Wednesday, August 29, 2012

50 Years of 007 - Licence to Kill

Cody watches as James Bond's Licence to Kill is revoked.

The Living Daylights had established Timothy Dalton as a more serious and edgier James Bond, his interpretation of the character closer to Ian Fleming's literary version than had been seen in the film series for some time. For his second turn in the role, Eon Productions were determined to continue further down that path. The screenplay for TLD had been finished before Dalton had signed on, but the script for his next film would be written with his Bond and a darker, more "real world" approach in mind. It was the '80s, cocaine and heroin trafficking was a booming, deadly business that was all over the news and the subject matter of many movies, this was the decade of Scarface. A real world approach meant dealing with real world problems, so the idea that producer/writer Michael G. Wilson and screenwriter Richard Maibaum had for Dalton's second Bond was to pit him against a dangerous drug lord.

Their story was largely original, but drew inspiration from several Fleming sources - a passage from Goldfinger, characters from the short story The Hildebrand Rarity, sections of the novel Live and Let Die that hadn't been included in the film, which was also an influence, as were Akiro Kurosawa's Yojimbo and its remake, Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars.

The drug lord's country of origin changed during development. Initially, there was talk of the movie filming in China. Treatments were written where the villain was based out of the Golden Triangle, an area in Southeast Asia covering the mountains of Burma, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. The Golden Triangle was the number one source for the world's heroin until being passed by Pakistan/Afghanistan's Golden Crescent area. (Which the series had dealt with in TLD, as Bond had found himself in the middle of an opium deal in Afghanistan.) China-based action scenes were thought up; a fight amongst the Terracotta Army funerary statues that had been unearthed in the mid-'70s, a motorcycle chase along the Great Wall.

The plans to film in China eventually fell through due to creative issues and the fact that Steven Spielberg's The Last Emperor had just recently filmed there and already shown off some of the impressive locations. The China ideas were shelved, although potential action sequences are never forgotten at Eon. There was talk during the pre-production of this year's Bond film Skyfall that the Great Wall motorcycle chase might be included in it. Some of Skyfall was filmed in China and there does appear to be something of a motorcycle chase, but the two do not go together, Skyfall's chase was filmed in Turkey. The Great Wall chase continues to wait for its day to be filmed.

Eon Productions ran into tax issues in the UK, as they had during the making of Moonraker, so like that movie the production of the sixteenth Bond film would be based out of a different country. The honor ultimately went to Estudios Churubusco in Mexico City.

Wilson and Maibaum reworked their idea for a South American setting, but rather than basing the story in a real location, a fictional one was created. Mexico City would be standing in for a place called Isthmus City, in the country of Isthmus. In the midst of Wilson and Maibaum's collaboration on their fifth Bond script together, the Writers Guild of America went on strike. As a guild member, Maibaum had to stop working on the script, leaving Wilson to handle all subsequent writing himself. Despite the troubles, I think the screenplay turned out just fine.

Drug lord Franz Sanchez is an issue from the opening moment of the film, as AWACS radar catches his private plane making a mid-course deviation out of Cuban air space, heading in for a landing in the Bahamas. Michael G. Wilson makes a voice cameo as a character noting that the plane will land on the Cray Key island and Key West Drug Enforcement should be alerted that Sanchez is nearby, it's a chance for them to "grab the bastard."

Living in Key West, Florida is James Bond's old pal, CIA agent Felix Leiter. Leiter has been investigating Sanchez for some time, but this opportunity to take him into custody couldn't come at a more inconvenient time - it's Leiter's wedding day.

For the first time, an actor reprises the role of Felix Leiter. Although Dalton had worked with John Terry (of the beloved around this blog TV show Lost) as Leiter in his previous movie, Terry is not the returning actor. Instead, this time Dalton is paired with Roger Moore's Felix Leiter, David Hedison from Live and Let Die. While it's a bit odd that they went back to the Leiter of sixteen years earlier, an actor who is almost twenty years older than Dalton, it's also kind of fitting, given the ties that Licence to Kill has to LALD.

Leiter is riding to the church in the back of a Rolls-Royce Phantom V, accompanied by his friends Sharky and James Bond (who is his best man), when a Coast Guard helicopter catches his attention. In the helicopter are DEA agents, who have come to bring Leiter with them to catch Sanchez. Bond talks his way into riding along, agreeing that he'll be there strictly as an observer. As Leiter and Bond fly off with the DEA in the Coast Guard helicopter, an unhappy Sharky is left behind with the Rolls-Royce and the responsibility of delaying the wedding long enough for his friends to get back.

Sanchez is taking the risk of going to the Bahamas because his mistress, Talisa Soto as Lupe Lamora, has run off with a lover. In a very disturbing scene for a Bond film, Sanchez and a couple henchmen find Lupe in bed with the guy she's cheating with. After asking Lupe, "What did he promise you? His heart?", Sanchez orders his henchman Dario, who keeps a spring-loaded knife in the sleeve of his jacket, to "Give her his heart." The man is dragged out of the room, and as the screaming fellow has his heart cut out of his chest offscreen, Sanchez proceeds to punish Lupe with the same method the abusive character Milton Krest uses to beat his wife in the short story The Hildebrand Rarity - he whips her back with a severed stingray tail.

