Timothy Dalton and the JAMES BOND Franchise


I am going to start out saying that EON Productions have been lucky in choosing six actors who managed to bring their own sense of style to the role of James Bond . . . and I mean all of them. And all were smart enough to portray Bond in a way that suited them, instead of adhering to what the public or the producers wanted them to play Bond. 

That said, I want to say a few things about Timothy Dalton. Even though I was a major fan of Roger Moore, I realized by the mid-80s that it was time for him to retire from the role. With great fondness, I said adieu and breathlessly anticipated Timothy Dalton’s debut in “THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS”. And I was not disappointed. The 1987 movie easily became one of my all time favorite Bond films and I became a major fan of Dalton’s. Although the drug angle in “LICENSE TO KILL”seemed a little too “MIAMI VICE” for my taste, I still recognized it as a good revenge story that allowed Dalton to take the Bond role to a grittier edge. So, when I heard that he would no longer be playing Bond in the early 90s, I had felt a little disappointed. I had really enjoyed his interpretation of the role and felt that one or two more movies starring him would not hurt. I just was not ready to give up on him as Bond.

In the past seventeen-and-a-half years since “LICENSE TO KILL”‘s release, I have come to appreciate Dalton’s contribution to the Bond franchise even more. Whoever said that he was the right Bond at the wrong time was probably right. The man was ahead of his time . . . not just for the Bond franchise, but for many espionage films. But I feel that his impact upon the franchise has been a lot stronger than many Bond critics would admit. First of all, it seemed very obvious – at least to me – that Dalton’ interpretation of Bond may have strongly influenced Daniel Craig’s debut as Bond in last year’s “CASINO ROYALE”. It is also possible that Dalton’s performance may have influenced his immediate successor, Pierce Brosnan, as well. After all, it seemed apparent to me that Brosnan was not above utilizing Dalton’s darker take on Bond, every now and then.

I also believe that Dalton may have been partially responsible for the influx of edgy, angst-filled spy or action/adventure characters that have emerged over the years. Characters portrayed by the likes of Matt Damon, Matthew McFaydden, Kiefer Sutherland, Harrison Ford and possibly even Richard Chamberlain and Robert DeNiro. Some directors of action film over the next several years seemed quite willing to shoot their own interpretation of the Tangier hotel scene between Dalton and D’Abo in “THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS”. Similar scenes have appeared in “LICENSE TO KILL”, between Dalton and Carey Lowell; Bruce Willis and Bonnie Bedalia in “DIE HARD”; Harrison Ford and Allison Doody in “INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE”; Brosnan and Izabella Scorupco in “GOLDENEYE”; Brosnan and Teri Hatcher in“TOMORROW NEVER DIES” and again, with Sophie Marceau in “THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH”; and even Matt Damon and Franka Potente in both “THE BOURNE IDENTITY” and “THE BOURNE SUPREMACY”. But no one did it better than Dalton and D’Abo, as far as I’m concerned.

I had read in another Bond forum that Dalton and another actor did not have much an impact upon the Bond franchise as Sean Connery and Roger Moore. Of course I had disagreed. As I had stated earlier, Dalton’s impact on the franchise – while not immediate – proved to have a far reaching impact upon the Bond franchise. And he may have also had an impact on how many action characters would be portrayed over the next decade or two.

One Response

  1. Well put. When i first saw Dalton’s films, I thought he was good. No more, no less. Connery, at the time, was still my favorite. The only one I wasn’t wowed by was George Lazenby, but even he wasn’t terrible. Then, by chance, a friend of mine traveled to California and while out there, but me the entire collection of Fleming’s James Bond novels. I started with the first book (Though I wanted to start with “Thunderball”. my favorite Bond film of the time) And went in sequence. Then I discovered the other novels, Gardner’s, Benson’s. I got Sebastian Foulkes’ one-off, and paid a pretty penny for “Colonel Sun”, by Kingsley Amis. Around this time as well, They released the digitally remastered collections, and I got those one at a time. Much like the novels, I went film by film.

    By the time I’d finished, I was struck by how badly I’d misjudged Timothy Dalton. I didn’t think he was terrible by any stretch the first time around, but after Connery and Roger Moore, his take was just so different. He showed emotion. The girl didn’t immediately get naked for him. What’s going on here?

    His take was so close to Fleming’s writing that it’s remarkable, and it’s a shame Fleming couldn’t have been around to see him. Dalton’s Bond truly was Ian Fleming’s James Bond. It was the only glimpse we saw of Bond that showed his true nature. Sure he did the job, and sure he liked the excitement, but he hated it at the same time. He is pitch perfect in the scene where he tells Saunders to tell M he didn’t follow orders, and would be glad if M fired him. He completely sells a man that’s burned out, which is an incredible acting achievement since by that time, he’s only been playing the role for about 20 minutes of screen time.

    Connery was excellent, but after “From Russia With Love”, the series concentrated more and more on Bond’s jet-setting lifestyle and the gadgets. Who cares that he’s killing person after person, look at how great this lifestyle is!

    Dalton didn’t make Bond more than he was. A man who knew he had a duty, but made no qualms about the fact that he was living for today because he could die tomorrow. Who drank and smoked constantly to wash out the poison he felt in his system.

    Those that say Dalton isn’t good with the ladies needs only watch his interplay with Maryam D’Abo in TLD. He goes from seeing her only as a piece of a puzzle, to exasperation, to admiration, to real fondness. You can see how much he’s grown to care for her in his final line. “You don’t think I’d miss THIS performance, did you?”

    Also, Dalton is the best ACTOR to play James Bond. We see the depth because Dalton hits all the right notes. The scene between himself and Pushkin in TLD is the best scene in any Bond film. Period. They even borrowed elements of it for Daniel Craig’s introduction in “Casino Royale”. The reaction to Saunders’ death, pitch perfect. He completely shows the continued impact Tracy’s death still has on him in one line in “Licence to Kill, and the emotion he conveys in “Licence to Kill” when he’s going through Leiter’s house in the aftermath of Sanchez maiming him and killing Della is better than Roger Moore’s performance in all the Bond films combined. Not only has the man who he probably considers his best friend been nearly killed, but that man now shares the same tragedy of losing his wife on his wedding day.

    And finally, he brought the danger back. His was the first Bond performance in 20 years that made you fear the man. Sure he had the prerequisite gadgets, but it didn’t feel like he absolutely needed them to survive. And look at the final 30 minutes or so of LTK. Bond destroys an entire drug set-up, several henchmen, 20 tons of cocaine, and Sanchez with nothing more than a flaming beaker of gasoline, a tanker truck, a cropduster, and a lighter.

    Connery and Craig are great. Roger Moore was fun. Brosnan was good and Lazenby was at least decent. But Dalton has taken the place of my number one James Bond. He’s the definitive Fleming Bond.

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