Licence to Kill (1989)

Country: United Kingdom
Director: John Glen
Starring: Timothy Dalton, Robert Davi, Talisa Soto, Carey Lowell, Anthony Zerbe, Wayne Newton, Benicio Del Toro, Robert Brown as M, Desmond Llewellyn as Q, Caroline Bliss as Moneypenny
Music: Michael Kamen
Main title song: ‘Licence To Kill’ performed by Gladys Knight
End title song: ‘If I Ask You To’ performed by Patti LaBelle

Licence To Kill is the sixteenth official Bond movie and was the first not to use a title from one of Ian Fleming’s novels or short stories. Originally the movie was going to be called Licence Revoked but the producers, fearing that audiences would not understand what ‘revoked’ meant, changed it to the more familiar Bondian phrase ‘Licence To Kill’.

When this film came out in 1989, Dalton was heralded as a new tougher Bond. The press releases stated that The Living Daylights was written as a fairly generic Bond adventure as they were unsure who would play Bond. But this being the second film for Dalton, the writers could write to Dalton’s acting strengths. Dalton was never good at light throwaway lines. He was at his best when he was snarling and glaring at his opponents. Often the media spin for a Bond film doesn’t quite match up to the finished product – the previous film was promoted as ‘safe sex Bond’, despite the fact that Bond beds more women in the film than Sean Connery did in Diamonds Are Forever. However, generally this film was very good at delivering what it promised — a harder edged Bond. Admittedly there were still some silly sequences –- particularly with some Kenworth trucks towards the end of the film. But Dalton was good. He was hard and looked angry, and acted like a ‘blunt instrument’ for Her Majesty’s Government –- although in this case he was not –- and to understand that, you have to go back to the film’s original title ‘Licence Revoked’. Yes, this is the film in which 007’s licence to kill is rescinded. But I am getting ahead of myself – let’s have a quick look at how the story plays out.

Concept artwork for 'License Revoked' (click for larger image)

The film opens in Key West in the United States. James Bond’s old friend Felix Leiter – once again played by David Hedison (from Live and Let Die — great to see a bit of consistency) – is about to get married. Bond is his best man and they are rushing to the wedding. At that moment international drug baron, Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi), who the American’s have been trying to catch for years, has flown into US airspace. Sanchez’s mistress, Lupe Lamora (Talisa Soto) has fled to the Florida Keys with a disgruntled minion of Sanchez. Naturally Sanchez wants her back – hey Talisa is pretty hot! – and follows her. As Leiter and Bond make their way to the church a D.E.A. (Drug Enforcement Agency) chopper flies overhead and lands in front of them. Leiter is told about Sanchez’s incursion into the US and he boards the chopper, ready to pursue the Drug Lord. As you expect, Bond refuses to be left out of the action and tags along as an observer.

Bond ends up being more than an observer and ultimately helps Leiter bring Sanchez to justice. Then both Bond and Leiter return to the festivities as planned — that being Leiter’s wedding.

A man as powerful (and as rich) as Sanchez is hard to keep locked away, and after a proposing a huge financial incentive, to anyone willing to help him escape, Sanchez does just that. Before leaving the United States, he first wants to extract a small amount of vengeance upon Leiter. He does this in two parts. First he kills Leiter’s newly-wed wife, Della (Priscilla Barnes). Then he feeds Leiter to the sharks, dangling his legs in a shark pool. Now this is not intended to kill Leiter — just leave him maimed and grieving. Although the film is not particularly graphic in depicting the violence, plotwise it is quite brutal — and may I hasten to add, it is not a sequence dreamed up solely for the film. It is lifted directly from (my favourite Bond novel — which is due a re-read very soon) Live and Let Die. Most Bond fans are well aware that the Bond films and the original novels are quite different, and even though Live And Let Die had been filmed in the early seventies with Roger Moore, the story did not utilise many of the plot points from Ian Fleming’s novel. Which was a shame for the film Live And Let Die, but a plus for Licence To Kill in which screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson could marry some of these plot points with a character from Fleming’s short story The Hildebrand Rarity and then come up with a new film.

