Licence to Kill: Odd opening day in 1989

Licence to Kill’s poster

Twenty-eight years ago today, Licence to Kill, the 16th James Bond film had its U.S. opening.

It didn’t go well, financially. Licence to Kill finished No. 4 at the U.S.-Canada box office that weekend, behind even Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

But even leaving that aside, it was an odd day for various reasons. This is a more personal post about that day.

I had arranged to take the day off from work. Back then, you didn’t really have the Thursday night preview showings (starting at 7 p.m.) that are common today. You’d have to show up late and the movie would begin just after midnight. It was technically a Friday showing.

Anyway, Mrs. Spy Commander and myself went to the first showing. It was after 1 p.m. Today, multiplexes start their day at 10 a.m. or earlier.

I knew ahead of time there was a scene (“He disagreed with something that ate him”) based on the Live And Let Die novel that had gone unused when the book was adapted by Eon in the early 1970s. I knew Licence to Kill was supposed to be a grittier Bond film and was more than ready to view it.

My initial reaction was the movie probably needed another draft for its script. It didn’t have the polish of previous Bond adventures. But I was also aware that a Writers Guild strike meant Richard Maibaum hadn’t fully participated in the proceedings despite the fact he shared the writer’s credit with Michael G. Wilson.

Anyway, after it was over, I asked Mrs. Spy Commander what she thought.

“It was….fine,” she replied.

Uh-oh. This was my first sign she didn’t like it. I pressed for more of a reaction.

“No, it’s OK,” she said. “They got their revenge story.”

When things really got odd was when we got home. I turned on TV and began “channel surfing.”

Suddenly, on Nickelodeon of all places, there was a Licence to Kill special. Kid anchors from the network were interviewing the principals of Licence to Kill. Clearly, the interviews had been done months before when the crew was filming in Key West, Florida.

The most unusual sequence was a joint interview of producer-screenwriter Michael G. Wilson and character actor Anthony Zerbe, who played secondary villain Milton Krest.

The kid interviewer asked about the increased violence in Licence to Kill. Wilson said something about how Bambi was emotionally intense.

Zerbe reacted by pretending he was about to cry. “I never got over Bambi,” he said.

That was the highlight of the show, such as it was. Timothy Dalton also did an interview for the Nickelodeon special, but it wasn’t nearly as memorable as Zerbe’s bit of comedy.

The thing was, I had no idea it would be more than six years before I’d have a chance to see another new James Bond film.

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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.

RE-POST: 30th anniversary of the last U.N.C.L.E.

David McCallum, left, and Robert Vaughn

David McCallum, left, and Robert Vaughn during filming of The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.


Originally published March 4. Re-posted today, the actual anniversary

You can’t keep a good man down. So it was for former U.N.C.L.E. spies Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, who made a one-time return 30 years ago.

The intrepid agents, again played by Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, were back after a 15-year absence. This time they appeared in a made-for-television movie broadcast in April 1983 on CBS, instead of NBC, home of the original 1964-68 series.

It was a mixed homecoming. Return’s script, penned by executive producer Michael Sloan, recycled the plot of Thunderball, the fourth James Bond film. Thrush steals two nuclear bombs from a U.S. military aircraft. Thrush operative Janus (Geoffrey Lewis) boasts that the criminal organization is now “a nuclear power.” Yawn. Thrush was much more ambitious in the old days.

The show had been sold to NBC as “James Bond for television.” Sloan & Co. took the idea literally, hiring one-time 007 George Lazenby to play “JB,” who happens to drive as Aston Martin DB5. JB helps Solo, who has just been recalled to active duty for U.N.C.L.E., get out of a jam in Las Vegas.

The original U.N.C.L.E. had been filmed no further out that about 30 miles from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s studio in Culver City, California. Return was really filmed in and around Las Vegas, with the desert nearby substituting for Libya, where Thrush chieftain Justin Sepheran (Anthony Zerbe) has established his headquarters.

