Licence to Kill’s 25th: 007 flops in the U.S.

Licence to Kill's poster

Licence to Kill’s poster

Licence to Kill, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, is mostly known for a series of “lasts” but also for a first.

It was the last of five 007 films directed by John Glen, the most prolific director in the series; the last of 13 Bond films where Richard Maibaum participated in the writing; it was the last with Albert R. Broccoli getting a producer’s credit (he would only “present” 1995’s GoldenEye); it was the last 007 movie with a title sequence designed by Maurice Binder; and the it was last 007 film where Pan Am was the unofficial airline of the James Bond series (it went out of business before GoldenEye).

It was also the first that was an unqualified flop in the U.S. market.

Bond wasn’t on Poverty Row when Licence to Kill began production in 1988. But neither did 007 travel entirely first class.

Under financial pressure from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (which acquired half the franchise after buying United Artists earlier in the decade), Eon Productions moved the home base of the production to Mexico from Pinewood Studios.

Joining Timothy Dalton in his second (and last) outing as Bond was a cast mostly known for appearing on U.S. television, including Anthony Zerbe, Don Stroud, David Hedison (his second appearance as Felix Leiter), Pricilla Barnes, Rafer Johnson, Frank McRae as well as Las Vegas performer Wayne Newton.

Meanwhile, character actor Robert Davi snared the role of the film’s villain, with Carey Lowell and Carey Lowell and Talisa Soto as competing Bond women.

Michael G. Wilson, Broccoli’s stepson and co-producer, took the role as lead writer because a 1988 Writers Guild strike made Richard Maibaum unavailable. Maibaum’s participation didn’t extend beyond the plotting stage. The teaser trailer billed Wilson as the sole writer but Maibaum received co-writer billing in the final credits.

Wilson opted for a darker take, up to a point. He included Leiter having a leg chewed off by a shark from the Live And Let Die novel. He also upped the number of swear words compared with previous 007 entries. But Wilson hedged his bets with jokes, such as Newton’s fake preacher and a scene where Q shows off gadgets to Bond.

Licence would be the first Bond film where “this time it’s personal.” Bond goes rogue to avenge Leiter. Since then, it has almost always been personal for 007. Because of budget restrictions, filming was kept to Florida and Mexico.

The end product didn’t go over well in the U.S. Other studios had given the 16th 007 film a wide berth for its opening weekend. The only “new” movie that weekend was a re-release of Walt Disney Co.’s Peter Pan.

Nevertheless, Licence finished an anemic No. 4 during the July 14-16 weekend, coming in behind Lethal Weapon 2 (in its second weekend), Batman (in its fourth weekend) and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (also fourth weekend).

Glen and Maibaum were done with Bond, the latter being part of the 007 series since its inception.

Initial pre-production of the next 007 film proceeded without the two series veterans. Wilson wrote a treatment in 1990 for Bond 17 with Alfonse Ruggiero but that story was never made.

That’s because Broccoli would enter into a legal fight with MGM that meant Bond wouldn’t return to movie screens for another six years. By the time production resumed, Eon started over, using a story by Michael France as a beginning point for what would become GoldenEye. Maibaum, meanwhile, died in early 1991.

Today, some fans like to blame MGM’s marketing campaign or other major summer 1989 movies such as Batman or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. But Licence came out weeks after either of those blockbusters. In the end, the U.S. audience didn’t care for Licence. The movie’s total U.S. box office of $34.7 million didn’t match Batman’s U.S. opening weekend of $40.5 million. Licence’s U.S. box office was almost a third less than its 007 predecessor, The Living Daylights.

Licence to Kill did better in other markets. Still, Licence’s $156.2 million in worldwide ticket sales represented an 18 percent decline from The Living Daylights.

For Dalton, Glen, Maibaum and even Broccoli (he yielded the producer’s duties on GoldenEye because of ill health), it was the end of the road.

Funeral in Berlin gets new U.S. DVD release

Len Deighton and Michael Caine

Len Deighton and Michael Caine

Funeral in Berlin, the second Harry Saltzman-produced film based on Len Deighton’s spy novels and starring Michael Caine, is now available in a new DVD release in the U.S. through Warner Bros.’s Warner Archives.

Saltzman, co-founder of Eon Productions, producer of the James Bond film series, had ambitions beyond the 007 movies. At the same time, Saltzman summoned 007 film veterans to work on his Deighton-based films.

With 1966’s Funeral in Berlin, Saltzman hired Guy Hamilton, who helmed Goldfinger, as director. Also on board was Ken Adam as production designer and Peter Murton as art director. Other films in the series employed John Barry, Peter Hunt and Maurice Binder.

Warner Archive specializes in “manufactured on demand” (or MOD); the DVDs are made as they’re ordered and the sets aren’t available in stores. Warner Bros. has used Warner Archive for home video releases of properties in the vast WB library, including THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. and THE FBI television series.

The price for Funeral in Berlin is $18.95 plus shipping and handling. For more information on ordering, CLICK HERE.

For more information, you can view the IMDB.COM pages for:

1965’S THE IPCRESS FILES

1966’s FUNERAL IN BERLIN

1967’s BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN

1962: Hope and Crosby provide 007 a `Road’ map

Bob Hope, left, and Bing Crosby in the opening to The Road to Hong Kong

Five months before the debut of Dr. No, the final Bob Hope-Bing Crosby “Road” movie came out, The Road to Hong Kong. The film, we suspect by coincidence, provided a road map to the future of 007 movies.

The 1962 movie had some major departures from previous “Road” movies. It was produced in the U.K. and was released by United Artists. The earlier films in the series had been produced in Hollywood and released by Paramount. Dorothy Lamour, the female lead of the previous Road movies, makes a cameo as herself but Joan Collins is the main female lead.