John Gardner's novelisation of the film 'Licence to Kill'

As an adjunct here, having veered off onto a minor literary tangent, I will tell you that John Gardner’s novelisation of Licence to Kill was available in Australia several weeks before the film was released. I immediately tracked down a copy and had read it before the preview screenings had even commenced. The thing that struck me though, about the novelisation, was how difficult it must have been for Gardner to be faithful to the film, and also slot into the already established Bondian chronology. So in Garder’s novelisation, following on from Fleming’s novels, he is faced with the problem that Felix Leiter has previously lost his legs to a shark in Live and Let Die. It is certainly a strange co-incidence that different villains should meet out the same punishment to Leiter – and furthermore, why would a villain dangle a man with prosthetic legs over a pool with a shark in it? Yeah, it’s kind of dumb. This is just one of the many plot convolutions that Gardner had to deal with — but all things considered, he muddled through okay.

So in the film, Leiter is maimed, and his new bride has been killed. Bond — who is extremely upset — believes that he owes Leiter a debt, and rather than moving onto his next mission as instructed, he chooses to stay in the Florida keys and investigate.

First he searches the aquariums, fisheries and marine research facilities for a great white shark. His logic being that if Leiter was mauled by a shark, then whoever was responsible must have one. His enquiries are not particularly fruitful until he arrives at Ocean Exotica Warehouse run by Milton Krest (Anthony Zerbe). Krest suggests that he is out of the shark hunting business, but a submersible vehicle named ‘Shark Hunter’ would suggest otherwise. Bond, on the surface, accepts Krest’s subterfuge, but decides to pay the warehouse another visit at night.

That evening Bond returns, but he doesn’t find Krest. Instead he finds Killifer collecting his multi-million dollar payoff, for arranging the release of Sanchez. Bond does what any guy whose friend has been fed to a shark would do — and that is feed the man responsible to the shark. He does this, by tossing Killifer’s own money laden suitcase at him, knocking Killifer (and his ill-gotten gain) into the shark pool.

Later Bond is reprimanded for working on his own, and interfering with an American C.I.A. investigation. Furthermore, he had been assigned to a mission in Istanbul, which he had ignored. M, who has flown in personally rescinds Bond’s ‘Licence to Kill’ – or harking back to the film’s original title, has his ‘Licence Revoked’.

Later, Bond breaks into Leiter’s home and retrieves some digital files pertaining to the Sanchez investigation. Bond learns that all Felix’s inside people are dead, except for one operative, Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell), who Leiter is scheduled to meet at the Barrel Head Bar. Bond makes the appointment in Leiter’s stead, and find that a cadre of Sanchez’s goons are there to not only kill her, but whoever she makes contact with. But Pam Bouvier is a sprightly and resourceful agent in her own right, and with Bond’s help, they escape from the establishment.

After acquiring a large sum of money, courtesy of Milton Krest (Anthony Zerbe), with the assistance of Pam Bouvier, Bond heads to Isthmus City, posing as a wealthy business man. And once he has attracted Sanchez’s attention, then from within, he intends to bring Sanchez’s whole organisation down – in the usual explosive Bond manner.

One contrivance that slightly irks me with Licence to Kill is that when Bond arrives in Isthmus City to bring down Sanchez, is that Sanchez doesn’t recognise him. Sure it may have been hard to see Bond’s face in the pre-title sequence, where he actively assisted Leiter in the capturing of Sanchez. But Sanchez knew to go after Leiter (where and when too) – no doubt due to Killifer. But yet he appears not to be aware of Bond. Adding to the contrivance, Leiter is taken directly after Bond leaves Leiter’s home. Sanchez is waiting inside, so they would have been watching and waiting. But still nobody fingers Bond – well not until Dario at the end, but that is due to the incident at the Barrelhead Bar. I know this is all vague and nitpicking – but it is a tad sloppy.

