The Bond film franchise reached a milestone two years ago marking its fiftieth anniversary. Of course now subsequently every few years a Bond film will be celebrating that big 5-0 mark.
I had planned on writing about the 50th anniversary of what is widely regarded as the best, the most famous and most iconic Bond movie of them. Duh, Goldfinger naturally.
But then I was reminded by a fellow Bond fan earlier this year that a certain Bond film would be celebrating its 25th anniversary. Despite not being as popular or well liked as Goldfinger I think it’s still worth giving it a shoutout – Licence to Kill.
So this is sort of a double whammy anniversary Bond blog! I could have made this a triple addition, but no one really cares Die Another Day is turning twelve years old.
Let’s get Licence To Kill out of the way first. Not surprisingly Licence’s twenty-fifth anniversary came and went without much fanfare this past June. There was no big-screen re-releases or special screenings. Other than a few hardcore Bond fans out there that took a moment for reflection there was no real celebration.
I recall that summer of ’89 going to see Licence and really liking it. I liked that it got darker, the Bond girls were both smoking hot, Robert Davi was an excellent villain, the stunts were spectacular, Carey Lowell had a sexy set of gams and Timothy Dalton was staying true to his declaration of being a no nonsense Bond.
In a summer of jampacked big-budget movies (what a great summer that was) Licence was one of my favorites flicks that summer and I couldn’t wait to see what Dalton was going to do next as 007.
Of course, the joke was on me. Licence would be Dalton’s swansong and Bond would take an extended hiatus from movie screens.
For the longest time Licence had been routinely knocked. It seemed like it was the bastard child of the Bond series. Dalton was pegged as one of the worst Bond’s and Licence one of the worst 007 films. When Pierce Brosnan rocked the world with GoldenEye, the view on Dalton and Licence got even worse.
It seemed like everyone was happy to brush Dalton, his gritty Bond and his revenge adventure under the rug and forget all about them.
I can understand some of the criticisms about Licence. Yes, it looks cheap in spots. Some of the sets look very flat. The Miami Vice-ish storyline and Americanizing of Bond – OK, yeah, they were latching onto the big bad guy drug lords that were the goto villains in the late 80’s.
Sure some of the fun, humor and fantastical elements of the Bond films are no where to be found amongst guys being fed to sharks. Oh and some of the acting, I yield. Some of the performances are pretty awful.
As gorgeous as she looks, some of the lines Talisa Soto attempts to deliver makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
But despite all its weaknesses I dug the movie when I first saw it and continue to. I love Bond being solely motivated by personal revenge for his pal Felix and his dead wife. How he infiltrates Sanchez’ organization and proceeds to destroy it from the inside. It’s not designed like a typical Bond film, but it has enough of the flavor and ingredients for me. And Dalton is as cool as a cucumber. Even though his hair does look weird in some scenes.
It’s still thrilling when I watch the scene of Bond underwater, destroying the coke shipment, building up to him getting surrounded, then water skiing away from the bad guys, jumping onto the plane, taking the pilots out and flying away with the stacks of cash.
First time I saw that I was hooting and being that annoying kid in a movie theater making noise. It didn’t matter though the theater was practically empty anyway.
The movie continues to get a real divided reaction out of fans, but I still consider it as one of the most underrated Bond flicks. Happy 25th Licence To Kill! I still don’t like the winking fish ending shot though.
Now, Goldfinger. The quintessential Bond movie. Its fiftieth anniversary will be getting much more attention than Licence To Kill could ever dream of getting.
September 17, 1964 Goldfinger was unleashed onto the world. I believe that was the premiere where the crowd got a bit rowdy and there was some breaking of things. The people got a little overexcited. I think that’s when Connery decided he wouldn’t attend anymore Bond premieres or something.
There has been so much written about Goldfinger and its so packed with now classic moments and scenes it’s difficult not be objective about it. So, leaving all that stuff aside, like Shirley Eaton’s gold painted corpse, Shirley Bassey belting out the theme song, Oddjob’s whizzing bowler hat, the gadget-filled Aston Martin, rolling in the hay with Pussy Galore, castration by laser – it’s still a really fun movie.
