Friday, July 24, 2015

The Living Daylights (1987) | Bond

Actors and Allies

Before Daniel Craig, Timothy Dalton was my favorite Bond. Until recently, I would have told you that it was Connery, but too many rewatches of You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever have changed that. It's not that those are bad movies (which they are); it's that Connery is bad in them. I have problems with Licence to Kill that dilute my enthusiasm for Dalton's short run, but the problems are never with him. He's always doing excellent work, playing exactly the kind of intense, serious Bond that I want to see.

Not that he can't joke. There's a lot of humor in his performance, but it's normal person humor. That's the big key for me. I like the quippy, gallivanting Bond a lot, but I love flawed, tragic Bond so much more. When Dalton introduces himself as "Bond, James Bond," he says it like a guy at a party, not like he's expecting someone to applaud. And as I mentioned yesterday and will talk about more below, Dalton still jokes and quips, but his humor feels genuine. Don't get me wrong: I love Moore's deadpan and Connery's grimacing at his own jokes. But they're playing larger-then-life versions of Bond. And I understand that that's exactly what makes him so attractive a character most of the time. But my heart has a special place for the unromantic, literary Bond.

I mean "unromantic" in the sense that he's unfantastic and down-to-earth. As we see in the cold open when he delays checking in for an hour, Dalton's Bond certainly has time for women. Once he meets Kara in The Living Daylights, he sticks with her, but he's still got the reputation of Sean Connery and Roger Moore. The concierge at the hotel in Austria is used to Bond's checking in with various women and Saunders, the head of Station V, can't really take Bond seriously because of the rep. Dalton is at ease and charming on his carnival date with Kara and I can see why the ladies like him. But I can also see why his intensity and underlying anger mean that he can never have a lasting relationship with a woman. That's totally Fleming's Bond right there.

Speaking of Saunders, he's an interesting character because he acts as a surrogate for viewers who are expecting a different kind of Bond than what Dalton is. Saunders has heard all the stories about Bond and he's not impressed. He's expecting an agent who's more interested in women than getting the job done. Let's face it, he's expecting Roger Moore. So as Dalton loses patience with Saunders, he's also losing patience with that expectation, making clear that he's doing something totally different.

Back to Bond and women though, we've got a new Moneypenny (Caroline Bliss) and it's tough to figure her out. Or more likely, it's easy, but I'm resisting. There's a smile on her lips as she invites Bond to come over sometime to listen to Barry Manilow records. Is she joking? I want her to be. I want to find a hint of the mutual flirtation that the best of Lois Maxwell's scenes had. But I don't think she is. She lets out a telling sigh and when he puts her glasses back onto her face crooked, he obviously isn't taking her seriously. Bliss' Moneypenny is every bit the infatuated schoolgirl that Maxwell's had the reputation for.

Another female ally for Bond is Rosika Miklos, who helps him put Koskov into the "pig" to go through the oil pipes. I like her a lot. She's fun and confident. She's sexual, but not with Bond, which is refreshing. They just seem like work buddies.

Bond's professionalism also affects his relationship with M and the Minister of Defense in a positive way. They're furious when Koskov is abducted, but even though Bond's in the room when they're shouting, they don't blame him. M does threaten to recall 008 from Hong Kong if Bond can't/won't kill Pushkin, but that feels like a serious business consideration rather than an idle threat made from irritation. Robert Brown's dull, bureaucratic M is shocked when Bond makes substitutions to Koskov's gift-basket, but I imagine that he hasn't had to deal with much embarrassment over Dalton's Bond. Dalton isn't the kind of guy who's going to get caught by the top brass in bed with another agent.

I sort of wish that Walter Gotell had been up to playing Gogol for longer, but I don't have strong feelings about it. Pushkin is fine and I do like John Rhys-Davies. It just would have been cool for Gotell's last film in the series to have held such a significant part for him. Rhys-Davies makes me believe that he has a previous relationship with Bond though and he owns the role so much that it's hard to imagine Gotell in it. And it's nice closure to see that Gogol has moved on from the KGB and is doing other things.

Bond's new attitude also brings with it a sort of role reversal for him and Q. We get a nice, "Pay attention, 007" from Q, but without the usual irritation. Bond takes the briefing seriously and "pay attention" is just Q's usual way of starting his lecture. If anything, Q is now the silly one. It's not intentional; he's just a little absent-minded. He bumps his head on the Aston Martin at one point and later foolishly asks Bond to whistle while in a gas-mask.