Licence to Kill has a whole army of villains and minions for Bond to tangle with over the mission. First and foremost, as already discussed is Franz Sanchez, played by Robert Davi. Sanchez is a different kind of villain for two reasons. Firstly he isn’t a cartoonish megalomaniac. And secondly, although he is in supreme command, he runs his evil empire like a large corporation. He is constantly surround by a financial advisor, Truman-Lodge (Anthony Stark), and his military advisor Heller (Don Stoud).

Then there’s Milton Krest played by Anthony Zerbe.  In Licence to Kill, Zerbe doesn’t get as much screen time as his position in the credits would indicate, but he certainly makes his presence felt, and his demise is truly memorable. I once read an interview (can’t remember where) with Zerbe, where he was asked why he played so many villains. His response was that it had to do with his christian name ‘Anthony’. He said that if his name had been ‘Herb’ or ‘Herby’ (as is Herby Zerbe) then his career most likely would have gone down a different path with comedic roles. I can see it! Over the years Zerbe appeared in The Equalizer, The Return of the Man From UNCLE, at least five episodes of Mission: Impossible, The Wild Wild West and numerous other productions.

Sanchez’s sergeant at arms is Heller, played by the ever reliable Don Stroud. Frankly Heller is a nothing character (or what is left of him in the script). In is most memorable scene, he has a prong of a forklift truck through his chest.

Sanchez’s number one henchman is Dario is played by Benicio Del Toro (in one of his earliest roles). Del Toro has become such a solid character actor these days, (I love his performance as Dr. Gonzo in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) it is almost strange watching him as a young punk, spouting cliched Henchman dialogue. He’s not bad, but he doesn’t have many lines, and those he does have are rather awkward – “nice honeymooooonnnn!!!!”

Professor Joe Butcher is played by Wayne Newton, with an almost self-mocking grace – which he would take to extremes a year later with his performance as the villain in The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (don’t groan!).

Gladys Knight sings Licence to Kill

When looking at a Bond film, one of the hardest things to analyse is the music, after all we all have different musical tastes. Furthermore, with the longevity of Bond series, popular musical styles have changed quite considerably since 1962. For example, a song like Goldfinger (with Shirley Bassey), as great as it is, wasn’t really going to cut it (commercially at least) in 1989. You’ve got to remember, this film was made when Eurobeat music was all the rage (and oh, how I hated it!). The good news is, Licence to Kill doesn’t have a Eurobeat theme song. Instead, Gladys Knight was chosen to sing the opening title song, and it’s not too bad. It doesn’t grab me like some of the classics, like the aforementioned Goldfinger, Thunderball or Diamonds Are Forever, but it is a good song and certainly not one that I cringe at every time I watch the film. In fact, over time, I am probably enjoying it more and more.

The film also had a song for the end title credits, ‘If I Ask You To’ performed by Patti LaBelle. The song is pleasant enough, without being remarkable – and once again, thankfully without any cringe inducing pop stylings of the era. Later the song would become a early hit for Celine Dion when she released it in 1992.

But Licence to Kill has a little musical mystery. In 2009, when I interviewed Vic Flick, he related a tale about a lost recording session, where composer Michael Kamen had invited him and Eric Clapton to perform on an instrumental title track. The music from that session has never seen the light of day. Here’s what Vic said at the time:

It was a phone call out of the blue. Michael Kamen wanted a dark guitar sound to compliment the melody and extemporization Eric Clapton was going to do on their composition. So, knowing of my penchant for low string guitar playing, he called me for the sessions. It was good to see Eric again after many years and it was wonderful to work with those two gifted musicians. Eric played some amazing guitar on the track and Michael worked out a fine arrangement. I did my thing with a counter theme in the low register. The title turned out very good and the following day we went to a loft in the wharf area of London to shoot the video. What little I saw of the video was great. The video was then submitted to the Bond producers who had commissioned the project. I waited, Michael waited and Eric was off doing his thing somewhere in the world. After two weeks came the news that the Bond producers wanted a song as a theme and commissioned Gladys Knight and the Pips and blew out the track that Michael, Eric and I submitted.

You can read my full interview with Vic Flick here, where I ask him about the missing recording session and his career.