One of the most often criticized aspects to Bond movies are its plots. The often clichéd complaint is ‘it’s always a bad guy trying to take over the world, or destroy the world or build a space station’ (maybe that last one not as much). There’s always the problem of trying to create some kind of logic behind these plans and make it feel like we haven’t covered this ground a thousand times before.
In Goldfinger it’s one of the most basic, simplest plots in the series. The bad guy wants to break into Fort Knox. That’s about it. Sure we could complicate things for novice Bond fans and explain he wants to destroy all the gold there too and hope they can handle that twist, but really it’s a very straight forward goal. Our main villain even explains it all to us with the help of a giant model. A device that the Bond films would return to use a few times to simplify exposition scenes.
It’s an over-the-top heist movie and it establishes it’s larger than life reality and delivers on it. It’s really an awfully silly movie when you think about it. We have all these stacked blondes flying planes, Chinese guys running around in blue pajamas, the big sumo wrestler in a tux decapitating people with a hat, the bad guys name is Goldfinger for Pete’s sake! This sounds like some trippy dream you’re having!
But somehow it all works. You get into the spirit of it and just have fun with it all. All the cool sets looked great then and they still hold up. I don’t care how many documentaries I see on Fort Knox, I’m convinced the inside of it looks exactly like it does in this movie! It just has to!
Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore I think of as the first ‘strong Bond Girl’. Her and Connery bickering back and forth is more interesting and amusing than her just falling for him and she holds her own up against 007. Even though she’s eventually worn down by his manly aggressiveness. Remember – forcing yourself onto a woman and making her kiss you will only work if you’re a double-0.
Goldfinger and Oddjob are a pair of the most iconic bad guys ever. They really set the standard for those archetypes in the Bond series. Every character that has come since gets compared to those two.
There’s very clear good guys and bad guys. And let’s not forget about all the nifty gadgets. It’s no wonder this movie has reverberated so strongly through the years. We got a reference to it in the last Bond movie! Oh yeah, there was a reference in Quantum of Solace to it too!
It’s often said that Goldfinger really set the template for all the Bond films that were to follow. And it’s true. I’m not going to go through the whole Bond Blueprint thing again, but it gets all laid out here and that’s the template the series has followed ever since.
I know there’s some who don’t like how Bond becomes a stagnant participant in the second half of Goldfinger. Once Bond gets captured he just sits off to the side watching Goldfinger’s plan unfold waiting for Felix and the army to arrive.
That never bothered me at all while watching the movie. I don’t even think about it. There’s enough stuff to keep me engaged that it doesn’t occur to me our hero is just sitting in a jail cell and being led around at gunpoint most of the time. The movie is just filled with one good scene after another and I get hooked into it everytime.
I love seeing the photos of the lines of people waiting to see Goldfinger. It must of been such an electrifying experience seeing this back then with jampacked crowds when Bond was becoming a phenomenon. Getting to experience this movie when it was brand new and discovering that it was unlike anything people had seen up to that point. Not realizing they were watching what would become the definitive Bond Film.
Watching it must of felt so fresh and unique. It must of lit up kids eyes and had them running around the schoolyards playing James Bond for months.
And remarkably it all holds up really well. I mean, just consider, the movie is now fifty years old – how many films from 1964 would kids be interested in watching today and actually liking!
Oh and Connery is great in this. I always thought at this point he was still mildly excited about doing Bond. It was said he had some reservations about playing Bond a third time and was worried about being typecast. But he had to see the upside to the role. Two years earlier he was playing a small part in The Longest Day.
Now he was one of the most famous stars around, had an extremely popular steady gig, told EON that he wanted to work with Hitchcock, which they helped make happen and got a decent pay raise. Then supposedly at some point during production after some grumbling he got a deal to get a percentage of the box office from all Bond films from then on.
Things weren’t that bad. It wasn’t until after Goldfinger was released and became one of the biggest hits ever that things really started to cool Connery for Bond.
By the time Thunderball came around it appeared that he just wanted to get through his Bond contract as painlessly as possible.
Around the Thunderball time Connery supposedly told a journalist, “My only grumble about the Bond films is that they don’t tax one as an actor….I’d like to see someone else tackle Bond, I must say – though I think they’d be crazy to do it.”