Leiter, Bond, and the DEA are waiting at the Cray Key airstrip when Sanchez returns, and as chases and gunfire break out, of course Bond does more than just observe, he puts himself right in the middle of the action.

Sanchez manages to take off in a little puddle jumper plane and in some movies that would be the end of it, the hero would have lost the villain. But not Bond. He piles everyone back into the Coast Guard chopper and has it give chase. The helicopter catches up with the plane, keeping pace with it, flying slightly above it. Bond "goes fishing" by hooking himself to the rescue cable hook and being lowered down onto the back of the plane. Doubling Dalton during this aerial stunt is Jake Lombard, who also doubled Roger Moore a few times during his run. Licence to Kill is Lombard's fifth and final time working on a Bond movie. This was also the fifth Bond film for aerial stunt coordinator BJ Worth.

Once Bond is riding on the outside of the plane, he unhooks himself and wraps the line around the tail of the plane. The helicopter now tows the dangling plane through the air. Franz Sanchez has been captured. Coincidentally, the roping of Sanchez's plane happens right above the church where Leiter is set to get married. Bond and Leiter parachute down to the church, where the wedding commences, just a little behind schedule.

The Maurice Binder-designed title sequence follows. LTK features the last work in the series by Binder, who had designed the title sequences for all of the previous Bond films except for From Russia with Love and Goldfinger. Unfortunately, he passed away in 1991.

Accompanying Binder's work is the title song, the music inspired by the horn line in the Goldfinger title song and the lyrics sung by Gladys Knight. The music is good, Knight has a great voice, but the title doesn't quite mix with the love song style lyrics. It comes off like a song from a homicidal stalker, "I've got a licence to kill anyone who tries to tear us apart."

In many Bond films, the capture of Sanchez in the pre-title sequence would've been the last we'd see of the character. The pre-titles are often a standalone adventure, then the main story begins after the titles. That's not the case here, as the film goes right back to Sanchez when the titles end.

Sanchez is sitting in a chair in an interrogation room as DEA agents Hawkins and Ed Killifer pace around him. This scene is a reunion of actors who had been in Die Hard together two years earlier - Sanchez is played by Robert Davi, best known for his roles in The Goonies, the Maniac Cop sequels, and as FBI agent Johnson in Die Hard. Johnson was paired with a younger agent also named Johnson, who was played by Grand L. Bush. Here, Bush plays Hawkins, so Davi and Bush once again share the screen. As Killifer is Everett McGill, from the beloved around this blog TV show Twin Peaks. Two years after this, McGill would be running around a house in a leather bondage suit, blasting away with a shotgun in Wes Craven's The People Under the Stairs.

According to Killifer, Sanchez is facing one hundred and thirty-nine felony counts, which could earn him a sentence of nine hundred and thirty-six years in prison. Sanchez has gotten out of trouble before by offering million dollar bribes, but Killifer tells him that one of those isn't going to work this time. So Sanchez ups the offer: two million dollars to anyone who springs him.

Meanwhile, Leiter has made Della Churchill his beautiful bride. Della is played by Priscilla Barnes, of the beloved around this blog TV show Three's Company. Of all the blonde roommates that Jack Tripper had, Barnes' Terri was my favorite.

Leiter is still dealing with Sanchez issues instead of hanging out with his new wife, Bond has to retrieve him from his study when it's time to cut the cake. As Bond enters, a lovely young woman named Pam Bouvier and played by Carey Lowell exits. Leiter assures Bond that Pam is only there for business reasons, then saves his report on Sanchez from his computer to a disc that he hides in the frame of a picture of Della. As Bond waits on Leiter, some more exposition on Sanchez is delivered - the flight to Cray Key was the first time that the drug lord has been away from his home base in years. He couldn't be extradited because he has killed, intimidated or bribed half of the officials from Florida to Chile. The only law south of Key West is Sanchez's law.

After making a brief appearance at the Leiters' reception, Killifer returns to the Coast Guard station where Sanchez is being held, just in time to ride along on Sanchez's transfer to Quantico. A cuffed Sanchez rides in the back of a truck with a couple guards, Killifer rides up front with the driver. As the truck goes over a long bridge, Sanchez bashes the driver with his gun and causes the truck to crash through the guardrail, into the ocean. The truck sinks to the bottom of the sea, where Sanchez and Killifer are retrieved by men in SCUBA gear.

By the time Bond leaves the home of Felix and Della Leiter that night, he has received two gifts from the couple. First, they give him a cigarette lighter with a very powerful flame and an inscription on the side: "James, Love Always, Della and Felix."

The second gift Bond is less happy with - Della playfully tosses her garter to him, reminding him that the man who catches it will supposedly be the next among their friends/family to get married. This brings the mood down, Bond is obviously troubled by the thought. As Bond drives away, Felix tells Della that Bond "was married once, but it was a long time ago." It's a nice little callback to On Her Majesty's Secret Service, appealing to a fan's knowledge of the series without going into specifics. It's especially nice that OHMSS is acknowledged in this film, since its release in 1989 marked the twentieth anniversary of George Lazenby's one and only Bond film.

The mood is brought down even further when Felix and Della go back inside their home. Sanchez's men are waiting for them.