Carey Lowell as Pam Bouvier

Now just for the kind of double-talkin’ Bondian rhetoric that you would expect to hear from me, I am going to suggest that Licence to Kill is one of the best Bond films — but it is not a ‘classic’. Dr. No and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service are among the best Bond films too, but they also earn the distinction of being ‘classics’ — and this has nothing to do with age. While being very good, Licence to Kill doesn’t make it to ‘classic’ status for two reasons. The first is the girls (sorry!). Carey Lowell and Talisa Soto are possibly the most low-key of all the Bond girls. They are attractive (oh, yes), and their acting is quite okay too, but hey don’t have that key ‘electric’ moment which makes a Bond girl a cultural icon.

Talisa Soto as Lupé Lamora

Next there is the plot. I am not saying that the film is overly plotted, but it is clear to see that the Truman-Lodge (Anthony Starke) and Heller (Don Stround) characters have been severely truncated, which muddies the waters during the climax. How and when did the story become about stinger missiles, rather than cocaine smuggling? If I may head back to John Gardner’s novelisation — for those that want to know what is going on — the book is worth a read. I have already pointed out the book’s shortcomings in relation to the Bond chronology, but as this story progresses, the characters and finale are substantially more fleshed out in the novel than the film — Gardner didn’t have to worry about run-times.

But I do like Licence to Kill. It’s funny after all these years seeing the success and popularity of Daniel Craig as the new tougher Bond — and hey, I like him too — yet, Timothy Dalton did the same thing seventeen years earlier but the public did not want to buy it at the time. I for one, wanted more Timothy Bond, but due to legal problems between EON Productions and the film studio we never got to see it. I was one of those in the silent dark days between 1989 and 1995, who kept saying that I wanted to see Dalton in a black and white version of Casino Royale — I can assure you, I wasn’t alone in this. Well, obviously that never happened. But maybe those fan whispers slowly built in strength and momentum. And maybe, just maybe that is how we ended up with Daniel Craig as a new tougher Bond. I know Quentin Tarrantino (love ya, Quentin) has recently said in the press that some of the credit for the success of Casino Royale should go to him, because the project only came together after he started to talk about it. Well that’s bulldust! Because, as we Bond fans know, we had been talking and imagining the idea from the day after we saw Licence to Kill in the cinemas. Here was a real Bond, doing a story that had a good, healthy dose of Fleming. It was good and we wanted more – and ultimately we got it seventeen years later.

Licence to Kill (1989)

Flash Gordon (1980)

Country: United States
Starring: Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Max von Sydow, Topol, Ornella Muti, Timothy Dalton, Brian Blessed, Peter Wyngarde, Mariangela Melato.
Writer: Lorenzo Semple Jr.
Director: Mike Hodges
Music: Howard Blake & Queen
Producer: Dino De Laurentiis

This version of Flash Gordon, while being faithful to it’s comic book roots and being primarily a science fiction film, has many connections with James Bond. Let’s look at the cast. Max Von Sydow, who plays the bald villain of the piece, Ming The Merciless, turned up four years later playing Ernst Stavro Blofeld in Sean Connery’s Never Say Never Again. Next we have Topol, whose very next film role was a Milos Columbo in For Your Eyes Only. And that brings us to the big one – yes, Timothy Dalton, who would inherit the throne of James Bond from Roger Moore and appear in two Bond films, The Living Daylights, and Licence To Kill.

While this 1980 version of Flash Gordon is hardly the inspiration for the spy films that were to follow throughout the 1980’s, it is interesting to see that old stereotypes die hard. It is almost as if the characters that the actors inhabited in this film, had a celluloid memory.

The movie opens with Ming The Merciless (Max Von Sydow), and evil space tyrant who rules the universe, proclaiming that he is bored. The chief of Ming’s armies, General Klytus (Peter Wyngarde) draws Ming’s attention to a small planet called Earth. Ming, using an advance weapon of some kind, amuses himself be visiting upon the Earth a battery of storm and other ‘un-natural’ disasters.

