Sunday, 24 March 2013

The Making of The Living Daylights - a review

Charles Helfenstein has done it again. After astounding the Bond-fan community with his exhaustive account of the making of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, the author has returned with another extraordinary behind-the-scenes look at a Bond film. Why Helfenstein settled on The Living Daylights is not explained, but like On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Timothy Dalton's first Bond film represents something of a milestone for the series, heralding a more serious Bond firmly rooted in Fleming, which continues to resonate today in the era of Daniel Craig.

Helfenstein's examination of the film begins with Ian Fleming's short story of the same name. The origins of the story lay in the murky landscape of 1960s' Berlin, the front line of the Cold War where defection, assassination, clandestine meetings, shady deals and acts of notorious individuals were a near-daily occurrence. As usual, Fleming distilled a tremendous amount of research into the story, having for example visited important locations, read up on the latest sports rifles, and perused catalogues of classical recordings for the perfect music to defect to. Fleming also took a personal interest in the illustration to accompany the story's publication in the Sunday Times Magazine. The image, a heart pierced by an arrow, had originally been considered for the dustjacket of The Spy Who Loved Me, and recalled the bleeding hearts motif of the Casino Royale first-edition cover art. Unfortunately for Fleming, the design was rejected for a second time.

Most of the Helfenstein's book, though, is naturally concerned with the film adaptation. After Roger Moore resigned from Bond duty in 1985, early drafts of the Bond film to follow A View to a Kill presented an origins story for Bond, taking him back to his time as an officer in the Royal Navy and his early brushes with British intelligence. Bond is introduced to the key personnel – M, Q and Moneypenny – and, 26 years before Skyfall, is returned to his ancestral home in Scotland. The ideas of Skyfall may seem radical, but their seeds were planted long before.

The treatment, however, was rejected, and screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G Wilson began work on what would become The Living Daylights. Helfenstein dispels the myth that screenplay was written with Roger Moore in mind, although it is notable that the film's story boards show a Bond that looks remarkably like (a youthful) Roger Moore.

But with Roger Moore hanging up his Walther PPK, who was going to play Bond? That Pierce Brosnan had actually been awarded the role before his commitments to the TV show Remington Steele pulled him away is well known, but there were a host of other candidates in the running. There were, as well, many more names mentioned by the press, which has served to confuse the history of the casting. While Helfenstein is correct to name Mark Greenstreet as one of the actors who auditioned for the role, I am not certain that his information on Trevor Eve is so accurate. Though the author, citing John Glen, names him as an official candidate, Trevor Eve, in response to my enquiries, told me that he was never screen-tested, though he did have an informal meeting with Barbara Broccoli.

Ultimately, the prize of playing Bond went to Timothy Dalton. Reading Helfenstein's book, one is reminded of just how committed Dalton was to the role. He read and analysed the Bond books for clues to his portrayal, and was quoted as saying that he approached the role with a responsibility to Fleming's writing. Dalton was keen to perform as much stuntwork as he could (“I was terrified”, said second-unit director Arthur Wooster), while director of photography, Alec Mills, remembered Dalton's intensity: “You really believed he was going to kill him [Koskov]”.

For director John Glen, filming in Austria reacquainted him with the locations of The Third Man, on which he was assistant editor, and these, along with the shared themes of subterfuge and intrigue, allowed Glen to repeat some of the tricks of The Third Man and in places give The Living Daylights the look of a classic film-noir.

The Living Daylights opened to very healthy ticket sales and a generally favourable reaction. Helfenstein has assembled a collection of reviews, both positive and negative, that remarkably could have been written today in response to any of Daniel Craig's films. Variety thought the film a “cut above the series norm of super-hero fantasy”, while Time suggested that “the film forfeits sniggering humor [sic] to accentuate action and character.” Some of the negative reviews focused on the villains, who were thought not sufficiently larger than life or deadly enough, and pointed to the film's relative lack of humour. “Fight scenes are conducted in grim silence and in the most swift and expedient fashion”, wrote the BBC's Tom Coates.

Charles Helfenstein's book, lavishly illustrated, is a superb achievement, and deserves to be read by every Bond aficionado. In light of Daniel Craig's portrayal, the book also reminds us that, while Timothy Dalton's Bond was not necessarily ahead of its time – The Living Daylights packed  cinemas and Dalton's tenure was assured into the 1990s – the direction in which Craig's films have been taken was a path first trodden back in 1986/87 (and indeed intermittently through the Pierce Brosnan era).

2 comments:

  1. Edward,

    I really enjoyed your article on Peter Anthony. You had mentioned in one of your comments that you were working on a book about actors who could have been Bond. Have you ever run across the story of Finley Light. The story of his moment with Bond is the following blog spot.
    http://venetianvase.co.uk/2012/11/11/finley-light-to-be-james-bond/

    Keep up the great work. Would love to see more stories about actors who could have been Bond. Enjoyed the Greenstreet piece too. Thanks.

    Jason

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    1. Thanks, Jason. Much appreciated - glad you enjoyed the Peter Anthony and Mark Greenstreet pieces. Thanks for the link to the blog. I had heard of the Finley Light story, but I haven't found out much more than what appeared in the Mail of Sunday at the time. Like the blog authors, I started to wonder whether Finley Light actually existed, but apparently he does. Helfenstein has some more information in his book. You're right - I did start my research into the 'actors who would be Bond' for a potential book, but I've put the project to one side for the moment, as it requires considerably more time to complete than I'm able to give presently. However, I've put some of the research that I've done so far on my blog or other websites. You may already have seen it, but here's my blog post on Ian Ogilvy, Trevor Eve and David Robb, with whom I managed to get in touch: http://jamesbondmemes.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/some-men-who-press-thought-would-be.html

      Edward

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