Thursday, May 9, 2013

Remembering James Bond A Licence To Kill 1989

After finally reaching a mutual understanding with the 58 year old Roger Moore that it was time for Both  he  and the James Bond series to got their separate ways the folks at EON had turned to the man everybody said was the perfect choice for the role and it  just so happened that with his American  TV series coming to an and end he was more than happy to take the role  and make it his own. Then NBC brought back  Remington Steele for another 6 episodes thus taking Pierce Brosnan out of the running to be the next James Bond and forcing the folks at EON to go to plan B. The Eternally joyless Timothy Dalton.

Dalton was quick  to claim he was Ian Fleming's Bond and his many fans in the James Bond fan boy community still  maintain this point of view. And while it's not entirely wrong neither is it entirely right. Dalton read Casino Royale The first James Bond novel and the one novel where Bond is a genuine asshole. Even Ian Fleming new he could make his hero such a prick and with the next novel Live and Let Die began to soften his personality. Timothy Dalton was not the hero of the novels but the hero of  but one of the novels.  Even  Daniel Craig's James Bond whom Daltonites use to prove Timothy was just "ahead" of his time is a likeable guy.  Something Dalton's Bond never was.

The films had begun steering away from the family action adventure comedies of the 70's with 1981's For Your Eyes Only and had completely changed course with the humorless Dalton. The next step in the  progression was to make a movie violent enough to shed the uncool PG rating that would prove...   

If you're watching James Bond films in order then Licence To Kill's abrupt change in tone and demeanor from the other Bond films is striking. If you hadn't ever seen it or any other Bond film since before Pierce Brosnan then the violence of the film is most likely to register a yawn. In the near 25 years since it's release  violence in film  has risen to the level that LTK now would seem almost tame to a modern movie goer. So a guys head explodes  and a woman gets beat with the tail of a  stingray Yawn...

Bond is a screw up through out the film. He stops the DEA from getting the villain Sanchez, He quits MI6, then he stops Hong Kong narcotics bureau from getting Sanchez all in the name of his own a personal vendetta because his friend Felix Leiter was fed to some sharks (but lived)  and Leiter's newlywed bride was murdered by Sanchez and Killifer a turn coat in the DEA. Doing the honors of Felix Leiter is David Hedison  for the second time his first try at Leiter was Live And Let Die. Hedison is most's people's choice as best Felix Leiter. Of course in the near 25 years since the film was released Leiter has gotten his limbs back is now Black. The shark scene would cause some headaches for the then current Bond literary maestro John Gardner more on that later.

Bond: Dalton is a fine actor but he just doesn't have enough it pull of the hero of a major action film. Roger Moore  in  the only slightly less dour For Your Eyes Only commanded the screen far more than Timothy Dalton ever did in either of pictures but at least in The Living Daylights he's a hero  here he just a dick. Case in point when he discovers Q in his hotel room he knocks the 60+ year old man on his ass. Really? He continually treats CIA agent Pam Bouvier (and  Q) like garbage though of course she still falls for him in the end.  

Women: Priscilla Barnes plays Della Leiter is not particularly memorable.She dies in early in the film and you don't miss her much. Talisa Soto plays Sanchez's girlfriend the well named Lupe who ends up falling for Bond of course. She  has one saving grace She's not in the film that much. Anymore of  the air-headed Lupe and she would have honors in the Tanya Roberts Bond Girl  hall of shame.Carey Lowell is the tough talking CIA pilot Pam Bouvier AKA Ms Kennedy. She's really the proper Bond Girl and She's rougher and tougher than your average Bond girl though she still cowers when Bond treats her like shit. I doubt Ms Lowell has ever been up for any acting awards but she's worlds better than Soto or Barnes and is one of the bright spots of the film.

Villains: Here is where LTK gets it's best marks. Robert Davi is solid as the drug selling  psychotic Franz Sanchez. Young Benicio del Toro is great as Sanchez's henchman though  he did accidentally legitimately injure Timothy Dalton's hand.  Anthony Zerbe is fine as the uber creepy Milton Crest. And let's not forget Wayne Newton who is solid as the  slimy, campy, though highly believable TV evangelist Professor Joe Butcher. Newton who has a lot of practice as a fund razor allegedly improvised many of lines. Whether or not his catch phrase "Bless Your Heart" was his or not I have no idea. The only bad guy that gets on your nerves is the nerdy, forever panicked Truman Lodge and  Sanchez finally does we all would have done to him.