It’s really not that enthusiastic of an endorsement. But on Goldfinger Connery seemed much more content, was a good soldier and any misgivings he had he kept between him and EON. It was after its success things started to sour.
So Goldfinger,fifty years old. And it’s never going away. Out of all the Bond films this will always be one of the most popular ones. We’ll be seeing the images and scenes from it forever. And I’d bet that if any future Bond film decides to make a reference or does a homage to one of its predecessors, it will likely be Goldfinger.
Join me in 2052 when I’ll commemorate Die Another Day‘s fiftieth anniversary!
Licence To Kill Trailer
Here’s some cool footage of the Goldfinger premiere. Funny how it seemed to be the most chaotic out of all the Bond premieres. I really wish there was audio of the woman jumping into the Aston and getting Connery’s autograph. He must of been terrified!
I share some of your fondness for Licence to Kill. It’s not my favorite by any means, but I still like it more than anything Brosnan did.
Brosnan bashing aside, however, what I remember most about it is how blindsided I was at its release. I was in college at the time and the theater we went to was in a downtown area near the campus. I occasionally walked by it during the day while strolling about town on other errands. One day I was walking by and – surprise! – there was a poster for the new Bond movie. I had heard absolutely nothing about the movie being released and had I not been walking by that day it’s conceivable the thing could have come and gone without my ever having known it had even been in theaters. Granted I was busy with college stuff, but I don’t think I was so cloistered as to be missing news about upcoming movie releases. That was the year they released Keaton’s Batman and I remember hearing a lot about that and being excited to see it.
While it can’t explain all the bad press Licence to Kill gets, I still think at least some is due to the fact that the movie was dumped in theaters to absolutely zero fanfare. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that more people saw it for the first time on TV rather than in the theater given how close I was to missing it and I’m a bit of a Bond fanatic.
A well written review on the impact these two films left on the Bond series. Goldfinger is a fun film, and its thankful that Broccoli and co, made it so early in the Bond franchise, because if this was made later on, it would not have achieved the iconic status it has received. Goldfinger as a story, and villian were so with the majority of Bond fans that EON even tried to bring Goldfinger back as an antagonist, however this time it would be his twin brother?! Even as late as Octopussy, did EON try this idea, thankfully it never worked out. As for the story, well the basic outline was rehashed for A View To A Kill, which was awful.
Looking back now From Russia With Love maybe Connery's best Bond film, but Goldfinger made sure the Bond series was here to stay. I'm ashamed to say that Goldfinger is not my favorite Bond film, nor is it in my top ten favorites, but it did cement Bond as a cinematic icon and for that we Bond fans have to be grateful for it.
Summer Blockbuster season 1989. That topic itself needs its own blog entry; Batman finally came back to his dark roots, Riggs and Murtaugh reached their peak, Henry Jones and Jnr. gave audiences a fond farewell to Indy and Star Trek went gaga. In between these films (and I'm sure there were many others that I've left out) there were some films that sadly went under the radar, only for them to be rediscovered years later. Two stand out for me; James Cameron's The Abyss, and License To Kill.
License To Kill the 16th movie in the official Bond series really did try to shake things up to a series that was still in the shadow of Roger Moore's tenure. The Living Daylights tried and succeeded in bridging the gap between the escapism of the Bond films and the dark characterization of Fleming's novels. With License to Kill Broccoli and co felt that it was time to go further and explore the depressing and gritty life that Fleming had written about.
Taking a story that reflected the state of the world, at the time, was the perfect stepping point for Dalton's cynical and gritty portrayal as Bond. Gone were the wise cracks, the gadgets and the larger than life villains. Sure we've seen traces of the literally Bond with Connery, but its here that we finally see the Bond that Fleming no doubt would have been proud off. The film itself may have been an original idea, but the themes of revenge, misogyny and violence all go back to its creator. Not to mention the set piece with the Leiter and the shark harkens back to Live and Let Die.
As mentioned above, Dalton is sensational. However I do feel credit has to go to Robert Davi, who is brilliant as the most realistic villain Bond had to face till then. The scenes between Bond and Sanchez are a highlight of this film; the tension and cynicism on display make compelling viewing.