Back on Earth, waiting for a flight is Flash Gordon (Sam J. Jones). Gordon is a professional American football player for the New York Jets. Also waiting for a flight is Dale Arden (Melodie Anderson), who is a travel agent. As they wait, the Earth is bombarded with ‘hot hail’, which are actually chunks of moon rock raining down on the planet. Once the plane is ready, Gordon and Arden board and then take off.

With all the unexplained weather patterns tearing up the world, I guess it was pretty stupid for Flash and Arden to get into a plane, and in the end they pay for their folly. A giant chunk of moon rock hits the cockpit and the pilots mysteriously vanish. As the plane spirals out of control, Flash rushes to the cockpit and tries to land the plane. He has been taking flying lessons, so he knows a little bit about aircraft. Unfortunately his lessons hadn’t gotten as far as landing, and Flash crashes down, the plane sliding on it’s belly for hundreds on metres and finally coming to rest in the laboratory of Dr. Hans Zarkov (Topol).

Zarkov is a mad scientist, and was kicked out of NASA for his outlandish theories. One of his outlandish ideas was that people from another galaxy would attack earth. In response, Zarkov has made his own rocket with which he intends to travel to the aggressor’s planet and negotiate a truce. Well now it seems like Zarkov’s crackpot theory has become a reality and he wishes to travel to the aggressor’s planet. The only problem is that he needs a second person to help pilot his rocket. When Flash and Dale crash in his laboratory, it appears that he has a volunteer. At gunpoint, he orders Dale into the capsule because she is lighter. Flash, naturally doesn’t want to see Dale kidnapped by a mad scientist, so he rushes into the capsule and wrestles with Zarkov. In their struggle, Gordon knocks the launch button and the rocket begins to lift off. It seems that all three of them will make the journey to the aggressor’s planet.

The aggressor’s planet happens to be Mongo, and when Flash, Dale and Zarkov arrive they are not treated warmly. They are taken prisoner and marched before Ming The Merciless. Their arrival coincides with a tribute ceremony, where delegations from the planets under Ming’s rule have come to pay tribute to the evil tyrant. Among the delegations, there are representatives of the Hawkmen, ruled by Prince Vultan (Brian Blessed); and the Treemen of Aboria, ruled by Prince Barin (Timothy Dalton).

Zarkov’s mission of peace immediately fails. Ming The Merciless is not interested in saving the Earth. His only interest is in Dale Arden who he wants to add to his own personal harem. This doesn’t sit too well with Flash who has quickly formed an attachment to her. Gordon openly defies Ming and begins to fight with Ming’s guards. Flash, despite being heavily outnumbered puts up a good show, using his American football skills to good use. But eventually, he is captured and Ming orders that he be executed for his defiance.

Flash Gordon is a fantastic film. Sure, the special effects aren’t on a par with some of the other science fiction extravaganza’s that where being made at the time, but this film owes more to it’s comic books origins rather than some kind of futuristic reality. In keeping, the colour levels in this film are pumped up to the maximum, falling a fraction short of day-glo. From the outrageous costumes to the grand sets, everything is lavish and lurid. The dialogue is so stylised you can almost see the ‘speech bubbles’ when the character’s speak.

Another positive is the soundtrack by rock group Queen. Although these days, it may be considered pretty uncool, I rate Queen’s soundtrack to Flash Gordon very highly. I bought the vinyl record when the film was first released, and now have even updated to CD – and I play it more often than any normal man should. I know – it’s a sickness! Apart from the heart thumping title song – hey, we all know that one – the rest of the score is quite brilliant – from the rough and tumble rock of the football fight – to delicate lilting moments when Flash and Princess Aura (Ornella Muti) fly over the planet of Fridgia. This soundtrack contains it all. It even has a guitar driven version of the bridal march – you know, ‘Here comes the bride…’ – I once met a guy who actually used this at his wedding. It’s a shame that Queen never really did anymore movie scores because this is very good – Highlander doesn’t really count, as Queen just wrote songs that complimented the themes in the movie – I am talking about an actual musical score, which follows the plot and generally doesn’t have lyrics.

