Tuesday, July 16, 2019

My Crime Beat Column: A Look Back At The James Bond Film, 'License To Kill'

Thirty years ago, in July of 1989, the James Bond film, License To Kill, starring Timothy Dalton as Ian Fleming's iconic character James Bond, premiered. 

License To Kill was the 16th film in the series and the first film not to use the title of an Ian Fleming novel or short story.

Although to me, Sean Connery is James Bond, as an advertisement once proclaimed, I thought Timothy Dalton was very good as James Bond, and I rate him as the second-best Bond. 

He replaced Sir Roger Moore, whom I loved as The Saint on TV in the 1960s when I was a teenage, but I didn’t care for his casual humor and lighthearted approach to Bond. The Roger Moore-Bond films were well made, profitable and popular, but the films in the 1970s went from being thrillers with a touch of humor to action-comedy films. (To be fair, Sean Connery’s Diamonds Are Forever started this trend in 1971).  

Although Dalton lacked Connery’s √©lan, his big cat-like movements, and his mischievous comedic quips, Dalton looked like Ian Fleming’s James Bond; tall, dark, dangerous, handsome and athletic. 

Dalton was and is a serious actor. He reread all the Ian Fleming novels and then attempted to portray Ian Fleming's Bond. I think he largely succeeded. He portrayed Bond on the big screen as serious, quiet, cold, sardonic, tough and ruthless. 

Except for a few silly bits, I thought The Living Daylights, Dalton’s first Bond film, was a good thriller. I liked License To Kill even more. I liked that the film makers used passages from Ian Fleming’s novel Live and Let Die that were not used in the Roger Moore film based on that novel. 

License To Kill offered the bait shop passage and the brutal mauling of Bond’s friend, Felix Leiter. Like the novel, Leiter lost a part of his leg and part of his arm when he was fed to a shark.

Still alive, barely, he was left bleeding with a note attached to him that read, "He disagreed with something that eat him,” one of the rare bits of dark humor found in Ian Fleming’s novels.   

Dalton’s Bond was ruthless. He killed bad guys in cold blood and he held a gun to one woman in the film and a knife to the throat of another. 

I also liked Robert Davi’s portrayal of Franz Sanchez, the drug lord villain in License To Kill. 

Although the character was created by the screenwriters and not Ian Fleming, I thought Sanchez was close to the type of villains Fleming employed. Murderous, vicious and a bit crazed, Davi is one of the best villains since the Sean Connery-Bond films from the 1960s. 

The supporting cast is also very good, including the two women in the film, Carey Lowell and Talisa Soto, who offer strong performances as well as being very attractive. The other good supporting cast includes Anthony Zerbe as a criminal associate to Davi, and a nasty young Benicio Del Toro as Davi's henchman. David Hedison portrays Leiter, repeating the role he portrayed in Live and Let Die, and Desmond Llewellyn gives an expanded performance as "Q" as he aids Bond' in the field.   

“Being part of the most successful series of films in history and playing the main villain was – let’s face it – pretty remarkable,” Davi said to Fox News. “As a kid, you either wanted to play Bond or a Bond villain. Ask any of my friends in entertainment, whether they are actors or writers or producers or directors, and they will tell you that they’d love to play a Bond baddie. I can go anywhere in the world and I am known, it put me on the international map.”

“Ian created a character that is mythical and has become part of the pop culture iconic consciousness. I said in interviews at the time, that he is Shakespearean! ‘License To Kill’ dealt with a drug lord, and the real threat that is posed by such power,” Davi said. “I remember producer Michael Wilson researching this world diligently and this subject is as timely today as it was when the film was made. It is this approach to films that helps make them continually relevant.”

I like the exchange between Bond and Sanchez when Bond offers his services to Sanchez, stating that he helps people with problems.

“Oh, a problem solver?” Sanchez asked.

“More of a problem eliminator,” Bond responded coldly. 

Sadly, the making of Bond films was suspended for six years due to legal battles and Dalton elected not to return when the producers resumed production.

Only recently has Dalton explained why he left the series after the legal dispute was resolved and production on a new Bond film was about to begin.

Speaking with The Week, Dalton said: “Cubby Broccoli asked if I would come back, and I said, ‘Well, I've actually changed my mind a little bit. I think that I'd love to do one. Try and take the best of the two that I have done and consolidate them into a third.’” Dalton continued. 

“And he said, quite rightly, ‘Look, Tim. You can't do one. There's no way, after a five-year gap between movies that you can come back and just do one. You'd have to plan on four or five.’ 

“And I thought, ‘Oh, no, that would be the rest of my life. Too much. Too long.’ So, I respectfully declined.”

Sadly, Timothy Dalton did not return as Bond.  

James Bond fans should take a second look at Timothy Dalton License To Kill

I believe it is one of the best Bond films.

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