On June 13th, 1989 Danjaq, Eon Productions & United Artists released the 16th installment of the ‘James Bond’ movie franchise; “License to Kill”
James Bond is on possibly his most brutal mission yet. Bond’s good friend, Felix Leiter, is left near death, by drug baron Franz Sanchez. Bond sets off on the hunt for Sanchez, but not everyone is happy. MI6 does not feel Sanchez is their problem and strips Bond of his license to kill making Bond more dangerous than ever. Bond gains the aid of one of Leiter’s friends, known as Pam Bouvier and sneaks his way into the drug factories, which Sanchez owns. Will Bond be able to keep his identity secret, or will Sanchez see Bond’s true intentions?
Licence to Kill 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 Rōnin 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 ample 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.
According to the documentary Inside ‘Licence to Kill’ (1999), a number of mishaps and strange occurrences took place while filming the final climatic tanker chase. The sequence was filmed on the dangerous La Rumorosa Road, which had been closed down at the time of filming because of the number of fatal accidents occurring on the snake-like twists and turns. Among the mishaps involved the dummy rocket Sanchez (Robert Davi) uses to bring down Pam’s (Carey Lowell) plane. The rocket traveled two-and-a-half miles, striking and injuring a telephone worker. Upon investigation, it was determined that the stretch of road they were filming on was where a van with five nuns crashed and were fatally killed. Bizarre incidents continued. Timothy Dalton was nearly added to the list of tragedies while filming the scene after James Bond releases the tanker to blow up the tanker trucks at the bottom of the hill, and jumps into the semi. All vehicles were cleared from the area, but when Dalton came around the curve, a vehicle was in his path and he narrowly missed driving over the edge. If he had, Dalton likely would have been seriously injured, and possibly killed due to the height the hill the truck was on. Director John Glen and others state that human figures would be seen standing around the fleet of Kenworth semis being used for filming. When challenged by security guards, they would simply disappear. Two semis caught fire for no apparent reason, and one started up and drove by itself a short distance before coming to a stop.
However, the biggest creepy surprise occurred while filming the final tanker explosion in which Bond sets Sanchez on fire and his flaming body ignites the tanker truck into a huge explosion. The scene went off without a hitch, with the still photographer shooting photos while the scene took place. Upon reviewing the photos, The still photographer found one contained what looked like a flaming hand (Which you can see by doing a simple web search) coming out of the flames. Four cameras were set up to record the final explosion, but after reviewing the footage, the only glimpse of the hand was found on the still photograph. According to John Glen, a copy was made for him, but his wife refused to allow it in the house.
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.
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 13 June 1989, raising £200,000 (£421,298 in 2014 pounds) for The Prince’s Trust on the night. The film grossed a total of £7.5 million (£16 million in 2014 pounds) 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 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 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 – emphasizing the rougher content of the movie.
Did You Know…
- Of all the Bond films, this one has the largest role for Desmond Llewelyn as Q.
- At 21 years old, Benicio Del Toro is the youngest actor to ever play a villain in a James Bond film.
- In AMC’s Bond Girls Are Forever (2002), Carey Lowell said that she shut her eyes and flinched every time she fired the gun and had to be trained to fire with her eyes open because a CIA op would not flinch. However, she still winces a bit whenever she fires the handgun.
- Long-time James Bond series producer Albert R. Broccoli fell sick during the production of this movie. The thinness of the air in Mexico affected his lungs and breathing and he left the location accompanied by wife Dana Broccoli and daughter Barbara Broccoli. He was unable to return and this was the last James Bond movie in which he was on the set.
- During the scene where James Bond is hanging by a hook over the cocaine grinder, Benicio Del Toro’s character is cutting him loose. During filming he actually cut Timothy Dalton’s hand and the scene had to be stopped so he could be stitched up.
- Despite being one of the least commercially successful Bond movies in the United States, it was considered by director John Glen his best “007”. This opinion is shared by some fans and critics who praise the realism of Licence to Kill (1989).
- First EON Series James Bond film not to take its title from an Ian Fleming James Bond novel or short story, even though there were still some usable titles available such as “Property of a Lady”, “Quantum of Solace”, “007 In New York”, “Risico” and “The Hildebrand Rarity”. “Licence to Kill” is a phrase commonly used in the books, however. The story takes the loss of Felix Leiter’s arm (here a leg) from the novel “Live and Let Die.” “The Hildebrand Rarity” (a short story based on a never-filmed TV script) provided the scene where Sanchez beats his mistress with a whip made from the tail of a stingray–in the story it was Milton Krest who beats his wife with a similar implement.
- The second James Bond film to openly feature the word “shit”, the first being Live and Let Die (1973).
- Throughout the series Q (Desmond Llewelyn) is constantly reprimanding Bond for damaging or losing his equipment. Here, as a touch of irony, after he uses his rake/radio, he blithely tosses it in the bushes and walks away.
- A good portion of Bond’s plan to get close to Sanchez comes from the novel “Goldfinger”, when Bond recounts to himself his exploits in breaking up a Central American drug ring.
- Gladys Knight’s title song is the longest of all the Bond songs. In the UK, it peaked at the No. #6 position on the UK Charts. As a Christian soul singer, Knight apparently objected to having to sing a song with the word “kill” in it, but eventually she conceded. The song is apparently based on the “horn line” from the Goldfinger (1964) title song and consequently royalty payments were allegedly made to relevant personnel. The music video of this song was directed by Daniel Kleinman, who succeeded Maurice Binder as title designer on GoldenEye (1995).
- Budget restraints were imposed as the producers were still paying interest on the overspending of Moonraker (1979).
- In the final chase sequence just after 007 lands on the tanker, Sanchez fires at Bond hitting the truck’s fuel tanks. The sound of the bullets ricocheting off the tanks plays the start of the James Bond theme.
- The last film of the series produced and released during the Cold War. At that time Soviet Communism was already being viewed as less of a threat, and any new possible foreign adversaries were not yet clearly recognized. Producers felt that a Central American Dictator and Drug Lord would give the movie a topical story line.
- In an interview during filming in September 1988 Timothy Dalton denied media claims that his Bond was not allowed to have as much sex due to the AIDS epidemic at the time. However, in a 2007 interview he admitted that this was in fact true.
- Based on the events of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) and this film, James Bond and Felix Leiter now share the unfortunate bond of losing their wife on their wedding day.
- 007 finds Felix Leiter barely alive with a piece of paper in his mouth which reads ‘ He disagreed with something that ate him’ This was in the book ‘Live and Let Die’