Looking for a cello movie as a temporary escape from the news? This Bond film from the 1980s is a delightful romp with a fictional Stradivarius cello in tow.
The Living Daylights
Today’s cello movie is The Living Daylights, the 1987 Timothy Dalton James Bond film based on a short story by Ian Fleming. The part of Kara Milovy, the sniper/cellist, is played by Maryam d’Abo. This is a fun-loving film full of cello jokes and clichés that will probably make you groan and possibly make you laugh.
Be patient. There is no sign of a cello or cellist until after 11 minutes into the film. Then we see Milovy playing in an orchestra. Afterward, we see her as a sniper. (Her cello case is a convenient way to carry around a big gun surreptitiously.) Although directed to kill the sniper, Bond chooses to injure her instead.
“Why didn’t you learn the violin?” and Other Cello Clichés
Some details in the film might make cellists groan or laugh, including Bond asking Kara this question in the scene below. How many times have you been asked if you wished you played the violin or the flute? In Fleming’s short story, his comment is both more detailed and more offensive:
“Why in hell did she have to choose the ‘cello? There was something almost indecent in the idea of that bulbous, ungainly instrument between her splayed thighs. Of course Suggia had managed to look elegant, and so did that girl Amaryllis somebody. But they should invent a way for women to play the damned things side-saddle.”
Another cello cliché is dressing up a cello case to look like a person. That’s what Bond and Kara do to her empty cello case, leaving it in a phone booth so that the man watching them doesn’t realize they’ve escaped.
Also, note the way she crams her cello into the back of Bond’s Aston Martin. Unfortunately, this car is not an MCV (Multi-Cello Vehicle). Ouch!
Cello Case as Sled, Cello Endpin as Rudder
Did you ever joke about sledding on your cello case when you were a kid? This film took that idea to a new level – sledding down a mountain and crossing a border.
With the case open, each sat in one side. Bond held the cello and used its endpin for steering as if it were a rudder or paddle. All the while, men on snowmobiles are shooting at them, and the cello gets shot.
They duck under the barrier as they cross the border, Bond tossing the cello into the air and over it. They yell that they have nothing to declare – except the cello. Here is the sledding scene:
“Your cello’s a Strad?!?”
While they were meticulous with the technical details of the Bond gadgets, the folks in props were less concerned with the authenticity of the cello.
Of course, we would never suggest using a great instrument in a movie like this, but given the attention to detail in making all of the gadgets and vehicles, one might have hoped for something that looks a lot less like a cheap student instrument. It even has a student-esque rubber stopper on the endpin. (See clip below under Cello Bloopers.)
We don’t blame Bond for looking surprised when Kara tells him that her cello is a Strad, and it’s called “The Lady Rose.” We were surprised as well, given its appearance.
“It’s a Stradivarius. They all have names.”
This is Bond’s response when he discusses the instrument with another intelligence agent and learns that Kara’s cello, purchased at auction, “The Lady Rose,” Lot 124, 1724, sold for $150,000. There is no “Lady Rose” Strad, but Bond is right – Strad cellos do have nicknames. Here is a list of Stradivarius cellos and their sobriquets.
As for the price, today, $150,000 seems extremely low for a Stradivarius. However, if this is the price at the date of the film (1987), then that’s equivalent to slightly less than $350,000.00 in 2020. If, however, this was the price in 1962 (the date of the original Ian Fleming short story), this would be about $1,284,870.00 today.
In addition to looking like a student cello, there were other cello bloopers. For example, not many cellists with fine instruments feel comfortable having their cellos carried by porters as Kara does at the hotel in Vienna. On the other hand, perhaps Viennese porters are so used to handling rare cellos that she felt she was OK to do this.
Another error was leaving the bullet hole in the belly of the cello, as seen in the final concert in the movie. (Please see below.) The cello needed some repairs after all of its adventures.
In addition to the bullet hole, you can see that its endpin is wobbly after being used to steer as they sled down the mountain.
The endpin was clearly repaired. Otherwise, it probably would not have held the cello in place (like the one in I Love Lucy).
Why did Kara leave the bullet hole in the cello? As a souvenir? As a reminder of her adventures with Bond? The hole in the cello would have affected the instrument’s sound as well as its appearance. Who would leave a bullet hole in any cello, let alone a Strad?
Fake it until you . . . are saved by a member of the youth orchestra!
D’Abo was cast for assets that did not include her ability to play or even fake well on the cello.
At one point in the film, Bond walks in on Kara practicing. Although we’ve heard cello music – the solo cello part of the Dvořák concerto – as we view the exterior of the building in the set-up shot, when the view cuts to the interior, only briefly do we see her faking – from a good distance – the enormous room making a big difference.
Her faking is like “a twenty-footer” – an old car that looks alright from a distance. Conveniently, she stops playing as soon as the camera cuts to a closer view of her. This is extremely different from Alan Rickman’s work in Truly, Madly, Deeply, or Audrey Hepburn’s performance in Love in the Afternoon.
At the end of the movie, Kara is the soloist “performing” Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations. Look closely, and you’ll see the solo part is being played by the inside player on the front desk of the cello section. Also, note how youthful the other musicians are. That’s because this is the Austrian Youth Symphony Orchestra.
The cello performance credit is given to Stefan Kropfitsch, but from one angle, the cellist playing the solo part from the cello section is a woman. They must have used Kropfitsch’s audio in the final version, even though you can see two different cellists playing the solo part in the video footage:
- a man – probably Kropfitsch – camera view from an upper balcony on the cello side of the orchestra
- a blond woman – from a lower viewpoint at the front of the orchestra.
Another stunt cellist appears to have provided closer shots showing her hands, but not her face. Perhaps this is cellist #2 with a wig. If you know the full story, please let us know. In any case, all involved, except perhaps the audience members, look like they’re enjoying themselves.
Where to Find the Film
We were able to rent (or purchase) a digital copy of this film here in the USA, purchase it as a DVD or Blu-Ray, or get it on DVD from Netflix, but we could not find it on YouTube.*
Since there is no full-length, free YouTube option, here is the trailer:
We hope this cello movie is an amusing diversion for you, and remember – don’t try cello case sledding at home!
What are your favorite cello movies? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
- “List of Stradivarius Instruments.” Wikipedia, 8 June 2020. Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=List_of_Stradivarius_instruments&oldid=961454442.
- (Amazon Video)
- “Stefan Kropfitsch.” Stefan Kropfitsch, http://www.stefankropfitsch.com. Accessed 22 June 2020.
- “The Living Daylights.” Wikipedia, 22 June 2020. Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Living_Daylights&oldid=963819604.