We earlier saw Sanchez beat his woman in the same manner as the literary character Milton Krest, and now we find that a character named Milton Krest is one of his lackeys. Krest runs a marine research company called WaveKrest and owns a waterfront warehouse where he works on genetically engineering aquatic animals. WaveKrest is also, secretly and primarily, a cover for Sanchez's drug smuggling operations.

Sanchez waits in the warehouse while Krest prepares his escape from Florida - one of Krest's research submarines will take Sanchez out to its twelve mile limit, then he'll be picked up on a fast boat to Cuba. Before he departs, Sanchez makes sure that Killifer gets the two million dollars he was promised, despite Krest's feeling that having a cop around is too dangerous and they should just "deep six him". But Sanchez made a deal with him, and he's a man of his word. "Loyalty is more important to me than money."

Sanchez is also waiting for Dario and the others to bring a bound and blindfolded Felix Leiter to the warehouse. When his blindfold is removed and he sees Sanchez, Leiter's first question is, "Where's my wife?"

Sanchez's right hand man Dario is played by Benicio Del Toro, at the time only twenty-one years old and just starting out in film. It was a promising early step in what has gone on to be a very successful career, and Del Toro makes an impression in the role, especially with the memorably unique delivery of his reply to Leiter, "Don't worry. We gave her a nice honeymoon."

David Hedison played Felix Leiter in the cinematic adaptation of Live and Let Die, in which Yaphet Kotto played his role of heroin dealer Kananga as the stylish and sophisticated villainous reflection of James Bond. Here, Robert Davi is also playing Franz Sanchez as the stylish and sophisticated anti-Bond. The film LALD departed from its literary source material about halfway through; while book Bond went to Florida, film Bond went to Jamaica. An unused element from the novel showed up years later in the film For Your Eyes Only, the keel haul torture sequence, which had also been written into early drafts of the Moonraker script. Now, in the Florida setting of LTK, another unused section of Live and Let Die is adapted to the screen, and David Hedison gets to act out an event he would have sixteen years earlier if the LALD film had remained faithful to the novel. Leiter seems to be an avid fisherman in his private life, he's friends with Sharky, who runs a fishing boat charter service, and Bond gave him fishing lures as a wedding gift. Now he's the bait. As in Fleming's prose, Felix Leiter is dropped through a trap door in a warehouse floor and fed to a shark.

There is enough original material in Licence to Kill that a novelization of the screenplay was written by Bond continuation novel author John Gardner. The LTK novelization was the ninth of the sixteen Bond novels Gardner wrote between 1981 and 1996, and strangely, the novelization is in literary continuity with Fleming's books. The events of the Live and Let Die novel have already happened, so the Felix Leiter of the books is so unlucky that LTK finds him being fed to a shark for a second time in his life.

Bond is about to catch a flight out of Key West when he hears about Sanchez's escape from custody. He rushes over to Leiter's house. He first finds Della, lying dead on the bed, still wearing her wedding dress. Reminiscent of the death of his wife Tracy directly after their wedding.

Bond then goes to Leiter's ransacked study where, straight out of Fleming, he finds his friend's shark-mauled body on a couch. The villains have left a note with the body: He disagreed with something that ate him.

Leiter is still alive, but has lost his left leg below the knee and his left arm is in jeopardy. As Leiter lies unconscious in a hospital bed, Bond confers with Sharky and Hawkins. Despite a jackass detective's belief that Leiter was probably wounded with a chainsaw ("Colombians use them on informers", there are more chainsaws sold in Florida than in Oregon), Sharky knows a shark bite when he sees one. Hawkins is upset about Leiter and the fact that Sanchez has disappeared with his files, but tells Bond that there's nothing they can do about it. Sanchez is out of their jurisdiction now, they can't get an extradition, there are plenty of countries that will protect him. "Let it go, Commander."

Bond doesn't let it go. The shark bites are a lead. Bond and Sharky search the Keys for someone who might have a shark in captivity. The search leads them to Krest's warehouse, where Bond talks his way into the building with his cover as an employee of Universal Exports, saying he's been hired by the Regent's Park Zoo to arrange the shipment of a Great White. Might Krest have one available? Krest denies having any sharks, he sold out of them years ago. He's not in the business of selling aquatic animals anymore, now WaveKrest is completely focused on research for a project to feed the Third World. Something to do with manipulating hormones to make male fish, which gain weight faster on their diet of maggots. With Krest claiming to be out of the shark business, Bond questions the presence of a Shark Hunter II submarine in the warehouse. Krest says it's for sale. The submarine isn't nearly as suspicious as a boutonniere from Leiter's suit being among some swept up trash on the floor. Krest asks Bond to leave as soon as he makes the sighting, and Bond politely complies.

Sneaking around the warehouse that night, aided by Sharky, Bond confirms that there is a shark swimming around in a pen beneath the place. Entering the building, Bond has confrontations with a couple security guards in an adaptation of a sequence from the Live and Let Die novel in which Bond is shot at in Mr. Big's "worm and bait" warehouse by a henchman called The Robber. The Robber got dropped down the trap door in the floor and fed to the same shark that mauled Leiter, here one security guard ends up stuck in a drawer full of maggots (and packs of cocaine) and the other knocked into the electric eel tank. Then, Bond is caught by Killifer, who is still waiting to catch a sub ride out of the country. Killifer tries to maneuver Bond into the trap door, but the lucky timing of Sharky's arrival in the building leads to Killifer being the one who falls through the trap. Killifer catches onto a rope hanging over the shark tank and offers to split his suitcase full of cash with Bond. Bond picks up the suitcase... and tosses it to Killifer. Killifer meets the same fate as The Robber, and the two million dollars he earned from Sanchez goes into the water with him.

