The time had finally come for Roger Moore to abandon the role of 007, and let someone else take up the mantle. The actor had been complaining for the last three movies that he was way too old to play the part, but had always been persuaded at the last minute to come back. It didn’t come as a shock that the producers had already planned for this eventuality, and had tested a few actors who, in their opinion, fit the bill. Two of these three actors would end up as front runners for the role, but only one of them would walk away with the price.
The Pierce Brosnan/Timothy Dalton conundrum.
Back when Roger Moore was working on his fifth Bond movie, For Your Eyes Only, there was one actor who had caught the attention of the producers; Pierce Brosnan. Brosnan was an up and coming Irish born actor who, at the time, was married to Australian actress Cassandra Harris, who played the part of Countess Lisl on the movie alongside Moore. Brosnan had driven down to Corfu with their children for the weekend to visit Cassandra on the set. Broccoli was so impressed by the actor’s looks that they all got invited for dinner. Brosnan had been a fan of the series from a very young age, and did everything in his power to impress Broccoli that night, doing, and I quote; “His best James Bond impression”. This did not go unnoticed by Broccoli, and years later, when the time was coming to find a replacement for Moore, he was asked to come back and test for the role. Brosnan’s partner for that casting session was Maryam d’Abo, who had already been cast ahead of time for the role of Kara Milovy on the next movie. The scene they had to play together was that of the meeting between Bond and Tatiana Romanova on From Russia with Love. That was actually the producer’s go-to scene when testing potential new actors for the role. Brosnan passed the test with flying colours, demonstrating he had the required charm and presence, to convincingly play the role. There was one problem, though. Brosnan was working on the American TV show Remington Steel at the time. The show hadn’t been very successful, and was actually on the verge of being cancelled when Brosnan received the call. Brosnan came back to the UK, did the casting session, and had actually even signed the contract, but the TV showrunners had the legal right to recall Brosnan if the show’s viewing figures improved, and more episodes were to be filmed. Funnily enough, the fact that Brosnan had been seriously considered for the role reached the press, which in turn boosted the audience’s interest on the show again, and meant that due to his contractual obligations Brosnan wasn’t allowed to take on the role. In the meantime, another actor who had been tested for the role years ago came to the fore. Timothy Dalton was a well known Welsh Stage and TV actor who had been considered to take over the part back when Sean Connery had refused to come back. Wisely enough, I think, the actor refused to do it on the grounds of being too young to play the role credibly. A few years had gone by, and he was asked again to come back. A more seasoned actor by then, Dalton was fresh off a TV show and had to rush into the role without much prep time. Right up until the last moment, everyone believed, including the other actors who had already been cast, that it was Brosnan, and not Dalton, who was taking on the role. Strangely enough, Maryam d,Abo ended up testing with three different actors who were up for the role of James Bond; the two aaforementioned, and New Zealand born actor Sam Neill. Both Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson were very impressed with Neill’s casting sessions, and were willing to give him a chance. It was ultimately “Cubby” Broccoli’s decision, who had the last word, to cast an English actor in the role. With Dalton thus cast as James Bond, it was up to him to catch up on an already up and running production schedule.
Casting the principles, and working out the story.
Pre-production work on the last movie was well on its way by the time the casting of a new actor for the role of 007 had been resolved. All the principal players like Dutch actor Jeroen Krabbé in the role of KGB General Georgi Koskov, German Actor Andreas Wisniewski in the role of Koskov’s henchman Necros, American actor Joe Don Baker as Arms dealer Brad Whitaker; funnily enough, Baker would be one of the few actors to play two roles in different Bond movies; the actor would come back years later to play the role of CIA agent Jack Wade on both Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies, British actor John Rhys Davies as KGB General Pushkin; Davies was already a well established British actor who was better known for his role as Sallah, the Egyptian Archelogical digger on Raiders of the Lost Ark, Steven Spielberg, but would reach worldwide fame when he was cast as the Dwarf Gimli on Peter Jackson’s epic adaptation of J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and British actor Art Malik as Afghan Resistance leader Kamran Shah. Strangely enough, Malik would sort of reprise his role here on James Cameron’s True Lies, but this time around playing the bad guy, Islamic terrorist Salim Abu Aziz.