The Bit Players: Robert Brown's M as usual is pretty unsubstantial. he has one memorable line "This isn't a country club 007" Then he tells his bodyguards not to  shoot Bond because "there are too many people around" (There actually didn't seem to be anybody) Caroline Bliss' Moneypenny gets a very short scene. She's sniffling about Bond and sends Q out to find him. And then there is Q. The biggest role for good  ol' Desmond Llewellyn and probably his finest hour.  As with everybody else in the film sands Felix Leiter Bond treats him like garbage. First knocking him over a chair then constantly telling him to go home. What a prick.

Odds and Ends: The film had several issues in production. In fact director John Glen swears the Mexico City shoot was haunted and for proof offered up the now famous picture of a fireball making a hand 


The fact that the film was the first to not have any of it's scenes filmed in Britain made many purists upset and continues to be part of the criticism of the film to this day. Licence To Kill was the first bond film to not have either a Fleming Title or very close to a Fleming title. The original title was suppose to be Licence Revoked  but tests showed the American audiences weren't sure what "revoked" meant. Which is sad if true. There is some Fleming in the film. Milton Crest was a character in the short story The Hildebrand Rarity. The seen where Lupe get's beaten with the  tail  of  the stingray comes from the same short story though in the book it's  Mrs Crest being beaten by Milton Crest. The scene where poor Felix Leiter get's his arms and legs eaten off by sharks (he disagreed with something that ate him) happened in the book Live and Let Die. Then current Bond 

Novelist John Gardner wrote the novelization of the film and made the curious decision to keep the movie in the same continuous universe as the literary James Bond. Thus he actually had poor Felix Leiter getting his prosthetic arms and legs eaten off by a shark. That poor poor man. The marketing  for the films was sub-par by Bond standards. Many still point to this film as having some of the poorest teaser posters of the series and they were. The film did not do well by Bond Standards grossing  40 million dollars less The Living Daylights;  The film did especially lackluster business in America which was a huge disappointment since this with it's Miami Vice like plot was by most standards the most Americanized Bond film to date. Part f  the reason the film did not do as well as others in the series is the summer of 1989 was a huge year for movies  and had to compete with Batman, Star Trek V, Indiana Jones And The last Crusade and others.

Overall Thoughts: I  may seem harsh on Dalton's Bond and it's true I think his Bond was Bland at best and down right  dickish mean at worst but both his movies are fine entries in the cannon even if, and  this goes for 80's Bond films in general, it isn't particularly memorable. This maybe along with  Thunderball and A View To A Kill my least re-watched official Bond film though I think it better than both of the other films I mentioned and the reason is the film is just joyless. It's brightest moments are the Q scenes  and that is never a great thing to say about a Bond film  is it? Ms Lowell is fine as the Bond girl and Davi and Newton often make for better viewing than Bond. And about Mr. Davi and Newton. One played a psychotic  girl friend beating, murdering  drug dealer and  the other played a slimy con-artist who sells the drugs through his bogus television ministry. And what is the only thing of note that either of these two men have done recently? Campaigned fast and hard for Conservative Republican politicians. Just sayin.

With all that I have said here one might think I dislike the film and that simply isn't true. I like the movie plenty. In fact there is no official Bond film I dislike. What is true is the film is not high on my list of favorite Bond films. It moves along at a brisk pace and is never boring like say Thunderball is at times but Bond is best when it's objective is to be Bond. Here Bond just seems to be following the current flavor of the month drug related violent action films. It also probably didn't help that this was the second Bond film in a row that had drug smuggling as a plot. For all of the work that went into the movie to make it feel fresh it's the one thing that LTK doesn't feel. Unlike the 60's Bond films and even most ofthe 70;s Bond films LTK feels dated though  it does serve a reminder the 80's weren't all that damned great. Oh and that damn ending with the winking fish doesn't help matters.

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