The next day, Hawkins catches up with Bond to tell him that the local cops got a tip about a certain warehouse where drugs, bodies, and the remains of Ed Killifer were found. The DEA wants to know what's happening and Hawkins can only cover up so much for Bond. He warns, "This is where it ends, Commander."

Hawkins isn't the only one who wants Bond to pack it up. MI6 agents usher him into a meeting with M on a balcony at the Hemingway House, where his boss chews him out for skipping his flight to Istanbul, where he's supposed to be on an assignment. He has a job to do and he needs to leave this Leiter/Sanchez situation to the Americans. Bond says he owes this to Leiter, M calls that idea "sentimental rubbish". Bond's private vendetta could compromise Her Majesty's government. He needs to be objective and professional and get back to work. Bond refuses to drop his personal mission and offers his resignation from the Secret Service. M accepts it. "Effective immediately, your licence to kill is revoked."

Licence to Kill is the first Eon Bond film that doesn't share the title of an Ian Fleming novel or short story. Its working title was Licence Revoked, but it was eventually decided that Licence to Kill was a stronger option, as a revoked license could just be a driver's license. Some fans would've preferred if the title had remained Licence Revoked, but I think the change was a good decision.

M demands that Bond hand over his weapon, but Bond keeps his Walther, smacks M's guards around, jumps over the balcony railing and escapes from the Hemingway House property. An MI6 agent attempts to shoot Bond as he runs away, but M stops him. As the now ex-007 disappears from sight, M says, "God help you, Commander."

The next step on Bond's road to revenge is the WaveKrest "research vessel", on which Milton Krest is taking Lupe part of the way toward being reunited with Sanchez. Sanchez warned Krest not to mess with his girl during their trip together and Krest knows what happened to her lover, so he should be smart enough not to. But when the loss of his warehouse drives him to drink, Krest goes to Lupe's cabin and acts drunk and creepy. He's saved from making a bad mistake when one of his men shows up at the door to notify him that the ship's probe vessel has spotted "something large" in the water.

That something large is Bond, in SCUBA gear and swimming beneath a glider covered with fabric cut in a way that makes him appear to be a manta ray when shown from above on the WaveKrest's monitors. A bit more sensible than a seagull hat. He follows the probe under the ship and up into its moon pool, where he surfaces alongside the vessel and infiltrates the WaveKrest. He incapacitates a guard and sneaks his way up to Krest's cabin... where he finds Lupe in the bed. Krest is letting her use the main cabin on this trip.

Bond and Lupe recognize each other from the Cray Key airstrip, he knows that she's Sanchez's girlfriend and tries to get information on his whereabouts, but Lupe is clueless, she doesn't know where she's being taken. Bond's presence on-board has been noticed, and when Krest checks the cabin to see if Lupe has seen anything, Bond hides behind the door and holds his knife to the back of her head to make sure she doesn't give him away. After Krest leaves, Bond does show some compassion for her when he notices the wounds that the whipping from Sanchez left on her back.

What was one character named Quarrel in the Fleming novels became three different characters in the film series. Bond first met the man, who chartered fishing boats, in the pages of Live and Let Die, and would use his services again in the pages of Dr. No. Quarrel didn't survive his second adventure with Bond. Dr. No became a film first and Quarrel's death scene was kept intact, so when it came time for the adaptation of Live and Let Die, a second character stood in for him - his son, Quarrel Jr. With Licence to Kill partially being another adaptation of LALD, there is another Quarrel stand-in in the form of Sharky, played by former NFL player turned character actor with a very recognizable voice Frank McRae. Quarrel, Quarrel Jr., and Sharky. Only one of these characters makes it all the way through the movie they're featured in, and it's not Sharky.

A group of Krest's men, led by a guy named Clive, find Sharky while he waits for Bond on a boat nearby, kill him and haul his corpse back to the WaveKrest. This turn of events pisses Bond off even more. Bond tells Lupe that she better find herself a new lover, exits the cabin, walks out on the deck of the WaveKrest, grabs a speargun and fires it into Clive's chest. "Compliments of Sharky."

Clive's SCUBA-wearing body tumbles off the ship, drawing attention to Bond as he follows the corpse into the sea. Armed guards watch the surface, divers jump in the water. Bond steals Clive's oxygen tank and swims off. The probe vessel exits the moon pool, but it's not out to look for Bond. A seaplane lands to make a trade with the probe: packs of cocaine for packs of money. After the exchange is made, Bond really makes a pest of himself. He swims after the probe underwater, opens its cargo panel and starts tearing open the packs of cocaine with his knife.

A group of SCUBA divers attack Bond and during the ensuing fight he manages to get ahold of another speargun. Looking up, he sees the pontoons of the seaplane travel overhead as it prepares to take off. He fires his spear into one of the pontoons and it pulls him up to the surface like he's water skiing. He manages to board the plane and toss out its pilot and passenger, commandeering the vehicle in mid-air and giving Jake Lombard and BJ Worth some more aerial stuntwork to pull off. Bond flies off with a whole lot of Sanchez's money.

