Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Living Daylights - 1987

Background: the late '80's weren't a great time for the Bond franchise. They were running out of Ian Fleming material (even though by this stage they were mostly using titles only and writing their own stories around them), they had to deal with a new actor as Bond for the first time since 1973 and audience reaction to him, the series and its values seemed to be becoming less relevant in general and the big problem for them was the rise of the action movie. For a long time Bond had the playing field all to himself. By the late '80's Stallone with Rambo was a big box office draw and the same with Arnold Schwarzenegger and the plethora of iron muscled, steel jawed characters he played, especially the Terminator. In a couple of years a former TV star by the name of Bruce Willis would play jaded cop John McClaine and provide Bond with some real competition on all levels. Even former contact sports stars: Chuck Norris and Jean Claude Van Damme were causing issues for the idea of James Bond as an action hero. Aikido expert Steven Seagal was also lurking on the sidelines.

Eon knew that they had to get this one right. Get it wrong and you may never get audiences back, especially since they had a valid choice to make for the first time. A lot of what retained audiences through subpar entries into the series like Diamonds Are Forever, The Man With The Golden Gun, Moonraker and Octopussy was the lack of a decent alternative.

The idea of making a prequel to the series was toyed with (no one had ever heard of a reboot back then), but that seemed to be scrapped before it got too far down the track.

While I didn't mind A View To A Kill, it was both a critical and a financial disappointment for Eon, personally I think ignoring the rise of the action movie not about James Bond, and adopting their steady as she goes approach to casting on and off screen caused a lot of that, disenchanting both audiences and critics.

While some casting changes (Bond and Moneypenny) were made, the same writers (Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum) and crew (John Glen directing) were retained. Cubby Broccoli's daughter, Barbara, had also been given a more hands on role in the making of the films. There seemed to be more interest around the search for a new Bond to replace Roger Moore and the final decision on that actor than there was around the film and the content of it. Not really an encouraging thing for the producers.

Story: like a few of the more recent Bond's The Living Daylights has a somewhat uneven story. It starts off as a rather hard edged spy story with settings behind the Iron Curtain, then changes into a blockbuster action film set in the middle east, with some drug involvement.

The opening scenes (following the pre credit sequence) are very similar to the Ian Fleming short story that provides the title, with Bond taking aim at a KGB sniper and trusting his instincts to shoot to wound rather than kill. Bond's sniper rifle is a Walther model, which is a nice piece of continuity.

The first part of the story concerns a defecting KGB General Georgi Koskov, who is then kidnapped from a safe house somewhere in the British countryside by an extremely competent blonde assassin, known only as Necros. In another piece of cute continuity the kitchen in the safe house has a pet macaw. It reminded me of Max from For Your Eyes Only. It was John Glen's idea to use the same bird from the earlier films.

MI6 blame a KGB general by the name of Pushkin for the extraction and the death of some 00 agents shown in the pre credit sequence. M wants Bond to kill Pushkin and Bond refuses due to the fact that he doesn't feel this is Pushkin's style. M says he'll get someone else to do it, but in a recall to On Her Majesty's Secret Service suggests that Bond take two weeks leave, knowing full well he will pursue the case on his own time.

Bond always felt there was more to the sniper than everyone thoughts. She's a beautiful young Czech cellist by the name of Kara Milovy, so he takes his brand new Q modified Aston Martin to Bratislava and makes contact with Kara. This is the part of the story where they introduce the girl, who at the time is obsessed with Koskov.

Koskov is in league with American arms dealer Brad Whitaker, they're planning to have Pushkin killed, rip off the Russians and make a killing in the illegal drugs market by getting a lot of pure opium from Russian controlled Afghanistan.

Bond smuggles Kara out of the Soviet Union by use of the Aston Martin and completing the journey into Austria while riding on the girl's cello case across the snow and holding her Stradivarius cello out of harms way (although it does still get shot). It's the cello that tips off Bond to Koskov being something other than a defecting KGB officer. KGB officers playing it by the rules don't make enough money to buy Stradivarius' instruments for their girlfriends and an Austrian contact confirms that Brad Whitaker was the man who paid for it.

The trail takes Bond and Kara to Tangiers and Bond makes a deal with Pushkin, which involves faking the Russian's death to try and bring Koskov out of the woodwork. Felix Leiter gets involved for reasons I don't totally understand, Tangiers is about as far away from his patch as anyone could think of. They could have cut the entire sequence, saved themselves some money and time and no one would have minded. I have the feeling it's a bit of a hangover from when they were intending to make this a prequel and maybe someone thought 'hey we haven't used Felix since Live And Let Die, let's squeeze him in here.' It doesn't really have a lot to do with the rest of the film. I'm sure while long term fans may have appreciated seeing the CIA man again, most were probably left scratching their heads as to what this peripheral character was doing there and why.

Kara then drugs Bond and delivers him to Koskov, she regrets it while they're on the plane to Afghanistan and turns against Koskov. They're officially broken up when he has her imprisoned along with Bond on the Russian base they land at. Bond uses his keyring from Q to get lose and also frees an Afghan prisoner. The prisoner turns out to be the British educated leader of a local mujahideen force and helps Bond and Kara go back to the base to take out Koskov.

