James Bond: The Dalton Era - (1987-1989)

James Bond - Timothy Dalton Era

After a very profitable 12 years, it was again time to find a new 007. Roger Moore was almost 60, no longer appropriate for the role, and the initial idea of the producers was to do a prequel—something they wouldn’t end up doing, in essence, until the 2006 reboot. A lot of the frontrunners or desired candidates that were tested during Moore’s tenure were no longer age appropriate, and so a whole new slew of names were considered:

Mark Greenstreet, Lambert Wilson, Antony Hamilton, Christopher Lambert, Findlay Light, and Andrew Clarke were some of the names. A little known actor by the name of Mel Gibson was a popular choice, both with the producers and the public, but he wasn’t interested. Sam Neil screen-tested and won everyone over in the production except Cubby Broccoli.

But it would be 33 year-old Pierce Brosnan that won the role. Brosnan, who Broccoli had noticed when the young actor visited his wife Cassandra Harris on For Your Eyes Only, had just finished a hit run in the US on Remington Steele, and was, by all accounts, over the moon when told. However, there was a 60 day option on Remington Steele for another season, and at the 11th hour, despite ailing ratings, the producers of that show exercised that option and took Brosnan out of the equation. Broccoli stated, “Remington Steele will not be James Bond.”

Casting delays had pushed back the production far enough for a familiar name to be mentioned for a third time. Timothy Dalton, who was a favoured choice of Broccoli’s from the Sixties, was finally of an age the actor felt an appropriate one for Bond, and the schedule permitted his casting. Broccoli was not quick to make the offer, after Dalton had refused him before and publicly expressed disinterest, but on the urging of his wife he met with the actor, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Dalton’s approach would, as Moore’s was before him, be a drastic shift in tone from his predecessor. He wanted nothing to do with the Moore era’s excesses, and a return to the Fleming styled aspects of Bond that appealed to him: Bond’s ruthlessness, failings, and lethality. He wanted to create a more relatable Bond, a human being with as many flaws as virtues.

The Living DaylightsThe Living Daylights would see Bond pitted against an arms dealer and a Soviet defector, with realism and Fleming’s espionage elements taking a much greater focus. However, there were still some garish remainders from the Moore era in this film that grated, including a ridiculous ski chase on top of a cello case, and some over the top gadgets. These undermined what Dalton was trying to achieve for his run. Another element that many consider a letdown were the villains—hardly a formidable pair to challenge the new, more dangerous 007. The fact was this script was not written for Dalton, and didn’t play to his strengths. With a little extra tailoring, it could have been something spectacular.

What Dalton did provide was another actor confident in his craft and the way he wished to portray Bond. His physicality, and eagerness to do stunts himself, instilled an authenticity to Bond’s antics that had been sadly missing from the last few outings. What was missing from his Bond was a sense of humour, or the suave debonair element from the Moore incarnation—and this seemed to be missed by reviewers of the time.

This film would see the reintroduction of the Aston Martin, and a new Moneypenny (Caroline Bliss), and be the first of three Bond movies for actor Joe Don Baker; it would also be the first film to use different songs for the title sequence and the end credits, performed by A-ha and Chrissie Hynde respectively.

Cubby Broccoli was fortifying things behind the scenes to ensure Bond’s future as well; his daughter Barbara would produce alongside him and Michael Wilson after working her way up through the ranks. When The Living Daylights finished its run at the box office it had out-grossed A View to a Kill by 41 million dollars.

Timothy Dalton was a financial success for the franchise, but after a decade and change of Roger Moore the world was slow to warm to him. His next outing as 007 would have to be the one where he truly made the character his own.

Licence to Kill would prove to be a film of great finality for the series. Not only would it be the last to star Timothy Dalton, but it would also be the last for director John Glen, titles extraordinaire Maurice Binder, screenwriter Richard Maibaum, actors Robert Brown (M) and Caroline Bliss (Moneypenny). It would also be the last Bond executively produced by Albert R. ‘Cubby’ Broccoli, whose health was beginning to fail him.

