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Licence to Kill, released in 1989, is the sixteenth entry in the James Bond film series by Eon Productions, and the first one not to use the title of an Ian Fleming story. It is the fifth in a row and last to be directed by John Glen. It also marks Timothy Dalton's second and final performance in the role of James Bond. The story has elements of two Ian Fleming short stories and a novel, interwoven with aspects from Japanese Ronin tales. The film sees Bond being suspended from MI6 as he pursues drugs lord Franz Sanchez, who has attacked his CIA friend Felix Leiter and murdered Felix's wife during their honeymoon. Originally titled Licence Revoked in line with the plot, the name was changed during post-production.

Budgetary reasons made Licence to Kill the first Bond not to be shot in the United Kingdom, with locations in both Florida and Mexico. The film earned over $156 million worldwide, and enjoyed a generally positive critical reception, with much praise for the stunts, but some criticism on Dalton's interpretation of Bond and the fact that the film was significantly darker and more violent than its predecessors.

After the release of Licence to Kill, legal wrangling over control of the series and the James Bond character resulted in a six-year long delay in production of the next Bond film which resulted in Dalton deciding not to return. It is also the final Bond film for actors Robert Brown (as M) and Caroline Bliss (as Moneypenny), screenwriter Richard Maibaum, title designer Maurice Binder, editor John Grover, cinematographer Alec Mills, director and former Bond film editor John Glen, and producer Albert R. Broccoli, although he would later act as a consulting producer for GoldenEye before his death.

Shortly after The Living Daylights was released, producer Albert R. Broccoli and writers Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum started discussing its successor. The film would retain a realistic style, as well as showing the "darker edge" of the Bond character. For the primary location, the producers wanted a place where the series had not yet visited. While China was visited after an invitation by its government, the idea fell through partly because the 1987 film The Last Emperor had removed some of the novelty from filming in China. By this stage the writers had already talked about a chase sequence along the Great Wall, as well as a fight scene amongst the Terracotta Army. Wilson also wrote two plot outlines about a drug lord in the Golden Triangle before the plans fell through. The writers eventually decided on a setting in a tropical country while Broccoli negotiated to film in Mexico, at the Estudios Churubusco in Mexico City. In 1985, the Films Act was passed, removing the Eady Levy, resulting in foreign artists being taxed more heavily. The associated rising costs to Eon Productions meant no part of Licence to Kill was filmed in the UK, the first Bond film not to do so. Pinewood Studios, used in every Bond film that far, housed only the post-production and sound re-recording.

The initial outline of what would become Licence to Kill was drawn up by Wilson and Maibaum. Before the pair could develop the script, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) went on strike and Maibaum was unable to continue writing, leaving Wilson to work on the script on his own. Although both the main plot and title of Licence to Kill owe nothing to any of the Fleming novels, there are elements from the books that are used in the storyline, including a number of aspects of the short story "The Hildebrand Rarity", such as the character Milton Krest. The novel Live and Let Die provided the material surrounding Felix Leiter's mauling by a shark, whilst the film version of the book provided the close similarity between the main villain, Kananga, and Licence to Kill's main villain Sanchez. The screenplay was not ready by the time casting had begun, with Carey Lowell being auditioned with lines from A View to a Kill.

The script – initially called Licence Revoked – was written with Dalton's characterisation of Bond in mind, and the obsession with which Bond pursues Sanchez on behalf of Leiter and his dead wife is seen as being because "of his own brutally cut-short marriage." Dalton's darker portrayal of Bond led to the violence being increased and more graphic. Wilson compared the script to Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo, where a samurai "without any attacking of the villain or its cohorts, only sowing the seeds of distrust, he manages to have the villain bring himself down". Wilson freely admitted that the aspect of the destruction-from-within aspect of the plot came more from the cinema versions of the Japanese Ronin tales by Kurosawa or Sergio Leone than from Fleming's use of that plot device from The Man with the Golden Gun. For the location Wilson created the Republic of Isthmus, a banana republic based on Panama, with the pock-marked Sanchez bearing similarities to General Manuel Noriega. The parallels between the two figures were based on Noriega's political use of drug trafficking and money laundering to provide revenues for Panama. Robert Davi suggested the line "loyalty is more important than money", which he felt was fitting to the character of Franz Sanchez, whose actions were noticed by Davi to be concerned with betrayal and retaliation.

