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.

Col. Klink IS Ernst Stavro Blofeld!

Today, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea is remembered as part of producer Irwin Allen’s collection of 1960s science-fiction (or in the eyes of some critics schlock) TV shows. And, of course, for 007 fans, it’s where two-time Felix Leiter David Hedison was a star. But in its first season, 1964-65, it had some spy themes.

One such episode was the show’s pilot, written and directed by Allen himself. It features a villain that evokes Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s early appearances in the James Bond film series of a shadowy mastermind.

Well you can watch that episode on Hulu by CLICKING RIGHT HERE. The voice certainly sounds like actor actor Werner Klemperer, who’d gain his greatest fame as Col Klink in Hogan’s Heroes. In fact, despite being in shadows, he LOOKS like Klemperer/Klink as well.

UPDATE: At the 34:17 mark, there’s a close-up of the mystery villain. Despite the shawdows, it defintiely looks like Klemperer. Yet, at the 35:40 mark or so, it appears character actor Theo Marcuse (1920-1967) is playing the mystery leader.

UPDATE II: Marcuse is credited in the end titles as “Dr. Gamma” but a close look shows he and Klemperer were doing the same role. There’s also a James Bond connection: the film editor of the episode is John W. Holmes, one of two film editors credited in Diamonds Are Forever.

HMSS nominations for best lines from James Bond movies

What’s the best line from a James Bond movie? Here are a few for consideration:

“Bond, James Bond.” Sean Connery (James Bond, natch) from Dr. No.
Analysis: Perhaps a cliche now, but Connery established a classic introduction line.

“She should have kept her mouth shut.” Sean Connery (Bond), capping off a tense sequence in the movie From Russia With Love that was mostly a faithful adaption from a memorable chapter of the Ian Fleming novel of the same name. Connery had delivered a number of quips in Dr. No, but this one reflected perfect timing and Connery’s growth in the role of 007.

“No, I expect you to die!” Comeback by Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe dubbed by Michael Collins) to Bond’s witticisms from Goldfinger.

“Somebody’s probably lost a dog.” Bond (Connery again) skeptical that about the emergency for which he has been summoned in Thunderball. Often overlooked among 007 witticisms, it’s a perfect example of Connery at his peak in the Bond role.

“Wait till you get to my teeth.” Bond (Connery) muttering to himself following his first encounter with Domino in Thunderball. The line isn’t as memorable as Connery’s delivery, a perfect example of what was the actor’s polished confidence in the role.

“Mr. Osato believes in healthy chests!” Helga (Karin Dor) to Bond in You Only Live Twice. An early sign of how the series was starting to parody itself.

“But darling we have all the time in the world.” Bond (George Lazenby) to his soon-to-be-deceased bride Tracy (Diana Rigg) in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. A line based on Ian Fleming prose, something that would soon be rare in the film series.

“Look after, Mr. Bond. See that some harm comes to him.” Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale) to his manservant Chang in Moonraker. An example of subtle humor and menance in an otherwise over-the-top film.

“I’m glad I insisted you brought that cello!” Bond (Timothy Dalton) to Kara in The Living Daylights. For most of a key sequence, Dalton/Bond had been more than a little annoyed that Kara had insisted on bringing the cello. The instrument turns out to be both a clue and a means to a getaway from Cold War-era Czech troops.

“He disagreed with something that ate him.” A note attached to Felix Leiter (David Hedison) in Licence to Kill, which took the idea from Fleming’s Live And Let Die novel.

“The bitch is dead.” Bond (Daniel Craig), referring to double agent Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale. Once again, going to the Fleming source material.