For me, at least, Flash Gordon is one of the greatest movies of all time – or more correctly – one of the most entertaining movies of all time. Yep, it’s camp, it’s cheesy and it looks incredibly fake, but that is its charm. This is not art – if you want that go to a museum. This is pure and simple, comic book story telling, and in that sense this film works on nearly every level.

Flash Gordon (1980)

Flashback No. 5

Warhead 2000AD

Once again a little history from the Bond universe. Unfortunately I do not have a credit for this snippet from the past. I was sorting through my papers on the weekend and I came across a piece of paper with the following (below) written on it. I can only guess that it came from the old KISS KISS BANG BANG website, and I believe it was posted between Goldeneye and pre-production on Tomorrow Never Dies (I guess around 1996).

Bosses of the latest JAMES BOND caper AQUATICA are refusing to be shaken by news of a rival on the horizon. Last week producer KEVIN McCLORY announced he will be signing up past 007s SEAN CONNERY, TIMOTHY DALTON and GEORGE LAZENBY for a Bond adventure called WARHEAD 2000AD. But that has not even caused a raised eyebrow in the headquarters of EON PRODUCTIONS – mastermind behind Aquatica, which stars Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. Spokeswoman, AMANDA SCHOFIELD says, “Of course it’s not a threat. McClory says he’s signed up all those stars but it’s not certain yet. We won’t be speeding up production because of another movie – Bond carries on and nothing like that worries us.”

The ‘Flashback’ articles on Permission To Kill are re-printed from original newspaper, magazine and web articles, and are presented as a piece of history. The article has been posted in good faith, and the original author, publication and date have been listed (where known). If you are the original author or publisher, and would like the this article removed from the blog please feel free to contact me.

Flashback No. 5

The Living Daylights (1987)

Directed by John Glen
Timothy Dalton, Maryam d’Abo, Joe Don Baker, Art Malik, John Rhys-Davies, Jeroen Krabbé, Desmond Llewelyn, Robert Brown, Caroline Bliss
Music by John Barry
Title song performed by a-ha
Based on a short story by Ian Fleming

I must sound like a parrot when I say ‘this Bond film had a troubled production history’. I start each Bond review with that sentence. It seems that putting together a new Bond film is not an easy task, and each production presents a new series of pitfalls. On this occasion, the drama related to the casting of James Bond.

After A View To A Kill, Roger Moore finally said goodbye to the character of James Bond. Over his tenure, many actors had been suggested as his successor. They included: Lewis Collins, Ian Ogilvy, Sam Neill and James Brolin. But most of them had faded away by 1987, and there only seemed to be one real contender, Pierce Brosnan. And indeed, Brosnan was cast as Bond. Brosnan had just finished work on the cancelled Remmington Steele television series. But he was still under contract for that show. The publicity that Brosnan received from being cast as Bond, focused the public’s attention back on Remmington Steele. At the last moment, the producers of Remmington Steele changed their minds and decided to make another series. As Brosnan was contracted, he was obliged to do the series. But, and here’s the kicker, by being seconded back to Remmington Steele, Brosnan was no longer free to accept the role of James Bond.

Enter Timothy Dalton. After the pre-title sequence, the film opens in Bratislava in Czechoslovakia. Bond is assigned to aid in the defection of top KGB agent General Yorgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé) to the West. When Saunders (M.I.6’s man in this part of the world) makes a balls-up of the operation, 007 takes over, and smuggles Koskov out in a specially designed carriage that travels through the gas pipelines. Those of you who have watched Sol Madrid with David McCallum will have seem this device before.

Anyway, 007 gets Koskov out of Czechoslovakia and to the UK. There Koskov explains his reason for defecting. He states that General Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies), Koskov’s superior, has to all intents and purposes gone mad. He has initiated a plan called “Smiert Spionen”, which translates as ‘death to spies’. Pushkin intends to kill all the British agents operating in his area. On hearing Koskov’s information, M.I.6 assign 007 to investigate and, if necessary, assassinate General Pushkin. But two things interfere with Bond completing his mission. The first is that Koskov, although protected by M.I.6 in a safehouse, is kidnapped back by the Russians. The second problem occurs, when Agent Saunders (Thomas Wheatley) is killed in Vienna. Whatever Koskov or Pushkin’s stories maybe, there is definitely someone out there who is targeting the best agents the UK has to offer.

