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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Burt Reynolds at 80: the (could-have-been) Bond

Burt Reynolds and the cast of Hooper in the film's final scene

Burt Reynolds at the end of Hooper (1978)

Feb. 11 was the 80th birthday of Burt Reynolds. For a time, in the very early 1970s, some (such as director Guy Hamilton) thought he could have been a good James Bond.

That wasn’t meant to be, but the actor’s milestone birthday is worthy of a pause for reflection.

Reynolds was a better actor than a lot of his critics gave him credit for. At the same time, for a long time, Reynolds was quoted as acknowledging that he accepted some roles because it would be fun, rather than stretching his acting chops.

Regardless, Reynolds worked his way up. For a time in the early 1960s, he was a supporting player on Gunsmoke as Quint Asper, a half-Indian blacksmith in Dodge City. Reynolds also had a memorable guest appearance on The Twilight Zone, where he played a pompous actor, doing a spot-on impersonation of Marlon Brando.

Reynolds later became the lead actor in police dramas such as Hawk and Dan August.

The latter, which aired during the 1970-71 season on ABC, was a turning point. Not because it was successful, but because Reynolds took a copy of the show’s “blooper reel” with him on talk shows. (See the book Quinn Martin, Producer for more details.) For the first time, audiences could see what his colleagues already knew — Reynolds had a sense of humor.

Reynolds could be serious when he wanted to, such as the 1971 movie Deliverance. But, for some (such as the Spy Commander), one of his best performances — where drama and comedy were required — was 1978’s Hooper.

In that Hal Needham-directed film, Reynolds played the lead stunt man on a James Bond-like movie being directed by an “A” list movie director (Robert Klein). The latter character was based on Peter Bogdanovich, who directed 1976’s Nickelodeon, a film where Reynolds worked as an actor and Needham as stunt coordinator.

In 1978, it was inconceivable that an “A” list director would ever do a Bond movie. So, in some ways, Hooper was a sort-of preview of the Sam Mendes-directed 007 films of the 21st century.

Anyway, here’s a hearty happy birthday for Burt Reynolds.