A couple of weeks ago, I started my 50th anniversary celebration of James Bond. This date marks the actual debut of Dr. No, so it is a pretty safe bet that there will be Bond tributes all over the net. I checked on Google, but they did not have one of their trademark logos celebrating 007. All is well however, I just finished watching the EPIX exclusive documentary "Everything or Nothing: The Secret World of 007" and it satisfied my needs for a Bond fix. Today, as I was watching "Taken 2" with my daughter Amanda, we saw the trailer for "Skyfall", I leaned over and said "35 more days" and we both gave out a shout of anticipation.
The set up for the current project is to rate the 007 films by the actors outings as James Bond. Since Lazenby was only Bond once, he started us off. The fact that he never made another Bond film is not really a tragedy, he was not really an actor, and subsequent Bonds have been more than sufficient to replace him. I do think on the other hand that it is a tragedy that Timothy Dalton did not get to portray Bond more than the two opportunities afforded him. My friend Art and I both thought he looked the most like the James Bond we had envisioned in our heads when we read the books (at least when we could get Sean Connery out of our minds). Dalton is an excellent actor and he did a fine job restoring some dignity to Bond after some of the over the top Roger Moore outings. The one thing that he seemed to lack was a deftness with a comic line. He always brought great intensity to the role but lost the light touch that the audience had grown used to.
Anyway, my ranking of his films is complicated. I think both movies are excellent, but they are both fairly grim. My final decision is a personal reflection of my mood at the times I saw these films in theaters.
"The Living Daylights"
This ends up as my second favorite Bond, even though it is the more "Bond" like of the two Dalton films. The scenario of the assassin who Bond is supposed to kill but instead merely prevents from caring out their orders is straight from the original story. A pretty face stays his hand. In the original short story, that is as far as it went. Here an elaborate set up of spy vendetta, corruption in the KGB, and ultimately a little detente, fill in the story.
I like the characters of the duplicitous Russian general, and the American mercenary who sees himself as a war historian/General. Their plot to steal from the Russian arms stockpiles, sell the arms on the open market and exploit the British Secret Service to do so, reminded me a bit of the intrigue in "From Russia with Love", with two sides being played while a third is profiting.
There are a couple of long sequences in Afghanistan, and at the time it was easy to look at the Russian quagmire and shake our heads at a distance. Today, it is a little more difficult to do that.
There is a solid sequence in which the Russian General fakes his own kidnapping from British intelligence. The monosyllabic blond Russian strongman, infiltrates the safe house and engages in a series of hand to hand combat situations with other British Agents. I always liked the fact that the MI6 guy in the kitchen was almost a match for the guy. Bond was not alone in her Majesty's Secret Service, and the other guys were competent as well. Of course Bond is special, which is why he rises like cream to the top of the heap.
The girl in the story is the weak link. She is pretty but not any more convincing as a cellist than she was as a sniper. The European scenes and chases are effective and the pre title sequence was good looking although a little confusing the first time through.
License to Kill
"License to Kill", which in my mind should have remained "License Revoked", is at the top of my Dalton list for a couple of very personal reasons. It is the last James Bond film I saw with my best friend.We had seen nine Bond films together when they first opened. Art died during the six year interval between this and the first Brosnan film. It is also the first Bond film I took my daughter Amanda to. She was a year old and slept in the car seat that I deposited in the seat next to me in the theater. When she did wake up, she never fussed or in any way bothered anyone else in the theater, but it was an early matinee that was sparsely attended.
I also like the movie because it is one of the most violent of the Bond films. It's subject is personal vengeance, and one of the classic scenes from the novel "Live and Let Die", ended up in this story. The feeding of Felix Leiter to a shark and his subsequent delivery with a sadistic note reading "He disagreed with something that ate him", is a classic nasty piece of work from Ian Fleming himself. It is one of the reasons that the original novels were criticized for their sadism. The character of Milton Krest is from a different short story in the same collection as "The Living Daylights", and the punishment of the villains girl by being whipped with the trail from a stingray is also a gruesome slice of that short story collection.
There is a strong leading lady, a good plot that makes use of Felix for something more than simple exposition, and a real villain. Actually we get to see Bond dispose of two thoroughly disagreeable bad guys, one of them played by Benicio Del Toro. The main villain is Sanchez, brought to life by the truly great character actor Robert Davi. He has flare, intelligence and a brutal personality to match those other characteristics. His character could also be a real person, the Mexican drug lords are probably even worse so it is not really an over the top visualization of a drug cartel story. I also think the tanker truck stunt toward the end of the picture is a memorable Bond style trick. Throw in Wayne Newton, and Q in the field for some comic relief and you get a pretty good package despite some script issues.