2012 marks the 50th anniversary of James Bond on the big screen. To celebrate, SFX’s Nick Setchfield revisits each and every 007 adventure in a week by week countdown to Skyfall…
MISSION 15: THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987)
BOND GOES FOURTH After 14 years of secret service duty, Roger Moore’s exit left a faceless, tuxedo-clad void at the heart of the franchise. The screenplay for the fifteenth Bond adventure was written with no leading man in mind – one early pitch favoured a total reset, exploring Bond’s untold past, perhaps in a period setting. While the Bondmakers would eventually play the reboot card with 2006’s Casino Royale, ‘Cubby’ Broccoli nixed this notion, arguing that 007 worked best as a seasoned agent with a legacy of sex and death on his scorecard. As ever, every actor armed with a pulse and an Equity card appeared to be in consideration for the most coveted gig in cinema, from Robin Of Sherwood’s mullet-rocking bowman Michael Praed to Reilly Ace Of Spies star Sam Neill, who reportedly impressed everyone except Broccoli. On April 27 1986 The Mail On Sunday broke a “World Exclusive” – possibly bleeding into this reality from a parallel world – that fingered the fourth Bond as 32 year old Australian model Finley Light, supposedly signed for a 10 year stint in the spygame. “The Bond contract is pretty good,” Light is quoted as saying. “I think it will work out for me.” Closer to reality, Broccoli had his eye on vulpine stage and screen actor Timothy Dalton, who he had courted for Bond ever since Connery bailed (Dalton refused that first advance, fearing he was too young). With Dalton committed elsewhere, Broccoli switched to a young, preternaturally handsome rising star named Pierce Brosnan, whose suave, knowing turn in rompy adventure series Remington Steele felt like one long screentest for Bond. Brosnan’s chance at big screen glory was crushed by an act of corporate mean-mindedness: sensing he was hot, the network refused to release him, holding him to the letter of his contract. “My agents are going to make them pay,” said Brosnan, who would wait nearly a decade to claim the role. “There’s a lot of blood left to squeeze out of them.” As the schedule on The Living Daylights slipped, Dalton was suddenly available. The script was immediately tailored to his strengths, riffing on his insistence that Bond be the “tarnished man” of the Fleming novels, all of which he scrutinised with the instincts of a classical actor returning to the core text. “In the books you’re dealing with a real man, not a superman, who is beset with moral confusions and apathies and uncertainties and who is often very frightened and nervous and tense. That has not come across in the films.”
LIVING ON THE EDGE Dalton walks the opening gunbarrel with an urgent, confident stride that declares a new slate for Bond. More plausibly a flesh and blood secret servant than fantasy playboy, he substitutes a jet-knife intensity for Moore’s impregnable charm, trades his predecessor’s smirk for a snarl. For all his strikingly dapper choice of suits, his elegant way with a cigarette, there’s a slowburn tension to his take, a sense of a man wounded by the psychological collateral of his job. Yes, there are moments when he plays it like Heathcliff confronted by a particularly confounding tax return, and Bond’s customary one-liners frequently die unloved on his lips, but for all the petulant hint of a stick in his arse (“I’d rather not talk about it,” he snaps) Dalton brings an authentic sense of inner life to Fleming’s hero. The film’s marketing campaign sold us Dalton’s aura of blade-eyed danger – “The most dangerous James Bond. Ever.” – and there’s a vicious edge to his 007 that’s never less than jolting. He strips a girl topless to distract a guard and when he commands Pushkin to fall to his knees in preparation for a bullet in the head it skims unnervingly close to the reality of state-sponsored execution. In that moment, if in no other, you’re impelled to believe in this Bond’s licence to kill.
INTRODUCING DALTON The introduction of any new Bond is a cardinal screen moment and the pre-titles sequence of The Living Daylights wittily toys with our expectations. We’re flung into an MI6 training mission to penetrate the radar defences of Gibraltar. Three men skydive onto the towering, rain-grey crag of the crown dependency, a choice of location that instantly announces a return to the rugged, grounded universe of For Your Eyes Only. One of these freefalling silhouettes is the new James Bond – but which one? The film is playing a shellgame with Bond’s identity. When Dalton finally wins a close-up it’s a beaut – he turns, an astonishingly Byronic figure ruffled by high winds, all dimple and gaze, processing the death-cry of his fellow double-oh agent. As John Barry’s score turns techno Bond enters white-knuckle action mode, battling to cling to a hurtling, explosives-laden jeep as it careens around the perilous cliffside roads. This combat-booted, compellingly physical protagonist immediately feels more dynamic than Moore’s incarnation; by the time he dispenses a brutal head-butt we’re utterly sold on him as an action man. But Dalton’s most telling moment comes when he introduces himself to the girl on the yacht. Confronted by the line “Bond, James Bond” he strips it of all its suave portent, its decades of encrusted meaning. He’s like an actor terrified of cliché, tossing away “To be or not to be.” The intent is clear: Timothy Dalton is playing James Bond. Just possibly not the one we’ve always known.
