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Topic: In Defence of The Living Daylights

A lengthy review of one of the Bond films I would consider to be underrated- starting with the 1980s...


Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton’s first outings as 007 both open with scenes of violent death, as we witness fellow agents grimly struck down far from home territory. Yet while the circumstances leading up to each actor’s introduction of the iconic character are apparently similar, their initial appearances onscreen could not be more different. While the opening glimpses of Roger Moore’s 007 involve our hero cosily wandering into the kitchen at home, Timothy Dalton’s Bond is first seen reeling in shock at the sight of 004’s brutal murder, throwing himself breathlessly into the chase as he struggles desperately to despatch a lone assailant. It’s a prescient indication of the direction this new tenure was destined to take.  Dalton’s 007 prefers action over words, toughness over luxury, more comfortable glaring coldly down the sights of a rifle at his next target than peering lazily through binoculars at the grassy slopes of Brazil or Ascot racecourse, snapping orders at his allies rather than revelling in shared camaraderie.


Critics have charged Dalton’s two performances in the role as lacking screen presence. This isn’t quite accurate. While Dalton undoubtedly lacks the suave confidence of Sean Connery before him or Pierce Brosnan afterward, this is an entirely conscious decision; instead, Dalton’s Bond is perturbed and troubled, less certain of his place in the stifling MI6 hierarchy and struggling to hold his own against either friends or foes. Bond’s atypical reaction to the bureaucratic Saunders’ complaints, briskly declaring that “If M fires me, I’ll thank him for it” is revealing, as is Bond’s cold detachment towards Kara in the wake of Saunders’ death. This Bond is even permitted to make mistakes,  drawing his gun in the heat of the pursuit and accidentally startling a frightened mother and child. This is a well-meaning attempt to portray Bond as a flawed figure, a three-dimensional character rather than a cardboard cipher for British influence abroad.   Besides, Dalton shows himself perfectly capable of displaying all the finest traits of his predecessors at points; witness his despatching of Necros aboard the plane, a moment of ruthlessness to rival Connery’s unhesitant killing of Professor Dent in Dr. No, or his defence of tampering with Koskov’s hamper of presents, an aside of smirking snobbery worthy of Roger Moore at his best.


Dalton’s refreshing take on 007 is the most notable highlight of the film, but there are also some sterling action sequences to be enjoyed here. The best of these is probably Bond’s airborne battle with the Soviet assassin Necros, a brutal fight given real jeopardy by the ticking-clock aspect of the bomb waiting in the belly of the plane. In an effective moment of foreshadowing, an early sequence depicts Necros cruelly dispensing with one of Bond’s MI6 colleagues at a safehouse, a tense and bloody tussle that showcases the henchman’s lethal talents and raises the stakes for the inevitable physical match with 007 himself. This sense of danger is lent further weight when Necros is seen to be responsible for the murder of Bond’s reluctant ally Saunders, again serving to demonstrate the henchman’s latent menace far better than crushing a set of loaded dice ever could.


There’s a general sense of confidence and direction to The Living Daylights that’s noticeably missing from much of the Moore era. While Moore’s earlier instalments, such as The Man With the Golden Gun, made a habit of imitating the prevailing genres of the time such as kung fu and science fiction sagas, and his latter films, such as A View to a Kill, were arguably generic retreads of the franchise’s 60s glories, The Living Daylights functions far better as a genuine spy thriller, with a frosty Cold War atmosphere of international intrigue founded on a complex web of betrayals and defections. Compared to the lightly cartoonish depiction of looming nuclear Armageddon in 1983’s Octopussy, for example, The Living Daylights represents a definite step into more realistic territory for the series’ plotting.


