Wednesday, November 12, 2008

From Russia with a cello


Note: This post is part of the Blog, James Blog-a-thon at Lazy Eye Theatre.

I had hoped to write an all-Timothy Dalton post for the James Blog-a-thon, but it turns out there's nothing nice I can say about License to Kill, other than its ultra-smooth title cut from Gladys Knight. So all-Timothy Dalton turned in to all-Living Daylights, which is fine by me. I've never hesitated to declare The Living Daylights as one of my favorite Bond movies (same for A View to a Kill), despite having a decidedly lower pedigree than its peers. There's not a single memorable villain in the movie, the plot seems like a lost A-Team episode, and the most critical piece of gadgetry James uses is an exploding key chain. And yet, it's still fun as hell.

What The Living Daylights has going for it is strong source material, a short story by Ian Fleming that was the last of the author's books to be adapted into a big-screen 007 before Casino Royale. Fleming's short story The Living Daylights presents the concept of Bond's conflict of killing a beautiful woman sniper, who he earlier had eyes for. The movie recreates this short story nearly line for line in the opening sequence, even ending with the same words, "I must have scared the living daylights out of her." The short story ends there, and from that scene the movie goes on to a mostly uninteresting series of double-crosses about the KGB and an arms dealer portrayed by Joe Don Baker.

The plot never really comes to life after that opening scene, especially since the worst that can happen is the KGB getting to buy some weapons from Joe Don Baker. But the opening sniper sequence gives us the one element that will hold everything together: the chemistry between Bond and Kara (Maryam d'Abo). Unlike many of the perfunctory 007 relationships, these two seem to really share something, and dammit if they don't look good together. Kara is a good complement to Bond, as we see early on she's a capable sniper and later proves to be a nearly-competent pilot.

The pair figure in to the movie's two best moments: a flawless Aston Martin gadget escape turned cello sled ride, and a still amazing airborn fight on a barely-tethered opium cargo. The latter leads to the movie's best line ("he got the boot!"), and one of the franchise's best-executed stunts, with Bond and Kara escaping the doomed cargo plane in a Jeep on some sort of parachute sled. They make it look easy, but I've always loved Dalton's fearless look when he pulls the parachute and jumps back in the Jeep ("I know a great restaurant in Karachi!").

These charms may not be appear to be in the caliber of Bond's more popular fare, but there's something about the overall film that's kept me coming back. It may be due to the fact that it was made in 1987, and as such its DNA contains elements of 80s action movies (random happenings in Afghanistan, exploding cargo planes, Joe Don Baker, etc.). It's also hard to deny that this is the last of the old school 007 movies -- the last of Fleming's original material, and also the last one to be scored by John Barry. The score and accompanying songs are excellent, with Barry adding some late-80s sensibilities to the traditional 007 score, and a-Ha turning in a surprisingly memorable title song (Barry himself remixed the song for the movie, adding in the snappy strings intro).

And then there's Dalton. While he may never rise above the bottom of the Bond depth chart among fans, he has nothing to be ashamed of in The Living Daylights. Dalton's Bond is closer to Sean Connery than Roger Moore, with little of the former's sarcasm. He plays Bond pretty straight, but always appears capable of doing his part in keeping the Majesty's Crown safe. License to Kill sunk the franchise to unseen depths, and Dalton's legacy was taken down with it, but The Living Daylights has aged well.

12 comments:

Marty McKee said...

I think you're a little hard on LICENCE TO KILL, which has aged pretty well. At the time of its release, I thought it was a great action movie, but not much of a Bond film (yes, there is a difference). To some extent, I still believe that, but LICENCE is so much better than today's action films (including Bond films) that it plays very well for me. I think LIVING DAYLIGHTS is a bit of a bore, though I agree that the action setpieces you mentioned are fantastic (and, again, better than any I've seen recently, including the overrated CASINO ROYALE).

Adam Ross said...

I will have to revisit "Licence to Kill" again, as I once had good memories of it, but now all I can think of is Dalton doing a wheelie with that semi-truck. I'm with you on "Casino Royale," while it was good to see the series change gears a bit, by the last 30 minutes I was just hoping it would end.

Burbanked said...

The opium cargo stunt sequence is, I think, one of the all-time great Bond stunts - even though I rarely remember anything else from this movie!

I'm with Marty to some extent that I actually liked LICENCE better than DAYLIGHTS. At the time of LICENCE I appreciated Dalton's darker take on Bond, and enjoyed the fact that he was acting as a rogue, stripped down and forced to rely on his own resources, outside of his duties on a tale of revenge.

You know, kind of like Craig's Bond. Curious how that's happened now that Dalton is viewed as Bond's unfortunate detour in terms of casting.

Damian said...

While I'm afraid I cannot agree with you on Licence to Kill, Adam (I personally find it to be one of the best and most original Bond films, though I didn't feel that way initially) I will admit that I've always loved The Living Daylights. It is one of my personal favorite Bond films (I remember, at age 11, standing in a line that literally went around the block to see it on opening night at a theatre in Seattle with my father and my little brother) and Dalton a highly underrated Bond. The pre-title sequence on the rock of Gibraltar, the Aston Martin snow chase (capped by the hilarious cello-sled), the moody Thin Man inspired sequence at the carnival in Vienna and the spectacular cargo plane stunt are all quite excellent.

The scene that really struck me when I first saw it, though, was the confrontation between Bond and Pushkin (John Rhys-Daves) in the hotel room. I remember seeing it at the time and thinking "This is a DIFFERENT James Bond than the one I've become used to (i.e. Roger Moore)." Bond it was quite brutal and menacing in that sequence and reminded me that he can really be a bastard when the situation calls for it. In many ways, I think Dalton's darker, harder interpretation of the character very much anticipates Craig's, which (as Burbanked said) is ironic considering that most people seem to love Craig now but didn't care for Dalton back in the day. Sometimes you can be a little too far ahead of the curve.

Adam Ross said...

OK gentlemen -- I will suspend my dated opinion on "Licence to Kill" until I re-watch again. I had no idea it had so many fans.

And Damian, it's interesting that you mention "The Thin Man" with the carnival theme, because I forgot to include my take on that interesting sequence. I interpreted it as a tribute to "The Third Man": they're in Vienna, and the balloon man's line is identical to the elderly peddler's near the end of Reed's movie.

I agree on that hotel scene, Roger Moore would NOT have handled it that way. But it's refreshing to see some bastardly maneuvers when the situation calls for it.

Damian said...

Oops. You're right, Adam. I said "Thin Man"; I meant "Third Man." Interestingly, director John Glen worked on "The Third Man", so he was essentially giving a nod to his past in that scene.

elgringo said...

Is that last picture of an airplane taking a dump? If so, I'll have to check out this one again.

I didn't hate License to Kill and it's more brutal take on the Bond films.

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