When Casino Royale came out in 2008, critics and punters alike were head over heals for it. Quite rightly, it is a very good film (until the last twenty minutes) and had at last taken Bond away from the incredibly silly direction the Pierce Brosnan films were careering towards at breakneck speed.
Daniel Craig was seen to have cemented the role of Bond, even though the same newspapers who applauded him and said that he was possibly the best Bond ever, lined up to shoot him down when he was announced in the part a year earlier. Something that everyone agreed on was that Craig had given Bond a harder, more serious edge, which he did indeed do, however, when another actor tried this same tactic in 1987 and 1989 – it was met with Roger Moore style raised eyebrows. That man was Timothy Dalton.
Dalton was initially approached to play James Bond in 1968 when Sean Connery announced You Only Live Twice would be his last Bond film. Dalton had made quite a name for himself in the theatre and had come to everyone’s attention in the 1968 film A Lion in Winter with Richard Harris. Albert “Cubby” Broccoli (uber producer of the Bond films) was quite a fan of Dalton’s work and thought he would make a perfect Bond. However, at the age of 22, Dalton felt he was far too young to play Bond. In a 1987 interview he said, “Originally I did not want to take over from Sean Connery. He was far too good, he was wonderful. I was about 24 or 25, which is too young. But when you’ve seen Bond from the beginning, you don’t take over from Sean Connery.” He turned it down, the part eventually went to George Lazenby and the rest is history.
When Roger Moore eventually left Bond in 1985 (after a final elderly appearance in A View to a Kill), Broccoli turned once again to Dalton, but at the time he was committed to filming the Brook Shields comic book film Brenda Starr. Broccoli then turned to Pierce Brosnan, a young Irish actor who was wooing TV audiences in America as Remington Steele (Brosnan’s first wife appeared in For Your Eyes Only). However Brosnan could not get out of his TV contract and had to turn the part down. Broccoli then (after screen testing Sam Neill) found out that Dalton had now finished his filming commitments and was free to play Bond. The part was now his.
From the outset Dalton wanted to make Bond a harder and more serious role. He later said in an interview, “I think Roger was fine as Bond, but the movies had become too much techno-pop and had lost track of their sense of story. I mean, every movie seemed to have a villain who had to rule or destroy the world. If you want to believe in the fantasy on screen, then you have to believe in the characters and use them as a stepping-stone to lead you into this fantasy world. That’s a demand I made, and Albert Broccoli agreed with me“.
Dalton had a tough job on his hands. Up until 1987 Bond was all gadgets, gags and glamour, well, as glamorous as an old man wooing Grace Jones can possibly be. Dalton’s approach was to read the books and rebuild the character into the serious part that he saw it to be. The only problem was that the script writers remained the same from the Moore era and the gags and gadgets remained in script for 1987′s The Living Daylights.
Dalton is a great Bond, he is hard, has an edge and likes a good old fashioned head butt, however, he has fairly awkward gag delivery (which he has obviously since rectified judging by his amazing turn in Hot Fuzz). Amazing Bond jokes such as “I gave him the boot” or “Amazing this modern safety glass” seem to be delivered through gritted teeth and as if he doesn’t agree with the direction in which the character is going.
It can be argued that The Living Daylights only really works because of Dalton, he is the glue that holds the film together and you can only imagine what the end product would have been with Roger Moore at the helm; it would have been stored in the dark file along with Octopussy and A View to a Kill. There are certainly enough silly elements within the film that could well have caused it to be remembered alongside of the more forgettable and frankly embarrassing Bond films, such as exploding milk bottles, skiing in a cello case, the new Moneypenny, the scouse Russian guard and the wolf whistle key ring. With all of these ingredients combined you would imagine a disaster on a parr with the double-taking pigeon fromMoonraker, but Dalton makes it work, thanks in no small part to a very strong pre-credit opening sequence in which Dalton gets to display his hard edge and to deliver a fine head butt.
In a way the opening sequence to The Living Daylights aptly demonstrates his Bond, great screen presence with a fantastic action sequence culminating in an awkward gag (“better make that two“, about being late to report as he has landed on the yacht of a glamorous woman).
It would seem that the film makers had also noticed this as the next Bond film is a perfect fit for Dalton. 1989′s Licence To Kill is a very hard edged tale of revenge and action – part response to the 80s obsession with action (in much the same way Moonraker was a response to Star Wars) and part response to the fact that they had run out of Fleming novels to adapt (in fact Licence to Kill contains elements from the Live and Let Die novel – with a character being fed to sharks). While a complete departure from all Bond films that came before, it is a great film in its own right. Long gone is the Roger Moore style humour, this script is pure Dalton Bond, steely, hard edged and unforgiving. The kind of Bond that would harpoon a guy in broad daylight rather than sneak around and make jokes.
In many ways Licence to Kill is a blueprint for films like Goldeneye or Casino Royale, films in which Bond isn’t just a comedian that occasionally gets into fights and gets himself out of them with a pen that stops time, but an actual serious character who can handle himself around men and women.
Sadly Dalton was a victim of (seriously) bad marketing. Licence to Kill was released in the summer of 1989 with little to no publicity, which was utter madness as this was also the summer of Batman and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Bond films are traditionally released in November, so quite why MGM felt the need to put Bond against these two marketing giants is anyone’s guess. While it can be argued that Bond is clearly a bigger product than the pair of them, if it is under marketed (especially when compared to the behemoth that was Warner Bros’ 1989 Batman campaign) it can never compete and subsequently did not perform as well at the box office.
Never the less, “Bond 17” was scheduled for release in 1991. The story was to centre around an attack on a Scottish nuclear facility, a nefarious Hong Kong business man and the Chinese secret service. However, in 1990 a legal dispute began and MGM/Pathé centring around global television rights which went on to be challenged in the courts. This put the brakes on Bond 17 for the time being. Various other legal obstacles then appeared on the Bond horizon for most of the early 1990s and the whole franchise sat in limbo.
Then in April 1994 Timothy Dalton announced he would be resigning from the role. He later said “I was supposed to make one more but it was cancelled because MGM and the film’s producers got into a lawsuit which lasted for five years. After that, I didn’t want to do it anymore.”
It can definitely be argued that Dalton was twenty years ahead of the role and should be thanked for getting the franchise back on track. It is a shame that the latter Pierce Brosnan films (Die Another Day – I am looking at you) derailed it once again so dramatically that a reboot was required.
Let’s all raise a dry Martini and thank Timothy Dalton, the people’s Bond, without whom lord knows where the franchise would be now.