Licence to Kill’s 30th anniversary: 007 falters in the U.S.

Licence to Kill's poster

Licence to Kill’s poster

Adapted and updated from a 2014 post.

Licence to Kill, which had its world premiere 30 years ago today, 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 (1909-1991) 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, who would die in 1990.

–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 to falter badly in the U.S. market.

Economy Class

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.

Wilson’s Role

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 been frequently been personal for 007. Because of budget restrictions, filming was kept primarily 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 U.S. 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.

Bond 17’s Fembot

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 that included a deadly fembot. Scripts with other scribes were then written based on that treatment. 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 until 1995. 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.

And, it needs to be repeated, Bond couldn’t best Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, which also came out weeks earlier.

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 sold the fewest tickets in the U.S. among James Bond films.

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

Blood Is Thicker Than Water

Some 007 fans blame a lackluster U.S. advertising campaign. However, Michael G. Wilson said in 2015 that Eon “really run the marketing ourselves” and the and the studios involved “execute it.” Did that apply to Licence to Kill? Or was Licence somehow an exception?

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.

Michael G. Wilson, despite his enormous impact on Licence to Kill, remained in place. Blood (even adopted blood), after all, is thicker than water — or even box office receipts.

007 Magazine comes out with publications for 40th

007 Magazine logo

Graham Rye’s 007 Magazine marked its 40th anniversary this year. It’s coming out with multiple issues this year available for pre-order.

Among them:

–An issue shipping in May featuring ” promotional items and collectables marketing tie-ins for” Bond films in the U.K. and U.S.

–An issue shipping in June. It’s a re-issue from 1995 concerning GoldenEyeAn  and has “been re-mastered, re-typeset, and re-scanned from the original transparencies & photographs and digitally printed for the highest quality reproduction.”

–An issue shipping in June about 1989’s Licence to Kill, the second and final 007 film starring Timothy Dalton.

For more information about ordering these and other issues, CLICK HERE.

New book about GoldenEye coming out

Cover to The World of GoldenEye

A new book about GoldenEye, the 17th James Bond film is due out soon.

The author is Nicolas Suszczyk. He has been a guest writer for the blog, at least until he developed bigger and better 007-writing gigs. (CLICK HERE for his most recent article for the blog from 2018.)

In any case, he has written The World of GoldenEye. It’s due out as a Kindle book. A print edition also will be available.

Here’s a description from the book’s Amazon page:

GoldenEye was much more than the debut of Pierce Brosnan in the role of James Bond. It was the film that saved the series after facing six years of an uncertain future, and the title is now a popular legend among gamers thanks to the huge success of the Nintendo 64 video game adaptation. In the eve of its 25th anniversary in 2020, this book offers a comprehensive analysis on one of the best Bond films ever released and the impact in popular culture that brought a new generation of Bond fans, in a craze that was very reminiscent to the waves of Bond mania from the 1960s. The creative process behind the film, the emergence of a relatively unknown international cast, and the influence of the Cold War in the story are just some of the themes this comprehensive analysis of the 1995 film will address to prove GoldenEye is, many times, an overlooked classic.

‘Hunt’ for Bond Revisited: More M:I Connections to 007

Mission: Impossible-Fallout poster

By the by, there are spoilers if you haven’t seen Mission: Impossible-Fallout. For that matter, there are spoilers if you’ve never seen the 007 films cited.

By Nicolas Suszczyk, Guest Writer

Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt has returned in Mission: Impossible – Fallout while 007’s next film is scheduled for a 2019 release.

Taking advantage of  Bond’s absence in theaters, many reviewers said Hunt has taken the place of Bond and criticized 2015’s SPECTRE.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation adapted Bond-like settings and scenes in the story. But  Mission: Impossible – Fallout is even more Bond inspired. It has, the escapist tone of the days of Pierce Brosnan, just with a little more grit.

Tom Cruise and director-screenwriter Christopher MacQuarrie redoubled their efforts and made a more spectacular film than its predecessors. The last two M:I films are similar to how Thunderball and You Only Live Twice compared with the three first Eon 007 movies, Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger.

In M:I-Fallout, Hunt again faces off against Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), who — like Blofeld’s SPECTRE — is the author of his pain. Lane was the main antagonist of M:I – Rogue Nation.

‘The Girl or the Mission’

The film’s starts in Berlin, where Hunt and Benji (Simon Pegg) pose as buyers of three atomic warheads. Their cover is blown and Luther (Ving Rhames) is captured. Hunt makes a risky decision: to save his friend. That leaves the case with the plutonium unattended and stolen.