It had all gotten very weird by this stage. The rest of the show involves the destruction of a plane and a bridge, the mujahideen blowing up a Russian base (if it was as easy as it was demonstrated here it does make one wonder how the Russians hung on in Afghanistan as long as they did) and the loss of approximately half a billion dollars worth of heroin.

The wrap up is a confrontation with Whitaker and has Pushkin taking Koskov into custody after helping Bond kill Whitaker.

Finally Bond attends a performance by Kara and winds up making love to her backstage after it.

It wasn't exactly the sort of movie that was going to endear the public to the new Bond. It could have been, but they took a few wrong turns along the way.


Director: it was decided to keep John Glen on, and it became a pretty typical Glen film. It starts off trying to recall the old Bond's, but then turns into an over ambitious blockbuster with too many unbelievable stunts for the audience to buy into. He also had to direct the star, as opposed to when Roger Moore was playing Bond on auto pilot, and he doesn't seem to have a strong enough style to do that effectively.

James Bond: when Moore retired from the role at the end of 1985 (I really think Cubby Broccoli would have been happy to recast the British actor, even if he was going to be almost 60 when the show was made) Eon needed to find a new Bond. There was quite a line up: Mel Gibson and Christopher Lambert were only two of the actors considered and discussed in the media. Dana (who always had more to do with casting than she ever should have) and Barbara Broccoli along with Michael G. Wilson and John Glen quite liked the New Zealand born actor Sam Neill, but Cubby wasn't sold on the actor. Maybe he had bad memories of the other antipodean to play the role (he and Lazenby clashed repeatedly during the filming of On Her Majesty's Secret Service). After a three-day screen test they offered the role to Pierce Brosnan, who many had tipped as a potential Bond after seeing his rather Bondesque portrayal of the mysterious Remington Steele in the NBC mystery/comedy of the same name. Ironically interest around Brosnan getting the Bond role led to NBC commissioning a new series of the show by exercising a clause in the actor's contract and Broccoli withdrew the offer of the Bond role as he didn't want the actor playing Bond to be associated with a contemporary TV show. After that deal went south interest in Remington Steele waned, and it was again cancelled after only 5 episodes of the new series being filmed. It was a case of 3rd time lucky for Timothy Dalton, and very much him being in the right place at the right time. Dalton was not liked by fans as Bond, I'm one of them. There's just something about him that isn't right. He's strangely emotionless a lot of the time. He seems to be trying to channel Sean Connery, when he should have been trying to put his own stamp on the role and make himself the new James Bond, rather than the next James Bond as interpreted by Sean Connery.

General Georgi Koskov: the duplicitous Koskov role went to Dutch actor Jeroen Krabbe. Krabbe had a rising profile and it is this role and that of the Sheriff of Nottingham in the Patrick Bergen version of Robin Hood a few years later that he'll always be best remembered for. He doesn't do a bad job as Koskov, but the sneering villain he turns into later on in the movie is hard to make believable for anyone.

Brad Whitaker: they got American character actor Joe Don Baker for this. Baker did a solid job, he himself described the character as 'a nut who thought he was Napoleon' and that is very much how he played it. At times he reminded me a little of how Neal McDonough plays his villains, although that could have been the southern accent and the very short blonde hair.

Peripheral roles: along with Roger Moore, Lois Maxwell retired from her role as Moneypenny after A View To A Kill (Moore jumped, I think Maxwell may have been pushed). That left Desmond Llewelyn as Q, Robert Brown as M, Geoffrey Keen as Frederick Gray and Walter Gotell as Gogol, as the other returning cast members. Q bobs up here and there being crabby and handing out devices to Bond. Brown tries to channel Bernard Lee as M when he gives Bond two weeks leave, but most of the time does his siamese twin act with Gray, the two really do seem to be joined at the hip at times. Gogol was supposed to have the Pushkin role, but as the actor was not well enough to devote the time required, they changed Gogol's position within the Politburo, created the character of Pushkin, and Gotell had a cameo at the end of the film.

Moneypenny: the departure of Lois Maxwell (not before time) necessitated the need for a new Moneypenny. Caroline Bliss was certainly younger, but that was about all they got right. Moneypenny is attractive, but not model attractive and it's quite obvious that if you take Caroline Bliss' large librarian glasses off, let her masses of blonde hair down and dress her in something fashionable she'd be ready for the catwalk. She's clearly desperate to do more than flirt with Bond, and the thought of her sitting at home listening to her Barry Manilow records and pining for James is enough to make someone cry and not entirely out of sympathy for her, either. Wrong, very very wrong.

Necros: despite being quite effective and dangerous as well as supplying the key henchman role I found the character rather bland. That may have been the intention as played by German actor Andreas Wisniewski, it may have been that after people like Oddjob, TeeHee, Jaws and even Gobinda or May Day he just kind of paled by comparison. Wisniewski later went on to play one of Hans Gruber's henchmen in Die Hard, so that kind of role seemed to suit him.

