The first lines of Timothy Dalton in the 1987 film The Living Daylights, and his introduction to the world as James Bond 007, the British spy, secret agent and suave card-player who has, since his 1953 novel debut in Ian Fleming's Casino Royale, and his 1962 cinematic fanfare in Dr. No, become probably the most famous action hero in movie history.
James Bond has had many faces and many sides to his character. Dalton, although he only appeared in two Bond films (later in Licence To Kill in 1989), also gave the many fans of the series a new look and a new hope for the Bond to come - a Bond, perhaps, that Ian Fleming would have been proud of.
With Roger Moore having portrayed Bond for almost a decade and a half, a whole generation of cinema audiences had visualised 007 as being a comic, laid-back, eyebrow-raising English gent who would save the world from madmen by using technological wizardry that would confuse even Stephen Hawking - but those who were familiar with the performances of Sean Connery and George Lazenby would know that James Bond is not all about comedy and impossible stunts. It was up, therefore, when Moore finally handed in his silk bow-tie, to his successor to make sure that the old Bond - the man with inner-feelings and decisions, the man who bled and felt pain, the ruthless man who played bridge at Blades and drove a Bentley along the London by-roads, the tall, rough and passionate archaic superhero - returned to shock the living daylights out of the Bond fans.
Timothy Dalton was born in Colwyn Bay (or, as the Welsh say it, Bae Colwyn), a medium-sized coastal seaside town - with a zoo, and, erm, some other things, like ... the sea ... - in North Wales, UK, in March of 1946. It was clear that he would make acting his life. His first film role was 1968's The Lion In Winter, and his career proceeded from there, taking him to star in such films as Wuthering Heights, Permission To Kill, Jane Eyre and Flash Gordon. Having been a stage actor to begin with, Dalton's film and television roles often caused his natural acting talent to shine, and usually as the rather unforgiving English hero - and thus it was natural that he would finally be given the role of James Bond 007 in The Living Daylights.
If someone made a survey (an original concept...) then it is likely that Timothy Dalton will not be rated the best Bond. Sadly, he will probably not land in second place either. This, however, would be among casual Bond audiences - who may not remember Timothy's performances over Sean's or Roger's. Fans, however, are more inclined to take his outings more seriously, and many rank him top of the pile of five, or just below Sean Connery (and their reason for Connery is because he was the first). It is in the light of these fans (these highly intelligent and educated people) who like Dalton (that highly intelligent and educated person) that I'll briefly outline Dalton's pros and cons, as it were. In doing this, I hope to discover if Dalton really was the epitome of James Bond as Ian Fleming saw him - how "Fleming" was he, in fact?
It isn't difficult to see why someone would find Timothy Dalton impressive as 007. He certainly looks the part, what with his scalp of wild black hair and his piercing blue eyes, and one can actually visualise him as a secret agent with his agile and strong form. And when he speaks, his voice is almost perfect too. It isn't forced like George Lazenby's, and not too upper-class like Roger Moore's, and not as, dare I say it, casual as Sean Connery, but quite firm and determined. His accent, the middle-upper class public-school snap (sometimes infringed with that North Welsh accent), is, some might say (and I do), just right for Bond's character. Perhaps it lacked the suaveness that people have come to expect of the character, but Dalton seems to come over well just the same.
He can also, of course, act his little black field-issue socks off - there's only need to look at scenes in his Bond films to see this. Take the scene in The Living Daylights where Bond is at the fair, having lost Saunders's murderer amongst the crowd and found the balloon with those foul words scrawled over them - Smyert Spionam, "Death to Spies." As Kara approaches him, we see the contrast between their two characters: Kara Milovy, innocent, beautiful, is excited in waiting for her lover Georgi to appear. Bond, saddened by his comrade's murder and angered by his apparent fault in it happening, has to try and keep his disguise intact and not let the pretence that he is Georgi's friend fall. The line, Yes ... I got the message, is almost instrumental in showing Dalton's powerful sense of sinking into his role, along with that fiery look of revenge in his eyes.
There are, probably, defects in Dalton's portrayal - there have to be, or people wouldn't be putting him fifth out of fifth in their lists of best Bonds.
What is the usual argument?
"Timothy Dalton is rubbish - he's so boring"
This is the typical view of somebody who recognises the Bond series as a light-hearted romp through dangers and death with somebody who cracks a one-liner at every opportunity. As Dalton does not do this, it is natural for these people to be disappointed by his performance.
With "boring" comes "lack of humour." This, sadly, may be true. Dalton's quips do not come in such a quantity (or cheesiness) as Moore's or any of the previous Bonds. But then, that is probably for the best.
