His Bad Side Is A Dangerous Place To Be
20 Years Of Licence to Kill
This summer marks the 20th anniversary of 1989’s hard-edged James Bond film, Timothy Dalton’s Licence to Kill. Promising audiences a renegade 007 out on his own for revenge, Licence to Kill has remained today one of the Bond films that most sharply divides fans over their opinions of it.
Debuting in the UK on 13 June 1989, Licence to Kill then went on general release on 4 August and on 14 July in the US.
Despite receiving generally favourable reviews from film critics at the time, Licence to Kill became one of the least successful films box office-wise (and the most unsuccessful overall in the US alone) in the James Bond series with a total worldwide gross of $156.2 million. Various reasons for this poorer-than-usual performance have been discussed, including the title/marketing materials change from Licence Revoked as well as the strong summer competition from othe films such as Batman, Ghostbusters II, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Lethal Weapon 2.
Taking into account the 20th anniversary of the film, CommanderBond.net asked our forum members to recall their first (or most memorable) time seeing Licence to Kill. To share your own remembrance, simply register here (it’s free and only takes a minute) on the CBn Forums.
Looking back at Licence to Kill by… Turn
My most memorable time seeing Licence to Kill was the first time, on the second night of its release in the U.S., as is my tradition. It was mainly memorable because it was one of the early group dates my future wife and I had, along with her sister and one of our best friends. Saw it at the 9 p.m. or so show at the Upper Valley Mall cinema in my hometown.
It wasn’t a great place to see a movie at the time, but this was before the deluxe multiplexes with stadium-style seating and all that. I recall running into some guy I knew who was coming out of Licence to Kill and he wanted to talk about Batman and, ironically, Miami Vice.
I don’t recall how crowded the auditorium was. I just remember enjoying the film and no real groans or unintentional laughs or anything like that, although my friend made a sound of disbelief when Bond tilts the Kenworth on two wheels to avoid the missle.
I recall having to cut out for a minute, during the scene when Bond goes through the kitchen to set up his assasination attempt on Sanchez. I got back just as he was rappeling down the side of the building.
It wasn’t the most memorable of the nights I went to see a Bond film the first time, but mostly for having been the first Bond I saw new with my wife before she was. She also went with me to Licence to Kill‘s other big competitors, Batman and Lethal Weapon 2, although I saw Last Crusade with another friend of mine.
I still remember going to my college summer class the following Monday and immediately buying a USA Today paper to see how Licence to Kill did at the weekend box office. This was before the E Channel or updates and the Internet gave you results before the weekend even ended. I was shocked to see how poorly it did.
I managed to see Licence to Kill once more at a second-run cinema with another friend. Then rented it when it came to VHS, then the next year on cable. The other most memorable time was on laserdisc when I rented a player from a place that did that.
Looking back at Licence to Kill by… jrcjohnny99
I went to a regional premiere of the movie at the Odeon in Manchester; I think in the days between the Royal Premiere in London and the general release.
I loved it on first viewing; I’d really enjoyed The Living Daylights and was excited about Licence to Kill leading up to the release. They had a terrific teaser pooster for the movie.
The event was great and I saw the pic a couple more times at the flicks (both probably at the Odeon Manchester); I remember at the time the film dividing a lot of fans, as indeed Dalton did.
It plays well on DVD tho I think it has dated slightly; a shame it was to be Tim’s last picture.
I remember buying the theme song on single and CD single (even tho I didnt have a CD player until that xmas); I think the only thing really dissapointing about the movie at the time was Kamen’s score, Seems like they tried to hard to replicate the success of Die Hard/Lethal Weapon.
Looking back at Licence to Kill by… Zorin Industries
I remember the date. It was June 4th 1989 in London’s glittering West End. It was a Sunday and it was the day of the Tiananmen Square massacre (well, that was on the TV news when I got home). Micheal Wilson was at the screening as were a few Eon Productions alumni and an odd collection of people (I reckon stuntmen and women) who cheered during the Barrelhead Bar Brawl.
I was not “of age” then – i.e. it was a “15” and I was not there yet but as it was not a public screening that legally didn’t matter and I think there was a warning on the tickets. The tickets themselves were big glossy affairs with Dalton running and holding a gun motif – I still have mine somewhere (which was lucky as the cinema staff went a bit weird and would not give them back – but as there was no chance of re-using something so specifically printed for that day, they caved in eventually). The ticket also revealed that Patti Labelle had done a song. There were two songs?!! I had half caught the Knight one on local radio (so only heard it in its entirity during the film – no bad thing). It was the same with The Living Daylights. I didn’t even know who The Pretenders were, but was most surprised to see they had provided a second song. Ah – the days before the intraweb highway and phones that go in your pockets and don’t need wires tell you everything about a film. There is a lot to say in that (and not here), but the global internet consumption / fever for film news, stills and gossip has changed things – and maybe not for the better. When I saw Licence to Kill all I had seen was a press conference snippet in Hello magazine, some snaps of exploding tankers and Carey Lowell in that dress. Not half the film, an imagined screenplay, paparazzi shots with no context, nineteen teaser trailers and half the fans hating it because the first poster didn’t emerge on a Tuesday when it has always been a Tuesday (!).
