The all too brief Dalton era commences with one of my favorite Bond films, The Living Daylights. Watching it now, I got the same exact sense I got rewatching For Your Eyes Only, I was so happy and enjoyed it immensely. Ive always been a Bond fan, and could watch any of them really, but certain ones just evoke the sense of fun and excitement of watching them back when I was young, and this film certainly did that.
Ive always been protective of Dalton, who like Lazenby, I think gets dumped on somewhat just because of their short tenures. But I have to say, that Dalton is actually better than I remember. I always considered him the serious Bond coming of the more glib Roger Moore, but he actually has some funny bits in his initial outing. I cracked up quite a few times during just the opening after the credits: his devilish smile about their pipeline to the West, him slamming the hatch as Koskov screams. He definitely takes the proceedings more seriously than his predecessor, but I think thats what makes the humor work, a needed release valve from the tension rather than a constant number of jokes and one liners that make it seem as if the stakes are not real.
Making him a one woman man also works to the benefit of the film as he and Kara share a sweet chemistry and the buildup of their relationship seems genuine. Evocative of the love montage from On Her Majestys Secret Service, the bits of them traveling around Vienna (gorgeous) and having fun at the carnival allow Bond to develop a deeper connection to his leading lady than weve seen in some films. Her eventual siding with Bond over the villain feels earned, and its nice the film allowed her to make that choice before she would have been forced into it.
As for the plot itself, I noticed several issues with it that escaped me when watching it years ago. I like the Cold War atmosphere and the introduction of a new head of the KBG that has a past with Bond. This would be the last such film as the series went on hiatus and the Cold War ended. Im not sure why the head of the KGB is negotiating an arms sale with mercenaries or attending a trade conference other than it gives John Rhys Davies more to do, and he certainly is a welcome presence. There also seems to be some confusion to the timeline as he cancels the deal partly due to Koskovs defection yet the whole purpose of the defection was to make sure the deal went forward. The defection itself also seems a really convoluted way just to kill Pushkin. These are minor quibbles and didnt take me out of the plot but they are noticeable.
The action scenes are once again top notch including Bonds assault on a moving Jeep in the opening, the safe house attack and the battle with Necros dangling from a cargo plane. The action is heightened by the music as both the instrumental versions of the theme song (one of my favorites) and Where Has Everybody Gone are quite infectious. Dalton seems equally at home with the action and the emotional aspects of the character. He can turn from the charming boyfriend to seething with rage at the death of a fellow agent without either of them feeling forced. He decided to wait when previously offered the role because he thought he was too young. Im glad he eventually did take it because if you didnt have to choose Connery, he would be my favorite.
Im going to give The Living Daylights a 7/10. Its been my personal pick for Daltons best for a long time and I dont see that changing, but well see after the next rewatch. To borrow from a friend, Dalton embodies Bond right from the beginning, an especially difficult task coming off the longest running actor in the role. I wish he had been given more time to make his mark on the franchise. Luckily, what we did get was pretty damn good.
1) On Her Majestys Secret Service
2) From Russia with Love
4) For Your Eyes Only
5) The Living Daylights
6) The Spy Who Loved Me
8) Dr. No
10) Live and Let Die
11) You Only Live Twice
12) The Man with the Golden Gun
13) A View to a Kill
15) Diamonds are Forever