The Timothy Dalton Years, by Rich Paschall
James Bond first appeared in film in 1962 with Sean Connery bringing charm and adventure to the world’s greatest spy with a license to kill. After 6 films by Connery and one by George Lazenby, Roger Moore took the role for seven films.
After these 14 Eon Productions, a rival production that was a remake of Thunderball (Never Say Never Again) and a spoof (Casino Royale starring David Niven), it might seem that James Bond had reached the end. Moore’s last film, 1985’s A View To A Kill, did well at the box office, but was not particularly well received with the critics. It seems Moore was a bit too old for the secret agent.
Eon decided to move forward. Bond was back in the person of Timothy Dalton in the 1987 film, The Living Daylights. It was based on the Ian Fleming short story of the same name. This time the film may have retained more of the essence of the Fleming piece than many of the other Bond films had done.
With the first Dalton film you will find more of an intense James Bond than previously revealed. There is less of the charm and more uncertainty than we are used to in the Bond character. Dalton is not Connery or Moore in his portrayals of 007. He is a serious agent at work. Why the shift? Whether it was in the script or not, Dalton was attempting to move more toward the Bond as described in the novels rather than the Bond people had already seen.
Reports are that Dalton could be seen on set reading the Fleming novels to see what the original author had meant the character to be. The books were not describing the Bond seen in previous films. Some of those movies only used the title and little else from the original author’s story.
First up for Dalton was a film based on the Fleming short story, The Living Daylights. As in the short story, Bond is set up as a sniper to shoot anyone who might harm a top Soviet defector. Bond does not kill the other shooter but only wounds her. Some think it is because the other sniper was a woman. We later learn she is the girlfriend of the defector Bond was supposed to protect and she was just there to create the illusion of harm. From there Bond is left to figure out the real roles of the girlfriend, the defector, as well as diamond dealers and drug dealers. There is a little humor, a little charm, and a lot of intensity.
Next up for James Bond was the film Licence To Kill. No, you will not find an Ian Fleming story with that title. It was the first story to use an original title, although the term “licence to kill” was used often in the Bond stories. In truth many of the films retained almost nothing of the story from which the title was taken. There are references to other stories and characters in this movie, but the series has clearly gone in a new direction.
The sixteenth Eon production was written with the darker portrayal of Bond in mind. The charm is left behind as Bond is on more of a personal vendetta against a drug lord who has murdered friends of his. When one wonders why Bond has taken up the pursuit, someone refers back to something we see at the end of the sixth Bond film and is referred to in one of the Moore films. I won’t give that away just in case you have not seen it.
With James Bond now seen as a rogue agent, his “double 00” status is revoked. “Q” takes a vacation so he can help Bond in secret. This gives character actor Desmond Llewelyn, who played the keeper of all those Bond gadgets, an extended part in a film. Llewelyn had played the character throughout the series at this point. Here he is caught up in the action, as unlikely as that may seem.
The Dalton films were directed by John Glen, who also directed the last three Moore films. Just as before, Bond performs incredible action stunts throughout the features. Perhaps filming techniques have improved to the point that they can make the sequences appear more dangerous with minimal risk. Bond’s fight with the villain in Licence To Kill may be the most incredible yet.
Dalton had a six-year, three film deal with Eon Productions to play the super spy. After Licence To Kill, however, producer Albert Broccoli and his company Danjaq, holders of the Bond copyright, found themselves in a protracted legal battle over the Bond series. This effectively delayed the series for years as the lawsuit between Danjaq and MGM/UA dragged on. The movie studio had leased the back catalogue of Bond films to another party at below market value. MGM, which had previously merged with the UA, who had funded the Bond series at the beginning, was owned by Qintex, which wanted to merge with Pathe Communications so they made the lease deal and… OK, that’s enough of that.
While all of this went on, the six-year deal with Dalton expired. Dalton reportedly said at the time “My feeling is this will be the last one. I don’t mean my last one, I mean the end of the whole lot.” We have already seen, however, that James Bond does indeed live more than twice. Bond will be back.