This time out, the film would be written for Dalton’s incarnation of Bond. With competing action franchises like Lethal Weapon and Die Hard storming the box office with excessive violence and a more visceral approach, the producers decided to release the darker side of Bond. This would be a revenge movie, wherein Bond goes rogue after the execution of Felix Leiter at the hands of a drug baron. Taking cues from the Medellin Cartel of the time, and focusing on drug trafficking, was seen by some reviewers to be poaching from other franchises. But this is an oversimplification of this film’s approach. There is a certain mythological sophistication throughout this film that harkens more to Eastern stories of revenge and using one’s enemies’ flaws to bring about their own demise. Bond uses all the skills he’s learned over the years to manipulate his enemy’s destruction, instead of storming in and simply blowing them away.

Also an improvement over the last film was his adversary, played with seething malice by Robert Davi. David Hedison became the first person to play Felix Leiter twice, returning after 15 years from Live and Let Die. Benicio del Toro made an early film appearance as a henchman, and was suitably impressive. There was certainly attempts, if not always successful, to have the Bond girls Carey Lowell and Talisa Soto become more integral to the plot, instead of simple appendages. The cast was a good one.

This is by far the most vicious Bond film, and the violence is as graphic as any of its action contemporaries. This was a complaint by some, along with the assertion that this didn’t feel like a Bond movie. This reviewer disagrees, and believes that because it had only been four years since Roger Moore’s last film, and Moore had been Bond for so long, audiences and critics were used to a certain kind of adventure from 007 and unwilling to adapt to the dramatically different tone of Dalton’s second outing.

License to KillBut Dalton was trying to bring something new, whether welcomed or not, and in that he was completely successful. Despite his efforts, and those of the producers, Licence to Kill was savaged by critics of the time and made a respectable but much less 156 million at the box office. Director John Glen also copped his fair share of flack, being accused of presenting a bland and pedestrian Bond film that roused nothing from its audience. The Cold War was ending, and once again Bond’s relevance was being brought into question. There was a feeling at the time that his used by date was finally past (how many times has some idiot proclaimed that in the last fifty years?)

This reviewer thinks Timothy Dalton was the Bond before his time. The world wasn’t quite ready for his interpretation. He was extremely intense in the part, and rarely showed anything but intensity, but his acting chops and his physicality were impressive and a more believable, more human Bond was among us. As the man who followed the lightest interpretation of Bond, it may have been advantageous to portray a little humour with the pathos, to show more of Bond’s gallows humour, and his libido with some hint of enjoyment. Had he come a little later in the game, I think both of his films would have been more welcomely received. Today, Dalton has a vocal and devoted numbers of followers, who proclaim him to be the closest incarnation of Bond to Fleming’s characterization, and thusly the best one. But it was not to be.

“When I saw those posters of Pierce standing there, I suddenly thought to myself, Jesus, I don`t have to stand there with a gun to the side of my head anymore! I suddenly found the most tremendous sense of liberation, and I started to feel more like myself than I`d felt in years! I suddenly felt free!” –Timothy Dalton (quotes.lucywho.com)

Legal troubles were about to hit the Bond series, and a 6 year hiatus would end Timothy Dalton’s run as 007. Dalton had every intention of doing a third Bond film, and enjoyed his time in the role, but the stretch of time, and ever present shadow of desired candidate Pierce Brosnan, finally led him to resign from the part in 1994. Both of his films divide Bond fans, but whether liked or not, they were successful for Eon, beating Moore’s last film and competing action franchises at the box office, and equally so in continuing the Bond series. Dalton, as the three men before him, was a worthy choice for 007.


Check out part one of the Bond series - Bond: The Connery Era - (1962-1967, 1971)

Check out part two of the Bond series - Bond: The Lazenby Year

Check out part three of the Bond series - Bond: The Moore Era (1973-1985)

Check out part five of the Bond series - Bond: The Brosnan Era (1995-2002)

Check out part six of the Bond series - Bond: The Craig Era (2006- )

Also, don't miss our comprehensive review of Bond 50, the massive set of all 23 James Bond movies meticulously remastered on blu-ray.

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