Recap / Review: The Living Daylights [1987]; Living’s in the Way Swan Dies

Cᴏɴᴛᴇɴᴛ Iɴᴅᴇx —

a “classic” review by the Swan(!)
(curated by the Spotted Nutcracker.)

(While there’s no Magpie in this post, this is a language advisory for everyone reading.)

Hullo guys, Swan(!) here for another lockdown review. According to the Magpie’s last post, I thought that TCR would be dead in the water. Alas, I was pleasantly surprised. Now, to answer why I’m reviewing this movie. Over the weekend, I decided to watch Moonraker. I didn’t really think much of that movie as a kid because it was too campy for my liking, but I did like some moments of the movie. On my recent re-watch, I found myself really liking it, and it’s gone slightly up in my ranking of the Bond movies. Not only that, this Swan(!) (albeit inebriated in a few ways) amused himself by doing a live commentary of certain bits of the movie on his Facebook/Instagram. After another Facebook post asking the world if he should do the same thing for his favourite Bond movie, this Swan(!) shot himself in the foot when the Crow told him to review it. So, after watching the movie yesterday and spending most of the day recovering from being pissed (this means drunk, for our international friends), the Swan(!)’s here annoying everyone on TCR by doing this review.

After Roger Moore left the role of James Bond in 1985, the filmmakers were on the search for a new 007. After testing various actors including Sam Neill and Pierce Brosnan (who was cast before Remington Steele got their hooks into him), they asked a stage/film actor called Timothy Dalton to take over. The filmmakers asked Dalton to play 007 a few decades before, but he rejected it as he thought he was too young to replace Sean Connery. This time, he accepted it. Being a fan of the early Connery movies and Ian Fleming novels, he wanted to make the series grittier. Not only that, there was the AIDS scare in the 80’s and the filmmakers didn’t want to have the responsibility of showing Bond shagging a lot of ladies. Therefore, in this instalment, they only had one leading lady in order to re-introduce a more romantic aspect to the series.

Enough rambling on the backstory. Let us pour ourselves a martini, reload our PPK’s and get on with the review. Minor spoilers ahead (it’s an old movie for Christ’s sake, so it doesn’t matter!)

Timothy Dalton as James Bond

The Living Daylights

SPOILER LEVELS at MINOR

The film starts with the classic gunbarrel with Dalton firing the shot. We then open up to Gibraltar where three double-0 agents are sent to penetrate the radar installations without getting caught by the SAS. The agents parachute on to the rock and begin scaling the area. The first agent, 002 (who’s supposed to look like Roger Moore), gets caught by one officer and he’s out of the game. For the second agent, 004 (George Lazenby look-alike), things turn a lot deadlier for him as he’s murdered by an unknown imposter. Finally, we get to see James Bond himself (Timothy Dalton) as he hears his comrade fall to his death. I just love the way they introduce Dalton in this scene. He turns around, hair-raised, hearing 004’s death scream and springing into action. The imposter attempts to escape by stealing a Range Rover and Bond gives chase, by jumping on the roof. That’s actually Dalton clinging on to the Jeep which is powering down the road at high speed with a thin wall (that has a 1,000-foot drop on the other side). It’s a terrific scene and it shows commitment on Dalton’s part, as he wants to make his performance as believable as possible.

After the debacle destroys a family day outing and scares a few of the local animals, Bond manages to get inside the Jeep before getting into a small bit of fisticuffs with the imposter. The Range Rover dries off a cliff and Bond manages to bail out of the vehicle, leaving the imposter to a fiery demise. He then parachutes onto a girl’s boat, delivers the classic “Bond, James Bond” line and soon after, the film immediately cuts to the title sequence as we know that Bond’s getting a shag in. We then get naked girls with guns flailing about while the title song blares in the background. The title song by the Norwegian pop band a-ha is one of my favourites and it just has that catchy, feel-good aspect to it. Yes, the song is pretty jarring compared to the moody theme of film itself and its main actor. But, somehow, it just…works.
Video evidence of the Swan(!) drunkenly singing this can be provided upon request.

Timothy Dalton in The Living Daylights

The next scene shows Bond meeting his fellow contact Saunders (Thomas Wheatley) at a classical concert in Bratislava as they are overseeing the defection of KGB General Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbe). However, it transpires that a female cellist (Maryarm D’Abo) has been sent to stop Koskov from defecting. This leads to a scene where she tries to shoot Koskov in order to stop him escaping the building. Fortunately, Bond and Saunders are in the building opposite and the girl is shot in the hand, much to Saunders’ annoyance.  Bond manages to get Koskov safely to Austria with the help of Q (Desmond Llewelyn) and some busty amazon Viking lady (no, her name’s Rosika Milklos played by Julie T Wallace). Overall, it goes well without a hitch, But Saunders gives Bond a bollocking for not killing the female cellist. Bond retorts back, saying that that he only kills professionals and doesn’t care if he gets sacked, like Fleming’s incarnation of Bond who describes the character as someone taking a grim view towards his line of work.

Back in Ol’ Blighty, we’re treated to more fun and gadgets in Q’s laboratory, as Bond enlists Q’s and Moneypenny’s (Caroline Bliss) help in discovering the identity of the female cellist. Bond is sent to a safe house where Koskov tells him and his superiors that the reason he defected to MI6 is because of a general called Leonid Pushkin (John – Rhys Davies) who’s gone mad with power and has overseen an operation calling for the deaths of Western agents (a.k.a. “Smiert Spionom”: Death To Spies). That too’s lifted from Fleming. After Bond and his superiors leave, a tall, mysterious blond killer called Necros (Andreas Wisniewski) breaks into the safe house, causes havoc with his exploding milk bottles and kidnaps Koskov in order to make it look like a KGB operation. These few scenes are some of the best in the movie as it shows a henchman who’s able to break in a location using various disguises and we’re treated to a fight scene with a butler (who more than puts up a fight against the Ayran dude).