Trivia Alert! Felix Leiter's wife, Della Churchill, is played by Priscilla Barnes (above). Barnes is still remembered for her three-year tenure on the hit sitcom "Three's Company" from 1981 to 1984 and even starred opposite previous Bond, Roger Moore, in the 1980 comedy "Sunday Lovers." Della Churchill is introduced at the beginning of the movie waiting at the church for her fiance Felix Leiter, and his best friend/best man James Bond, to arrive at the wedding. Leiter and Bond parachute down to the proceedings after having just nabbed South American drug kingpin Sanchez. Later Sanchez escapes from custody and goes after Leiter. Leiter is tortured (with a shark) and his new bride is killed leaving Bond to seek out Sanchez for revenge.

Unlike other "Bond Girls" in the series, Della Churchill is neither spy, assassin, mistress or ally of some diabolical villain and one of the few women in the Bond series who has a non-romantic, healthy relationship with Bond. The plot has Bond is moved to seek revenge against Sanchez because of the maiming of his "best friend" Leiter, but it is Della's death that provides added motivation behind Bond's vendetta against the ruthless drug lord. At the wedding, Leiter explains to Della, after Bond reacts sadly to Della tossing him the garter belt, that Bond was once married "a long time ago." This is a reference to the murder of Bond's wife Tracy (Diana Rigg) at the end of "On Her Majesty's Secret Service." Witnessing the death of yet another bride on her wedding day has stirred up feelings of grief and rage in Bond. He pursues Sanchez not just to avenge Della's murder, but also to bring closure to the guilt he still feels over his inability to protect his own wife years earlier.



James Bond 007: Licence To Kill (1989) - Official Trailer




The United Artists press kits referred to the film's background as being "Torn straight from the headlines of today's newspapers" and the backdrop of Panama was connected to "the Medellin cartel in Colombia and corruption of government officials in Mexico thrown in for good measure." This use of the cocaine-smuggling backdrop put Licence to Kill alongside other cinema blockbusters, such as the 1987 films Lethal Weapon, Beverly Hills Cop II and RoboCop, and Bond was seen to be "poaching on their turf" with the drug-related revenge story.


After Carey Lowell (pictured at left with Dalton) was chosen to play Pam Bouvier, she watched many of the films in the series for inspiration. Lowell had described becoming a Bond girl as "huge shoes to fill", as she did not see herself as a "glamour girl", even coming to audition in jeans and a leather jacket. While Lowell wore a wig for the scenes set in the United States, a scene where Bouvier cuts her hair was added so Lowell's natural short hair could be used.

Robert Davi was cast following a suggestion by both Broccoli's daughter Tina, and screenwriter Richard Maibaum, who had seen Davi in the television film Terrorist on Trial: The United States vs. Salim Ajami. For the role of drugs baron Franz Sanchez, Davi researched on the Colombian drug cartels and how to do a Colombian accent and since he was method acting, he would stay in character off-set. After Davi read Casino Royale for preparation, he decided to turn Sanchez into a "mirror image" of James Bond, based on Ian Fleming's description of the villain Le Chiffre. The actor also learned scuba diving for the scene where Sanchez is rescued from the sunken armoured car.

Davi (right) later helped out on the casting of his mistress, Lupe, by playing Bond in the audition, with Talisa Soto being picked from twelve candidates because Davi expressed he "would kill for her". David Hedison returned to play Felix Leiter, sixteen years after being the agent in Live and Let Die. Hedison did not expect to return to the role, saying "I was sure that [Live and Let Die] would be my first – and last" and Glen was reluctant to cast the 61-year old actor, since the role even had a scene parachuting. Hedison was the only actor to play Leiter twice, until Jeffrey Wright appeared in both Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

Up-and-coming actor Benicio del Toro (shown below holding a gun to Bond's back) was chosen to play Sanchez's henchman, Dario for being "laid back while menacing in a quirky sort of way", according to Glen. Wayne Newton got a role after sending a letter to the producers expressing interest in a cameo because he always wanted to be in a Bond film. The President of Isthmus was played by Pedro Armendáriz, Jr., the son of Pedro Armendáriz, who played Kerim Bey in the second James Bond film, 1963's From Russia with Love.