General Leonid Pushkin: this role was originally meant to be Walter Gotell's General Gogol. John Rhys Davies was brought in to cover for the actor. He did a great job. Rhys Davies is always compelling, and strangely enough although this was made 6 years after Raiders of the Lost Ark, he looks younger than he did as Saleh in that film. Rhys Davies will always be better known for the role he plays in the Indiana Jones blockbusters and as Gimli in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Kamran Shah: this is the Afghan resistance leader that Bond and Kara encounter in the Russian jail on the base, and once he's shaved and cleaned up sounds a little like an Oxford don. British actor Art Malik has made a career out of this sort of role, his very proper British accent being at odds with his sub continental appearance. I could almost see him being better cast as an MI6 operative based in Afghanistan or India, he would have done a better job as Vijay in Octopussy than the tennis professional who did play the role.

Felix Leiter: I really don't understand why Felix is in this film. Given the lack of care shown to the casting I don't think the film makers did either. The in joke continues, with the role being played this time by John Terry, the sixth actor to play the role. I'm not sure where they got Terry from, but he was the least impressive person to play the role and even more wrong than Norman Burton had been in Diamonds Are Forever. I know it was 14 years later, but surely David Hedison was available.

Kara Milovy: the character is close to one of the worst written in the series. She starts out as a nervous 'sniper' who barely knows how to drive a car, in fact I'm not even sure she has a licence, she's obsessed with Koskov even when Bond makes it pretty clear that her boyfriend intended him to shoot her when he had her act as a sniper. She does an about turn, although not before drugging Bond and delivering him into the hands of Koskov and quickly transfers her affections, then she turns into Action Barbie in Afghanistan, riding a horse across the desert, driving a jeep into a moving plane and successfully piloting said plane with the instructions of 'hold the controls straight' while Bond goes to defuse a bomb. I would have actually had her defuse the bomb, I'm sure she could have done it. At least Bond wouldn't have just thought 'lets see what this lever does' and pulled it down, something that very nearly sent James out of the cargo hatch. The role was played by Maryam D'Abo, who originally came into contact with the franchise when she auditioned for the role of Pola Ivanova in A View To A Kill. Barbara Broccoli remembered her and offered her the role of Kara. She was tipped as the 'next big thing' at one stage, not really sure why, she was a former model, she couldn't act, although she had a hard role to make believable or even sympathetic and she had no chemistry at at all with Timothy Dalton, who even as a highly respected co-star just couldn't make it work for her.

The Curse of the Bond Girl: for some reason Maryam D'Abo was seen as the 'next big thing' in the late 80's, it may have been sparked by this role and another one in a science fiction mini series called Something is Out There, it never eventuated. Honestly her performance as Kara should have killed any aspirations that she held. She's mostly a model more than an actress and unlike many actresses ho have played the role in a Bond film, she embraces her time as a Bond girl, admittedly she was one of the worst ever. She's up there with the likes of Mie Hama (Kissy Suzuki), Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland), Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) and Stacey Sutton (Tanya Roberts) as being dreadful for mine. In fact my wife said that she was even more whiny than Stacey and she hadn't though that was possible.

Pre credit sequence: unlike when Roger Moore took over the role and didn't appear at all in the pre credit squence, Dalton is front and centre from the start. It's centred around a war game played between three 00 agents (Bond is one of them) and an unspecified number of British troops on the Rock of Gibraltar. Bond tries to stop whoever is picking off agents and then escapes the rock by parachuting off it and landing on a cruise yacht containing an attractive, wealthy and bored woman looking for a 'real man'. It did kind of give audiences a bit of an idea how Dalton would play the role.

Gadgets: they tried to achieve a bit of a balance, but Bond did still rely quite heavily on Q's toys, which include a keyring that emits a knockout gas when the opening bars of Rule Brittania are whistled, explodes when it detects a wolf whistle and has a lock pick that will work on most standard locks. Then there's the new V8 Vantage Aston Martin. Q gave that one hubcap lasers (replacing the old wheel shredders on the DB5), stinger missiles, an outrigger system for use on the ice, tire spikes to assist traction, a rocket motor and a self destruct button. Bond manages to use all of them, including the self destruct mechanism, getting Kara to Austria. Occasionally we get a funny gadget in Q's laboratory scenes and this one had the 'ghetto blaster' a rocket launcher disguised as a portable music player, Q claimed it was being developed for the Americans.

Music: possibly buoyed by the success of Duran Duran with A View To A Kill, the franchise used another pop group for The Living Daylights, Norwegian outfit A-ha. As with the previous song, Barry wrote the music and the group the lyrics, unfortunately they didn't work well together and there were two versions of the song. The A-ha version is fairly tedious and forgettable, Barry's music is another kettle of fish entirely, that's played throughout the film and stands well on it's own without the pop group's singing, they sound rather like ferrets on heat (no, I wasn't a fan). I don't believe they made a film clip either (some of this may have come about because Duran Duran were fans of the films, A-ha weren't), and the song failed to make the US Top 100, although it did chart well in the UK. It seemed to scare the franchise away from pop groups for a while.

Once again the franchise weren't prepared to be second guessed and while the credits claim that James Bond will return it doesn't say in what.

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