Film Review: The Living Daylights (1987)

Release Date: June 29th, 1987 (London premiere)
Directed by: John Glen
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson
Based on: characters by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Timothy Dalton, Maryam d’Abo, Joe Don Baker, Art Malik, Jeroen Krabbé, John Rhys-Davies, Robert Brown, Desmond Llewelyn, Caroline Bliss

Eon Productions, United International Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 131 Minutes

Review:

“Believe me, my interest in her is purely professional.” – James Bond

I tend to go against the grain. I usually say things about movies or other pop culture stuff that leaves people baffled. For instance, Timothy Dalton is my favorite James Bond. Yes, he is. And yes, I loved every other actor that played the character and especially have a soft spot for the Connery and Moore chapters in the franchise but Dalton was and always will be my James Bond.

Maybe my love for Dalton is because he was the current Bond when I really got into James Bond movies. The Living Daylights was the first Bond film that I saw in the theater and as a kid, a year later, I was on the set of Licence to Kill in the Florida Keys. I didn’t get to meet Dalton but I got to see him standing around, as James Bond in the flesh.

Unfortunately, due to lawsuits in the early 1990s, Timothy Dalton only got to play James Bond twice: in 1987’s The Living Daylights and in 1989’s superb Licence to Kill. This film is my least favorite of the two but I still thoroughly enjoy it.

The thing that brings this chapter in the Bond franchise down a notch or two, is that it still carries over some of the cheesiness from the Roger Moore era. While that stuff worked for Moore, it really wasn’t a beneficial approach to Dalton’s style as the character. And frankly, it feels as if the movie was written with Roger Moore in mind, before Dalton was cast as the British super spy.

However, some of the hokey bits are still amusing, like the cello case sled scene, for instance.

Another weak point with this film though, is the villains. While I like Joe Don Baker and always have, he just doesn’t feel like a Bond villain. He plays more like a one-off baddie from a show like Magnum P.I. and doesn’t truly feel like someone worthy of Bond’s attention like members of SPECTRE, Francisco Scaramanga, Franz Sanchez, Raoul Silva, Alec Trevelyan, Hugo Draz or hell, even Max Zorin. At least Baker would get a second go in the series when he appeared in two of the Pierce Brosnan films a decade later: Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies.

I did enjoy Maryam d’Abo as the Bond girl in this film. She was a departure from the overly glamorous women of previous movies. Not to say that she wasn’t beautiful and classy but she played a musician, a real artist type. She was cute and sexy but not a supermodel out trying to marry a rock star. She was also sweet and innocent, even though the first time you encounter her, she’s wielding a sniper rifle.

We also get the great John Rhys-Davies in this and I kind of wish that his character would have returned to the series later on. I feel as if he would have been an ally to Bond again, had Timothy Dalton’s run as the character lasted longer than two films. But the man got to team up with James Bond and Indiana Jones in his career, not to mention being a pivotal member of the Fellowship in the The Lord of the Rings movies.

The Living Daylights is a better than average James Bond outing, enhanced by the charm and gravitas that is Timothy Dalton. Plus, the followup to this film would be one of the best in the entire series. The Living Daylights was a good introduction to a really good Bond that we unfortunately didn’t get to see much more of.

Film Review: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Release Date: December 18th, 1969 (London premiere)
Directed by: Peter R. Hunt
Written by: Richard Maibaum
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, Ilse Steppat, Gabriele Ferzetti, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn

Eon Productions, United Artists, 140 Minutes

Review:

“Merry Christmas, 007.” – Ernst Stavro Blofeld

Is it weird that my favorite James Bond film of all-time stars my least favorite James Bond actor? Granted, he only did this one picture so there isn’t much to judge George Lazenby on but this was the finest picture in the franchise. But the reasons for that are many and Lazenby’s version of Bond was just sort of there for the ride.

To put it bluntly, this is the perfect James Bond movie. Now it isn’t a perfect film but it is as close as a 007 adventure has gotten. It has everything you want in a Bond film or at least, everything I want. It is less gadgety than other films in the franchise but I quite enjoyed that about this one. It was also the most serious film of its era. The stuff before it was getting a bit hokey and after it was Diamonds Are Forever, which is cheesy, albeit not in a bad way. Following that, we got the Roger Moore era, which was awesome but was also the most lighthearted and goofy string of films in the long franchise’s history. We actually wouldn’t get another serious feeling Bond film until twenty years later with the Timothy Dalton flick Licence to Kill, another one of my all-time favorites.

The thing that makes On Her Majesty’s Secret Service so unique is the fact that it does have some hokey moments but the serious tone of the picture balances things out. It is a best of both worlds scenario in regards to marrying the serious Bond and the lighthearted Bond.

Lazenby did a good job with the material but I think Sean Connery would have brought this script to a whole different level with added gravitas. I also feel that Lazenby was often times carried in scenes by the veteran Telly Savalas and Ilse Steppat. Also, Diana Rigg was the one that shined in her scenes together with Lazenby. Although, Lazenby could have probably been a fine Bond had he stuck around. Timothy Dalton didn’t nail the role in his first film but he became a really good Bond in his second.