Principal photography ran from July to November 1988. Shooting began in Mexico, which mostly doubled for the fictional Republic of Isthmus: locations in Mexico City included the Biblioteca del Banco de Mexico for the exterior of El Presidente Hotel and the Casino Español for the interior of Casino de Isthmus whilst the Teatro de la Ciudad was used for its exterior. Villa Arabesque in Acapulco was used for Sanchez's lavish villa, and the La Rumorosa Mountain Pass in Tecate was used as the filming site for the tanker chase during the climax of the film. Sanchez's Olympiatec Meditation Institute was shot at the Otomi Ceremonial Center in Temoaya. Other underwater sequences were shot at the Isla Mujeres near Cancún.

In August 1988, production moved to the Florida Keys, notably Key West. Seven Mile Bridge towards Pigeon Key was used for the sequence in which the armoured truck transporting Sanchez, following his arrest, is driven off the edge. Other locations there included Ernest Hemingway House, Key West International Airport, Mallory Square, St. Mary's Star of the Sea Church for Leiter's wedding and Stephano's House 707 South Street for his house and patio. The US Coast Guard Pier was used to film Isthmus City harbour. As production moved back to Mexico, Broccoli became ill, leading to Michael G. Wilson becoming co-producer, a position he subsequently retained.

The scene where Sanchez's plane is hijacked was filmed on location in Florida, with stuntman Jake Lombard jumping from a helicopter to a plane, Timothy Dalton himself being filmed atop the aircraft. The plane towed by the helicopter was a life-sized model created by special effects supervisor John Richardson. After filming wide shots of David Hedison and Dalton parachuting, closer shots were made near the church location. During one of the takes, a malfunction of the harness equipment caused Hedison to fall on the pavement. The injury made him limp for the remainder of filming. The aquatic battle between Bond and the henchmen required two separate units, a surface one led by Arthur Woolster which used Dalton himself, and an underwater one which involved experienced divers. The barefoot waterskiing was done by world champion Dave Reinhart, with some close-ups using Dalton on a special rig. Milton Krest's death used a prostethic head which was created by John Richardson's team based on a mold of Anthony Zerbe's face. The result was so gruesome that it was shortened and toned down to avoid censorship problems.

For the climactic tanker chase, the producers used an entire section of a highway near Mexicali, which had been closed for safety reasons. Sixteen eighteen-wheeler tankers were used, some with modifications made by manufacturer Kenworth at the request of driving stunts arranger Rémy Julienne. Most were given improvements to their engines to run faster, while one model had an extra steering wheel on the back of the cabin so a hidden stuntman could drive while Carey Lowell was in the front and another received extra suspension on its back so it could lift its front wheels. Although a rig was constructed to help a rig tilt onto its side, it was not necessary as Julienne was able to pull off the stunt without the aid of camera trickery.

Initially Vic Flick, who had played lead guitar on Monty Norman's original 007 theme, and Eric Clapton were asked to write and perform the theme song to Licence to Kill and they produced a theme to match Dalton's gritty performance, but the producers turned it down and instead Gladys Knight's song and performance was chosen. The song (one of the longest to ever be used in a Bond film) was based on the "horn line" from Goldfinger, seen as an homage to the film of the same name, which required royalty payments to the original writers. The song gave Knight her first British top-ten hit since 1977. The end credits feature the Top 10 R&B hit "If You Asked Me To", sung by Patti LaBelle.

John Barry was not available at the time due to throat surgery, so the soundtrack's score was composed and conducted by Michael Kamen, who was known for scoring many action films at the time, such as Lethal Weapon and Die Hard. Glen said he picked Kamen, feeling he could give "the closest thing to John Barry."

The Licence to Kill screenplay was written into a novel by the then-novelist of the Bond series John Gardner. It was the first of those novels since Moonraker in 1979. Licence to Kill was also adapted as a forty-four page, colour graphic novel, by writer and artist Mike Grell (also author of original-story Bond comic books), published by Eclipse Comics and ACME Press in hardcover and trade editions in 1989. The adaptation closely follows the film story, although the ending is briefer, and James Bond is not drawn to resemble Timothy Dalton after Dalton refused to allow his likeness to be licenced.