While the lead performance, action and plotting remain strong, there are a few weaknesses to the adventure. Chief among these is the rather weak cadre of villains assembled against 007. Jeroen Krabbe’s General Koskov is a strong contender for the worst main villain of the series, undergoing a ridiculous volte-face from bumbling oaf to calculating schemer, from maladroit to mastermind. The transformation isn’t really believable, and the anticlimactic manner of his exit, meekly arrested rather than dying in a blaze of fireworks, doesn’t help either.  More effective in execution is Joe Don Baker’s tech-obsessed arms dealer, a fanatic obsessed with military gizmos and tainted by an all-consuming lust for war. When challenged on his admiration for historical generals, the crazed Whitaker proclaims them to be: “Surgeons. They cut away society’s dead flesh.”, in a disturbingly cold and clinical line. While Whitaker proves a serviceable villain, and the henchman Necros is excellent, Koskov lets the trio down badly, and is something of a weak link for the film overall.


In the final analysis, however, The Living Daylights is a well-crafted thriller, and a contender for the best Bond film of the Eighties. Scoring highly on its central Bond performance, action and authentic Cold War atmosphere, the film is let down only by a few duff moments of humour and shaky villains. A far more assured Bond adventure than its immediate predecessors in the series, The Living Daylights is ultimately an endearing and exciting instalment that paves an intriguing new direction for the character of James Bond.

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Re: In Defence of The Living Daylights

FYEO is the best Bond film of the 80s  ajb007/wink

President of the 'Misty Eyes Club'.

-------Dalton - the weak and weepy Bond!------

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Re: In Defence of The Living Daylights

Higgins wrote:

FYEO is the best Bond film of the 80s  ajb007/wink

Hate to agree with a moronic idiot. But you are right here.  But even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then.

..................http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a77/darkcrown_1969/Asp9mmSIG-1-2.jpg...............

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Re: In Defence of The Living Daylights

Thank you, SoD, for that well-written and perceptive review. I'd only add that John Barry's final Bond score (and his brief cameo) serves the film well and keeps it strongly in the Bond family; a new composer would have been wrong at this point.

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Re: In Defence of The Living Daylights

An excellent review. I remember that earlier in the year, during the AJB shared viewing of TLD, there was a mounting sense of dissatisfaction with the film, ranging beyond the weak impression made by Koskov to other issues such as the drippy Bond/ Kara relationship and the romanticisation of Kamran. Your defence here helps keep in focus the movie's strengths. I agree with the added appreciation of the score but probably also agree with the view that overall FYEO is the stronger film.

Critics and material I don't need. I haven't changed my act in 49 years.

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Re: In Defence of The Living Daylights

Another good review, SoD. Thanks.
I agree the film is an underrated gem. Much of what you say is an echo of my own in-depth review which is on this site somewhere. Nice to see someone who shares similar views. For me, John Glen is responsible for two excellent 007's in FYEO and TLD, both of which have a strong and contemporary Cold War plot. A pity the three surrounding movies are so dull. Dalton is particularly good, not just in the moments you identify but elsewhere too : the romantic elements, the dealings with Pushkin in Vienna, with M etc at the safehouse. I rate this 007 very highly - behind Connery of 64-65, and Craig '06, a shade better than Lazenby.

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Re: In Defence of The Living Daylights

SpectreOfDefeat wrote:

A lengthy review of one of the Bond films I would consider to be underrated- starting with the 1980s...


Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton’s first outings as 007 both open with scenes of violent death, as we witness fellow agents grimly struck down far from home territory. Yet while the circumstances leading up to each actor’s introduction of the iconic character are apparently similar, their initial appearances onscreen could not be more different. While the opening glimpses of Roger Moore’s 007 involve our hero cosily wandering into the kitchen at home, Timothy Dalton’s Bond is first seen reeling in shock at the sight of 004’s brutal murder, throwing himself breathlessly into the chase as he struggles desperately to despatch a lone assailant. It’s a prescient indication of the direction this new tenure was destined to take.  Dalton’s 007 prefers action over words, toughness over luxury, more comfortable glaring coldly down the sights of a rifle at his next target than peering lazily through binoculars at the grassy slopes of Brazil or Ascot racecourse, snapping orders at his allies rather than revelling in shared camaraderie.


