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Timothy Dalton, The Forgotten Hero

This is a guest post by Ronan Moloney. Read his other work for here.

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Daniel Craig recently hinted at his retirement from the role of James Bond, leaving the franchise after four very successful films. Recent reports suggest that Craig may be enticed back in as the offer of a huge contract to do a few more films is apparently being offered by producers.

The Liverpool actor has received massive acclaim for his turn as the super spy, conveying a more hard edged, vulnerable, gritty and complex character than previous iterations. His departure at this point almost seems like an anti-climax. Spectre marked an underwhelming return to the nostalgic era of Bond films, focusing on one-liners, gadgets and the leading man being somewhat invincible – 40 lads were shooting at him in wide open space and he didn’t get shot??  Come on! He’s standing right there! The old Bond films are products of their time, and really the attempt at nostalgia left the film hollow, lacking strength and integrity.

For audiences who were delighted with Craig’s debut performance in Casino Royale, it was irritating that his interpretation might end this way. His debut as Bond had fans hoping his take as a more realistic, serious, cold blooded killer would continue as the film’s tone was more in keeping with the original novels. In his Fleming’s work, Bond was effectively a psychopath with no empathy, a heavy drinker, short tempered and a vicious assassin. Craig read the Ian Fleming novels, did a lot of his own stunts and removed the ridiculous elements of the character.

Pierce Brosnan screen testing for The Living Daylights

Pierce Brosnan screen testing for ‘The Living Daylights’

But while Craig is widely thought to have re-invented the character, in fact, he was following the lead of another actor somewhat forgotten in the franchise and whose timing probably wasn’t right – Timothy Dalton. When Roger Moore finally left the franchise in 1985 (he was 57), the search began to find the new Bond. The films had become ridiculous and Moore had done 3 films too many. In fact he was older than the mother of Bond girl Tanya Roberts in A View to A Kill! Many actors were considered. Surprising candidates that were considered included Liam Neeson and Mel Gibson! Also considered was a young Sam Neill. He would later test for the role. In the end, it was between Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan, with the latter getting the part due to Dalton being unavailable at the time. However, when word came out in the press that Brosnan was the new Bond the producers of his TV show Remington Steele exercised an option in his contract for another series. This meant Brosnan was now unavailable. He would later show his disdain by trying to scupper the show with below par performances. The delay meant Dalton was now available and signed a contract to star in 3 films. The franchise was about to take a significant turn.

image-1The producers had tried on two separate occasions to sign Dalton, but he declined. He was asked to take over from Sean Connery in 1967 but he felt he was too young and again in 1981 where he did not agree with the direction of the character. In 1986, he agreed to take the role on the condition that his interpretation be totally different. His Bond would be darker, cold blooded and realistic. In preparation for The Living Daylights, Dalton read all of Fleming’s novels and requested he do as many stunts as possible feeling that this would assist in his interpretation. The script was re-written to suit Dalton and was released in 1987 to critical acclaim. Although successful, Dalton’s Bond was far darker than previous iterations and the marketing campaign had him as ‘the most dangerous Bond ever’ – displeasing US audiences somewhat more used to Moore’s Bond. The Living Daylights is an extremely underrated entry into the franchise. Even as a stand-alone espionage film it delivers; intriguing plot, a fantastic score, excellent stunts and a leading man who focuses more on his own initiative than gadgets, sex and jokes. Bond was now a far more complex character, a confident cold-blooded killer dedicated to his work which he values above all else. His was a more believable spy, a character audiences would question. In the era of Die Hard and Lethal Weapon, this Bond was somewhat overlooked. Dalton wasn’t the overly macho hero; his was a vulnerable, more complex character who trusted his intuition more than any other weapon.

License to Kill would follow in 1989. The film was poorly marketed and given a 15 rating in the UK, severely affecting its target audience as well as being released at the same time as Lethal Weapon 2, Batman and the third Indiana Jones movie. License to Kill was initially entitled License Revoked but was altered at the last minute as they felt audiences would confuse Bond losing his License to Kill with his driving licence! However after viewing Lethal Weapon 2 released at the same time, maybe this was an error in judgement.  As a result of the change, the marketing campaign for the movie was scuppered as quick changes were noequired. License to Kill was the most violent entry in the franchise prior to Casino Royale. Dalton’s Bond leaves the secret service to pursue a personal revenge driven vendetta against a Drug Lord. imageThe film saw a young Benicio Del Toro in one of his first major roles and who in fact tore off a part of Dalton’s finger in a stunt! His mission in the excellent Sicario has echoes of Dalton’s, yet far darker. The film was the boldest and darkest of the franchise and was written specifically for Dalton, who pushed the boundaries of the character, training heavily to do more stunts and have his character appear stronger and more dominant. Bond was far less the ladies’ man, devoid of humour and far more the vengeful, borderline psychotic in his quest for revenge. This film did include the best one liner in the franchise however. When Bond is in the presence of his target, he presents himself as a mercenary for hire saying he helps people with problems. His potential employer comments that he’s a problem solver – ‘No, more of a problem eliminator.’ Take that Roger Moore!

The timing of the film’s release, rating and poor marketing campaign hampered the box office in the US. The story line of drug cartels had grown tiresome by 1989, as it had been the main plot line in blockbusters such as Scarface and Lethal Weapon as well as the popular series Miami Vice. The film was successful in the box office overall, but was seen as a flop in relation to other Bond movies. Dalton did receive critical acclaim for his performance and critics were now beginning to admire his take on the character.

Dalton was set for his third outing in 1991. A script was in the works and would centre on an explosion in a chemical plant in Scotland which leads Bond to Japan. Due to legal issues with producers of the franchise and the production company MGM, the film was never made. The dispute lasted 5 years and when the new film Goldeneye finally got the green light, Dalton was in negotiations to renew his contract and reprise the role. He shocked producers when he declined, stating it no longer appealed to him. Brosnan finally got his chance in 1995 and Goldeneye was a massive success.

Reviewing Dalton’s portrayal, it seems like Craig’s Bond grown up, the finished article as it were. Dalton has finally received some of the credit he deserves. Irish writer Eoghan Lyng, writing for The James Bond Dossier stated that ‘’despite some chronological placement, it was Dalton, not Brosnan, who proved to be the prototype for the 21st century Bond’’. Daniel Craig’s interpretation as the super-spy has received a lot of praise; however the elements of his character were left behind by Dalton. It is somewhat strange then that history has forgotten Dalton. Truly he was ahead of his time as Bond, and was unfortunate with the poor box office returns in Licence to Kill and 5 year lawsuit that scuppered his tenure as Bond.  It is a pity we never saw him in Goldeneye, but one can only imagine what a fight would be like between him and Sean Bean. I’d back Dalton.


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Good article – really interesting. In my opinion though, the title of “Forgotten James Bond” should go to George Lazenby (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 1969). But he will never been forgotten by me. When I was “Bunny Deana” at the London Playboy Club, more than 40 years ago now, I was privileged to be crowned Playboy Bunny of The Year by George, and I shall treasure the memory forever. The very precious photo of George performing the crowning – in his immaculate Bond-style suit – is a proud part of my unique, personal “Bunny Deana’s Playboy Photo Album”, now freely available to view online.

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