Bond returns to Leiter's home, where he gets the disc Leiter saved the Sanchez report to out of the Della picture frame and uses the computer to check it out. He finds that on a list of nine informants, only one of them is still alive. Pam Bouvier. A CIA contract pilot, familiar with Sanchez's operation in Isthmus City. Leiter recommended that she should be given maximum support and protection, and he was scheduled to meet with her again on Thursday, after midnight. What a coincidence, this is Thursday night.

Bond goes to the Bimini Barrelhead Bar, the dirty dive joint where Leiter was supposed to meet with Pam. He finds her sitting alone at a table and warns her that Sanchez has Leiter's files, her life is in danger. Pam was prepared for trouble and scoffs at Bond's Walther, she's got a shotgun under the table for protection. She'll need it. Now that someone has kept Leiter's meeting, the place starts filling with Sanchez's goons, led by Dario. When she spots Dario, Pam becomes the second person in the series, following little old Mrs. Bell in Live and Let Die, to drop the "Shit" bomb. Dario recognizes Pam, she used to fly charter planes for "friends" of his. He says he has a job for her and asks her to step outside...

Bond and Pam don't even get to drink the Budweisers with lime that they ordered before their disagreement with Dario and his cohorts breaks out into a bar fight as the song "Dirty Love" by Tim Feehan fills the soundtrack. The shotgun gets fired a couple times, Bond punches the recognizable face of a baddie played by Branscombe Richmond, a henchman grabs a mounted swordfish off the wall and attempts to impale Bond with its nose, and after the swordfish threat is dealt with, Dalton again proves that he's not the best at delivering quips when he says, "Touché."

Dario shoots Pam in the back as she and Bond make their escape from the waterfront bar in his speedboat, but she was so prepared for trouble that she even has on a kevlar vest. Bond and Pam bicker over who saved whose life and who is more professional. Pam will not be lectured about professionalism, she was an Army pilot who has flown to the toughest hellholes. Bond has no time for this argument, he needs Pam to give him the rundown on Sanchez's operation and get him a private flight to Isthmus City. Pam says he's crazy to take on Sanchez, the man has a whole army protecting him. Bond tells her all she has to do is fly him in and leave, and while they haggle over the price they make a jarring switch to wanting to jump each other's bones. After making a $75,000 deal, Bond and Pam have sex on the floor of the drifting speedboat.

Back in England, M's secretary Miss Moneypenny gets her one and only scene in this movie. She's so worried about Bond that her work is suffering, her paperwork is filled with typos and she's ordering unauthorized reports in an attempt to keep track of the former 007. M tells her there's no need to search for Bond, his destination is obvious: he's tracking Sanchez to Isthmus, and he has to be stopped. Their man in Isthmus has already been alerted to watch for him. As soon as M leaves her office, Moneypenny makes a call to Q Branch.

Sanchez lives large in Isthmus City. He owns the city's biggest bank and a casino, in addition to operating the world's largest private investment fund. The fund has a cash surplus of $10 million a day, which is shipped through the Banco de Isthmus to the U.S. Federal Reserve, establishing credits which can be used for any legitimate investment. Drug deals are made through the television show of Professor Joe Butcher, televangelist, author of the new agey book The Secrets of Cone Power Revealed, and a role that allows Wayne Newton to ham it up a bit. Monthly prices for kilos are figured by Sanchez's accountant Truman-Lodge, who calls into Butcher's studio and names the price. On air, Butcher then states that the day's goal is to raise that amount from each "meditation chapter". The show is broadcast live from the Olimpatec Meditation Institute in Isthmus to an international audience, and when viewers call in to 555-LOVE to make their donations, some of the donations are actually drug orders. For example, when the "Manhattan chapel" calls in with a $500 pledge, it's actually an order for 500 kilos.

Bond arrives in town playing the part of a high-roller with money to burn. He checks into an extravagant hotel suite that he tells the bellhop is "adequate", passes off Pam as his executive secretary, and sets up an account at Sanchez's bank with a deposit of $4.9 million. The money from the seaplane.

Pam's job is finished now that she's gotten Bond into Isthmus, but she decides that she should stay and continue to help him. Wherever she is, she won't be safe until Sanchez is dead. If she's going to play the executive secretary role, she'll need to look the part. Bond gives her some cash to buy "some decent clothes". When he next sees her, he's clearly awed by her stylish transformation.

Bond and Pam go to the casino that night, where Bond proceeds to make a spectacle of himself with big bets and a request of no limit at a private Blackjack table. When Bond is a quarter of a million ahead, a call is made to Sanchez, who is in his office upstairs, watching Butcher's show with head of security Colonel Heller, Truman-Lodge, and his diamond-collared iguana. Rather than close down the table, Sanchez sends in his cooler: Lupe, who has also arrived in town today and denied any knowledge of Krest's report that he was ripped off. She didn't see anything strange on the WaveKrest, she just stayed in her cabin.