This makes MI6 look like a bunch of incompetent idiots, so M (Robert Brown) sends Bond to kill Pushkin. Naturally, Bond doesn’t see things that way and after a small disagreement with M, he decides to take up the assignment. After receiving some awesome gadgets from Q (such as the Phillips keyring finder and the Aston Martin Volante) as well as learning the name of the female cellist, Bond goes to back to Bratislava to keep tabs on the female cellist known as Kara Milovy.

Timothy Dalton and Maryarm D’Abo in The Living Daylights

Kara’s arrested by the KGB after cello practice but is released the next day so that the KGB can follow her. Bond shows up at her place and introduces himself as a friend of Koskov’s. The couple then flee to Vienna and we get the classic “car chase” sequence with the KGB people. I love these scenes, especially the bit where Bond and Kara enter Austria via a cello case. The only downer is that the Volante self-destructs during the chase sequence and I bloody love that car. I do hear that it will be showing up in the new Bond movie No Time To Die, so not all is lost 😀

We then go to Tangier where we are introduced to one of the baddies, Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker), an arms dealer who’s obsessed with war mongers and likes to recreate battles with toy soldiers like a basement dweller. Pushkin meets up with Whitaker at his mansion and tells him that he owes him money, and that he suspects him of being in cahoots with Koskov. He’s proved right in the next scene as Koskov is having the time of his life in Whitaker’s mansion, meaning he’s played MI6 like a fiddle. Whitaker tells Koskov that Pushkin’s on to them and Koskov suggests that they murder another MI6 agent so that Pushkin looks more guilty than ever. We cut to Bond and Kara taking in the Vienna nightlife and it’s quite nice to see as Bond lets his hair down for a few hours. Afterwards, he meets up with Saunders who gives him his travel papers to Tangier and tells him that Kara’s cello was bought by Whitaker at an auction. As Saunders leaves, he’s killed by Necros who leaves a balloon titled Smiert Spionom. This provokes an angry reaction from Bond as he bursts the balloon and attempts to chase after Necros. Another great scene which shows the dark, gritty side of Bond and serves as a reminder that the spying world… kinda sucks.

Bond travels to Tangier and questions Pushkin at gunpoint over the deaths of the MI6 agents in a rather tense scene. Rhys Davies plays Pushkin well at this scene as he plays it as a character who’s literally trying to save his hide. As for Dalton, you believe that he’s a trained killer who’ll kill you first and then ask questions later. Pushkin reveals himself to be innocent and he and Bond stage a fake assassination at a conference in order to find out Koskov’s up to. The fake assassination goes well, and this eventually leads Bond (along with Kara) to Afghanistan where they team up with a group of freedom fighters led by Kamran Shah (Art Malik).

It basically turns out that Koskov needed Pushkin dead so he can oversee a complicated “drugs for weapons” operation which aims to arm both sides of the Soviet/Afghan conflict and make the baddies profit from the proceeds. Naturally, this being a Bond movie, it’s up to Bond and the allies to stop the conflict and I’ll leave you to figure out which side wins. I will say that the final action sequences are great ranging from an airborne fight between Bond and Necros, as well as shootout with Whitaker at his mansion.

Overall, I love this film and Dalton’s performance as James Bond. He gives the right balance of energy, intensity and emotion that was much needed for the franchise. As much as I liked a lot of the Moore entries, they did get a bit too far out for my liking. I will say that Dalton looks uncomfortable with delivering some of the one-liners (the script was meant for Roger Moore), but hey, he pulled it off quite well. There’s some strong performances in this movie too with Maryarm D’Abo portraying a character who’s caught up in the conflict but can get herself out of peril if she needs to. John Rhys Davies provides a great performance as General Pushkin and Art Malik makes for a likeable ally in the form of Kamran Shah. The MI6 regulars such as M and Q are awesome, Caroline Bliss makes a “meh” Moneypenny and the less said about the guy playing Felix Leiter, the better. As for the villains, they could be a lot better. Whitaker and Koskov seem more like a comedy duo than actual Bond villains and I don’t find them intimidating at all. The only villain I thought was scary in the movie was Andreas Wisniewki’s Necros who leaves a trail of death behind him wherever he goes. If you see a Milkman listening to generic 80’s pop on an out of date Walkman, run.  Still, great terrific action scenes ranging from the pre-credits sequence, car chase featuring the Aston Martin Volante, airborne fight on a net hanging outside of a Hercules plane and a shoot-out at Whitaker’s mansion. Plus, the film soundtrack by John Barry is amazing, and I can’t praise A-ha’s title song highly enough.  I tolerate one of the secondary title songs by the Pretenders, as the end title song is a bit dreary.

The Living Daylights is my favourite Bond film with a strong lead, and its legacy (or should I say its influence) has seeped into one of my writing projects that only the Crow and some groups of friends are aware about 😉 Anyways, I can’t wait for the new Bond movie to come out in November and by then, this whole COVID-19 thing will be kept under control. Until then, stay safe everyone!

— Peace out!


Final Ratings

THE SWAN(!): 9/10


Here’s the official poster:


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