Timothy Dalton’s unlikely route to Universal Exports was full of twists and turns. He originally turned down the chance to replace Sean Connery for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and was later approached for a second time to replace not Connery but Roger Moore when the time came to film For Your Eyes Only. A majority of the superspy’s fans proved more than satisfied, though, to have Moore remain and make an unusual turn towards a more hard-nosed Bond, but by the time A View to a Kill unspooled in the theaters, it was clear the time had come for a younger successor to lead the James Bond thrillers into the next age. Dalton’s name came up once more, and he was afforded the opportunity to wield the Walther PPK for 1987’s The Living Daylights. Unfortunately, though Dalton was primed now to take on the part, conflicts with his busy schedule led to him refusing the role for the third time, leading producer Albert R. Broccoli to very publicly crown Remington Steele star Pierce Brosnan as the new Bond.
Just as publicly, Eon Productions give him the boot after NBC sought to capitalize on Brosnan’s good fortune by lashing him to an extension of his Steele contract. Refusing to have their new 007 “steele” available to fans for free on the tube, the producers delayed shooting and saw Dalton’s schedule suddenly open up.
Dalton, a fan of the Bond persona originally crafted by Ian Fleming in the novels, finally said yes to becoming the fourth actor to play 007, electrifying fans of the series eager to see a return to the more realistic style of Connery’s From Russia with Love and Moore’s standout effort in FYEO. He was determined to bring back not just the smoking and the drinking, but more of the man and less of the superman. Dalton wanted to reveal the often-conflicted Bond that Fleming brought to the page, a man driven to vices and burdened by the complexities that come with being a patriot—if sometimes a reluctant one—asked again and again to kill without passion, remorse, or personal bias.
The man who can keep all that in check and keep doing his job is a dangerous man. Among other assets, that elusive and all-important quality is what Dalton brought to the table in his two outings as 007.
The Dangerous Timothy Dalton
There should be little disagreement that the Dalton films have their fair share of shortcomings, but they’re completely unreleated to the Welsh actor’s sterling work in the series. While he went on to have a perfectly respectable career later, John Terry wasn’t able to make a substantial impact as Bond’s CIA ally, Felix Leiter; Caroline Bliss, as Miss Moneypenny, never really got to shape her version of her character, with precious little to do in either of the Dalton installments.
Some critics—and more than a few fans—also accuse Dalton of delivering a “humorless” portrayal of Bond. There are plenty of honest comparisons to be made between the Bond stars, but this just isn’t one of them. Dalton was never interested in the “arched eyebrow” approach made famous by Moore. Viewers just weren’t used to the more wry and subtle, but no less effective, sense of humor Dalton brought to Bond.
The two Dalton Bond films are unforgettable, each in their own way, earning the highest marks in many of the series’ various staple requirements, while studiously avoiding many of the sad lows that afflict some of the other actors’ entries. Let’s see just how many of these make a great case that nobody did it better than Dalton:
Best Use of Fleming’s Material
The last Bond movie to use a Fleming title until the 2006 reboot Casino Royale also makes the finest use of the author’s original material, as the short story from which the film takes its name is included (with minor adjustments) in its entirety during the sequence immediately following the main titles. The story of Bond sparing the life of a female assassin, against orders, is brilliantly realized, rich in atmosphere and mood, perfectly setting up the personality of Dalton’s Bond with the line:
“Stuff my orders. I only kill professionals. That girl didn’t know one end of a rifle from the other. Go ahead. Tell M what you want. If he fires me, I’ll thank him for it.”
Honorable mention has to go to a particularly strong moment in LTK, when Bond discovers pal Felix Leiter grievously wounded by a hungry alligator. In a direct nod to the same event in Fleming (that Fleming originally wrote as part of the plot of Live and Let Die), an enraged 007 finds a sardonic note left by the villain on Leiter’s body : “He disagreed with something that ate him.”