When Lupe takes over as dealer at the Blackjack table, Bond sends Pam off on an errand: "Get me a medium-dry vodka martini. Shaken, not stirred." While she makes sure Bond loses some money, Lupe warns him that he should just leave Isthmus. Bond has a different idea. He wants her to take him to Sanchez's office. She thinks he's loco, but she takes him.

Pam has made sure that Bond's drink was made properly, but she's left to watch Bond and Lupe walk out of the gaming room together. She downs the martini with a grimace.

In Sanchez's office, his bodyguards find that Bond is armed. Bond explains that in his business, you prepare for the unexpected by being armed. He helps people with problems, "a problem eliminator". Temporarily unemployed and looking for work. He basically turns his introduction to Sanchez into a job interview while casing the office. Sanchez says they'll talk again in a few days, but in the meantime he won't need a gun. He keeps Bond's weapon.

Returning to their hotel suite, Bond and Pam are notified that Bond's "uncle" has arrived. This unnerves them, but when Bond bursts into the room with a backup gun provided by Pam, he finds that this mysterious "uncle" is actually Q. He's on leave and he and Moneypenny have decided that Bond needs his help. Help that Bond doesn't want, but Q insists on giving. "If it hadn't been for Q Branch, you'd have been dead long ago."

Q has brought along a case full of gadgets, including an exploding alarm clock, plastic explosive inside a toothpaste tube, a camera that takes X-ray pictures and fires a lazer beam when the flash is used, and a "signature gun" sniper rifle with an optical palm reader in the grip. When Bond holds the grip the palm reader scans his hand, Q types something into a device that connects to it and looks like a calculator, and now Bond is the only person who can use that gun, it won't fire if anyone else is holding it.

Q has given Bond just what he needs. While in Sanchez's office, Bond had noted that the glass in the window was armored, two inches thick. But now he can plant the plastic explosive along the frame, go across the street with his sniper rifle, detonate the explosive and shoot Sanchez when the glass blows. He may not get away safe, but at least he'll have his revenge.

There are a lot of meetings going on while Bond gets things set up. First, Sanchez and Truman-Lodge try to entice a group of potential new partners from China into making a five year deal that will spread Sanchez's drug empire to the Far East. Their talks will continue tomorrow, when Sanchez will give them a look at the main distribution center. Then, Isthmus President Hector Lopez stops by for this month's bribery money. Lopez is played by Pedro Armendariz Jr., son of the man who played Kerim Bey in From Russia with Love. Finally, Bond is shocked to spot through his rifle scope Pam having a meeting with Colonel Heller.

Bond blows Sanchez's window out, gets Sanchez in his sights, pulls the trigger... the shot goes wild as he's attacked from behind. By a ninja! Bond's assassination attempt ruined, he now finds himself in a tussle with two ninjas. Unfortunate for him, but surprise ninja attacks are always an awesome turn of events for viewers. One of the ninjas picks up the sniper rifle and tries to shoot him with it, but the palm reader does its job and the rifle won't fire. After the other ninja tosses a net over Bond, they do find that the rifle is effective in clubbing him unconscious.

Bond awakes on a table in a rundown house in the country, surrounded by the two ninjas, a man named Kwang, who is one of the Chinese men that Sanchez has been meeting with, and MI6 agent Fallon, the "man in Isthmus" that M spoke of. Kwang reveals his true reason for being in Isthmus to Bond, "We're Hong Kong Narcotics, you bastard!", and the way actor Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa delivers that line has made it a popular one for fans to quote and reference. Kwang has been working for years to get Sanchez to take them to the heart of his operations. Hopefully Bond hasn't screwed it up. Fallon has orders to send Bond straight back to London, but he doesn't get the chance.

Colonel Heller leads an Isthmus military squad in an attack on the house, first blasting the place with a tank before sending in foot-soldiers. The two ninjas and Fallon are killed, Kwang is wounded. Sanchez accompanies Heller into the house and attempts to interrogate Kwang, but Kwang has made sure that he can't be taken alive. The cyanide pill he popped takes effect before Sanchez can get any answers from him. An angry Sanchez fires a couple bullets into the man's corpse. Then Bond is found, again unconscious.

Bond doesn't wake again until the next morning, in a bed at Sanchez's amazing mansion, built on a location with an awe-inspiring view. When he next sees Sanchez, he's smiling and calling him "amigo". They sit down to have a talk over coffee, during which Sanchez asks Bond about the people who appeared to be torturing him, the people Sanchez believes took a shot at him. Bond tells him that it was a freelance hit team, hired and well briefed by someone who works for Sanchez, expecting a big payment for his assassination. They recognized Bond, as he recognized them, from his former job working for the British government.

Bond revealing that he used to be a British agent takes the edge off the information for when Heller attempts to reveal this fact to Sanchez after Bond leaves the room. The "hit team" lie and the report of theft from WaveKrest that Lupe didn't confirm has sown the seed for Sanchez to question the loyalty of Krest, who Bond has been told by Lupe will be arriving in Isthmus that night.

Bond sneaks away from Sanchez's place with the help of Lupe, then goes back to his hotel room to confront Pam about her meeting with Heller. She has not betrayed him, she's continuing Leiter's work. Sanchez is buying four Stinger missiles to threaten an American airliner with if the DEA doesn't back off from him, and Leiter has negotiated a deal granting Heller immunity if he removes the missiles from Sanchez's possession. Pam brought the deal to Heller and he accepted, but then backed out after Bond's failed assassination attempt.