This is similar to GoldenEye, where Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean) asks Bond to choose between “the girl or the mission” while General Ourumov (Gottfried John) held Natalya (Izabella Scorupco) at gunpoint. Finally, Bond saved Natalya by gunning the Russian general down.

It’s also similar to Skyfall. M orders Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) to shoot Patrice (who stole a hard drive with data of infiltrated agents). Hunt makes a “judgment call” by shooting Luther to distract the man holding him at gunpoint and save his life. The “fallout” of M’s and Hunt’s action determines the principal threat of both films.

Also in the Berlin scene. we have another familiar Bond meme: a remote controlled car, a function available in the cars driven by Pierce Brosnan in Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day.

HALO Jump

Coming next a HALO jump as featured in Tomorrow Never Dies. Although this time, it’s a much riskier scene when Hunt and his teammate August Walker (Henry Cavill) face a storm during the operation and Walker is hit by lightning, losing consciousness.

In a similar situation to Moonraker and Quantum of Solace, Hunt has to do a little skydiving to reach Walker, reconnect his oxygen and deploy Walker’s parachute, as well as his own.

Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson, from Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation) returns and saves Hunt’s life after a cruel bathroom fight with one John Lark, the man he had to impersonate, warning him not to complete his mission of meeting the “White Widow” (Vanessa Kirby) to exchange the missing plutonium.

They walk across a mirrored and red-lighted room that reminds us to Die Another Day’s Álvarez Clinic in Cuba. Ilsa tells him that he’ll be a dead man if he meets the woman because Lark has a contract on him. It’s known he’s meeting the White Widow that night, so they’ll kill him on sight. In a similar context in which Bond met Severine in Skyfall, both heroes manage to beat all the assailants and escape alive.

In exchange of the plutonium spheres, the White Widow and her accomplices want Solomon Lane, who’s been transferred to a prison to another in France. Hunt forgoes the originally conceived plan (which dealt with killing every witness) and pushes the prison van into the Seine, having Luther and Benji extract Lane trough the water, the same method in which Franz Sánchez escaped in 1989’s Licence to Kill.

The breakout of Lane pits the French police against Hunt and a chase ensues through the streets of Paris, on motorbike and then on a small BMW, as he is chased by Ilsa who has been given orders from MI6 to terminate Lane.

Not only there’s a particular shot as the BMW makes a backwards spin above some steps which is very reminiscent to A View to A Kill, where Bond (Roger Moore) chased a parachuting May Day (Grace Jones) in a Renault 14, but we have Ilsa trying to do the job of any 00 agent: terminate someone who is a threat for national security.

Mole Revealed

Hunt and his team –- and the captive Lane — reunite with IMF Secretary Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) in a safe house, much as Bond did at the beginning of Quantum of Solace with Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) in Siena.

Stunt teased by Tom Cruise on Instagram earlier this year.

Walker is revealed as a mole and a shootout ensues, breaking Lane free again. As a result of this confrontation, Hunley is badly hurt by Walker and dies showing his trust to Hunt, much like M at the end of Skyfall.

Just like in the 23rd Bond movie, in pursuit of Walker, Hunt also holds from a scaffold in the bottom of the elevator his enemy is taking, as Bond did in Shanghai when chasing Patrice.

The film’s climax takes place in Kashmir, where Lane and Walker attempt to detonate a nuclear bomb using the plutonium spheres that have fallen into their hands. Ilsa and Benji fight Lane, Hunt goes for Walker.

A long helicopter chase ensues and that includes a few references to SPECTRE’s helicopter fight in Mexico, with Bond fighting Marco Sciarra and the pilot, pushing them away and taking control of the vehicle.

Just like Blofeld at the end of the same film, Hunt and Walker both survive the helicopter crash.

Showdown

This takes us to the final showdown between Hunt and Walker atop the cliff of a mountain, as the remains of the one of the helicopter’s cockpit hang loosely of a wire.

A shot of ice caps falling close to both men looks greatly inspired by Die Another Day, in the scene where a clinging Bond faced the power of the Icarus satellite beam in Iceland.

While this scene overall may be reminiscent of the confrontation between Hunt and rogue IMF agent Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott) in Mission: Impossible II, but there are some links to the antenna fight between 007 and Trevelyan in GoldenEye.