Vaughn and McCallum, being old pros, make the best of the material they’re given, especially when they appear together. That’s not often, as it turns out. After being reunited, they pursue the affair from different angles. Solo has to put up with skeptical U.N.C.L.E. agent Kowalski (Tom Mason), who complains out loud about new U.N.C.L.E. chief Sir John Raleigh (Patrick Macnee) bringing back two aging ex-operatives.
lazuncle
Sloan did end up bringing in two crew members of the original series: composer Gerald Fried, who worked on the second through fourth seasons, and director of photography Fred Koenekamp, who had photographed 90 U.N.C.L.E. episodes from 1964 through 1967. Also on the crew was Robert Short, listed as a technical adviser. He and Danny Biederman had attempted to put together an U.N.C.L.E. feature film. Their project eventually was rejected in favor of Sloan’s TV movie.

In the end, the April 5, 1983 broadcast produced respectable ratings but CBS passed on committing to a new U.N.C.L.E. series. Despite many attempts, Return remains the last official U.N.C.L.E. production.

For a more detailed review, CLICK HERE.

Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s 30th anniversary

David McCallum, left, and Robert Vaughn

David McCallum, left, and Robert Vaughn during filming of The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

You can’t keep a good man down. So it was for former U.N.C.L.E. spies Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, who made a one-time return 30 years ago.

The intrepid agents, again played by Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, were back after a 15-year absence. This time they appeared in a made-for-television movie broadcast in April 1983 on CBS, instead of NBC, home of the original 1964-68 series.

It was a mixed homecoming. Return’s script, penned by executive producer Michael Sloan, recycled the plot of Thunderball, the fourth James Bond film. Thrush steals two nuclear bombs from a U.S. military aircraft. Thrush operative Janus (Geoffrey Lewis) boasts that the criminal organization is now “a nuclear power.” Yawn. Thrush was much more ambitious in the old days.

The show had been sold to NBC as “James Bond for television.” Sloan & Co. took the idea literally, hiring one-time 007 George Lazenby to play “JB,” who happens to drive as Aston Martin DB5. JB helps Solo, who has just been recalled to active duty for U.N.C.L.E., get out of a jam in Las Vegas.

The original U.N.C.L.E. had been filmed no further out that about 30 miles from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s studio in Culver City, California. Return was really filmed in and around Las Vegas, with the desert nearby substituting for Libya, where Thrush chieftain Justin Sepheran (Anthony Zerbe) has established his headquarters.

Vaughn and McCallum, being old pros, make the best of the material they’re given, especially when they appear together. That’s not often, as it turns out. After being reunited, they pursue the affair from different angles. Solo has to put up with skeptical U.N.C.L.E. agent Kowalski (Tom Mason), who complains out loud about new U.N.C.L.E. chief Sir John Raleigh (Patrick Macnee) bringing back two aging ex-operatives.
lazuncle
Sloan did end up bringing in two crew members of the original series: composer Gerald Fried, who worked on the second through fourth seasons, and director of photography Fred Koenekamp, who had photographed 90 U.N.C.L.E. episodes from 1964 through 1967. Also on the crew was Robert Short, listed as a technical adviser. He and Danny Biederman had attempted to put together an U.N.C.L.E. feature film. Their project eventually was rejected in favor of Sloan’s TV movie.

In the end, the April 5, 1983 broadcast produced respectable ratings but CBS passed on committing to a new U.N.C.L.E. series. Despite many attempts, Return remains the last official U.N.C.L.E. production.

For a more detailed review, CLICK HERE.

007/Hawaii Five-O part II

A few connections we forgot with the previous post:

Anthony Zerbe 007: Played Milton Krest, lead henchman to villain Franz Sanchez in 1989’s License to Kill. The character was actually taken from an Ian Fleming short story. Five-O: Played a vigilante who wants to “assist” Five-O in the sixth-season episode “Mother’s Deadly Helper.”

Don Stroud 007: Played Heller, another one of Franz Sanchez’s underlings in License to Kill. Like Krest, Heller perishes after Bond sows the seeds of doubt in Sanchez about the loyalty of his thugs. Five-O: Appeared in three episodes.

Triads of Hong Kong 007: Part of Raymond Benson’s first James Bond novel Zero Minus Ten. Five-O: A key part of the series ninth-season opening episode “Nine Dragons,” arguably the most Bond-like story with Wo Fat again the main villain.