THE MONOGAMOUS BOND By 1987 James Bond was in danger of seeming a painfully archaic fantasy. A dream-figure of rapacious, freewheeling, all-conquering male desire, the character seemed inseparable from the sexual revolution of the 1960s, licenced to bed the planet as often as he saved it. But now came the media-ordained era of Safe Sex – the threat of AIDS was impacting on society and there was an unshakable sense that the ‘60s party was finally at an end. While the Bondmakers denied that this new moral code infiltrated The Living Daylights it’s clear that Dalton is being repositioned as a more monogamous figure. His pre-titles dalliance on the yacht aside, this Bond is a one-woman man, and the film ultimately delivers the most credible romance since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Dalton is the first and only actor to imagine Bond as a true romantic lead. He had played Heathcliff and Rochester and brings a little of that matinee smoulder to 007, always holding the girl’s head in his hands as he moves to kiss her. Crucially, he never feels like a player. “I heard you played the conservatoire yesterday,” he tells Kara, the cellist ensnared in this adventure. “It was exquisite.” With any other Bond that might seem like a line. With Dalton it feels like a flash of a buried heart, a glimpse of a sensitive man grasping for beauty in a dark, bruising world.
OPTIONAL EXTRAS While Roger Moore became synonymous with the sleek, none-more-‘70s Lotus Esprit – in both submersible and turbo-charged explodey versions – Bond’s back behind the wheel of an Aston Martin in The Living Daylights. The iconic choice of marque was a calculated one by the filmmakers, keen to arm their fledgling new Bond with a readymade sense of big screen heritage. Dalton drives an Aston Martin V8 Volante, first seen as a convertible and then craftily “winterised” into a hard-top by Q-branch. The car packs hubcap-mounted lasers, heat-seeking missiles and an internal HUD display and outwits icy weather with retractable outriggers and tyre-spikes. All of this is, of course, deeply satisfying for your inner 11 year old but you can’t quite shake the suspicion that it feels profoundly jarring in this particular Bond movie, with its emphasis on grounded adventure and Cold War spygaming. Dalton clearly struggles with the Mooreisms – “I had a few optional extras installed,” he murmurs, barely summoning a twinkle – and by the time a roaring jet-flame erupts from the rear of the Aston it’s as if the Batmobile has crashed headlong into Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
SMERT SPIONEMThe Living Daylights takes the premise of Ian Fleming’s original 1962 short story – a melancholy 007 encounters a lady cellist assassin and deliberately fudges his assigned kill – and uses it as the catalyst for a mazy tale of deceptions and double-crosses. Notably it’s the last Cold War Bond adventure. We’re in the dying days of the furtive shadow-conflict that powered From Russia With Love and we feel deeper into the game than ever before. Far from the traditional exotic lustre of a Bond location, the rain-slick cobbles and seedy, watchful backrooms of Bratislava conjure the authentic atmosphere of a John Le Carre tale or some other downbeat, disconsolate spy thriller. Somehow we wouldn’t be entirely surprised if Callan, Smiley or Harry Palmer were on the other side of the walls, peering into the Czechoslovakian darkness, listening to the secret chatter of spooks in the night. Elsewhere the film’s Viennese sequences nod to Carol Reed’s classic 1949 film noir The Third Man – director John Glen had started his cinematic career as assistant to the sound department on that film, and wanted to pay tribute – while the climax in Afghanistan delivers a romantic desert adventure vibe, as epic and widescreen as the earlier Cold War manoeuverings are boxy and internal. Intriguingly, Art Malik’s turn as the heroic, charismatic leader of the Afghan rebels is now very much a snapshot of a pre-9/11 world.
TRIV AND LET DIE
Other contenders for the role of Bond included Lambert Wilson, Anthony Hamilton and Christopher Lambert, star of Highlander.
Leading lady Maryam d’Abo helped screentest the potential Bonds. She had originally auditioned for the role of Pola Ivanova in A View To A Kill, a role that was won by Fiona Fullerton.
Ian Fleming’s original title for “The Living Daylights” was “Trigger Finger”.
A scene deleted from the film finds Bond riding a “flying carpet” above the souks of Morocco. It was deleted for being a little too Roger Moore in tone.
Dalton began his Bond career in a state of jet-lag. He finished Brenda Starr in America on a Saturday, flew Sunday and began filming The Living Daylights on the Monday.
Andreas Wisniewski AKA Walkman-wielding assassin Necros was a trained ballet dancer.
This is the last film to be scored by the mighty John Barry. He cameos as the conductor of the orchestra as Kara plays.