Because Licence to Kill was this mythical / magical “15” rated effort and I wasn’t that age just yet (though not far off) Licence to Kill felt a tiny bit naughty. It oddly still does to me. Even now its violent flourishes (which are light and tonally very Buena Vista in hindisght) still jar (in a good way) more than any Pakistani agent getting his head smashed into a Pinewood urinal nowadays.
I liked the film then. It was like going to a family party and seeing your favourite cousin now sporting a tatoo. I was growing up, my body was growing up and now (bloody hell) James Bond was growing up too. But I do remember being slightly disappointed by the film. However, that was because the “violence” and “bloodshed” had been really shored up by the press (the Daily Mail had reported the year before how the film was aiming for a “15” rating and made it sound like the pre-title sequence would feature Timothy Dalton grilling newborns on a Key West beach). But Licence to Kill is still – despite its violent flourishes – a very tonally familiar Bond film. I think – even at that age – I was expecting Die Hard in tuxedos and didn’t get it. But Dalton was reassuring throughout. He takes the audience by the hand in Licence to Kill and very skillfully steers them to a different understanding about James Bond 007. He was such an advocate at the time of the character. He would always return it to Fleming and the books in every interview he did (that and Sam Wanamaker’s Rose Theatre project which saw Dalton sporting a red rose at the Licence to Kill premiere). Dalton enabled (told) the audience who James Bond was in a way no actor has ever achieved before or since. Craig’s films are maybe tonally and physically more in keeping with the work of Fleming, but it was Dalton in Licence to Kill who was brave enough to take the character back there first. The end result is this curious mix of Fleming characterisation (via the classically trained Dalton – 1989 was still the days when “RADA trained” meant something!) and Broccoli showmanship. They are not natural bedfellows. In hindsight I think Licence to Kill is a very successful Bond film and melds the two worlds more successfully rather than not. But in 1989, this young teenager found the film tonally and physically a bit of a weird hybrid.
Also, I remember not liking Kamen’s score in parts. I wanted it just to shut the —- up (and still do sometimes now). It sounds in parts like it was scored to underline action scenes with 1000 thousand ninjas and massive Ken Adam sets. It missed the point of the lone figure Dalton wanted to cut in 1989. Even at that age it didn’t feel like it had John Barry’s stamp. I must have been the only kid in the country who was into John Barry more that Stock, Aitken and Waterman (though I did draw the line at a photo of the Yorkshire legend pinned above my bed – that would just be wrong) but he was sorely missed and may have been able to bridge the old and the new in the film.
I do remember something else (and something that plagues everytime I see a new Bond for the first time)……I needed a pee throughout the whole film. I didn’t want to miss a second so had to endure a persistant bladder clearly not as into James Bond films as I was. It is something that I only get when seeing Bonds for the first time. And still do. Only now the security procedures at the screenings I go to mean you have about two hours to empty the bladder so it all works out (!). Too much information….? Sorry.
PS. I was oddly fascinated by Benecio Del Toro (I think it was the eyes) and finally got to meet him by chance in New York years later. I asked him about doing the Bond. He said “that was the old days – when I was at school”…Bless. And now I keep bumping into him (well, I was nearly run over by a Pinewood golf cart last year when he was in his Wolf Man finery…).
Looking back at Licence to Kill by… Simon
I saw it when I was living and working in New York, a sort of student exchange thing whereby students from both sides of the Atlantic could swap countries for the summer.
I saw it at a Lowes, I think, and ended up being so non-plussed at it’s non-Bond feel that, upon exiting, I actually just turned around in the corridor and went in to see it a second time.
That said, there is more appreciation for it now than there was then. Probably due more to current tough trends and a longer break from things Moore.
Similarly, I am wondering if time will help give more of an appreciation for The World is not Enough, but in this I think it is a lost cause.
Looking back at Licence to Kill by… DaveBond21
In the summer of 1989, I was only 14, and so I could not see Licence to Kill in the cinema due to its 15 rating. I do however remember looking at the poster. Dalton looked lean and mean, but I just thought it looked like a generic action movie poster, not a Bond film.
However, I finally got to see it on British TV when it premiered in January 1994. I thought it was excellent, and loved the way that 007 was on a revenge mission. Sanchez made for an excellent and very realistic villain. Possibly one of the nastiest bad guys in Bond history. I really enjoyed the plot, with Bond bringing down Sanchez’s organisation from the inside, gaining his trust, Shakespeare-style, and then destroying him bit by bit. Love the way he sets up Milton Krest especially. The Bond girls were sexy and also resourceful. The action is underrated – I love the sequence which begins on a boat, then moves underwater, to water-skiing while hanging onto the seaplane, to heaving the pilot out and then throwing the money around! I’m also a big fan of the tanker chase.
