James Bond: You Should Have Brought Lilies: Dalton #Bondathon

The fourth Storified set of ‘Tweet notes’ for each film in a complete (canon) Twitter #Bondathon leading up to the release of Skyfall and the franchise’s 50th anniversary. Typos as guaranteed as a cigarette in Q Branch.

WHAT A SCARY GUY THIS BOND IS. Even the way he says the word ‘that’ in his first tip of a hat to a one-liner… This guys is hard as nails, physically nasty, bloody quick with a gun and full of ruthless ideas.  Do not mess, generally.  Do not mess.  Or he’ll actually steal your cigarettes.

Dalton is probably still edging it as the closest screen representation of Fleming’s Bond.  Unlike Moore, he relished the nastiness of the character but was also able to effortlessly switch to romance mode.  There are significant benefits to having a brilliant actor on board but more important perhaps was the physicality.  Almost every stunt scene has Dalton acting the fall guy, a considerable leap forward from Sir Rog.  He’s also more sweary and takes a beating – to a staggering level in Licence to Kill.

In other scenes, Dalton’s  all round chemistry is brilliant – it’s just a bit of a shame that his Bond girls were all round  a little tenuous.  This Bond is clearly an established spy;  one who’s bloody good at his job and respected for it.  Unfortunately we never see him in naval uniform although he’s called Commander more than any other iteration in Licence to Kill.  His knowledge of global politics is significant and his loyalty to his peers palpable –  often resulting in revenge of some sort.  That said, this Bond has a cordial relationship with Russians when necessary, a strong relationship with Q there is even a welcome return to a fatherly/one-upmanship relationship with M.

Off screen, The Living Daylights  was evidently a shot in the arm for all involved.  It has a sense of spectacle, cinematography and fine plotting that had been missing fro the series for some time. As film-making, it’s by far John Glen’s finest directorial effort.  As the Cold War melted, it had the nouse to dip back into espionage as almost a last hurrah. It brought back Fleming’s world of SMERSH, a concept that even the 60s had barely touched on, instead veering towards the Volcano bases of SPECTRE.  It really isn’t an understatement to say that The Living Daylights is not only the best Bond film of the 80s, but probably the strongest Bond since the 60s.

The reach for authenticity in the Dalton era has been skewed by Craig’s current reign.  Licence to Kill, for all its reputation, actually features a higher number of one-liners than The Living Daylights, but is popularly regarded as Bond getting too serious. Aside from the hiatus that followed, the real problem seemed to be the merging of Bond’s greatest defence mechanism (exploitation) with a quest for realism. It surfaced as excess.  While it’s a knee-jerk response to cinema trends (80s American action films) was the same as Live and Let Die or Moonraker responding to popular, contemporary genres, Licence to Kill carries it through every part of the film. Villain, plot, score, location, script – all of it shouted 1980s action film.  Bond the Brit could feel particularly out of place there, but Dalton’s solidly angry performance carries it off. the problem was that the 80s actioner was already past its best in 1989.

The two years between Dalton the films saw the sharpest shift in cinema since 1977, and this time Bond came off worse.  There were hints in 1987, but while the superb The Living Daylights beat off Lethal Weapon and Die Hard convincingly, Licence to Kill was rather crushed by their respective sequels as well as the Connery starring Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and especially Batman.  It wasn’t a sea change at the box office, more obliteration. While Batman featured an older fictional character than Bond, it signalled a new kind of blockbuster mentality that persists today.

Arriving alongside this was a new introspection.  By the late 1980s, the critical reaction to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service had completed its 180 flip and duly provides a strong backbone to Dalton’s final performance and the plot’s storyline of revenge – if only it had been You Only Live Twice.  In that respect, not only was the loss of Dalton a shame, but also the hiatus that ground this momentum to a halt.

The second wayward son of the franchise, Dalton gets a rather unfair wrap in general, even two Bond’s later.  On many levels he’s at the head of the pack if not leading, but he’s undone by the fact that his tenure lasted only two films.  Perhaps his greatest function was to act as a perfect 80s segue between the financially successful Moore and Brosnan eras.  Think Licence to Kill is misguided?  Perhaps.  But its shadow certainly hangs over the Craig era: from the license revocation scene in Quantum of Solace through to the spy’s back-story and even the gun optical palm reader in Skyfall

Dalton really was the difficult middle child of the franchise, but like the short-lived Lazenby before him, that legacy is larger than the screen-time suggests.

The Living Daylights (1987)
Licence to Kill (1989)

DALTON #BONDATHON ON STORIFY

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