The change in locale meant the Norman Panama-Melvin Frank production (both would write the script, Panama directed and Frank produced; the duo had written the 1946 Road to Utopia) would take advantage of U.K. movie talent: Syd Cain was one of the art directors. Maurice Binder designed the main titles. Walter Gotell is one of the main lieutenants of a mysterious organization — stop us if you’ve heard this before — trying to take over the world. Bob Simmons shows up late in the movie as an astronaut in the employ of the villainous organization.

What’s more, there are “animated” sets (designed by Roger Furse) at the villain’s lair that would do Ken Adam proud. Two future participants in the 1967 Casino Royale (Peter Sellers and David Niven) show up in cameos. Did we mention Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin making cameos at the end? Well, they do.

If you’ve never seen The Road to Hong Kong, you can CLICK HERE and watch the 91-minute film on YouTube (at least until it gets taken off that Web site). While a comedy, it is a preview of the more fantastic Bond movies that would emerge a few years later, starting with 1967’s You Only Live Twice.

Our modest proposal for Skyfall’s gunbarrel (if there is one)

There’s one thing Eon Productions could do for the 50th anniversary of the first James Bond movie, Dr. No, that could be done for minimal cost, evoke the series’ long history and might get at least some fans pumped up.

Bob Simmons, subbing for Sean Connery, performing the gunbarrel sequence that would be used in Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger.


Film a gunbarrel sequence to start out the movie with Daniel Craig’s 007 wearing a hat.

You remember the hat, don’t you? In about 10 seconds, the gunbarrel sequence evokes danger as the audience views Bond from the vantage point of an assassin attempting to kill 007. Bond, aware of the peril, turns and fires, and we see what’s supposed to be blood come down from the top of the screen.

Bob Simmons, Sean Connery’s stunt double, subbed for the star after title designer Maurice Binder had devised the gunbarrel logo to start off Dr. No. We don’t know if Connery wasn’t available. Regardless, Simmons looked enough like Connery (certainly at a distance and wearing a hat) so nobody would notice it wasn’t the star of the movie who walked out and suddenly fired at the audience.

Thus, began a tradition, that lasted 20 movies, through, 2002’s Die Another Day, where the gunbarrel logo started off a 007 film with some variation of The James Bond Theme. The hat disappeared when Roger Moore assumed the role with 1973’s Live And Let Die; it’s our understanding a version with Moore wearing the hat was filmed but it obviously wasn’t used.

Starting in 2005, producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli to make the series theirs, in effect declaring their independence from Eon Productions late co-founder Albert R. Broccoli. (“We need to generate something new, for ourselves,” Wilson told The New York Times in 2005.)

So the traditional gunbarrel was scrapped, with a new one (without the Bond theme) featuring star Daniel Craig just before the main titles. Wilson said in 2008 that “We’ll probably go back to the traditional style,” for Quantum of Solace. It didn’t turn out that way. Craig’s second gunbarrel came at the end of the movie, just before the end titles although with a traditional James Bond theme arrangement.

Daniel Craig


We don’t take it for granted the gunbarrel will back in any way, shape or form. Wilson, Broccoli and director Sam Mendes may decide to dispense with a gunbarrel altogether as far as we know. But *IF* one is included, having Craig wear a hat would be (pun intended) a tip of the cap to the past that’s subtle. The series did a special gunbarrel with Pierce Brosnan in Die Another Day, but it was hardly subtle. Brosnan “fired” a CGI bullet at the audience (and supposedly into the barrel of the assassin following Bond).

If Wilson is serious about Skyfall having “a magical Goldfinger feel,” then a traditional gunbarrel with Craig sporting a hat (as Simmons, Connery and George Lazenby did) would be a good place to start.

Run James, Run – Brian Wilson’s James Bond theme

Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson

It is early 1966. The fourth 007 screen adventure, Thunderball, recently released, is a monstrous hit. “James Bond mania” is at its peak. You happen to be Brian Wilson, leader of the Beach Boys — “America’s Band” — and in a personal neck-and-neck competition with the Beatles to conquer new sonic frontiers in pop music. So what do you do? You decide to compose a theme song for the next James Bond movie.

It’s a little-known fact that Brian Wilson harbored such an intent, much less actually went and did it. Working in the studio with the cream of Los Angeles-based studio musicians (while his bandmates were on tour in Japan), Wilson composed and recorded an instrumental track titled Run James, Run. Stacked with swinging brass, bongos, and (the de rigueur) twangy guitars, it’s a quintessential piece of 60s-style spy music. Unfortunately, Wilson wasn’t the most self-confident person in the world to begin with, and his fragile psyche was further compromised by nervous breakdowns, heavy drug use, and (later diagnosed) bipolar syndrome. End result: he lost his nerve and never submitted the music to Eon Productions, producers of the Bond films. Happy ending: he renamed the piece Pet Sounds and made it the title track to one of the greatest albums of the rock era.

It’s an interesting thought that the natural, intuitive, pairing of James Bond and pop music would have been his countrymen — and fellow British invaders — the Beatles1. But it was their American counterpart who actually made the first move, abortive as it was. At any rate, here is an imagining of the title sequence for You Only Live Twice, marrying Maurice Binder’s visuals with Brian Wilson’s music:

(Courtesy LuiECuomo’s channel on YouTube.)

1 Who knows? Maybe they were still smarting over the “earmuffs” crack in Goldfinger. Maybe John Lennon would’ve had political issues with the amorality of the screen 007. Maybe Paul was setting things up for Live and Let Die. Maybe Ringo was setting things up for Barbara Bach…

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