Gadgetmaster, Q, has his biggest role of any Bond movie (beating even Octopussy), taking leave to help 007 out. I always enjoy the scene of Q testing the firmness of the beds, as Bond remarks “I hope you don’t snore, Q” and also the shot of him throwing away one of his own gadgets, something he is always admonishing 007 for doing!!
A unique, Latin score by Michael Kamen and good direction by John Glen make this a dark but entertaining Bond flick.
Looking back at Licence to Kill by… jaguar007
I went to the first showing on opening day. I could not wait, I was so excited. I had felt that The Living Daylights was the best Bond movie since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (and still do save Casino Royale) and was really excited to see Dalton continue. I left the theater rather disapointed. It just did not have the epic Bond feel to it. I thought about it after I saw the movie and realized I was shocked because it was different. I went to give it another chance the next day. The movie grew on me and to this day still hold the record for the most times I have seen a Bond movie in the theater, 9 times (I was only 21 and had alot of free time on my hands).
Looking back at Licence to Kill by… clublos
Ah, the summer of ’89! Ghostbusters 2, Batman and Bond.
I was 11 and totally looking forward to this. My first experience with Bond was The Living Daylights two years before, so I was primed and pumped for new Bond.
I remember ABC ran two nights of Bond (unheard of for a network station, or any station, back then) with Dr. No and The Man with the Golden Gun. USA Today had a promo to give away one of the cars in the film, and printed the one-sheet poster that took up an entire page. I carefully cut that out and put it up on one of my bedroom’s walls. At that age, promotional memorabilia was hard to come by at that time, and what little I had I took very good care of. I also had a copy of Starlog and Cinema Fantastique, each with articles on Bond. I desperately wanted the teaser poster, but that would have to wait (about 5 years, ashamedly).
Opening day was Friday, July 14th, and I wanted to go to the very first showing but my dad wouldn’t get off work until the afternoon. She suggested my mom take me to the earlier show, but he took me to The Living Daylights two years ago and I there was no way I’d go without him. So we went around 3:30 or so. I remember getting there early, lining up to see the faces of the people coming out of the earlier showing to gauge their reactions. Being 11, I hadn’t mastered the art of reading facial expressions, so I had nothing.
I had read about half of Gardner’s novelization, so I was psyching myself up for his description of Lupe’s visible nakedness beneath the sheets in her first scene (disappointed) and the goriness of Felix’s mutilation (relieved – not a fan of gore).
Maybe it was my absorption in pop culture of the 80’s, which included Miami Vice, my interest in the drug trade or my enthusiasm for Bond (or all three) but I loved the film. I thought it was great. It was a step up and a departure from The Living Daylights, but in a good way. And as an 11-year old, I really dug the higher rating, which meant I was on my way to becoming more mature, or so I thought at the time.
Ironically, I had no idea that the very next day I was to embark on the most exciting trip of my life and, tragically, the saddest return to home I’ve ever experienced.
My family had planned a trip out west that summer. We flew from Atlanta to New Mexico and drove to Arizona, stopping at the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest. We spent time at the Grand Canyon and then made our way to Las Vegas. During this trip, I had a blast. I knew I was very fortunate to be able to take that trip while my friends sat at home, and I cherish the memories of that time. Being in Vegas and seeing the Bond sites from Diamonds are Forever like the Slumber mortuary and staying in Circus Circus (it was still pretty nice back then, now it’s a dump) were amazing, all with the new Bond film fresh in my mind.
Flying home, we had a long layover in Chicago because our flight from Vegas left late. It was raining in Chicago, and many flights were delayed. My mom decided to call my grandmother and let her know we were going to be late. She came back from the pay phone in tears. My dad asked what was wrong, she said my grandmother was very short with her, as if in a hurry, so my mom pressured her as to why. I’ll never forget these words, she said, “‘Something’s wrong with Freddie, I had to call Rescue.'”
Freddie, my grandfather, the coolest man to have ever walked the earth. My hero, the man who made the saddest man laugh and the happiest man elated.
We had no idea, being stuck in an under-construction airport in Chicago, what was happening with our family. I remember tears, I remember confusion in my head as to what it all meant. I didn’t want to lose him. It was too early, I wasn’t ready, there was more I had to learn from him.
We got home that night at about 1:00am. My parents told me to go to my room and unpack. I could hear them dialing the phone. I knew who they were calling. The next sound I remember hearing was what sounded like my dad laughing, as if in a fit. I thought, “Maybe he’s okay. Maybe everything’s okay.” The sound wasn’t laughter. He was crying, something I never heard from my dad before. I ran into their bedroom, my mom was sitting on the bed sobbing, the phone next to her ear, and my dad was leaning against his dresser, head bent over. I knew what had happened.
For some reason, through all the sadness, I look back on that summer with happiness. I had great times with my friends, a great trip to the western United States and saw some great movies. Maybe that was the final gift from Freddie: happiness.
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