One-liners and jokes detract from scenes if they come in the wrong place - as can be proved by the scene in For Your Eyes Only (Moore, 1981), where Bond pushes the evil Locque's car over a cliff into the sea below. This would have been a perfect portrayal of 007's ruthlessness apart from two things:
1: He throws a "Dove" badge to the villain which causes the car to overbalance. In fact, Bond only helps him fall. It is reminiscent (or preminiscent) of that scene in True Lies where the lorry falls over the bridge when the seagull lands on the bonnet. This detracts from the tension and realism of the scene, and thus makes it less ruthless than it should be. But then ruthlessness wasn t Moore's forté, was it?
2: Bond quips afterwards. What the quip was is not the point (needless to say: it is cringeworthy), but the fact that it was necessary. There are plenty of black comic lines that could have been put there, but we are given a bad pun that would be hissed at in a Soho bar. This again detracts from the tension of the scene. What would Dalton have done? He would probably have stayed silent, and given the wreckage below one of his Looks.
But I digress (no kidding). What I was saying is this: just because Dalton doesn't use a one-liner at every opportunity doesn't mean he isn't funny. His dead-pan, throwaway attitude to life makes him a prime candidate for such lines as:
Kara - They're looking for a man and a woman ...
Bond - ... And a cello.
Bond - Why didn't you learn the violin?
Bond - I've had a few optional extras installed.
Bond - Exercise control: 007 here. I report in an hour.
Girl - Won't you join me?
Bond - Better make that two.
Of course, there are a few exceptions :
He got the boot
is, plainly, one of the worst puns in the history of cinema, but there are worse, most of them proudly under Roger's belt.
Still, my meaning still comes over. Whereas everyone may not laugh at Timothy Dalton's jokes, they are usually funny, in an almost intelligent way. Therefore, those who find Dalton too boring for their tastes may search for an uproariously funny sense of humour, rather than the sharp wit of Dalton.
It is, however, the undoubted similarity in Timothy Dalton's 007 to Ian Fleming's James Bond that makes him stand above the rest.
In Fleming's novels the portrayal of Bond is of a man who does his job and, generally, succeeds, but he often does it reluctantly, and finds comfort in the end in the arms of the woman who has been with him through the thick of it. Bond lacks ruth, and is coldly efficient, and it' this kind of agent that Dalton so superbly evokes. The first ten minutes after the credits of The Living Daylights are very similar to the short story of the same name by Ian Fleming - a big hint to the audience that Timothy Dalton is going to be Fleming's Bond. And the film then proceeds to enhance on the story, and Dalton takes on both the burden of staying close to the spirit of FlemingBond and the light spirit if the Bond films. The car chase, the cello chase and the pre-credit sequences are examples of the movie sequences Bond films are famous for - but here they are done well, and not over-the-top. This, perhaps, is up to Dalton's performance and insistence on a 007 that did not succeed in making Ian Fleming turn in his grave - thank goodness!
In The Living Daylights, therefore, we get a marvellous debut outing for Dalton as Bond, and although it keeps the old skeleton of the film formula, we realise that Bond need not be overly clownish nor overly-action packed to be entertaining.
Dalton stayed on as Bond and avenged the attempted murder of Felix Leiter in 1989' s Licence To Kill , the first Bond film not to have a Fleming title - although, in all fairness, it uses a Fleming term and has scenes from other Fleming stories ( Live and Let Die, The Hildebrand Rarity ). The screenplay was written especially for Timothy Dalton (the previous film had been modified from a Roger Moore script), and so exhibited his particular acting fortés.
Licence To Kill is an exciting, bloody and complex thriller of a film, and for (more or less) the first time, we see what James Bond would do if he was going solo. The one problem, perhaps, in the film, is the ironic fact that it doesn't feel much like a Bond film. The whole movie is almost exclusively based in America, and the feel of American action films of the mid-to-late eighties is present in the myriad explosions, unexpected swearing, violent deaths and so on.
However, Dalton is not intimidated. He goes one over the top of the if he fires me I'll thank him for it of The Living Daylights and actually resigns from the Service. This turns the basis of Bond's mission into revenge (although, cleverly, the operations of the other agents in the film counterpoint this), and Dalton gets a chance to develop the character of Bond more than any other actor, except George Lazenby, of course.
There are many scenes in Licence To Kill which are notable. When Felix and Della have married, and Bond prepares to leave them, he is suddenly reminded of the situation of his own wedding, and how his wife was murdered hours after they had been married. There is then a brutal deja vu as Bond realises that Felix's own wife has been killed, and that the same thing that happened to him happened to his best friend. Only Dalton could have given the heart-wrenching cry of Della! as he rushes into her room to find her dead, and the fury in his eyes as he find's Sanchez's gruesome adieu on Felix's half-dead body.