Thanks to co-scripters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson, TLD not only manages to pay the proper tribute to Fleming by seamlessly working the title story into the main narrative, it also manages to spin perhaps the most complex, adult, and compelling spy story of the entire series. It certainly harks back to the style of FYEO in its approach to realistic (if still charmingly deadly) villains in the form of Koskov and Whitaker; the globe-trotting from Gibraltar-to-Slovakia-to-Austria-to-England-to-Vienna-to-Tangier-to-Afghanistan seems very much motivated by the action and not for the sake of travelogue appeal, as in some of the series’ weaker entries.
And there’s no Bond yarn that carries more unusual resonance today, given our complex entanglements in the Middle East. It’s worth revisiting simply to see how bizarre and disconcerting it is to have the laugh line included at the end when Bond ally Kamran Shah (Art Malik) and his blatantly-armed mujahideen associates have “some trouble at the airport.”
The Dalton era fell victim to—or rightly adjusted with, depending on how you look at these things—a surge in political correctness during the late 1980s. In addition to reducing the number of Bond’s bedroom partners, by the time Licence to Kill was released, the end credits also included a special disclaimer concerning Bond’s unhealthy smoking habit.
But wouldn’t you know, The Living Daylights also makes the most creative use of 007’s tobacco addiction, as Bond lights up while listening to Koskov relate his phony conspiracy story about Russian general Pushkin to M and other representatives of MI6. After Koskov removes his shoe, Khrushchev-style, and waves it around to put Cold-War-era dread back into the hearts of his rescuers, Bond pushes out a thick stream of smoke with a condescending hiss. Koskov’s blowing a lot of smoke, and Bond shows he knows it. Clever. Artfully clever.
Best Bond Zinger
There are plenty of memorable Bond “zingers” to praise. Long before Arnold Schwarzenegger and Freddy Krueger were spouting gut-busting bon mots after their satisfying kills, we had Sean Connery declaring “Shocking. Positively shocking” after electrocuting a duplicitous sex partner, and Roger Moore pointing a rifle at an enemy’s loins and warning, “Speak now or forever hold your piece.” So many of Bond’s more spot-on quips could be marked easily as his “best,” and most Bond fans don’t need any additional explanation for these (but feel free to visit the comments section and name the films associated with the following Bondian witticisms for extra credit, or hey, just cheat by clicking on the links!):
I choose instead to go to a line of Dalton’s, more subtle perhaps, but no less satisfying. In LTK, Bond manages to obtain an interview with drug kingpin Sanchez under the auspices of being a rogue agent looking for a job as a hired gun. Surrounded by loyal flunkies, a suspicious Sanchez tells Bond it can be difficult to find employment, waving his hand around the room to indicate his henchmen. “You have to demonstrate a certain aptitude. A talent others don’t have.”
Bond replies with a smirk: “That shouldn’t be too difficult.”
Speaking of henchmen…
The One That Got Away
Many actors have the misfortune of finding themselves underemployed, or sometimes brutally typecast, after their appearances with 007 (in particular the “Bond girls”), but Benicio del Toro saw his career truly flourish, beginning with his high-profile role in The Usual Suspects. Del Toro has the additional distinction of being the youngest actor ever cast as a bad guy in the Bond saga (he was 21 at the time of shooting LTK). I count myself among the apparent few who thought he made a great Lawrence Talbot!
Best Use of Wayne Newton
Isn’t it true? Bless your hearts.
Best Salute to Fans of the Connery Era
Pedro Armendariz Jr. played the small role of the president of the (fictional) Republic of Isthmus in LTK. Armendariz’ father famously portrayed Bond ally Ali Kerim Bey in From Russia with Love, and courageously completed filming while facing terminal illness.
Best Bond Crew Cameo
That natty-looking conductor leading Kara Milovy at the end of TLD is none other than longtime 007 music maestro John Barry.
Dalton’s tenure as “the best Bond since Connery” (a common praise that’s truly worn itself out) ended when the still-lively franchise was held hostage to six years of studio-related legal wrangling, leaving the role of Bond open once more and the actor to next claim it holding some very special ties to the series even before he took his first gunbarrel walk for GoldenEye.
Nobody Does Bond Better Will Return With: Pierced Through the Heart