Critics have charged Dalton’s two performances in the role as lacking screen presence. This isn’t quite accurate. While Dalton undoubtedly lacks the suave confidence of Sean Connery before him or Pierce Brosnan afterward, this is an entirely conscious decision; instead, Dalton’s Bond is perturbed and troubled, less certain of his place in the stifling MI6 hierarchy and struggling to hold his own against either friends or foes. Bond’s atypical reaction to the bureaucratic Saunders’ complaints, briskly declaring that “If M fires me, I’ll thank him for it” is revealing, as is Bond’s cold detachment towards Kara in the wake of Saunders’ death. This Bond is even permitted to make mistakes,  drawing his gun in the heat of the pursuit and accidentally startling a frightened mother and child. This is a well-meaning attempt to portray Bond as a flawed figure, a three-dimensional character rather than a cardboard cipher for British influence abroad.   Besides, Dalton shows himself perfectly capable of displaying all the finest traits of his predecessors at points; witness his despatching of Necros aboard the plane, a moment of ruthlessness to rival Connery’s unhesitant killing of Professor Dent in Dr. No, or his defence of tampering with Koskov’s hamper of presents, an aside of smirking snobbery worthy of Roger Moore at his best.


Dalton’s refreshing take on 007 is the most notable highlight of the film, but there are also some sterling action sequences to be enjoyed here. The best of these is probably Bond’s airborne battle with the Soviet assassin Necros, a brutal fight given real jeopardy by the ticking-clock aspect of the bomb waiting in the belly of the plane. In an effective moment of foreshadowing, an early sequence depicts Necros cruelly dispensing with one of Bond’s MI6 colleagues at a safehouse, a tense and bloody tussle that showcases the henchman’s lethal talents and raises the stakes for the inevitable physical match with 007 himself. This sense of danger is lent further weight when Necros is seen to be responsible for the murder of Bond’s reluctant ally Saunders, again serving to demonstrate the henchman’s latent menace far better than crushing a set of loaded dice ever could.


There’s a general sense of confidence and direction to The Living Daylights that’s noticeably missing from much of the Moore era. While Moore’s earlier instalments, such as The Man With the Golden Gun, made a habit of imitating the prevailing genres of the time such as kung fu and science fiction sagas, and his latter films, such as A View to a Kill, were arguably generic retreads of the franchise’s 60s glories, The Living Daylights functions far better as a genuine spy thriller, with a frosty Cold War atmosphere of international intrigue founded on a complex web of betrayals and defections. Compared to the lightly cartoonish depiction of looming nuclear Armageddon in 1983’s Octopussy, for example, The Living Daylights represents a definite step into more realistic territory for the series’ plotting.


While the lead performance, action and plotting remain strong, there are a few weaknesses to the adventure. Chief among these is the rather weak cadre of villains assembled against 007. Jeroen Krabbe’s General Koskov is a strong contender for the worst main villain of the series, undergoing a ridiculous volte-face from bumbling oaf to calculating schemer, from maladroit to mastermind. The transformation isn’t really believable, and the anticlimactic manner of his exit, meekly arrested rather than dying in a blaze of fireworks, doesn’t help either.  More effective in execution is Joe Don Baker’s tech-obsessed arms dealer, a fanatic obsessed with military gizmos and tainted by an all-consuming lust for war. When challenged on his admiration for historical generals, the crazed Whitaker proclaims them to be: “Surgeons. They cut away society’s dead flesh.”, in a disturbingly cold and clinical line. While Whitaker proves a serviceable villain, and the henchman Necros is excellent, Koskov lets the trio down badly, and is something of a weak link for the film overall.


In the final analysis, however, The Living Daylights is a well-crafted thriller, and a contender for the best Bond film of the Eighties. Scoring highly on its central Bond performance, action and authentic Cold War atmosphere, the film is let down only by a few duff moments of humour and shaky villains. A far more assured Bond adventure than its immediate predecessors in the series, The Living Daylights is ultimately an endearing and exciting instalment that paves an intriguing new direction for the character of James Bond.

What a terrific, well-reasoned review. And I agree 100%!

"Felix Leiter, a brother from Langley."

