James Bond Retrospective: The Living Daylights (1987)

Pre-Credits & Theme Song

As with all previous opening sequences featuring a new Bond, this one needed to provide something special to grab the audiences’ attention and convince everyone that it was business as usual for the character. Opening during a routine training exercise for British agents in Gibraltar, it soon becomes apparent that all is not going as planned as a number of agents are killed by a lone assassin. We first see Dalton’s Bond as he witnesses the death of one of the agents and then with barely a pause he is thrust straight into his first action sequence.

As the assassin makes his escape in a military Land Rover packed with a cargo of explosives, Bond pursues clinging to the canvas roof of the vehicle. Eventually making his way into the driver’s cab, a fight ensues leading the out of control Land Rover to go over the edge of a cliff at speed. With the explosives ablaze, Bond kicks out the front window before pulling a rip-chord releasing his parachute lifting him out of the burning vehicle at the moment it explodes killing the assassin.

With Dalton performing many of the stunts himself, the scene is a fast paced introduction to the new Bond proving straight away that this is a very different interpretation; Roger Moore would never have head-butted an assailant but Dalton manages to do it within minutes of appearing on screen. It is the perfect reinvention of the character and sets the bar high for any action that follows but it is exactly the kind of opening we have come to expect from a Bond film and unlike many others it is connected directly to the main plot of the film.

Following the success of Duran Duran’s theme song for the previous film, the producers chose another hugely popular group to perform the title music for The Living Daylights. Norwegian pop group A-ha working in collaboration with composer John Barry provided a really memorable song taking the Bond sound into the electronic age. Barry’s score, his final musical accompaniment for the series also incorporated the more contemporary sound while still maintaining the traditional orchestral approach that had served the series so well since its inception.

As well as A-ha’s theme song, Barry co-wrote two songs for the soundtrack with Chrissie Hynde, lead singer of the group The Pretenders. One of the songs, If There Was A Man was used during the film’s closing credits and Where Has Every Body Gone? was featured in the film as the song playing on the Walkman of the KGB henchman Necros. As with the main theme song, both tracks feature heavily in Barry’s score throughout the film.

Barry’s contribution to the series is as important as that of the key crew members behind the look and style of the series. Having provided the scores for eleven out of fifteen films he created an unmistakable sound that has continued to soundtrack the series to this day. As this was his final Bond film Barry was fittingly offered the opportunity to cameo in the film as the conductor of the orchestra in the film’s final scenes.

The Movie

British secret service agent James Bond is assigned to Bratislava to aid the defection of KGB officer, General Georgi Koskov during the interval of a concert. As Koskov leaves the concert hall, Bond wounds a female sniper, who he recognises as a cellist from the orchestra as she attempts to assassinate Koskov. With Koskov held at a safe house in the England he proceeds to inform British intelligence of a revived policy of Smert Spionam, meaning Death to Spies, orchestrated by the new head of the KGB General Leonid Pushkin.

Bond returns to Bratislava to trace the female assassin who he discovers is actually Koskov’s girlfriend, Kara Milovy and determines that Koskov’s defection was staged to misinform the British government making an enemy of Pushkin. When Bond confronts Pushkin in Tangier he reveals Koskov is evading arrest for embezzling government money to fund a drug smuggling operation in Afghanistan to generate funds to buy weapons from Brad Whitaker, a rogue American arms dealer. After convincing Kara that Koskov has been using her Bond attempts to put an end to Koskov and Whitaker’s plans.

Dalton was not the only new actor cast in a key recurring role for The Living Daylights. After the departure of Lois Maxwell following 23 years playing M’s secretary, Miss Moneypenny, a replacement was sought to continue the flirtatious relationship with Bond. Theatre and television actress Caroline Bliss was chosen to bring Moneypenny up to date and as the youngest actress to play the role she brings a renewed, vivacious quality to the character. Sadly she lacks Maxwell’s effortless chemistry with her co-star and the few scenes she is in seem forced and out of place with the new Bond with dialogue exchanges better suited to the Moore era.

Another regular character from the novels and early films to make a return is Bond’s ally and opposite number in the CIA, Felix Leiter. After an absence of fourteen years Leiter is once again played by a different actor, on this occasion John Terry, probably best known for his debut role in Hawk The Slayer. While only making a brief appearance in the film it marks a welcome return for the character making his extended involvement in the following film all the more plausible. Fulfilling a role that would usually have been taken by Leiter in earlier films is the character of Saunders, played by Thomas Wheatley. He is a fellow agent who is instrumental in the organisation of Koskov’s defection, he plays by the rules and is essentially the complete opposite of Bond, however as the pair work closely together their relationship builds to a mutual respect making his death at the hands of henchman Necros all the more shocking. It is Dalton’s reaction to this key moment that sets him apart from previous Bond incarnations as he shows a steely rage motivated by personal vengeance, only stopping to compose himself when he inadvertently points a gun at a child.

Like all previous Bond films, The Living Daylights features some interesting locations ranging from Gibraltar, Czechoslovakia and Austria to Tangier and Afghanistan, most of which make their Bond debut in this film. Of all the locations, the most unusual and interesting are the scenes that take place in Afghanistan although these were actually filmed in the desert of Ouarzazate, Morocco. Soviet forces entered Afghanistan in 1979, eighteen months into the Afghan civil war. Offering military support to the communist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) who took power in the country following a military coup, they faced opposition from the guerrilla forces of the Mujahideen, funded and armed by the United States and the UK among others. In a war that lasted almost ten years it was not until Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union that the decision was made to withdraw troops from the country coinciding with the end of the Cold war. Reflecting the times, The Living Daylights sees Bond join forces with the Mujahideen to defeat the Soviet forces. The use of current events and a great supporting turn from Art Malik as the leader of the rebel forces lends the film a topical edge and a reality not often associated with the series.

The standout sequence of the Afghanistan set portion of the film sees Bond attempting to make his escape from the Russian air base in a C-130 Hercules aircraft. With Kara taking the controls of the plane as Bond heads into the cargo bay to diffuse a bomb he had previously set. When he reaches the rear of the plane he is attacked by Koskov’s henchman, Necros and a fight ensues as the loading ramp opens and a net containing opium bags tumbles out of the back of the plane taking Bond and Necros with it. The net remains attached to the aircraft as the two men fight to the death clinging on to the net as it hangs in the wind. The stunt sequence is one of the finest of the franchise and was performed by series veterans B.J. Worth and Jake Lombard. As with all their contributions to the Bond films, their physical stunt-work is awe-inspiring and offers far more thrilling action than todays over reliance on green screen and CGI. Even the moments which cutaway to the actors close-ups are convincingly presented despite being filmed on a Pinewood soundstage above a papier mache backdrop.

One scene that did not make the final cut was originally intended to form part of the foot chase across the rooftops of Tangier. As Bond attempts to evade the pursuing police he buys a Persian rug before placing it across the telephone wires connected between two buildings and sliding to safety while giving the effect that he is riding a magic carpet. This is a scene that would have been more suited to the Roger Moore era and had the potential to be as embarrassing as the Bondola sequence from Moonraker. Thankfully, despite having been shot and edited together, the sequence was wisely left out of the final cut of the film.

The Living Daylights is a terrific first film for Dalton and brilliantly sets up the new approach to the character moving him forward while still remaining faithful to the original source. It reminds us that Bond is a spy and this film is much more grounded in the reality of the world of espionage focussing less on the “out of this world” adventure style that had become part of the formula during the previous decade.