The Living Daylights
directed by John Glen
(United Artists/MGM, 1987)

The Living Daylights marks the first appearance of James Bond #4, Timothy Dalton. Despite many claims to the contrary, it's not a bad film.

But Dalton is a bad Bond.

Serious, smarmy and brutal in turns, he never succeeds in making you believe he is Bond. Don't get me wrong, Dalton is fairly good in the movie; if it weren't a Bond flick, I'd give it fairly high marks. But if you wear the Bond name, you need to get the character right, and Dalton failed.

He wasn't alone. Robert Brown, still marking time as the second M, provides his most disappointing performance yet. Caroline Bliss, the new Miss Moneypenny, is lovely, flirtatious and efficient, but she compares poorly to the original Moneypenny, Lois Maxwell, and Samantha Bond, the foil for Pierce Brosnan. John Terry is the most lackluster Felix Leiter, a reoccurring CIA operative, so far to be seen.

Those performances were offset by high-caliber work from General Leonid Pushkin (John Rhys-Davises), General Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbe) and American arms dealer Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker). Andreas Wisniewski is the sinister assassin Necros. Maryam d'Abo, as the ingenuous Russian cellist Kara Milovy, is especially appealing. Her character has depth, good dialogue and personality; she's not just there as eye candy for the viewers and an easy score for Bond.

The plot, too, is good, from the faux defection by Koskov, the competence of Pushkin (who replaces Walter Gotell's General Gogol as the head of KGB) and the war games of Whitaker (who would later return opposite Brosnan as an American CIA agent). Koskov's defection, his recovery by Soviet operatives and a climactic battle in the air are all exciting stuff in the truest Bond tradition.

If Dalton could have carried the role better, The Living Daylights would rank high on the list of Bond films. As it is, it's still worth seeing ... especially if you can pretend that he's not really Bond, he's just some other agent in the British Secret Service using that name.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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