Sunday, July 1, 2012

Don't Make a Scene: The Living Daylights

The Story: "They've got him," I hissed in the dark after this scene to my companions (who've gone to see the premiere of every Bond film since For Your Eyes Only in 1987).  They thought I was referring to the death of the film's "sacrificial lamb" (there's one in every film), Agent Saunders, head of Station "V"-Vienna, but that's not what I meant at all.

I meant that they finally got an actor who "got" the character of James Bond the way Ian Fleming described him in the books.  No actor had really played the book-Bond.  Connery took the edge off with a soft Scottish burr and a smooth gentility, befitting a "gentleman spy" of the '60's.  George Lazenby merely took pages from Connery's play-book as best he could, and Roger Moore, determined not to be compared with Connery, emphasized the style of a high-toned Briton (which he came by more easily), and mocked the very attributes that were designed to make Connery's brawler more refined.

But none of that's Bond.  Bond is a British pit-bull, doggedly pursuing the tracks of the villain.  He hates the job, but relishes the bene's.  He lives fast, knows he'll die young, but not today, and so squeezes as much enjoyment out of it as he can, until everybody else around him is wrung dry.  Licensed to kill, he has a high body-count, professionally and personally.

And he's a bit of a bastard.  A stone-cold killer with patriotic fervor instead of a conscience, and a clear sense of who's a good guy and who's a bad guy:  He's a good guy and then there's everybody else.  

And that's Bond to the core.  Quips aside, he's a jerk.  And a cad.  And a little cranky most of the time.

And that's how Timothy Dalton played him in The Living Daylights.  He'd read Fleming and done his homework (he'd been asked to replace Connery after he quit the first time, and begged off, saying he was too young for the role—he was—and not saying he thought it was career suicide to try to follow Connery's run), and tried to toughen Bond up a bit, after the rather soft Moore years.  The public initially responded to his Bond, but his second film, the leaner, meaner Licence To Kill, underperformed at the box-office (at least for a Bond movie).  Pierce Brosnan had the role briefly between Moore and Dalton (and lost it due to some double-dealing from his "Remington Steele" producing company and NBC), and perhaps he might have been a better transition between Moore and Dalton.*  By the time, Daniel Craig came into the role, audiences were ready to embrace a tough Bond in the mold of Fleming's creation.

And not to slight any of the Bond actors, but Dalton really worked at it, keeping the edge and losing most of the humor.  He was famous for cutting out the one-liners from the script and just acting the reaction.  Here, rather than showing Bond's hyper-epicureanism, commenting on the bad cup of coffee, he just makes a face and doesn't even cause a blip in the rhythm of the scene, but the point is made.  When Agent Saunders is killed, Dalton's Bond goes into a rage, pursuing the one link to the agents' killer—balloons—and ends up drawing recklessly on tourists in the Prater Park in Vienna.  And that rage only drops to a simmer once "the Bond-girl" shows up, and Bond finds out she knows more than what she's previously let on.  Dalton lets Bond show his anger, his bitterness, suspicions and contempt, and provides a sure nod to Fleming.

Fleming, when you read the Bond series, comes off as a strong writer, but not the most creative one.  There are catch-phrases and descriptions that appear again and again (and again).  One of them describes his Bond's appearance when challenged, angry, betrayed, and generally "on-point."  "His eyes became fierce slits." In this scene, after the hectic activity has died down and the emergency crews have come to clean up the mess, Dalton's Bond finds out there's more to the situation than he'd first realized, and his little holiday has turned deadly once he's let his guard down.  "Yes," he says, turning full face into the camera, his eyes becoming fierce slits "I got the message."

And the screen had finally got Fleming's Bond.

The Set-Up:  A training mission in Gibraltar has revealed that the KGB's assassination bureau "Smiert Spionem" ("Death to Spies") has survived the era of dĂ©tente and crept into the defection of a Soviet General Georgi Koskov (Jeroen KrabbĂ©).  Koskov has been kidnapped from an MI6 safe-house and the "double-0" section has been tasked to find him to save face.  James Bond (Timothy Dalton) takes his usual tact—pursuing the General's girl-friend (Maryam D'Abo), a Czech cellist, whom Bond has recognized as a faux-assassin during Koskov's initial escape across Soviet lines.  Secreting her to Vienna, Bond meets up with Station Agent Saunders (Thomas Wheatley), who has put aside his differences with Bond's methods, to investigate the woman's background and her relationship with Koskov, which has involved an expensive gift—a rare cello—that brings another element into the conspiracy, a rogue arms-dealer named Brad Whittaker (Joe Don Baker).  Still unknown to anyone in the investigation, though, is the last member of the trifecta, the assassin Necros (Andreas Wisniewski), who has targetted Bond for death.


Saunders waits impatiently for Bond in the Prater Cafe.

 BOND: I'll be just a moment.

Bond walks to the pre-arranged meeting at the cafe.

Necros pulls out the antenna on his remote.

He readies his device, and the mechanism in the works lights up red.

SAUNDERS: It was bought recently at auction in New York.

SAUNDERS:  Lot 124: the Lady Rose, a cello by Stradivarius of Cremona, 1724, sold for $150,000.

SAUNDERS: Brad Whitaker.

BOND: Whitaker? The arms dealer?
SAUNDERS: The same.

BOND: Koskov and Whitaker.

BOND: Where's Whitaker now?

SAUNDERS: At his villa in Tangier.

BOND: Well done.

Bond retrieves the passports secreted in Saunders' paper. 

SAUNDERS: Good luck.

BOND: Saunders...

BOND: Thanks.

Saunders heads for the exit.

Necros pushes the firing button.  The glass door slams closed catching Saunders in its path, killing him instantly, the glass shattering from the force. 

The explosion and chaos catch the cafe patrons by surprise, including Bond, who rushes forward to the exit.

Bond sees instantly that Saunders is dead.

The commotion spreads across the park, and Kara starts looking for Bond. 

Bond watches helplessly at his slain co-agent, when something catches his eye.

It's an incongruous stray balloon that enters the cafe, as if to bear witness.

Bond reaches for it, and reads the writing on it.

"Smiert Spionem" - Russian for "Death to Spies"

Angrily, Bond's hands squeeze the baloon which explodes with a loud pop.

Then, he spots something in the distance.

More balloons, heading away.

Enraged, Bond dashes through the crowd, to confront the assassin.

He runs into Kara and brushes past her.

KARA: James!

KARA: Where are you going?

He leaps over a barricade, gun drawn, only to find...

The balloons being carried by park patrons, who react in horror.

Bond hurriedly hides his gun as they run away. 

Bond begins searching for any familiar face, anything unusual to help him track Saunders' killer, but there's nothing. 

He doesn't even notice Kara running up beside him.

KARA: What's the matter?

BOND: Bad accident back there.

KARA: Did you hear?

BOND: Hear from Georgi?

BOND: Yes.

BOND: I got the message.

BOND: He's with Whitaker in Tangier.

KARA: Brad Whitaker? The... 

KARA: ...American?

BOND: You know him?

KARA: He's a patron of...

KARA: ...the arts. Georgi said he'd help me.

KARA: How soon do we have to go?

BOND: Immediately.

BOND: I promised Georgi I'd get you back as soon as I could.
KARA: Can't we stay here a few more days?

BOND: No. We leave first thing in the morning.

The Living Daylights

Words by Richard Maibaum and Michael Wilson

Pictures by Alec Mills and John Glen

The Living Daylights is available on DVD from Home Video.

* As it was, Dalton was a great transition for Brosnan, who played his Bond tough but lighter and with more humor, and his four films saved the franchise, basically.

No comments: