The Living Daylights at 30: A short-lived new era

The Living Daylights poster

The Living Daylights poster

The Living Daylights, the 15th James Bond film made by Eon Productions, was going to be the start of a new era for the series.

With hindsight, it’s now evident the new era was doomed to be short-lived. But nobody envisioned that when the movie came out in the summer of 1987.

Roger Moore hung up his shoulder holster following 1985’s A View to a Kill. There was going to be a new film James Bond. The question was who would it be.

Sam Neill was screen tested. He had supporters among the production team, but didn’t have the vote of producer Albert R. Broccoli, according to the documentary Inside The Living Daylights.

Pierce Brosnan tested for the role (including playing scenes from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). He even signed a contract, with a photo taken of the event.

But all that went askew when NBC renewed his Remington Steele series. Broccoli had second thoughts.

Broccoli and his stepson, Michael G. Wilson, later denied in a television interview that Brosnan had even been signed.

The ultimate choice was Timothy Dalton. Broccoli said Dalton was the first choice all along.

“We wanted to get Timothy,” Broccoli said. “We had standing by the possibility of Pierce Brosnan. We liked Pierce. But we did really feel Timothy was the man we wanted.” Even if NBC hadn’t renewed Remington Steele, the producer said, “We liked Timothy very much.”

After the bumpy start, Daylights got into gear. Dalton, 40 at the time filming began, was almost 20 years younger than Moore. The actor also was more than willing to do some of his own stunts. This tendency showed up in the pre-titles sequence when Bond is on the top of a military truck at the Rock of Gibraltar.

Dalton, though, brought more than (relative) youth to the role. His Bond was more conflicted and more grounded in the original Ian Fleming novels and short stories.

Early in the film, Bond disobeys orders when he suspects a supposed sniper (Maryam d’Abo) isn’t genuine. He shoots her rifle instead of her.

Later, Saunders, another MI6 agent, says he’s going to report Bond to M. Dalton’s Bond isn’t fazed. “If he fires me, I’ll thank him for it.”

Richard Maibaum was on board for his 12th Bond film as scripter, collaborating with Wilson. The Maibaum-Wilson team built their story out from a sequence in Ian Fleming’s short story of the same title.

Initially, the duo had an “origin” story line that Broccoli vetoed. Instead, Dalton’s Bond would again be depicted as a veteran agent.

The Living Daylights generated worldwide box office of $191.2 million, an improvement over A View to a Kill’s $152.6 million.

In the U.S. market, however, Daylights’ $51.2 million wasn’t much better than View’s $50.3 million. For whatever reasons, American audiences never warmed to Dalton the way international audiences did.

Still, Daylights seemed to represent a fresh start for the Bond film series. What nobody knew at the time was that audiences had already consumed half of the Dalton Bond films.

What’s more, Daylights was the end of an era for the series. It had John Barry’s final 007 score. For his final Bond film, the composer would make a brief on-screen appearance.

Daylights also would be the last time that Maibaum would fully participate in the writing.

The veteran scribe (1909-1991) would help plot 1989’s Licence to Kill. But the actual script was written by Wilson, with Maibaum sidelined by a Writers Guild of America strike.

8 Responses

  1. THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS is a tightly written film. For the first time in years, a Bond film wasn’t bogged down by corny sight gags and pointless globe hopping. There was also a healthy amount of contemporary politics inserted into the script; this is the only Bond that included a then on-going conflict. Of course, there is Dalton himself whose characterization was perfectly on-point. The downsides are unfortunately very conspicuous. Like Kristatos, Koskov was far too cautious. Bond villains are supposed to be brash, they shouldn’t be subtle or smart enough to keep themselves away from the real action. Also, even though he wasn’t a classic Bond villain, Whittaker would have been refreshing. We had so many years of European aristocrats that a boorish American heavy would have been refreshing change of pace. Lastly, there is Kara Milovy. She was a well developed character but she was dead weight in the film and just did not have sexual appeal or presence in order to be a Bond girl. Still, despite the downsides, THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS is a pretty good thriller that is worth an occasional rewatch.

  2. Sorry, I meant a solo Whittaker would have better.

  3. Great film with outstanding, believable action stunts, special effects that will always beat out CGI (the bridge scene and aircraft crash being stunning 30 years later on any size screen) and a very topical plot set in Afghanistan (which dated it from 1989-2001 … Then, sadly, sort of did not make the film seem stuck in the Cold War after Sept. 11).
    The score is wonderful.
    The only thing I have to declare is my dislike for that blasted cello.

  4. My complaints are the complete opposite to yours. I thought Kara Milovy was a refreshing change from the over glamorous Bond girl. Her relationship was touching and warm with Dalton. But plot wise the film was the usual unstructured mess from Wilson that all the 80’s films suffered from. A series of incidents with no real sense of forward motion and build. The villains were weak and the actual plot vague, complicated and thrown away. At the time I defied anyone to tell me what is was about after one viewing. Also Dalton was actually awkward in the role (he couldn’t handle the humour). He lacked real star power. In fact I always thought he would have been better in a faithful in period James Bond TV series where his dour interpretation might have succeeded.

  5. Timothy Dalton is my second favorite Bond after Sean Connery. I wish they had continued with him.

  6. Mark, I agree with you on the plot. I still don’t understand why Koskov wanted Kara dead. Bond said that she knew too much. Huh ? I thought it was appearant that didn’t know anything except some loose connection with Whitaker. Also I am inclined to agree that Dalton would have been better off in period pieces. However, I hardly consider him a flop as a Bond. TLD played to his strengths when it came to serious stuff and I can forgive his stiffness when it came to the humor. We’ll have to agree to disagree on Milovy. There some prerequisites you have to fill in order to be a Bond girl and she just didn’t come up to snuff.

  7. The plot and unimposing villains were definitely the weakest aspects of TLD–it should be noted that Licence to Kill was much stronger in those areas, regardless of its other flaws. Nevertheless, TLD was an otherwise strong debut for Dalton, and it’s still a mystery why American audiences didn’t take to him–I’d say he had just as much “star power” as Brosnan.
    During the late 80s Bond was being crowded out by other action stars, and no matter who played him, the public probably wouldn’t have been enthusiastic. But by the late 90s the Schwarzenegger/Stallone/Willis sub-genre was bloated and in decline, and absence had made the public’s heart lighter for Bond. Brosnan benefited from excellent timing.

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