Bond's vendetta is messing things up, but it's not over yet. Sanchez has tripled his security and Bond will never be able to get another shot at him, but he won't have to. He has a plan, and it starts with Krest and the withdrawal of all the money from his account at Banco de Isthmus. When Sanchez and his men go down to meet the WaveKrest at the harbor, Pam is there as well, and she gets on-board under the guise of a harbor pilot. She doesn't prove to be very good at that job, ramming the ship through a dock, but during the ensuing confusion she does manage to sneak down to the moon pool and let Bond in through it. Bond then goes to work placing the packs of money back into the decompression chamber it had been stored in before the seaplane exchange.

Finding the money that was supposedly stolen in some outlandish heist still on the ship does not make Sanchez happy. He now fully believes that Krest is a traitor, and he punishes his betrayal by throwing Krest into the chamber with the money, cranking the pressure inlet up to painful levels, then severing a vent line. The rapid decompression inside the chamber literally causes Krest's head to explode in the most disturbingly intense and violent moment of the series. The shot of Krest's expanding face may be slightly goofy, but that doesn't make it any less unnerving.

Now what to do with the gore-coated cash? "Launder it."

Returning home, Sanchez finds Bond in the room he's been set up in and gives him some money for a good tip. Bond acts surprised to hear that only one man had turned against Sanchez, he thought that "no one would be stupid enough to try to take you on on their own." Sanchez likes this guy. He invites Bond to come along with him to a surprise location the next day.

Sanchez goes out for dinner with the men from China, giving Lupe a chance to talk with Bond in private. Lupe is very scared about what Bond is doing and what her future may hold. The Sanchez situation is hopefully ending, but she doesn't want to go back to her home. She wants to go off with Bond. Bond knows that won't work, but spending some time in bed with her will work out very well. While the villain is away, the hero will play.

Pam and Q think Bond has already left the country, but as they're getting ready to leave the hotel the next day, Lupe shows up at the room to tell them that Bond is still around, leaving on a trip with Sanchez, and his life is in danger if anything goes wrong. Pam is upset by Lupe saying "I love James so much", leaving Q to try to convince her that she shouldn't judge Bond too harshly for using every means at his disposal to achieve his objectives.

Disguised as a landscaper, Q witnesses Bond leave Sanchez's mansion with a convoy and reports to Pam through a communication device hidden within a broom, which he then just tosses aside in the bushes and leaves. Q is always chiding Bond for mistreating his gadgets, but get him out in the field and he does the same thing.

Bond has been included in the Chinese partners' tour of Sanchez's main distribution center, which is located on the grounds of the Olimpatec Meditation Institute. They are shown how Sanchez smuggles cocaine into different countries, with China's first shipment now being prepared. Cocaine is run down a conveyor belt, through a grinder, and mixed into a vat of gasoline below, where it dissolves completely. The gasoline/cocaine mixture is then loaded into four tanker trucks. The trucks will drive down to the harbor and be loaded onto an ocean-going tanker to China. Once the delivery reaches its destination, it's a simple process for Sanchez's chief chemist to separate the cocaine from the gasoline. The Chinese can keep the gas as a bonus.

Bond runs into trouble during the tour: Dario has arrived with the Stinger missiles, and he recognizes Bond from the Bimini Barrelhead Bar. Dario sticks a gun in Bond's back, but with so many flammable materials around Bond is able to cause some major problems for the distribution center before being subdued and bound.

Early drafts of Tom Mankiewicz's screenplay for Live and Let Die featured a sequence where Bond is put in danger of being run through a factory coffee grinder. That sequence was written out when the filmmakers discovered the location of the alligator farm and decided to instead put Bond in danger from the creatures that lived there instead. The coffee grinder idea is sort of used here, except now Bond is put on the conveyor belt and sent toward the cocaine grinder.

As the Bond-caused fire blazes, Sanchez's employees, the Chinese men, and the tanker trucks all rush out of the place. While Bond slides down the conveyor belt, he continues trying to get Sanchez to doubt more of his men. If he couldn't trust Krest, who can he trust? Truman-Lodge will steal his money, Heller will steal the Stinger missiles. It's not enough to get Sanchez to spare his life. Sanchez leaves Dario to watch Bond meet his fate.

Of course, Bond's true fate is to get out of this situation safely, Dario is the one who ends up ground into a fine, red mist, as Pam shows up with a gun just in time. She followed Bond to the institute in a cropduster, the only plane she could get, and talked her way onto the grounds by playing the part of a naive girl from Wichita Falls, Texas, who came to deliver a donation to Professor Joe Butcher in person. The sleazy Butcher took Pam to his private meditation chamber/bedroom, where she pulled her gun on him and walked out.

As everyone rushes away from the fire, Truman-Lodge laments the loss of the set-up, which cost $32 million. Sanchez isn't worried, they have $500 million from the Chinese and 20 tons of Colombian pure in the tankers, which they're taking with them. But they have a deal with the Chinese for the contents of those tankers! Who's being disloyal now, Sanchez?