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Re: In Defence of The Living Daylights

Higgins wrote:

FYEO is the best Bond film of the 80s  ajb007/wink

I share this opinion, but TLD is my number two, and I see the two films as being very similar in many ways. FYEO, OP and TLD are all in my top 5 Bond films. The 80s and John Glen treated Bond very well. Except for LTK, though I wouldn’t want to say that to John Glen.

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Re: In Defence of The Living Daylights

Thank you SpectreOfDefeat for a very good review of The Living Daylights, which is my favourite Bond film of the 1980s and highly placed in my overall Top 10 Bond films. I have a fondness for the 80s Bonds, and I appreciate the work that John Glen did to bring a different flavour to the films of that decade (albeit with mixed results). In my opinion, The Living Daylights represents John Glen at his best.

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Re: In Defence of The Living Daylights

SpectreOfDefeat wrote:

Critics have charged Dalton’s two performances in the role as lacking screen presence. This isn’t quite accurate. While Dalton undoubtedly lacks the suave confidence of Sean Connery before him or Pierce Brosnan afterward, this is an entirely conscious decision; instead, Dalton’s Bond is perturbed and troubled, less certain of his place in the stifling MI6 hierarchy and struggling to hold his own against either friends or foes. Bond’s atypical reaction to the bureaucratic Saunders’ complaints, briskly declaring that “If M fires me, I’ll thank him for it” is revealing, as is Bond’s cold detachment towards Kara in the wake of Saunders’ death. This Bond is even permitted to make mistakes,  drawing his gun in the heat of the pursuit and accidentally startling a frightened mother and child. This is a well-meaning attempt to portray Bond as a flawed figure, a three-dimensional character rather than a cardboard cipher for British influence abroad.

It is well-meaning, I just don't think it works very well. When you take away the suave confidence from Bond you lose a massive part of his appeal: people enjoy the Bond character on screen because of that confidence. So when people criticise Daniel Craig because 'Dalton did it first' I think they're dead wrong: he also makes Bond a three-dimensional character but crucially he doesn't forget that swagger and confidence that makes Bond Bond. And audiences loved it.

I want to like Dalton and he is perfectly watchable, but watching Sean or Roger is like sipping a whisky: indulgent and you know it's naughty but it's just finely enjoyable, and blended from many different flavours from full-on drama to wonderfully self-knowing winks. Dalton gives a much more straighforward performance that can't be enjoyed on those different levels and so you don't end up bonding with him like you do the others, and it's not a performance to be savoured. People wanted more of Sean and there's a reason for that.
The annoying thing is Dalts does actually give much more confident performances in other non-Bond films, so he could have done it. He looks great, and he sells the danger and intensity of it all (although I would say I don't believe he actually enjoys women and luxuries: somehow the nods towards those feel perfunctory, like his heart isn't in it), but you can't really enjoy the pleasure of him being Bond.

Last edited by emtiem (2nd Nov 2020 10:15)

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Re: In Defence of The Living Daylights

+1 and that‘s the reason why Dalton mostly comes along like an angry schoolboy  ajb007/biggrin

President of the 'Misty Eyes Club'.

-------Dalton - the weak and weepy Bond!------

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Re: In Defence of The Living Daylights

Dalton makes me think of the Bond I read in Fleming's books. I don't feel any of the Connery, Moore or Brosnan swagger in the books. Dalton's lack of swagger may not work as well on screen, but I think it makes him a more relatable Bond. None of us have Connery's swagger.

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Re: In Defence of The Living Daylights

He is arguably more like Fleming's Bond in some ways, but then Fleming's Bond isn't really a hugely interesting character: he's a bit of a blank. He has a few tics and habits but not much personality beyond those- he's the pair of eyes through which we experience the wild world Fleming conjures. The films are more about Bond himself and celebrating him than the books were.

I don't think we need to relate to Bond hugely, none of us live in his world or react to things like he does, which is why the makers of the films made him into this figure which we could marvel at and vicariously live through. Dalton's just a bit blank in that.