Sadly at the time, the film just didn't catch on with the majority of Bond fans. Gritty and realism were not terms that audiences wanted to see with Bond, and as a result LTK and Dalton were pushed aside and forgotten till Craig came along with Casino Royale.
The film does have flaws, especially the ones you mentioned in your blog, but the film tries to go down a different route which should be applauded. LTK may not be as popular as Goldfinger, but its certainly a memorable entry in the Bond series, and its a shame that Dalton and LTK fans had to wait 17 years before another Bond film of its kind reappeared again on movie screens.
Congrats to LICENSE TO KILL – also one of my favorite Bond movies. If any other Bond actor has benefited from Daniel Craig taking over the role, it has to be Timothy Dalton. His two films actually stack up the best against the way Bond is being protrayed now. Pierce Brosnan said that he only really has memories of GOLDENEYE (the other three of his are just a ridiculous blur). Roger Moore admits that his portrayal of Bond now looks silly, George Lazenby is a figment of our imagination, and Connery… well, okay, he's just iconic. I hope people re-discover THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS and LICENSE TO KILL because Dalton was really going for something with the character that wasn't fully realized until Craig took over. Timothy Dalton was a man ahead of his time. (Looking for a fish-wink emoji, but I guess they haven't gotten that far.)
It's a standard reading of Goldfinger to think that Bond wins Pussy Galore over just by his sheer manliness, and certainly that's the explanation given in Fleming's novel, but the scriptwriters were smarter than to just leave it at that. I take my hat off to Richard Maibaum at times…and Licence to Kill was his last Bond screenplay…but none more so than the greatest scene he never actually wrote but which exists in the shadows.
In a few weeks time I'll explain more on my blog about James Bond, but suffice to say Pussy's defection is more than just a roll in the hay with the most virile man in the world. There's a scene not present on celluloid, but there, hidden. It ties the whole 3rd act together and dispels the notion that Bond passively sits things out on Auric stud.
I'll give you a clue now: Note where Pussy is during the scenes set at Auric Stud. Note what she sees and doesn't see. What she's present for and not present for. What she hears and doesn't hear.
More when I get the post uploaded….
I always considered Goldfinger to be the most overrated Bond film (because of the whole third act) and Licence To Kill to be the most underrated one.
I liked "License To Kill" but this notion that the movie's hard edge was somehow not understood or unappreciated by Bond fans is complete nonsense.
To believe that "License To Kill" was ahead of its time is to forget Sean Connery's first outings as 007. Take "Dr. No," for instance. Is there any scene in "License To Kill" that's as cold-blooded as Bond calmly shooting Professor Dent ("That's a Smith and Wesson. And you've had your six."). The point being that from its inception, Connery's Bond was a bastard but that didn't hinder a world-wide movie phenomenon from beginning. Audiences are smart, especially Bond fans.
There is one factor of "License To Kill" that I agree is overlooked. It featured Wayne Newton.
As they used to say, "Nuff Said."
"To believe that "License To Kill" was ahead of its time is to forget Sean Connery's first outings as 007. Take "Dr. No," for instance. Is there any scene in "License To Kill" that's as cold-blooded as Bond calmly shooting Professor Dent ("That's a Smith and Wesson. And you've had your six.")"
Yes there is, the scene at the Wavekrest plant when Killifer is holding onto a rope above the hidden shark pool. He tries to bribe Bond with the money he has gained from helping Sanchez escape, to which Bond replies
"You earnt it. You keep it, old buddy" and he throws the suitcase of money at Killifer, thus making him lose his grip on the rope and fall into the shark pool. Bond waits and watches the traitor being eaten alive by the shark.
I agree with your opinion in regards to Dr. No, that scene when Connery's Bond shoot Dent is a phenonmnal scene. However having said that, Conney's Bond never really reached the heights of grittiness as Dalton's Bond did. This is hardly surprising since I bet the ratings board would have had a field day at this example of decadence and brutality on display. As the film's went on Connery became more sarcastic and misogynistic, two traits that Fleming does incorporate into the literal Bond, but Dalton really came to grips with the grittiness of the character that no Bond before him has really achieved.