Progressing through the Bond 50 set, I’ve finally, at long last, reached the two films that I’ve never seen but have been curious about for many years- the two entries starring Timothy Dalton as James Bond. Curiously, producer ‘Cubby’ Broccoli had actually considered Dalton for the part years before, back in 1968 for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, after Sean Connery first departed the franchise. Dalton was supposedly even offered the part but he declined it as he felt he was too young at the time. I’m not sure that was a wise move myself, as OHMSS, even with the much-maligned George Lazenby in the role of Bond, is in my eyes the best film in the series- with Dalton in the part who could say what would have happened? Would the franchise have soared and Connery’s subsequent return proven unnecessary? I guess it is one of those great ‘what-if’s ‘of movie history, and one can only imagine how things may have turned out in that parallel universe. My own suspicion is that had Dalton taken the role, OHMSS may have been even more successful with audiences, he would have stuck with the franchise and we would have had a great follow-up to OHMSS,as originally intended, with Dalton’s Bond seeking revenge after the murder of his wife, pushing the franchise into a serious direction not taken until decades later.
Alas, it was not to be- Dalton would not get another bite at the cherry until nearly two decades later, when Connery’s eventual long-term replacement Roger Moore finally left the series with the frankly shocking A View to a Kill. After considering Pierce Brosnan and, bizarrely, Sam Neil, eventually Broccoli returned to his earlier candidate and this time Dalton accepted the offer.
It is clear that with a new Bond -one much younger and more physically intimidating than Roger Moore- the film-makers intended to revitalise the franchise with a new direction. By the time A View to a Kill was released Bond had become a victim of its own excess and had descended into self-parody somewhat. In a similar way to how the later Daniel Craig Bond would attempt to differentiate itself from the Brosnan films before, here the creators of The Living Daylights would attempt to make their Bond wholly different to the tongue-in-cheek, fantastical yarns of Moore’s period. In this it largely succeeded- indeed, perhaps actually going too far. In trying to become edgier and more real-world, it also lost the one thing every good Bond film needs- a really good villain threatening the world. Instead he gets two and neither measures up- a double-crossing KGB agent and his crazy American arms dealer cohort.
Because for all the good Dalton does in presenting a new, darker Bond perhaps truer to the Fleming character of the books (I can’t really say, as I’ve never read any of them), he is undermined by the truly lacklustre and appalling villains of The Living Daylights. Jeroen Krabbé plays defecting KGB officer Georgi Koskov; from the start Krabbé is miscast- he looks too soft and comical and when his true intentions are made clear, he fails to turn his earlier appearance around, failing to engender any menace at all. He just seems a bumbling bureaucrat trying to be a military mastermind and is hardly in Bond’s league. Indeed, Koskov’s partner-in-crime, American arms dealer Brad Whitaker is such a deliriously harmless nutter it only further exemplifies Koskov’s misjudgement and amateurish stab at Bond villainy. Koskov and Whitaker are a joke, basically, and its something the film never recovers from. It’s a shame, as Dalton’s Bond struggles gamely to foster some drama from the proceedings and even attempts many of his own stunts in order to further the realism, but its all for nothing. I was very surprised at his physical presence in the film – indeed in action sequences he reminded often of Harrison Ford, someone I thought was beyond equal as an actor in physical roles and fight sequences.
There is one element of the Bond persona that Dalton does clearly struggle with though- and that’s as the romantic, womanising rogue/cad that Bond is. Every Bond film has a Bond girl -well, usually more than one, but here its kept to just one perhaps as a sign of the times- and The Living Daylights features the beautiful Maryam d’Abo as Koskov’s cellist girlfriend, Kara Milovy. Unfortunately she is a rather vapid character, hardly anything more than set-dressing, proof perhaps that not all lessons were learned from A View to a Kill, as its Bond girl (played by the vacant-eyed Tanya Roberts) was one of the worst of all-time. Dalton looks ill at ease whenever Bond gets into romantic moments with d’Abo, an odd awkwardness that is a first for the Bond series. It just feels forced and unconvincing and it derails any romance.
Also, while many of the stunts are impressive- particularly some aerial sequences at the climax- some betray the silliness of the previous Moore outings, such as one stunt where Bond and Milovy ride a cello during a snow pursuit across the border. Indeed, while its no doubt grittier and sincere in its real-world attempts, the whole film feels like it struggles to really shake off the Moore Bond-era persona; its clearly a franchise in transition, and it leaves the film something of a promising failure, a half-way house if you will to what would follow. All part of the learning curve no doubt. Because to be sure, everything would click (and the ghost of Moore be dispelled at last) with the next entry, the triumphant Licence to Kill…