It is up to 007 to unravel the mystery. Along the way, Bond ingratiates himself with Kara Milovy (Maryam d’Abo), a brilliant cellist, who just happened to be Yorgi Koskov’s girlfriend. By staying close to her, he believes it will bring him back in contact with Koskov and closer to the truth. Bond’s journey takes him from Czechoslovakia to Vienna, and afterwards to Morocco. The last destination is Afghanistan, and this brings Bond into contact with the Afghanistan Freedom Fighters, headed by Kamran Shah (Art Malik).

Maryam d’Abo plays Kara Milovy, the main Bond girl in the film. The character, despite being a world renown cello player, isn’t the brightest spark. In fact she is rather gullible and naïve. But d’Abo plays the role rather well, and is convincing. Alas, she does get lumbered with the worst women’s fashions to ever appear in a Bond film.

The Living Daylights is the last Bond film that John Barry composed the score to. Rumour has it, that he didn’t get along well with Norwegian pop group a-ha, who performed the title song. The song itself seems a bit of a rehash, of Duran Duran’s title song for A View To A Kill. Two other songs appear on the soundtrack, performed by The Pretenders. They are: ‘Where Has Everybody Gone’ and ‘If There Was A Man’. Both songs have the Bond sound. The score itself is a bit of a departure for Barry. It features a thin sounding drum machine to underscore the action. I must admit, I find it a little bit disconcerting in places, and is makes the score seem artificial rather than orchestral. But generally the score is pretty good.

When The Living Daylights was released, it was marketed as ‘safe sex Bond’. The A.I.D.S. Epidemic had just been swept to the public’s attention in a particularly scary fashion. People’s attitudes and lifestyles were being forced to change. No longer socially acceptable was casual sex with multiple partners. Monogamy was the order of the day. With these prevailing attitudes, Bond was given only one Bond girl (or so the marketeers told us – in fact he has two – one in the pre-title sequence, and Kara Milovy). It was considered socially irresponsible, for Bond to have multiple partners throughout the film.

Despite the machinations of the marketing gurus, The Living Daylights is still very much a Bond film. In fact, I’d say that the first two thirds of The Living Daylights are some of the best Bond story and and acting we have seen. Mostly due to Dalton’s performance, The Living Daylights is an emotional experience. By the time the films reaches Saunders death at the fairground, the film is positively bursting with tension. Sadly, the last third of the film is lumbered with some uninspired action scenes set in Afghanistan. As it’s a Bond film, the sequences are put together professionally, but on this occasion they seem rather cold and fail to engage the viewer.

Even Joe Don Baker and Jeroen Krabbé as villains, don’t provide any real threat. In fact both men come off as ‘jokes’. It really is a shame that the film couldn’t keep up the style and substance set up at the beginning – otherwise I’d be championing this film as one of the best of the series. Instead it gets pulled back in line with the rest of the pack.

I get frustrated with The Living Daylights. I see so much potential. But the ending kills it. Even a film that is boring at the start and then has a ‘kick-ass’ ending is generally enjoyed by the public. They walk out of the cinema on a high. They don’t remember the dirge at the start. This film works the other way. It starts brilliantly than leaves us on a low. I’d be interested to hear other opinions on The Living Daylights. What did you think?

The Living Daylights (1987)

Permission To Kill (1975)

Directed by Cyril Frankel
Dirk Bogarde, Ava Gardner, Bekim Fehmiu, Timothy Dalton, Frederic Forrest
Music by Richard Rodney Bennett

It’s been a long time coming, but I have finally got around to reviewing Permission To Kill. You’d think it would be the first film off my bat, but alas, it has taken me a while to scribble down my thoughts on this film. And it’s a film that gets very mixed reviews elsewhere. It seems to be a film that you either love or hate. I hate to be a fence-sitter, but I am in the middle. It isn’t a masterpiece like some people insist. All the characters are rather unlikeable and quite frankly, Ava Gardner’s acting is well below par. It’s like watching a bad daytime soap in places. But it isn’t a turkey either, as it shows spying as a rather un-attractive business, and Bogarde, and Dalton’s performances are very good. Dalton in an early role, steals the show with his snarly intensity.