In the beginning of 1995 film, Trevelyan gets half of his face burned by a chemical explosion in Arkhangelsk. In a similar way, Walker gets an acid fluid from the helicopter straight into his face, leaving him badly scarred side. At the end of GoldenEye, Bond and his former friend fight in a small platform at high altitude as both attempt to make each other fall to the vacuum.

A clapperboard from Mission: Impossible-Fallout

Finally, Bond lets Trevelyan fall and the villain, agonizing, is finally terminated when the whole antenna structure crushes him. In Walker’s case, as he’s about to get Hunt, the IMF agent forces the wire over him and the hook gets impaled into his face, making him fall to his death.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is, of all the M:I movies, the closest to a James Bond film. While some people may feel offended for the way they ripped the Bond archive in more than a way this time, I’ll recognize the great taste Mr. Cruise has and the respect he had for 007’s legacy during his interviews promoting the movie.

Rise of the ‘Scooby Gang’ in 007 films

SPECTRE publicity still featuring part of the fan-dubbed “Scooby Gang,” Tanner (Rory Kinnear), Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw).

There’s a fan-generated 007 nickname that has gotten traction these days.

That would be the “Scooby Gang.” It’s shorthand for how supporting characters in the Eon Production film series join Bond out in the field. It’s based on the cartoon series Scooby-Doo, where the Scooby Gang of young people and a dog go out and solve mysteries together.

“Scooby Gang” was used in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, referring to the cartoon show.

Formerly, Bond was a lone-wolf. M would give 007 the mission. Q would provide some gadgets and Moneypenny would flirt before Bond departed the office.

That’s been changing for a while. In 1989’s Licence to Kill, Q (Desmond Llewelyn) goes rogue, as Bond (Timothy Dalton) has. He not only brings along some gadgets, he acts as 007’s assistant.

After Judi Dench came aboard as M in 1995’s GoldenEye, her character’s screen time expanded. That process started with 1999’s The World Is Not Enough where M’s kidnapping is a major aspect of the plot.

Finally, with 2012’s Skyfall, we got a rebooted Moneypenny (now with a first a name, Eve) who we initially see as a field agent. Also, the Judi Dench M scores more screen time than before because she’s a mother figure for both Bond (Daniel Craig) and the villain Silva (Javier Bardem).

In 2013, there was an early indication the Scooby Gang would come together in SPECTRE.

“Naomie Harris is getting more  of the action in the next James Bond film, which starts shooting next year,” Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail wrote in a story published on Sept. 12 of that year.

Director Sam Mendes, Craig, and producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson are all big fans of Naomie’s and don’t want her to be too desk-bound, as other Moneypennys have been.

‘The idea formulating in Bond-land is for Naomie to be much more of a sidekick to James, and for her to get out and harm the bad guys,’ an executive close to the production told me.

Meanwhile, Judi Dench/M perished at the end of Skyfall and was succeeded by Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), who has his own impressive military background.

By the end of SPECTRE, M, Moneypenny, Q (Ben Whishaw) and Tanner (Rory Kinnear) are all out in the field helping Bond. And, thus, the Scooby Gang nickname was born. It has appeared on 007 message boards and elsewhere on the internet.

Now, there has been recent fan speculation/questioning whether Fiennes can return to play Mallory/M because of other acting jobs.

In the “old days,” few fans wondered about the availability of Llewelyn, Bernard Lee or Lois Maxwell. The actors only had a few days of work and the focus was on Bond. Llewelyn was absent from Live And Let Die, but most of the publicity and fan attention was on Roger Moore’s debut as 007.

We’ll see what happens next. Meanwhile, here’s an amusing tweet from Phil Nobile Jr., former writer for Birth. Movies. Death and now editor of a new incarnation of Fangoria magazine. He’s a big 007 fan and has written extensively about Bond films in the past.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

007 Magazine has special Brosnan issue

John Cleese and Pierce Brosnan in Die Another Day

Graham Rye’s 007 Magazine is coming out with a special Pierce Brosnan issue.

Dubbed, Pierce Brosnan: Billion Dollar Bond, the publication looks at Brosnan’s four 007 films from 1995 to 2002. Brosnan’s debut in GoldenEye ended a six-year hiatus for the series produced by Eon Productions. Brosnan was also the last Bond actor selected by Eon co-founder Albert R. Broccoli.

The publication has 76 pages. The price is 19.99 British pounds, $30.99 in the U.S. and 26.99 euros. It is scheduled to ship during May. For more information, CLICK HERE.

Evolution of the United Artists logo on 007 films

United Artists logo from 1983

United Artists is a forgotten studio today despite an illustrious history. It was founded in 1919 by Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith.