Other bit players came back to reprise their roles like British actor Robert Brown as M, Geoffrey Keen as Minister of Defense Sir Frederick Gray, Walter Gotell as KGB General Gogol, and Desmond Llewellyn as Q. A few changes were made for some of the recurring roles in the series, so British actress Caroline Bliss took over as Miss Moneypenny from Lois Maxwell, and American actor John Terry took over from David Hedison for the role of Felix Leiter.
Another role that was cast well in advance was that of British actress Maryam d’Abo as Cellist Kara Milovy. She came highly recommended from Barbara Broccoli, who at this time had a huge say in who would be cast for what role.
The screenwriters had long since been running out of original material from Ian Fleming to be used as inspiration for the movies, but there were still a handful of short stories that Ian Fleming had written at the beginning of his writing career to be adapted into TV shows when there was still no interest for his James Bond stories to be adapted to the big screen. One such story was The Living Daylights, which was published as a compilatation along with the short story Octopussy. The short story takes Bond to East Germany, where he’s on Sniper duty, assigned to help protect an infiltrated British agent cross over safely over the border into West Germany. Over the course of several nights he sees a concert group playing on an open air stage near the border, and can’t help but notice a beautiful Cellist playing among them. When the moment comes for the British agent to cross over, Bond notices that the Sniper assigned by the Russians to kill the agent is indeed the Cellist. Bond doesn’t shoot her, instead shooting at her rifle, and taking her out of the game. The British agent is safely over the border, but Bond recognizes that in all likelihood, the mission will be considered a failure, as he failed to eliminate his target, but will be more than happy if M ends up firing him because of the incident. As you can see, the short story became the building blocks onto which screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson based their screenplay. They changed a few things around, and with the help of filmmaker John Glen, they came up with a few nice ideas and action set pieces, like Bond and Kara crossing the Austrian border mounted on a Cello case, and one of the best pre-credits sequences in the series; the NATO exercise-turned chase sequence on Gibraltar. They also had to alter the script to make it play to Dalton’s strengths. The actor wanted to play the role in a more straightforward and dry manner, devoiding the character of the humour that had been a main feature during the Moore era, to be more faithful to the character as was described in the books.
The movie was shot in Gibraltar, Austria,Vienna, Morocco, the US, and in Pinewood Studios, England. More than ever, the filmmakers wanted to go all in and try and cram in as many action set pieces as they could in the movie. First off was the amazing pre-credits sequence with Bond first jumping off a plane, landing on Gibraltar and jumping on the roof of a jeep that the baddie who’s just killed a 00 agent is using to escape. Once again stunt Skydiver B.J Worth and his partner Jake Lombard were in charge of the aerial stunt sequences; the first of them being the jump from a Military cargo plane over the Rock of Gibraltar. What ensues right after is one of the best shot, edge-of-your-seat chase sequences ever seen on a Bond movie. The sequence was achieved through a mixture of stunt driving; with none other than film editor Peter Davies driving the jeep for the stunt sequence in which Dalton himself was hanging on to the roof of the vehicle, processed shots back in Pinewood, and miniatures for the end of the scene in which the jeep crashes off a cliff wall, and blows up in mid-air, not before Bond opens up his parachute, and shoots off the back of the jeep. Visual Effects Supervisor John Richardson and his team tried to do as much of the action in camera as they could, even going as far as flying to the US, to the Mojave desert in California, to shoot the aerial scenes for the jeep crashing off the cliff, and blowing up in mid-air with stuntmen hanging on to the roof of the vehicle. After several days of test footage and rehearsals, they decided to go back to the drawing board and do it all as a mix of miniatures and live action, with the jeep being shot off a head beach on top of a cliff to the water below using an air cannon, and a dummy being parachuted off the back of the jeep before blowing the vehicle via remote-controlled explosive charges. It was actually the close collaboration between Production Designer Peter Lamont and Special Effects Supervisor John Richardson, that helped achieve most of the amazing tricks seen on-screen. The scene in which Koskov is transported to West Germany through a gas pipe line, and then flown off the country via a military aircraft was a feat of ingenuity. The filmmakers used a mixture of real locations in Vienna for the establishing shots, the scenes inside the opera house and the border, and combined them with Pinewood sets for the back alley of Saunders’ safe house in Vienna, the interior of the Pipe line engine room, and a mocap and miniature of a jet plane, with the background being substituted by a transparency of the West German skyline.
