While we await news on the next James Bond, let’s take a look back at the overlooked and underappreciated pair of Timothy Dalton Bond films…
Who’s your favourite Bond? Sometimes this question ends up revealing more about your generation than anything else. I’ll state it though, that I’m a Connery man, even though he was before my generation (my big screen introduction was Brosnan). However, I’m also someone who has liked every incarnation of Bond for their finer points, even if Daniel Craig per se, occasionally stripped the fun out of the character (not least when he felt somewhat disinterested during Spectre). At the same time he brought a sense of depth that was beyond all the rest, perhaps benefitting from the era he was making them in.
The somewhat maligned George Lazenby, often dismissed as the weakest actor of the characters big screen legacy, is actually better than given credit for, and benefits from starring in an very decent Bond film (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). Roger Moore perfectly kept tongue in cheek, giving Bond a caddish debonair swagger even if the jokes were wearing thin and his advanced years were really showing in his last couple of films. Pierce Brosnan was cool, suave and a sort of lighter version of the man he replaced, increasingly bringing back the Moore era silliness as his run went on and getting visibly bored of it.
Speaking of the man Brosnan replaced… that brings us to T-Dalt. Timothy Dalton to the layperson. Roger Moore had ended his run with A View to a Kill, which probably ranks at the lower end of the Bond rankings for many, but I’ve always enjoyed the highlights (in all honesty, the only three I struggle with are Spectre, Diamonds are Forever, The World is Not Enough and especially, Die Another Day). It’s probably not as good as Octopussy or For Your Eyes Only, but A View t’Kill (Alan Partridge will get that) probably has the more iconic moments, such as the infamous Eiffel Tower set piece and of course Christopher Walken and Grace Jones as memorable villains. It was clearly time to replace Moore though, and diminishing box office returns also suggested audiences weren’t as keen on the humour any more, which occasionally bordered Carry On.
A slightly new approach was taken, along with a new man. In fact, the new man might have been in a well-worn tux and weathered Walther PPK by this point, having turned down the role prior to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds are Forever and (Eeeee-)Octopussy (Alan Partridge fans will get that). It was seen as a move back to a more rough and ready Bond, maintaining the same approach to inventive and eye-catching stunts but with a little more grit than we’d seen in Moore’s era. Dalton’s icy glare and intensity made him feel different to what we’d seen before. Connery was pure rugged masculinity but Dalton seemed like a gentlemen who masked a killer instinct with an ability to imbue a little boyish charm to the role too.
In essence, Dalton is now seen as the precursor to the Daniel Craig era, bringing a cold and cool demeanour to his films, but as a difference still feels like the best-looking gent at the casino, who, unlike his predecessors, was a more aloof JB. He didn’t chase, didn’t seem pushy and was almost as assured of his sexual magnetism as any of the portrayals. Fact is, this Bond was business first (octo)pussy later, for the most part. That steel and ice that Dalton imbued into the character was also subtly belied by some sensitivity. Bond’s always got a bit of the cad coursing through his veins, but least so with Dalton. Though one thing that does certainly run through his first film is a sense of a Roger Moore hangover in the script, that isn’t enough to derail it. From the atypically silly Q scene to a moment Bond crashes his blazing parachute onto the yacht of a hot and horny woman.
The Living Daylights is a film with a growing legacy among Bond afficionados. It has all the classic Bond tropes you expect and most importantly some iconic, instantly identifiable set pieces which put it in the pantheon. Not for the first time (before or since) this Bond film has an abundance of plotholes but it’s loaded with great set pieces and well commanded by Dalton who slips into the role with ease, immediately making you feel like he’s unique.