For James Bond fans, it was the studio that gave life to the cinematic 007. In 1961, UA, by then led by Arthur Krim, bought into the pitch by independent producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. For two decades, UA financed the 007 movies.

Under Krim’s leadership, UA invested in other film properties, including The Magnificent Seven, West Side Story, In the Heat of the Night and movies starring The Beatles. Under Krim, UA acted more like a bank than a true studio, financing various independent producers. UA didn’t have actual studio facilities.

For first-generation 007 film fans, the UA logo (or lack thereof) was part of the theater experience. What follows is a look at what theater goers would see. Still other UA logos were devised for home video and television showings.

1962-1965: For the first four 007 films (Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball), there was no UA logo. Just a black screen before the gunbarrel logo. Some fans look on those days fondly. Without a logo, it build up the anticipation for the gunnbarrel.

1967: Transamerica, an insurance and financial conglomerate, bought UA in 1967 while keeping Krim and his crew in charge.

The first Bond film with a UA logo was You Only Live Twice, the fifth entry in the Eon series. United Artists was identified as “a Transamerica company.” There was no music with the logo.

1969-1979: Tranamerica devised a stylized “T” logo that was incorporated with the United Artists logo.

Long-running UA logo under Transamerica ownership.

Theater goers would see the “T” logo come together, followed by the words, “United Artists, Entertainment From Transamerica Corporation.” There was still no music accompanying the logo.

This logo would run a full decade as far as the 007 series was concerned, beginning with 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and running through 1979’s Moonraker.

However, behind the scenes, UA was undergoing challenges. Krim and his executives exited UA in the late 1970s, starting a new operation, Orion Pictures.

Various executives were promoted to replace them. That group (financially, at least) made a bet on director Michael Cimino and his movie Heaven’s Gate. It was a huge bomb. Would lead to….

UA logo, 1981

1981: Transamerica had enough with the unpredictable film business. The company sold off UA. The buyer was Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, a studio weaker than its glory days of the 1930s-1950s.

When For Your Eyes Only came out, there was a UA logo without mention of Transamerica. Just “United Artists,” with white letters on a black background.

1980s MGM/UA logo

In 1983, MGM was now billing itself as MGM/UA Entertainment Co. That year, UA-branded films (including the 007 adventure Octopussy). were followed by “United Artists Presents.”

With A View To a Kill, things were simplified, with just the MGM/UA logo.

UA logo, late 1980s

However, toward the latter part of the 1980s, a new stylized UA logo following a new MGM/UA logo (without MGM’s Leo the Lion in it).

Music accompanied the MGM/UA logo. When it switched to the UA logo there would be a “swoosh” sound effect.

This would be seen in 1987’s The Living Daylights and 1989’s Licence to Kill. What’s more, it shows up on some television versions of 007 films.

However, another shakeup was in store.

MGM in the early 1990s was in financial turmoil after it changed hands and called itself MGM-Pathe. French bank Credit Lyonnais took over MGM in 1991. Danjaq, the parent company of Eon Productions, also sued MGM following an MGM sale of television rights to the 007 film series that Danjaq/Eon felt undervalued the movies.

UA logo in 1995

It wouldn’t be until 1995 things were sorted out where the Bond film series could resume with GoldenEye. (The bank would eventually sell MGM to Kirk Kerkorian, a previous owner of the studio.)

A new United Artists logo debuted with the words, “United Artists Pictures Inc.” Lights came together to form the words “United Artists.”

UA logo 1997

When 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies was released, the logo was tweaked slightly to say, “United Artists, An MGM Company.”

What’s more, versions of this logo were also used in home video releases of Bond films in the late 1990s. They were attached to the early 007 movies without logo and replaced UA-Transamerica logos in other movies.

And then, as far as Bond was concerned, it was over.

MGM 1999 logo used with The World Is Not Enough

Starting with 1999’s The World Is Not Enough, Bond movies were now marketed under the main MGM brand name. That film included a version of the familiar MGM logo noting the studio’s 75th anniversary with the words, “A legacy of excellence.”

From this point forward, the only reminder of the UA days for Bond would be deep in the titles in the copyright notice where United Artists Corp. would be listed as one of the copyright holders.

Footnote: MGM revived the United Artists brand, cutting a 2006 deal with Tom Cruise’s production company. That resulted in the 2008 movie Valkyrie.

Footnote II: Orion Pictures, the outfit founded by the former UA executives, is part of MGM.