1987 in Film – The Living Daylights

Release Date: July 31st
Box Office: $51,185,000

Trying to follow something successful is always tricky at the best of times. Whether its that follow up album or the sequel to a big hit, people always struggle. And you know what makes it worth? Getting someone else in to carry the whole thing.

Just ask James Bond.

When Sean Connery appeared in Dr No (1963) few could have foreseen the success of not only that film but the franchise as a whole. By the time Connery left after You Only Live Twice (1967) the series was too popular not to continue. So in came George Lazenby for On Her Majesty’a Secret Service (1969) who was promptly booed out of the building forcing the return of Connery. Then Roger Moore was cast and everything was alright (if a little daft) for the next decade.

A decade until the Bond producers faced a similar problem: Moore left after A View To A Kill (1985) which meant that another Bond needed to be found. Pierce Brosnan was to be the chosen one only he found that the contract he had signed for his TV series Remmimgton Steele was pretty cast iron which meant he had to pass on the role. So the offer went to Timothy Dalton, who had previously passed on the role when Connery hung up his Walther PPK the first time.

Dalton stepping in to the role meant a change of direction with the first thing being binned the majority of the humour. Oh sure, it’s not like every daft line is removed (you can’t go tobogganing down the side of a mountain in a cello case with out saying something daft) but in the main Dalton’s Bond leaned closer to Flemming’s original take on the character: the world weary assassin doing what he can to get to the end of the mission.

By the time of Octopussy (1983) Bond was almost a caricature so the switch back to a semi-serious take was a welcome change. It’s been noted on a great many places that the work of Daniel Craig on Bond isn’t a million miles away from Dalton’s take of the character, it’s just that Craig’s Bond came after the character had been off screen for a few years which meant that people were allowed to miss the character and gave it the space to be able to move in a new direction. The Living Daylights is only a couple of years after A View to a Kill (1985) so is directly in the wake of that film. That affected some of the critical response to the film, who liked the darker tone but missed the humour of the previous decade.

This isn’t to say that the film is bad, far from it. As a Bond film it certainly stands up for itself, despite not having the spark to make it one of the classics. The plot involves Russian spies and ends up in Afghanistan with Bond on the side of the mujahideen making it one of those films that, with hindsight, illustrates the messiness of politics over the last thirty years.

The audience lapped it up with the film making nearly $200m at the world wide box office. It seemed like Dalton had managed to follow the unfollowable, at least for now.

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