The vehicles racing away from the Meditation Institute have to take a long, winding road down a mountainside, and this is where the film's standout action sequence occurs as Bond completes his mission to ruin Sanchez's life. Mayhem, destruction, gunfire, dust dropping, Stinger missile fire, machete swinging, it all ensues as Bond commandeers one of the semi trucks, gradually causing all four of the tankers to go up in flames.

The truck chase isn't just my favorite part of this movie, it's one of my favorite action sequences in the entire series. I come from a family of truck drivers, I spent a lot of time in my youth around semi trucks, so to have 12 minutes of action that puts Bond and semi trucks together, that's very appealing to me. Bond drives truck more impressively than anyone I've ever seen, at one point tipping his truck, tanker trailer and all, over to drive on the wheels of one side to avoid a missile, and at another point even getting his Kenworth to do a wheelie.

The truck sequence is a factor in why Licence to Kill is one of my favorite Bond movies to watch, and I do so around the same time every year. Several years ago, I watched the movie in late June, on the last night of the festival that is held annually in my hometown's park. The festival comes to a close with a fireworks show, so that night I watched LTK and right after the movie ended, I was able to go outside and watch the fireworks. That started a yearly tradition. I watch LTK on the last night of the park festival and time my viewing so that I can step outside as the end credits roll and watch the fireworks show. I go straight from watching exploding semi trucks to watching explosions in the night sky.

While I quite enjoy it, Licence to Kill is a divisive entry in the series. Many viewers love it, but it doesn't have what others are looking for from a Bond movie. I can understand why some wouldn't like it, because it is a very different Bond film, especially for when it was released, still not far removed from the Roger Moore era. It's not very family friendly. At times it feels aggressively dark, and as noted, some of the acts of violence are even disturbing to me. The dark tone and violence caused LTK to be the first movie in the series to earn the PG-13 rating, although that rating also hadn't been around very long at that point.

Some fans celebrate how faithful it is in tone and style to Fleming, others feel it's trying too hard to fit in with the films and TV shows of its time, like Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Miami Vice, etc. Its musical score is even composed by Michael Kamen, who did the music for Die Hard and Lethal Weapon. The competition for the Bond series at the box office had become stronger than ever in the '80s and LTK may be a reaction to some of its action genre peers, as other entries in the series had been reactions to popular trends in cinema before, but how well Bond mixes with the realistic, serious world of a drug-based action movie depends on the viewer.

Myself, I think LTK is a great translation of the literary Bond to the screen and Timothy Dalton's interpretation of the character goes very well with this story and style. We could've gotten some great, down-to-earth spy thrillers out of a longer Dalton era.

Licence to Kill doesn't appear to have gotten a very enthusiastic reception at the time of its release. Looking over reviews, critics seem to have been tired of Bond in general, no matter who was playing him or what the tone was. The film did well worldwide, but the unexpected level of seriousness and the aforementioned competition may have played into why LTK did the least amount of business in the U.S. of any film in the series. It came out in the middle of the summer of Batman, Lethal Weapon 2, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Back to the Future II, and the latest Bond was not as strong of a draw as any of those films.

The end credits roll as the song "If You Asked Me To", sung by Patti LaBelle, plays on the soundtrack, bringing a close to the last Bond movie for Arthur Wooster, who had directed second unit on every Bond film in the '80s, director of photography Alec Mills, whose association with the series went back to working as a camera operator on On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and editor John Grover, who had been around the editing room since The Spy Who Loved Me.

LTK was the last Bond film to be directed by John Glen, director of every '80s Bond, and with it he achieved the record of having directed the most entries in the series. A total of five, beating Guy Hamilton's four, and only three of Hamilton's were done in succession, Glen did all five of his in a row. Glen was the most prolific director within the series, but he wasn't the most impressive or stylish. His directors of photography provided some nice visuals here and there, but there are also moments in each of his films that look and feel strangely made-for-TV low budget. He's described as "a workman director"; he wasn't fancy, but he got the job done.

Most notably, this is the last Bond movie to star Timothy Dalton. He never really gained overwhelming acceptance in the role, and now his era would be cut short prematurely. Eon fully intended to produce a third Dalton Bond, plans were set in motion to keep up the traditional two year gap between entries and release the next movie in 1991, but the plans soon fell apart. Eon was about to enter a very dark, uncertain period, and there wouldn't be another Bond film for six years, by which time there would be a new actor playing James Bond.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post! Top marks! I really like this movie - I enjoy both of Dalton's efforts - but as you say - this one was geared toward his "back-to-Fleming" literary Bond persona - and you're right - the series might have really had some down to Earth Fleming adventure in the 90's if Dalton had gotten to make another three or four movies. Everything about this one works - and I'm glad you like the truck sequence - as it's fabulous and one of my favorites too. It was also the first major sequence headed up by Barbara Broccoli - she spearheaded the whole thing through production. Speaking of Broccoli - but not the vegetable - this was also the final Bond film that had contributions from Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli. He missed out on a lot of the Mexico shooting as the altitude and oxygen levels played havoc with his breathing, but it still marked the end of an era - a golden chain of sixteen remarkable movies. Thankfully he left the family business in the hands of his stepson and daughter, who have guided it ever since. I wish Timothy Dalton could have at least made the scheduled 1991 and 1993 movies - which still would have left 1995 open for what came next. Believe me - as a Bond fan of long standing - the years from 1989-1995 were dark indeed.