The late Eighties were always going to be hard for any new Bond. The Cold War was defrosting, AIDS had literally killed the sexual revolution, and 007’s credibility was in tatters after twelve years of Roger Moore playing silly-buggers.
So with producers’ first choice Pierce Brosnan unable to escape from his Remington Steele TV contract, the task of putting Bond back on track went to RADA-trained Welshman Timothy Dalton.
Flinty of eye, chiselled of chin, and keen for big-screen recognition beyond his second-fiddle role in 1980’s Flash Gordon, Dalton meant business.
And so it proved in a rare pre-credits sequence - i.e. one that’s actually relevant to the plot - wherein Bond careers around Gibraltar atop a dynamite-laden Land Rover.
His adversary has just killed a fellow ‘00’ agent, leaving the message ‘Smiert spionem’: ‘Death to spies’. It may have been the era of glasnost, but screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G Wilson (Bond’s regular producer) were clearly not about to let the Iron Curtain fall yet.
Having set a more serious tone, nor were they about to give Bond his usual sexual freedom. With no place in the script for innuendo, they whipped it out.
No, Dalton was to be a one-woman Bond - that woman being cello-playing cutie Kara Milovy (d’Abo).
They meet in Czechoslovakia during the defection of KGB general Georgi Koskov (Krabbe). She’s there to shoot Koskov. Bond is there to shoot whoever tries to shoot Koskov. However, sensing she is more familiar with Rimsky-Korsakov than Kalashnikov, Bond aims to miss.
It matters little, as no sooner is Koskov in British hands than he is snatched away again. Assigned to bring him back, Bond doesn’t buy Koskov’s stories about female snipers or the spy-killing machinations of KGB boss General Pushkin (Rhys Davies).
The trail for the truth takes Bond on a chase through Carpathian snowscapes (powered by a Q-customised Aston Martin Volante), then on to the Moroccan HQ of American military nut Whitaker (Baker) before culminating in a raid on a Russian airbase in the Afghan desert, assisted by freedom fighter Art Malik and his mujaheddin mob.
Despite being hampered by an overly convoluted plot and two of the feeblest Bond villains ever (greedy buffoons Koskov and Whitaker don't have a quantum of menace between them), Dalton brings much-needed grit to the role.
There was also wisdom in putting stunts before gadgets (whistle-activated keyrings - big wow). The cargo-bay tussle at 30,000 feet between Bond and hench-villain Andreas Wisniewski is a breath-taking highlight.
Wisniewski went on to do Die Hard but, as with so many Bond bit-parters, drifted into obscurity and was last seen loitering on The Bill. A similar fate befell Caroline Bliss, whose contract as Miss Moneypenny began and ended with Dalton’s Bond.
Neither classic nor clunker nor particularly cool (apart from A-Ha’s theme song and a couple of tunes by The Pretenders), The Living Daylights was still a marked improvement for the franchise.
Unfortunately for Dalton, he was always going to be a stop-gap until the producers got their Steele-bound man.