The next big action set piece is that of Bond and Kara trying to get over the Austrian border with first a tricked-out Aston Martin, and later on the back of a Cello case sliding down a snowy slope. Sounds too wacky? That’s because it is. And almost all of it was done for real on location. But were the freezing conditions of the frozen-over Austrian lake where the cast and crew were shooting these scenes that presented the most challenging obstacle, with frozen props and equipment that had to be constantly re-heated. The most striking stunt was that of the Aston Martin shooting up a steep ramp and coming up and down the other side to finally crash into a bank of snow. The car was proyected over the ramp using rockets, but kept crashing into the cardboard boxes and not jumping over the other side. They finally got it to work after several attempts. The Cello case skiing chase stunt was actually Glen’s idea, who really pushed for it to be included in the movie, even though Wilson and Broccoli said it couldn’t be done. Glen found a Cello case while on a recording session, opened it up, and demonstrated that two people could actually fit on top of it when opened. Needless to say, Richardson and his team had to fit small ski paddles under it to make it go faster and steadier downhill. He also set up a steering mechanism at the back consisting of a small handle that when steered could make the Cello case contraption go in the right direction. Lots of small exploding charges cleverly concealed under the snow were buried all along the sides of the track the Cello was to follow, to simulate the bullet and explosion hits of the guns of the Russian soldiers pursuing them. But what impresses the most is the magnificent set building, model and Special Effects work done by the crew in Morocco, where the majority of the action in the third and final act takes place, with Morocco doubling up for Afghanistan. The crew worked in and around Morocco, having to go to the Royal Family to be granted permission to use both the sets, and gain access to vehicles and weapons for the battle scenes in the latter half of the movie. Once the required permits were granted, the crew was welcomed with open arms, and granted all kinds of access to whatever they needed. The main set of the Russian Army Airbase was built on an existing and working airstrip outside of Morocco. The crew had to build their sets around the existing ones, they could use the runway for some scenes, but always taking into account that a number of planes would land on it throughout the day. On the other side of the airfield the crew constructed a model replica of the C-130 Hercules aircraft that Bond uses to escape, for the scenes in which Bond and Kara eject and parachute their way out the back of it, when the aircraft rapidly starts losing fuel, and it’s about to crash against a mountain. The scene was achieved through a mixture of miniatures, with a miniature jeep coming out the back of the plane, the miniature plane crashing against a mountain, and a transition shot of Bond driving the jeep through a stone wall, getting rid of the landing skids by the side of the jeep in the process, and driving through, all done within camera on location. The result being so seamless, you can’t really tell the difference; it is so well done. So is the scene of Bond throwing a bomb out the plane and over a bridge where the Afghan freedom fighters are being pursued by the Russian Army, to destroy the bridge and cut off their pursuit. The crew found a bridge on location that went over a river bed. Unfortunately, neither the bridge nor the river were tall and deep enough for what the filmmakers were looking to do. Thus Michael Lamont, under the supervision of his brother Peter, built a foreground miniature of the bridge, and a deeper river bed, for it to be destroyed later on when the bridge snaps in two with the Russian Army on top of it. It’s amazing model work, that seamlessly passes up for the real thing.
Most of the battles scenes were shot for real on the Moroccon airfield set, with lots of on-site surgeries performed while filming, due to the amount of accidents and mishaps happening with the stuntmen. The most amazing set piece was yet to come, though; with the incredible sequence where Bond and Necros fight to the death hanging out the back of the Hercules aircraft on a huge net, with the incredibly strong winds buffeting the net backwards and forwards. The bulk of the scene was shot using aerial footage shot, once again over the Mojave desert in California, using a real C-130 plane, with B.J Worth, Simon Crane and Jake Lombard doubling up for Bond and Necros. It was a very difficult stunt to perform. The stuntmen had to be strapped to the back of the aircraft most of the time, had an emergency parachute under their clothes in case they fell off the plane; which happened quite often, and another Skydiver strapped to be back of the plane as well, at the ready; in case either of the stuntmen fell off and couldn’t open their parachute. The rest of the stunt and close ups with the principal actors were done in Pinewood Studios, where the interior of the C-130 was recreated, and with the help of wind machines and a polley system shaking the net in all directions, the sequence was finished.