I’ll give you a very quick overview of the plot, and the characters that make up this labyrinthine tale of cross and double cross. It seems that many years ago, Alexander Diakim (Bekim Fehmiu) was a freedom fighter in a country ruled by fascists (Which country? They don’t say.) But during the struggle, Diakim was forced to flee the country and go into hiding. Here it is nine years later, and he is preparing to return home, and instigate and lead a revolution.

The first character we meet is Alan Curtis (Dirk Bogarde). He is an operative for the Western Intelligence Liasion. W.I.L. don’t want Diakim to go back at this time, and in an attempt to dissuade him, they put together an operation that will change his mind. But for the scheme to work, they need the co-operation of five people.

The first person in Melissa Lascade (Nicole Calfan). She too is a revolutionary, but not for any particular cause. She is motivated by money. And while she is very attractive, she is also a killer – an expert with firearms.

The second person is Scott Elliot Allison (Frederick Forrest). Allison is an idealistic journalist, and happened to be involved in Diakim’s revolution years ago. In fact Diakim saved Allison’s life.

Next on the list is Francois Diderot. Francois is an eight year old boy who lives in France with his adoptive parents.

The fourth person is Charles Lord (Timothy Dalton). Lord works in the finance section of the Foreign Office, and in the past, the Office had provided a fighting fund for Diakim. A loan that Diakim has been unable to repay.

And the final recruit is Katina Petersen (Ava Gardner). She once had a relationship with Diakim.

Curtis has bullied, manipulated, blackmailed, and lied to all of these people to get them to co-operate. But whatever his methods, he manages to get them all assembled in a small village in Austria. Of course, they are all unaware that other people are involved and are billeted out to various hotels, and chalets.

Here is where the story gets a little complicated and a whole lot deceptive. Allison has the first attempt to dissuade Diakim. And Allison is doing it from the heart. He arranges a meeting and talks to Diakim in person. He tells Diakim why he should wait until the West will support his return. Unfortunately the message falls upon death ears, because Curtis has been telling Diakim’s people that Curtis works for the C.I.A. Now hang on. It’s Curtis’ plan that Diakim shouldn’t go back. Why should he sabotage it by spreading false rumours about Allison? Ah, that would be telling!

Next we have Katina. It is now her turn to convince Diakim not to go. But she starts to get a little edgy, and doesn’t want anything to do with Curtis. Then Curtis, drags out Francois Diderot. Yep, the little boy. It seems that Katina is his mother and she gave him up for adoption when he was born. And adding to the level of convolution – guess who the father is? You got it, Diakim.

And where does Charles Lord fit into the picture? As I mentioned earlier, that he works for the Finance section of the Foreign Office. A section that had lent Diakim money. It is Lord’s job to pretend to be collecting the debt. And, or offering a bribe that he should stay. Of course, Diakim is too proud to accept the bribe, but that leads us into another plot strand that I won’t go into here.

As you can see, each of the characters has their own backstory and each of the character’s fates is intrinsically tied to the fate of Alexander Diakim. The story almost works, but the sheer level of twists and turns negate the clever aspects of the story. As I said at the outset, Permission To Kill is not a masterpiece but it is a reasonable spy thriller, and made in the same vein that so many of the early seventies spy films where. Gone were the glamorous days of the sixties, and in their place were gritty realistic spy stories, that had unpleasant people doing dirty little jobs. On that level, Permission To Kill may be one of the more successful attempts at showing that side of the game. But compared to a contemporary film, like The Bourne Identity (the Damon version), which also shows spying as a dirty business, younger audiences could find Permission To Kill to be rather cold, and in places, boring.

Permission To Kill (1975)