Dalton's Debut: Back to Fleming!

With Roger Moore's 'retirement' as 007, in the less-than-wonderful A VIEW TO A KILL, Eon Productions began searching for a new James Bond for THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS. A promising candidate was Sam Neill, 39, popular star of TV's "Reilly: The Ace of Spies" (and future JURASSIC PARK dinosaur expert). But Albert Broccoli didn't like Neill's tests, and announced he wanted Welsh actor Timothy Dalton, whom he'd first approached for the role 16 years earlier. At that time, Dalton had turned down Bond, saying he was "too young". Now 41, both Dalton and Broccoli agreed he was the right age, and his tests were fabulous...but it was then discovered that the shooting schedule for THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS would conflict with Dalton's current project, BRENDA STARR, and he, reluctantly, had to pass on the project.

Then an Irish actor, who had become a major television star in America, appeared on the scene. Pierce Brosnan, 34, his "Remington Steele" TV series about to be canceled by NBC, had impressed Broccoli on a visit to the Bond set 5 years earlier, and his tests were so good that he won the role. The script was adjusted, adding more humor (quips were one of Brosnan's strong points), and things were moving along nicely...until NBC, seeing the publicity value of a potential 'James Bond' in a series, renewed "Remington Steele", throwing the entire Bond production into turmoil. The network refused to release Brosnan, and he had to leave.

Fortunately, the delay gave Timothy Dalton time to complete BRENDA STARR, and he began shooting THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS two days after STARR wrapped.

Dalton, an avid fan of Fleming's novels, preferred a harder-edged yet vulnerable Bond, with little or no humor, but screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson had already tailored the script to Brosnan, and Dalton quickly revealed that one-liners were not his strongest asset. He gave, nonetheless, a strong, smoldering performance as 007. As his leading lady, British actress Maryam d'Abo, 26, who'd been 'discovered' while doing 007 candidate screen tests, proved quite good as a blackmailed Czech cellist Bond 'couldn't kill'. The villains, while not 'top drawer' Bond, were effective; Jeroen Krabbé as a defecting Russian general, dancer-turned-actor Andreas Wisniewski as nearly superhuman assassin Necros, and Joe Don Baker, as a 'good ol' boy' megalomaniac U.S. general.

With action around the world, and a complicated plot involving a weapons heist and sale, and the assassination of a Russian General (future LORD OF THE RINGS star, John Rhys Davies), the story attempted to be more 'topical' by involving the Afghan/Soviet conflict (which, unfortunately, 'dated' it, as well). Bond is monogamous for the first time, and the more 'physical' portrayal of FOR YOUR EYES ONLY had returned, to the delight of Bond purists.

But LETHAL WEAPON would also debut in 1987, and the 'over-the-top' solid action film would cut deeply into THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS profits. The 007 film was considered almost 'quaint' in comparison, and Dalton would unfairly take the 'heat' for the less profitable film.

The world was changing around 007, and no one was quite sure what to do about it...








Dalton's 'Avenging' Bond, in Troubled Times...

LICENCE TO KILL is, arguably, the film closest in spirit to Ian Fleming's vision of James Bond, offers Timothy Dalton's 'signature' performance in the role, and is nearly always listed among the 'best' Bond films, by 'serious' fans...but it failed to make a profit in the U.S. when released, in 1989, and it would mark the last 007 appearance for six years.

MGM/UA, the home studio of Albert Broccoli's Eon Productions, had fallen on hard times by 1987, and the disappointing box office of THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS had forced the studio to keep LICENCE TO KILL on a very strict budget. While China had offered locations for the film, production costs would have been staggering, and Mexico and Key West, Florida, were chosen, instead. This turned out to be a blessing, as screenwriters Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum, working closely with Timothy Dalton, hammered out a screenplay utilizing many unused sequences from Fleming's "Live and Let Die", requiring a more tropical atmosphere. Dalton, 43, who had been forced by necessity to work from a script tailored to Pierce Brosnan in DAYLIGHTS, could finally offer audiences his own 'vision' of Bond, action-oriented, dangerous, with a minimum of the comedy elements of his predecessors' films.

The story, opening as Bond and best friend Felix Leiter (David Hedison, 62, looking remarkably youthful and fit in his second appearance as the CIA agent, after an absence of 16 years), prepare for Leiter's wedding; hearing of drug czar Franz Sanchez' escape from custody, in full tuxedos, they give chase, lassoing the villain's plane from a helicopter, then parachute in for a 'perfect' wedding. Sanchez (played with cool bravado by veteran character actor Robert Davi, 45), plots his revenge, and soon murders Leiter's bride, feeding Felix to sharks, which mutilate him horribly. Bond goes ballistic, wanting to go after Sanchez, but M orders him to stand down. Bond, furious, resigns, with his 'licence to kill' revoked, and begins a personal mission of vengeance, aided only by CIA operative Pam Bouvier (breathtaking 28-year-old future "Law and Order" star, Carey Lowell), and ever-loyal 'Q' (Desmond Llewelyn, 75, in perhaps the finest performance of his long 'Bond' career).

As Bond, now officially a 'renegade', joins Sanchez' outfit, he begins a plan of subterfuge, convincing the czar that everyone is working against him, even his number one hit man (future Oscar winner Benicio Del-Toro), in a variation of Akira Kurosawa's YOJIMBO. The climax of the film, as Bond faces off against Sanchez and a fleet of drug-loaded 18-wheelers (on a stretch of road in Mexico that is actually considered 'cursed', and lived up to it's reputation), is so well-done that it would be recreated and expanded upon in 2003's THE TRANSPORTER.

Filming was difficult in Mexico City (the studios were earthquake-damaged, and the air was so thin and polluted that Albert Broccoli collapsed, and had to be returned to England), but the end product was a tight, taut adventure that everyone was excited about...except, surprisingly, the public!

In a year when big-budget spectaculars BATMAN, LETHAL WEAPON 2, and INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE were released, a smaller-scaled, more realistic 007 film never had a chance. The film lost money in the U.S., and serious questions were raised, concerning whether or not Bond had a future...

It would take six years to answer the questions...


Post-'Bond', Timothy Dalton would remain active as both a leading man and character actor, dividing his time between a wide range of stage and film roles, including a brilliant 'send-up' of Errol Flynn in THE ROCKETEER (1991), and a funny spoof of his 007 persona in LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION (2003). Long considered one of the world's finest Shakespearian actors, he has also proven himself adept at portraying Americans (MADE MEN, 1999, and AMERICAN OUTLAWS, 2001), usually in villainous roles.

Always a devoted friend to Albert Broccoli, he would participate in a tribute to the 007 producer shortly before 'Cubby's' death, in 1996, providing fans a unique opportunity to see 3 James Bonds (Dalton, Sir Roger Moore, and Pierce Brosnan) together...

Devoted to the advancement of his craft, he has enthusiastically supported independent filmmakers, and also promotes tourism and business in support of his native Wales.

Remarkably candid and witty, Dalton remains the definitive 'Bond' for many Ian Fleming fans, and has a very enjoyable Official Website, to keep fans 'up' on his current activities...



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