The shoot was also kind of a walk down Memory Lane for director John Glen, as he was going back to shoot in Vienna, where his filming career had started, working under the wing of Carol Reed on The Third Man. A few scenes for The Living Daylights were shot in the very same spots were most of the action occurs on The Third Man; the amusement park of Prater Park.
Another striking locations were those of Stonor Park in Oxfordshire, UK; which doubles up for the Hanley Safe house, and the Forbes Museum in Tangier, Morocco; which doubles up as Brad Whitaker’s War Museum. The first location was loaned to the crew by the owners on the condition that the property would suffer no structural damage. And to a point, they did deliver on their promise. Most of the house’s interiors were recreated in Pinewood, but the outside windows had to be replaced for the Necros attack scene in which they blow up. As for the Forbes house, the crew was impressed by the collection of miniature tin soldiers and model recreations of famous battles on display throughout the house, and decided to take advantage of this, and integrate it into the plot. To show off even more of Whitaker’s egotistical personality, the filmmakers decided to make a mold of Joe Don Baker’s face to build a series of wax statues of historical military leaders with his face.
The shoot also proved to be very hard, not only for the rushed shooting schedule, but also due to the harsh weather conditions in Morocco. Dalton was very keen on doing most of his stunts, with the filmmakers having to stop him from wanting to do too many of them for fear of injury. Maryam d’Abo, on the other hand, had to even take Cello lessons from a professional Cellist, and riding lessons to convincingly perform her stunts.
Financial and critical success.
The movie was a financial success, the audience gave Dalton their blessing, and most of the critics too, even though most of them considered the movie to be a rather mundane affair when it came to its story, with uninteresting villains, and a way too serious performance by Dalton.
While I may agree on most of the points made by the reviewers at the time, I must say that I find The Living Daylights one of the better Bond movies, and a highly underrated one. It may be because ever since I saw it for the first time I always found it to be very entertaining and flashy, or that my nostalgia is playing tricks on me, but as I’ve recently rewatched it for the purposes of this review, I’m hard pressed to change my opinion about it.
First off, Dalton delivers a very credible and solid performance. Gone is the wacky, goofy humour of the Moore era; one of the weakest aspects of that particular era, and something that won’t be missed, at least by me, and in is Ian Fleming’s hard-edged, cold MI-6 agent. Admittedly it’s not one hundred percent the Bond from the books, there’s still some outlandish elements left over from the previous entries as to soften the changes made to the character for hardcore fans of the filmic Bond, but they’re definitely less so. The most blatantly example of this would be the gadget-filled Aston Martin chase sequence, and the Cello case chase down the snowy mountain, but the rest of the action set pieces have a definitively more grounded feel to them. Dalton definitely run out of movies to prove what he could do with the character, but even so, what he did here, and on the next movie, is not dissimilar to what Daniel Craig did years later, and for which he would be so critically lauded.
As for the rest of the cast, I must mostly agree. They all do a fine job, even though most of them deliver “by-the-numbers” performances. Nothing really remarkable about any of them, except perhaps for Andreas Wisniewski, who shows glimmers of a mean streak, that the other two main villains played by Jeroen Krabbé and Joe Don Baker are sorely lacking. But the main drag to the movie is Maryam d’Abo, who comes off as annoying and useless, even when the writers struggle to come up with things for her to do.
All the blandness out of the way, the movie is still fantastically entertaining, with brilliant set pieces; really the standout element of the movie along with Dalton’s performance, an energetic, but at the same time beautiful score by John Barry; probably his best in the series, with an equally great main title song by Norwegian Pop group A-Ha, and amazing production values. Everyone from Peter Lamont, John Richardson and the stuntmen do an amazing job; topped off by John Glen’s direction, in which is possibly his best-directed Bond movie along with For Your Eyes Only and Licence to Kill, which as you’ll read on my next review, takes Bond to new, exciting and unexplored places.
Thanks for reading.