Film ratings organisations had objections against the excessive and realistic violence, with both the Motion Picture Association of America and the British Board of Film Classification requesting content adaptations, with the BBFC in particular demanding the cut of 36 seconds of film. The 2006 Ultimate Edition DVD of Licence to Kill marked the first release of the film without cuts.

Licence to Kill premiered at the Odeon Leicester Square in London on June 13th 1989, raising £200,000 for The Prince's Trust on the night. The film grossed a total of £7.5 million in the United Kingdom, making it the seventh most successful film of the year, despite the 15 certificate which cut down audience numbers. Worldwide numbers were also positive, with $156 million, making it the twelfth biggest box-office draw of the year. The US cinema returns were $34.6 million, making Licence to Kill the least financially successful James Bond film in the US, when accounting for inflation. A factor suggested for the poor takings were fierce competition at the cinema, with Licence to Kill released alongside Back to the Future Part II, Lethal Weapon 2; Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (starring former Bond, Sean Connery) and Batman.

There were also issues with the promotion of the film: promotional material (below) in the form of teaser posters created by Bob Peak, based on the Licence Revoked title and commissioned by Albert Broccoli, had been produced, but MGM decided against using them after American test screenings showed 'Licence Revoked' to be a common American phrase for the withdrawal of a driving licence. The delayed, corrected advertising by Steven Chorney, in the traditional style, limited the film's pre-release screenings. MGM also discarded a campaign created by advertising executive Don Smolen, who had worked in the publicity campaign for eight Bond films before, emphasising the rougher content of the movie.

Derek Malcolm in The Guardian was broadly approving of Licence to Kill, liking the "harder edge of the earlier Bonds" that the film emulated, but wishing that "it was written and directed with a bit more flair." Writing in The Guardian's sister paper, The Observer, Philip French noted that "despite the playful sparkle in his eyes, Timothy Dalton's Bond is, serious here." Overall French called Licence to Kill "an entertaining, untaxing film". Ian Christie in the Daily Express was scathing of the film, saying that the plot was "absurd but fundamentally dull", a further problem being that as "there isn't a coherent storyline to link [the stunts], they eventually become tiresome."

David Robinson, writing in The Times observed that Licence to Kill "will probably neither disappoint nor surprise the great, faithful audience", but bemoaned the fact that "over the years the plots have become less ambitious". Robinson thought that Dalton's Bond "has more class" than the previous Bonds and was "a warmer personality". Iain Johnstone of The Sunday Times pointed out that "any vestiges of the gentleman spy by Ian Fleming" have now gone, and in its place is a Bond that is "remarkably close both in deed and action to the eponymous hero of the Batman film" that was released at the same time as Licence to Kill.

Roger Ebert for the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 3½ stars out of 4, saying "the stunts all look convincing, and the effect of the closing sequence is exhilarating. Licence to Kill is one of the best of the recent Bonds." Jack Kroll, writing in Newsweek described Licence to Kill as "a pure, rousingly entertaining action movie". Kroll thought that Dalton was "a fine actor who hasn't yet stamped Bond with his own personality", observing "Director John Glen is the Busby Berkeley of action flicks, and his chorus line is the legendary team of Bond stunt-persons who are at their death-defying best here".

Opinion on Licence to Kill has not changed with the passing of time and the reviews are still mixed. Norman Wilner of MSN considered Licence to Kill the second worst Bond film, above only A View to a Kill, but defended Dalton, saying he "got a raw deal. The actor who could have been the definitive 007, had the bad luck to inherit the role just as the series was at its weakest, struggling to cope with its general creative decline and the end of the Cold War".

Some critics, such as James Berardinelli, saw a fundamental weakness in the film: the "overemphasis on story may be a mistake, because there are times when Licence to Kill's narrative bogs down." Berardinelli gave the film three out of a possible four stars, adding "Licence to Kill may be taut and gripping, but it's not traditional Bond, and that, as much as any other reason, may explain the public's rejection of this reasonably well-constructed picture." Raymond Benson, the author of nine Bond novels, said of the film: "It boggles my mind that Licence to Kill is so controversial. There's really more of a true Ian Fleming story in that script than in most of the post-60s Bond movies." John Glen has said Licence to Kill "is among my best Bond films, if not the best".


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