Telly Savalas was the real star of the film though and for good reason. He took the character of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, a guy who we had already seen in a half dozen different incarnations up to this point, and made him an exceptional villain.

While I love the work that Donald Pleasence did in the previous film, You Only Live Twice, it was this Blofeld that became the real foil in Bond’s life. Savalas played the roll more seriously and wasn’t just a villainous caricature. Also, he is the first villain to severely hurt 007, adding a level of hatred towards the character that had never been there previously. Unfortunately, he and Lazenby never returned and we never got to see justice served in a satisfying manner following this film’s ending.

The Bond Girls have always been an important part of this franchise and this film features the most ladies, by far. Granted, James Bond still only sleeps with two of them but he had a huge group of women to explore in this chapter in the series. Also, he does end up in bed with the evil Irma Bunt but it’s a trap.

The Swiss location was another element of this film that made it great. While Bond seems to do less traveling in this picture and spends the majority of his time in the Swiss Alps, it actually keeps the picture really grounded. The geography is amazing and the tone of the film is enhanced by the cold surroundings. I feel that revisiting this area in Daniel Craig’s most recent Bond outing, Spectre, was an homage to this picture and tried to tap into the magic it bestowed on the franchise.

The icy stock car race is also one of the best action sequences in the entire Bond franchise. It was well shot, the action well handled and it made a Bond Girl come off as bad ass and not just some damsel in distress like most of them are. There is a reason why Bond wants to marry this particular girl and it is because she saves his ass and can hold her own alongside him.

The fight choreography was a bit different in this chapter. In fact, it was heavily edited with quick cuts and fast movement. It made these scenes feel more gritty and realistic. I liked the director’s approach to these moments but the series would revert back to a more traditional style of shooting these sequences, after this picture.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the finest film in the James Bond oeuvre. While many will probably disagree with me, I think it is because a lot of people just aren’t as interested in a film with a James Bond actor that isn’t as established as Sean Connery or Roger Moore. It is a weird film wedged between two Connery chapters and then the Moore era starts just after that. I think that a lot of fans just sort of forget about this movie. It certainly doesn’t get the play on cable television whenever networks do their big week long Bond marathons. At least when compared to the amount of play of those Connery and Moore films get.

This is an odd installment for the film series that kind of exists on its own and unfortunately, never got a proper followup. It was the one film that needed a proper followup, though. Get to that ending and you’ll see why. I’m still kind of pissed at Telly Savalas and Ilse Steppat.

Film Review: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

Release Date: July 7th, 1977 (London premiere)
Directed by: Lewis Gilbert
Written by: Christopher Wood, Richard Maibaum
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: Marvin Hamlisch
Cast: Roger Moore, Barbara Bach, Curd Jürgens, Richard Kiel, Caroline Munro, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell

Eon Productions, United Artists, 125 Minutes

Review:

“Mmm, maybe I misjudged Stromberg. Any man who drinks Dom Perignon ’52 can’t be all bad.” – James Bond

It has been a really long time since I’ve seen this particular James Bond movie, which is why I wanted to pop it into the DVD player. My memories of it weren’t spectacular but I really enjoyed it this time around and I now rank it really high in the Roger Moore era.

But what’s not to like?

You have Roger Moore, who is Roger friggin’ Moore. Then you have Barbara Bach as the female Soviet equivalent to Bond. This film also introduces Jaws, played by my favorite giant (after Peter Mayhew), Richard Kiel. Plus Curd Jürgens’ Karl Stromberg is one of the best non-SPECTRE villains in the entire Bond franchise. And I certainly can’t forget the apple of my eye, Caroline Munro.

One thing that also makes this entry into the massive Bond franchise so great is the locations. I loved all the stuff that was filmed in Egypt. The scene with Bond and Amasova tracking Jaws through the giant pillars is one of the best sequences in the entire film series. Also, the scene during the pyramid light show has some of the coolest shots and cinematography in the franchise.

Additionally, the set of Stromberg’s underwater fortress was well built and designed. The place looked sinister as hell and had a very brooding vibe, as it sprouted from the ocean surface.

This film, looking at it now, features the best tandem of Bond girls, in my opinion. Bach is perfect in her role as Major Anya Amasova a.k.a. Agent XXX. She owned the part and was much more than just a pretty face needing to be rescued. Of course, she did need to be rescued in the end. Caroline Munro, who is incredibly stunning, looked like she was having a blast as the helicopter pilot trying to kill Bond and Amasova. She had the right mix of sexual allure and sadism. I just wish she had more time to shine in the picture.

The fights between Bond and Jaws were well executed and the fisticuffs played out well. I was glad that they created Jaws as this unstoppable character that survives the craziest situations only to stand and fight, again and again. I was really glad to see him return for this film’s direct sequel Moonraker.

My memories of this movie weren’t great but this is one of the Bond films I have seen the least. I’m glad that my memory was wrong and that I got to see this in a different light. Or maybe I’ve been watching so much crap lately, that anything with a semblance of quality would’ve made me happy.