One of Bond's coolest allies is the man known only as Green Four. He's the butler/security operative at the Blayden safehouse and puts up a surprisingly awesome fight when Necros shows up to abduct Koskov. You think Necros is going to end him quickly and move on, but the fight lasts a long time with the nameless agent nearly beating the superhenchman. It's a great, trope-breaking touch.

Felix Leiter is back, played by Jack Shephard's dad from Lost. It's a tiny appearance, but I like John Terry a lot in the role. He's laid back and casual like I want Felix to be. The thing I hate about the Bond movies is the inconsistency of Felix Leiter and it's times like this - when we get one I really want to see more of - that that hurts most.

The last ally to talk about is Kamran Shah. I feel like he deserves more discussion than I'm interested in giving him, just because of the way political relationships with Afghanistan have changed since 1987. Is Shah a freedom fighter or a terrorist? That's a way deeper discussion than I want to get into in a post about James Bond, but feel free to hit me up privately if you want to hash that out. In the movie, I like Shah a lot. He's charming and complex and adds interest to a section of the movie that's otherwise overlong. I like the stuff in Afghanistan and I can't think of any of it that I would like to cut, but it does add up to a lot of screen time.

Best Quip

"We have a saying too, Georgi. And you're full of it." Georgi Koskov is a great villain, but he really is full of crap (though I don't think that's the expression Bond's thinking of) and it's great to see Bond finally call him on it.

There aren't a lot of quips in The Living Daylights, though Bond does have a sense of humor. Whether it's the self-deprecating way he orders his vodka martini or the lame excuses he comes up with for his car's gadgets, he's not so driven and serious that he can't enjoy himself.

He even comes up with a good old-fashioned death quip after he finishes off Necros: "He got the boot." It wouldn't be an especially strong one, but I love the way Dalton says it. He comes back into the cockpit in a good mood now that he and Kara are safe and just starts to make with the joke before realizing they're about to crash into a mountain. He's all, "He got the..." then gets an "oh crap!" look on his face before lamely finishing the line. If you're going to make a bad joke, that's the way to do it.

Worst Quip

Sadly, Dalton delivers "He met his Waterloo" totally straight.


Bond only uses a couple of gadgets in The Living Daylights, but they're both multi-purpose. The personal one is the key-ring locator. It's magnetic and has a great collection of skeleton keys, but the really nifty parts are the stun gas and explosive charge keyed to particular whistles.

Better than that is Bond's new car, the Aston Martin V8 Vantage. It's a great-looking vehicle that comes with a laser cutter, rockets, outrigger, spiked tires, rocket motor, and self-destruct.

Top Ten Gadgets

1. Lotus Esprit (The Spy Who Loved Me)
2. Aston Martin DB V (Goldfinger and Thunderball)
3. Jet pack (Thunderball)
4. Iceberg boat (A View to a Kill)
5. Aston Martin V8 Vantage (The Living Daylights)
6. Glastron CV23HT speed boat (Moonraker)
7. Acrostar Mini Jet (Octopussy)
8. Crocodile submarine (Octopussy)
9. Little Nellie (You Only Live Twice)
10. Rocket cigarettes (You Only Live Twice)

Bond's Best Outfit

I did say I love a leather jacket and this is a great one. Very European. Like the layered sweater look on him, too.

Bond's Worst Outfit

Dalton pulls off every look they give him, including the Mujahideen raider outfit. But once he lost the black, badass head covering, it let me notice how baggy those pants are. And since I gotta pick something...


snell said...

I'm very glad the the script didn't just leave Saunders as the "bureaucratic jerk who reflexively opposes Bond" for the entire film. He doesn't hold a grudge after Bond humiliates him--he actually starts to thaw towards 007, recognizing his strengths. Of course, just all just a set-up to make him a better sacrificial lamb, but a lot of movies wouldn't have bothered to give "the jerk" that one moment of grace...

Jack Tyler said...

I may be getting ahead of things here, but this looks like the place for that. After Roger Moore turned the franchise into a slapstick innuendo-fest, I longed for the "dangerous" agent Fleming had written, or at least I thought I did. Timothy Dalton won my heart when he stomped the druglord into the rock crusher (License to Kill, if memory serves). He was gone too soon. I liked Brosnan, and don't know exactly why. Maybe his looks went with the scripts he was given, or was it just that he looked young enough to do the things they were asking him to do? I came late to Daniel Craig, watching Casino and Quantum on the home theater just recently. Here's my problem with his Bond: He acts like the main enforcer for a brutal drug gang in any hard-R rated cop movie, but we're supposed to root for him because his government says it's okay. I'm sorry. A turd has a distinctive aroma, no matter how it's packaged.

Great, great series, my friend. Can't wait for more! If you never do another thing, this will comprise a wonderful legacy. Please, continue!


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