The film, the most atypically Bond of Dalton’s double (more on that later), has really grown on me over the years. It’s in or around the top 10 for me, though wouldn’t quite threaten the top 5. The cast is also very decent, with John Rhys Davies, Art Malik, Joe Don Baker (here playing a villain, before being repurposed as Felix Leiter in Brosnan’s era) and Julie T Wallace all impressing. Our main Bond Girl Du Jour is played by Maryam d’Abo, who is soon to be seen in Flickering Myth’s own foray into cinema, The Baby in the Basket. She’s impossibly radiant, nicely balancing vulnerability, naivety with a dash of resoluteness here. She arcs from atypical Bond girl in peril to getting in on the action with almost gleeful abandon.
It’s fair to say, that as good as The Living Daylights is, it’s arguably the weakest debut. Connery had Dr. No, which you could say has dated, but still brilliantly laid the foundations for many tropes still employed in the franchise (and other franchises) today. Lazenby’s one and only is a gem, Moore’s first (Live and Let Die) is arguably his best and there are no arguments as to Brosnan and Craig smashing it out the park right from the off. But as I say, most of these firsts would sit well in the top 10 list. In truth though, it has the strongest set pieces of the 80s as far as Bond is concerned, most closely match by Dalton’s next, as with the rising power of Stallone and Schwarzenegger, suddenly the Bond franchise had to up its game. Whether it’s cello sledding or hanging out of a cargo plane there’s plenty of crazy stunts and wanton destruction to enjoy here. Then to top it all off, the theme from A-ha is very good, and John Barry’s final Bond score is right up there with the best in the whole franchise.
Whether some of the Moore era hangovers were seen as reasoning for the unspectacular box office returns for Dalton’s first outing, who knows, but there’s a distinct change of direction in Licence to Kill. It’s still one of the most violent outings for the eponymous Spy, which sees Bond up against international drug dealers in what amounts to Bond vs Scarface. It forgoes almost all Bondisms in the set pieces for action scenes more grounded but definitely not lacking in big stunts.
There’s just this feeling that Licence to Kill, which sees Bond setting out to avenge the death of one of his best friends, evokes 80s era action films more than Bond formula. That’s further cemented by the choice of Michael Kamen as composer whose distinct era action music does enough to tow the line but still takes us away from what the franchise norm was (but not to the degree of Eric Serra or Thomas Newman later).
Despite that though, Dalton once again excels in a film which might feel like it has villains more suited to a Steven Seagal picture. He’s in great form again, giving the character a little bit of simmering rage beneath the collected surface. He’s not as powder keg as Daniel Craig, but once again you can see the seedlings which fans maybe didn’t take to between 1987-1989, but were more receptive to in a post Nolan/Bourne world.
If License to Kill one lacks something, it’s probably a more engaging Bond girl. It almost feels like an anomaly, not quite to the levels of off-canon fare like Never Say Never Again, but that is also perhaps its charm. John Glen’s rock solid and assured direction and his stunt lineage mean that the big set pieces are beautifully constructed and suitably destructive. We get set pieces on air, land and sea and not without a few wry stunt gags that almost hark back to Roger, such as Bond driving a fuel truck on its side to tip it away from an incoming missile.
Ultimately, the reason we never saw a third outing for Dalton had little to do with a seeming dip in the franchise’s appeal. It also wasn’t reflective of his popularity among fans and indeed the studio itself. The choice was Dalton’s alone, having been open to a return but unwilling to tie himself to the role long term as Wilson and Brocolli would have preferred.
In the end his films showed a distinctive if imperfect shift in the character back then. Sure, the grittier, more cold blooded elements would be honed and refined in Daniel Craig’s better works but Dalton had a really great mix of what made each Bond most effective, perhaps only missing Roger Moore’s sense of eyebrow raising comic timing. Even so, though fewer and further between, The Living Daylights in particular gave Dalton room to show some adept comical timing.
What do you think of Timothy Dalton’s Bond films? Where do they rank in the franchise? Let us know on our social channels @FlickeringMyth…
Tom Jolliffe is an award-winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out around the world, including When Darkness Falls, Renegades (Lee Majors and Danny Trejo) and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan), with more coming soon including Cinderella’s Revenge (Natasha Henstridge) and The Baby in the Basket (Maryam d’Abo and Paul Barber). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.