The Road To Spectre: The Dalton Years (1987-1989)

With 007's most notorious villainous organisation set to make its return in Spectre later this year, and the James Bond franchise celebrating fifty years in cinema with its last installment Skyfall, Ben has taken the opportunity to take in every Eon Productions Bond film in order, from the series' beginnings in 1962 to the present day. Now pay attention...

'There are moments littered throughout both of Dalton's films where a quip or pun should clearly be rattled off, only for the actor to remain tight-lipped and the moment to frustratingly pass'.

With the second shortest tenure as 007 behind George Lazenby's single appearance in the role, it's all too easy to dismiss Timothy Dalton's brace of Bonds as a blip on Eon's production line. In truth, Dalton's time donning the tux is almost certainly the period most seriously affected by the messy legal wrangling that has gone on behind the scenes intermittently since the series began. The actor was initially contracted for three films, with unofficial talks of a fourth also alleged to have taken place.

Instead, Dalton's third outing was resigned to development hell in 1990, where it was finally condemned to stay with his confirmed resignation from the role in 1994. Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, it's often posited that, had Dalton been afforded even one more outing as the secret agent, he may have been remembered as one of the most distinctive 007's to appear on the big screen.

If nothing else, Dalton's Bond is a cool and refreshing breath of fresh air following the closing half of Roger Moore's time in the role. The difference between Dalton and Moore is so distinct as to almost be a distraction at first. The contrast is at its most satisfying when it feels as though Dalton is creating his own Bond - a devil-may-care agent with a strong sense of morality who's also not all that fussed as to whether he's following orders and the consequences that might bring. It's when Dalton occasionally attempts to channel Connery or, far more often, feels as though he's deliberately distancing himself from Moore's performance that his take on Bond becomes a little more awkward and less enjoyable. There are moments littered throughout both of Dalton's films where a quip or pun should clearly be rattled off, only for the actor to remain tight-lipped and the moment to frustratingly pass.

Despite the series' new leading man, both The Living Daylights and Licence To Kill suffer from some familiar issues stemming largely from returning director John Glen shooting from scripts once again penned by Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson - the pair responsible for every Bond film script since For Your Eyes Only. Taking this into consideration, it's perhaps surprising that Dalton's brace of films feel any more consistent than Moore's later efforts at all.

Both films deliver some classic Bond elements: The Living Daylights' pre-titles sequence gives Dalton a great introduction, bookended by a pleasing raid on a Soviet airbase and a tense finale on a cargo plane; Licence To Kill meanwhile gives us the best use of a shark by a villain since The Spy Who Loved Me, as well as a solid early performance from Benicio Del Toro as sleazy henchman Dario. But the films also both share and perpetuate issues seen on and off throughout Glen's Bond run: both films ultimately fail to deliver a memorable or well-defined villain, as well as both allowing plot and momentum to peter out and become unfocused during their respective second hours.

With the Craig era of Bond in full swing at the time of writing, it's perhaps not surprising that Dalton's aggressive and at times humourless 007 has been re-evaluated in recent years. To call The Living Daylights and Licence To Kill ahead of their time seems too generous, however - Caroline Bliss' painfully ditzy performance as Moneypenny in both films, for example, has aged about as badly as any element of the Bond franchise since it began. Would Dalton's positive legacy have been cemented had his time been extended by one more film? It's a question to which we can never definitively know the answer. But it feels fair to say that Dalton's Bond was, at least some of the time, better than the films in which he appeared.


The Living Daylights

Licence To Kill


By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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