It is often Dalton's voice that can convey his mood, and brilliantly transfers to the atmosphere of the scene. Take when Bond visits Krest's warehouse and is instructed to leave. He looks around. His eyes narrow. He turns back to Milton Krest and with a cool voice he hisses Thank you. I look forward to meeting you again. Only when we see what he has seen, the flowers from Felix's jacket, do we realise that at that point Bond would have understood that his friend had been here. It is as much as he can do not to kill Krest - and Dalton brings over this sentiment brilliantly. Connery would have scowled or smiled; Moore would have been deadly serious but unable to convey the required emotion. But Timothy Dalton is just right.
Whether Dalton has a liking for sniper rifles or not, in Licence To Kill Bond again attempts to assassinate somebody at long range. Here, however, 007 uses Q' terrific signature gun along with plastic explosive to try and kill Sanchez. The whispered Watch the birdie you bastard shows how well Dalton conveys the urge for revenge in Bond, and it is reminiscent of what FlemingBond might have said - in Fleming's You Only Live Twice, for example, and the line Bond says through gritted teeth: Die, Blofeld, die. Here again we see how Dalton is getting dangerously close to being too Bond for his own good!
Licence To Kill is a film such as no other Bond film. There is no unrealistic villainous plot to overtake the universe, nor is there in an unbelievable villain with over-the-top henchmen. In fact, this is the kind of plot that Fleming might have written had he been writing in the late eighties: a drug-smuggling operation halted by Bond (and as Alec Trevelyan might say: only Bond). The additional sub-plots of the Japanese involvement and the US stinger missiles only add to the story. Furthermore, Dalton excels in the role of 007. There is a possibility that at times he goes a bit over-the-top but, frankly, in a film like this, a highly-annoyed James Bond is required.
Seeing as this was written especially for Dalton, it would have been interesting to see what Pierce Brosnan, had he been given the role in 1987 when it was intended, would have done with Licence To Kill.
Seeing his recent performances in GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies, it seems that Brosnan can handle some emotional scenes and serious compositions, but a revenge motive and the full-blown anger that Dalton often portrays would not have been his style. Imagining Licence To Kill as anything other than an action thriller is difficult - and in my mind Timothy Dalton was perfect in the role in 1989.
Even so, I seem to prefer The Living Daylights to the other, for as good as Licence To Kill is, it does not feel quite like a Bond film. Yes, most of the elements are there: the evil villain, the dastardly schemes, the exotic locales, the daring stunts, the gorgeous women, the fantastic chases ... but personally I feel it has been over-Americanised. This is not in itself a bad thing, of course, but in Licence To Kill it tends to take away from the British nature of James Bond, and turn him into a normal hero. One feels that this film could have been made with an American CIA agent on a vendetta rather than a British agent on a vendetta, and, upon further examination, there is little need for Bond to be Bond at all. With the inclusion of Q, brief scenes with M, and some familiar phrases and sayings, it keeps connections with the previous films, but in actual fact, the uncomfortable truth remains - Licence To Kill is less of a Bond film than The Living Daylights. Both are fantastic films in their own rights, but seeing as how completely different they both are, one asks the question: which of Dalton's performances was closer to Ian Fleming's vision of Bond?
In The Living Daylights, we get a cross-bred Bond. However hard Dalton would have tried to make the role his own, there was still the shadows of Moore and Connery hanging over him. Dalton manages to combine the dry humour of Connery with some of the light-heartedness of Moore and the emotion of Lazenby, and a big bucket-sized scoop of his own acting talent with extra chocolate-chips thrown in as a treat. In this way, James Bond was a very entertaining character but was also realistic, and gave a constant tension to the film in a way that other Bonds rarely came.
In Licence To Kill, Bond has changed. He has become more cold, heartless and determined than he has ever been before. The job he has been doing for over thirty years (and still doesn't look a day over forty) has finally got to him, and he has decided to leave his usual styles behind, and take a full-on, ruthless approach. Dalton here manages to shake away the vices of the Bond Formula and be himself (and woe betide anybody who steals his wallet!). In this way, Bond is less humorous and light-hearted, but more exciting and interesting, and if there was suspense in the previous film, then there's a lorry-load more here.
But how "Fleming" was Timothy Dalton? If we look at the facts before us, we can see that FlemingBond is ruthless, determined and does his job, but is often world-weary and likes to relax now and again in the arms of a beautiful girl - but not until the threat has passed. DaltonBond, on the other hand, is ruthless, determined and does his job, but is often world-weary and likes to relax now and again in the arms of a beautiful girl - but not until the threat has passed. A threat which only James Bond 007 can handle.
And I think that's enough of an answer for anybody.