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Re: In Defence of The Living Daylights

Based on Fleming's short story 'The Living Daylights', that early part of the film when Bond barely contain his distaste with his mission of shooting the sniper, and his irritation with Saunders, is very well acted by Dalton, who gives the whole sequence a dark intensity. ("Angry schoolboy" @Higgins? lol) Comparisons with Connery are interesting. Had Connery been given that same scene and played it more in the style of his Sgt. Johnson of 'The Offence' (1973), rather than as his customary post-GF Bond, we'd perhaps have got something darker still: a moodily disenchanted secret agent on the brink of a bad-tempered resignation. Come to think of it, Connery's co-star in 'The Offence', Ian Bannen, would have made a great alternative Saunders - or Captain Sender, as Fleming originally named the character.

Last edited by Shady Tree (2nd Nov 2020 18:44)

Critics and material I don't need. I haven't changed my act in 49 years.

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Re: In Defence of The Living Daylights

Shady Tree wrote:

Based on Fleming's short story 'The Living Daylights', that early part of the film when Bond barely contain his distaste with his mission of shooting the sniper, and his irritation with Saunders, is very well acted by Dalton, who gives the whole sequence a dark intensity. ("Angry schoolboy" @Higgins? lol) Comparisons with Connery are interesting. Had Connery been given that same scene and played it more in the style of his Sgt. Johnson of 'The Offence' (1973), rather than as his customary post-GF Bond, we'd perhaps have got something darker still: a moodily disenchanted secret agent on the brink of a bad-tempered resignation. Come to think of it, Connery's co-star in 'The Offence', Ian Bannen, would have made a great alternative Saunders - or Captain Sender, as Fleming originally named the character.

interesting thought, yeah; I can't really imagine Connery doing any of Roger's films, but he could slide into Daylights very easily, couldn't he? I can very much picture him arriving at the opera to meet Saunders, cheekily and engagingly eyeing up Kara etc. then turning cold when it comes to the assassination and then intimidating Saunders when he takes control. And, yeah, it's better with him doing it.

Daylights possibly remains my favourite Bond film incidentally, and I don't hate Dalton in it; but I do think his performance suffers in comparison to the other Bonds quite a bit. Even Lazenby knew that James Bond 007 is the guy who acts like he has the biggest balls in the world.

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Re: In Defence of The Living Daylights

Higgins wrote:

FYEO is the best Bond film of the 80s  ajb007/wink

Well, this can be debated. I think FYEO is BY FAR the best one with Roger, but some other movies of the decade are quite interesting in terms of storytelling.

TLD is my favorite Bond film after FRWL and GF. The main reason is obviously the plotline, a matserpiece if you get interested in spy fiction and geopolitics.

What's remarkable with this one is the complexity of the interactions between the characters given their respective motives. The eponymous short story by Fleming the film is based upon led Maibaum and Wison to adapt it so cleverly and so stylishly, using the global context at that time with the Soviet-Afghan War, that I even wonder if TLD is not more subtle than FRWL in some way.

The only detail preventing me from ranking this one in first position among all the Bond films is Jeroen Krabbé’s performance, considering General Koskov is Bond’s brightest adversary in the entire franchise. If you think about it, Koskov is some kind of Keyser Söze and his ability to manipulate so many people from opposite sides should have been showed with more intensity, insisting on the contrast with the first part of the movie, and on that point, Krabbé’s not convincing enough, but perhaps he was only responding to Glen’s instructions. Furthermore, the lethal partnership Koskov/Whitaker is the key of the story and I think Joe Don Baker is the only one really giving a solid performance while he’s featured five or six minutes (what a wonderful scene with John Rhys-Davies in Tangier, love it).

Concerning Krabbé, it’s such a shame because the man is a good actor. The funny thing is several years later, he will play the main antagonist in The Fugitive in which he turns out to be much more credible, worthy of a Bond villain.

Having said that, the rest is pure perfection. Bravo !

Last edited by SeanIsTheOnlyOne (19th Nov 2020 12:32)