in the UK and July 31 in the US. While critics were mixed, audiences weren’t. The film grossed $191 million worldwide, $51 million of that domestically.
The Girl: While Bond probably sleeps with a nameless woman on a yacht from the pre-credits sequence and tries very hard to orchestrate a threesome with two female CIA agents, the only main Bond girl is Maryam d’Abo’s Kara Milovy. The former model was originally just one of the women producers used to screen test potential Bonds, but they ended up liking her so much that they cast her in the role. She does fine without being particularly great.
The Villain: TLD has a villain structure almost identical to For Your Eyes Only. While one character initially seems good and accuses the other of wrongdoing, it turns out the “good guy” is just trying to hide their own crimes. The actual good guy in this case is Pushkin, played by John Rhys-Davies. The bad guy who frames him is Jeroen Krabbé as Georgi Koskov. He’s more of a schemer than a megalomaniac. That role is left to his partner in crime, Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker). An expelled former West Point student, Whitaker models his life after men he considers great conquerors (Hitler, Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great, for example) and uses miniature figurines to reenact famous battles throughout history but make them bloodier.
The Gadgets: The best gadget in this film is the Aston Martin with some very special features. Most of them update things that have long been part of Bond’s souped-up cars: bullets become missiles, the bulletproof shield in the back becomes bulletproof glass, the metal spear that comes out of the tire is now a laser. The newest features are a set of retractable outrigger skis and spiked tires for easier navigation through snow. Still, the car eventually gets buried in a snowdrift and Bond has to use the self-destruct feature as a distraction. Luckily, he gets to keep the whistle-activated remote, which expels knockout gas for “Rue Britannia” and an explosion for a wolf whistle.
The Song: This film actually has three songs. The first is the titular “The Living Daylights” written by John Barry and Paul Waaktaar-Savoy, the lead singer of the band a-ha, which also performs it. It’s stupid but undeniably catchy and gets the coveted opening credits spot. The other two are superior, with lyrics by The Pretenders frontwoman Chrissi Hynde and music by John Barry. “Where Has Every Body Gone” is action-y and fun and recalls Barry’s classic scores in its orchestration. Oddly, it plays in the assassin Necros’s (Andreas Wisniewski) headphones whenever he uses them to garrote someone. “If There Was a Man” plays over the end credits and is just as good. Hynde is no Bassey, but the song sounds like the more ballad-esque early themes and deserved the opening credits spot.
The Book: Hoping to bring Bond back to basics, writers Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum went to Ian Fleming for inspiration. The plot of the “The Living Daylights”–in which Bond is sent to kill a famous Russian assassin before that person kills a double agent attempting to cross from East to West Berlin–basically makes up the film’s opening. However, the character in the book, also a woman, is an assassin posing as a cellist instead of the other way around.
The most important thing the movie takes from the source material, however, is Bond’s discomfort with his job. Book Bond hates killing and TLD builds much of its plot around that fact. “I only kill professionals,” he explains when Saunders (Thomas Wheatley) asks why he didn’t follow orders and kill the sniper. When he learns he must kill Pushkin, he wants to do his own reconnaissance first and eventually ends up working with him to prove Koskov’s guilt instead.
The most surprising thing the movie takes from the books, though, is SMERSH, an abbreviation of the Russian “Smiert Spionam,” meaning “Death to Spies.” From Casino Royale to Goldfinger (the 7th book in the series), the organization is either Bond’s direct opposition or their backers. SMERSH actually existed for a few years post-WWII as a precursor to the KGB, but Fleming’s version was more villainous and it was Book Bond’s personal duty to thwart it at every turn.
The Movie: A few days ago, I argued that the unofficial Bond film, Never Say Never Again, anticipated Eon Bond’s future. TLD is the first step in that direction. The near-constant comedy that characterized Moore’s run is almost absent, replaced with quips common in Connery’s run. Take the moment where, while he and Kara sled to safety on her cello case. Despite getting angry after Kara insisted they pick up the instrument in the first place, he quips, “Glad I insisted you brought that cello.”
That’s the most striking thing about this film, how tender Bond can be. This is his most convincing romance in years and while a lot of that is thanks to the leads’ chemistry, it’s also because their relationship get more attention in the writing than most. Despite the fact that Kara becomes less active and whinier as the film goes on, Bond is never really rougher with her than the eye-roll characteristic of long-suffering husbands everywhere. He actually tries to woo her.
Shockingly, there’s also the suggestion at the end (totally in keeping with Book Bond’s penchant for falling in love quickly) that the couple could become a longterm thing. Kara plays a show in London during her tour and returns to her dressing room crestfallen at the reminder Bond isn’t there. However, she finds him waiting there for her. With his line about not missing this of all shows and M’s that Kara’s new visa will allow her to travel from Russia to England as often as she likes, the film suggests they’re both trying to make the relationship work. While tomorrow’s Licence to Kill plays with the same idea, here, it feels revolutionary after so many years of disposable Bond Girls.