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MI6 :: Licence To Kill (1989) :: James Bond 007
 
 
Production Notes - Licence To Kill

With The Living Daylights still on general release and doing less well than anyone might have hoped, EON set about preparing the next Bond adventure. Licence To Kill was going to break with the Bond tradition in a number of ways. First of all it was the first EON Bond film not to take at least part of its title from a Fleming original - the only Fleming titles still unused were the short stories Quantum of Solace, Risico and The Hildebrand Rarity [all 1960] and The Property of a Lady [1963], none of which were then deemed suitably cinematic.

The other major departure from tradition was that for only the second time [Moonraker [1979] was the first], the new Bond film would not be made at its traditional home at Pinewood studios - indeed the series would not film there again until 1999's The World is Not Enough. EON had decided that with the recent abolition of the Eady Levy and new tax laws which taxed foreign artists at source and disallowed the traditional writing off of 100% of their costs against tax, it was simply no longer financially viable to shoot in the UK. EON's accountants had worked out that, factoring in the currently weak dollar, EON would have to add 10% more to their outlay if they were to stay at Pinewood.


Above: Timothy Dalton as James Bond in the pre-credits sequence.

With no storyline yet in place to dictate where the film should be set, EON were more or less free to pick and choose a new base for their operations. China was the first choice and EON representatives visited the country in November and December of 1987 to scout for likely locations.

But John Glen, returning for his fifth and final stint as Bond director, was less than keen to use China as the setting for the film. The Last Emperor [1988] had only recently finished shooting there and the obvious attractions of using a location that was still largely unknown to western audiences had lost some of its appeal.

Douglas Noakes, who was already on board the project as an accountant, came up with the alternative - Churubusco Studios in Mexico City, then a hotbed of activity thanks to favourable tax breaks and low wages. It seemed the ideal choice and EON prepared to up sticks and move, leaving only its post-production and editing teams at Pinewood.

The next step was to get a script written. Long-time Bond scribe Richard Maibaum was prevented from contributing to the script due to a Writer's Guild of America dispute, but he did collaborate with Michael G. Wilson on an outline that Wilson was to develop into a script on his own, titled at that time Licence Revoked.

There was precious little of Fleming in the finished product, save a few characters and situations mixed and matched from a couple of stories.

 


Above: The leading ladies of "Licence To Kill" - Carey Lowell (top) and Talisa Soto.

Milton Krest had first appeared in The Hildebrand Rarity; and the scene where Leiter is fed to the sharks, his mutilated body dumped at Bond's hotel room with the note "He disagreed with something that ate him" came from Live and Let Die.

Wilson set to work on the new script - which was to make the most of the Mexico locations - tailoring it much more to Timothy Dalton's persona than he and Maibaum had been able to do on The Living Daylights, when it was still unclear who was going to play Bond.

Casting presented few problems for producer Albert R. Broccoli and his team. Only the casting of former model Carey Lowell raised a few eyebrows. Lowell's most recent film had been the oddball comedy Me and Him about a talking penis and Bond's distributor, Columbia, were unsure about the wisdom of casting someone who had appeared in such a film. Their nerves soon calmed however and Lowell won the part of tough talking CIA agent Pam Bouvier. Bond's other girl this time was the apparently insatiable Lupe Lamora, played by former Miss Galaxy Talisa Soto.

The new villain was to be played by Robert Davi, hot off the set of Die Hard [1988] but still best known for his occasional appearances on TV's Hill Street Blues. The former opera singer came to the attention of Broccoli after a recommendation from Richard Maibaum. He was to ably assisted by veteran TV and stage actor Anthony Zerbe whose film career CV featured such hits as Papillon [1973] and Rooster Cogburn [1975].

David Hedison returned to the series to reprise the role of CIA agent turned DEA agent Felix Leiter. Hedison had played the role once before, opposite Roger Moore in Live And Let Die and became the first actor to play the character more than once. Other familiar faces returning to the series were Robert Brown as M and Caroline Bliss as Moneypenny, Licence To Kill marking the swan song in the series for both actors.

But the show is all but stolen by the redoubtable Desmond Llewelyn whose Q not only handed out the goodies to Bond this time, but also joined him in the field, giving Llewelyn a rare chance to venture beyond Pinewood. His extended appearance raised the rafters at the London press screening and Llewelyn later noted that this was the first time that he'd made any real money out of the Bond films!

 

Above: Sanchez and his pet iguana (top) and a scene from the pre-credits sequence when he finds his girlfriend Lupe in another man's bed.

On Monday 18 July 1988, the EON crew moved in to Churubusco - where it had taken over seven of its eight sound stages - and shooting began. Most of the location work was confined to the surrounding areas, the crew touching down at Vera Cruz, Durango and Temoaya. The casino at Isthmus City was doubled by the Casino Espagnol, a large social club for Spanish ex-patriots - no casinos exist in Mexico where gambling is illegal.

In August, the crew moved on to Key West off Florida where the pre-credits sequence was shot. The aerial crew, based at nearby Sugarloaf Key Airport, was coordinated by an old friend of the series, Corkey Fornhof, who had brought both his skills and his Acrostar aircraft to Octopussy [1983].

When Bond hands reluctantly hands over his weapons and his license to kill to M, the impressive building they are standing in was once the home to writer Ernest Hemingway - thus making Bond's quip about "a farewell to arms" all the more resonant.

An underwater crew laboured long and hard off the Isla Mujeres near Cancun while the second unit, supervised by another Bond veteran, Remy Julienne, staged the incredible truck stunts seen in the film's climax. For seven weeks Julienne and his crew toiled away in the sweltering heat of lonely desert roads near Mexicali to provide some of the best vehicular stunts the series had seen so far.

By the time shooting located to the luxurious home of a friend of Broccoli's at Acapulco that was to double for Sanchez's home, it was becoming clear that filming in Mexico was having its drawbacks. Equipment frequently failed in the intense heat and Broccoli, then 81 years old, was forced to relocate to Los Angeles to escape the worst of the heat. Co-ordinating the huge, 200-strong crew was made difficult by language barriers and by unforeseen local union restrictions.

The fact that Dalton and many others in the British contingent were feeling homesick hardly made matters any better. Finally, on Friday 18 November, the ordeal was over as principal photography finished exactly on schedule - no mean feat given the problems the crew had faced during production.

 


Above: Bond gets attention when he turns up at the Isthmus casino as a high roller (top), Pam Bouvier pilots Bond on to the top of a tanker.

As post-production got under way, the publicity department set about creating the promotional posters for the film, all emblazoned with the title Licence Revoked. Before long, however, the title had changed to the now more familiar Licence To Kill. The official line was that Licence Revoked was proving too hard to translate for non-English speaking territories, but it later emerged that test screenings in the States had left audiences puzzled - few of them, it is said, understood what the word "revoked" actually meant.

While the publicity department set about changing all their hard work, new composer Michael Kamen took up the baton and prepared the new film's score. Kamen had already scored such international box office hits as Lethal Weapon [1987] and Die Hard [1988] (two of the films that Licence to Kill seemed so desperate to emulate) as well as collaborating with Eric Clapton on the haunting score for TV's Edge of Darkness [1986]. Kamen decided not to follow in the footsteps of his illustrious predecessor, John Barry and instead of asking a pop group to sing the title song, called upon soul legend Gladys Knight to do the honours.

The British and world premiere on Tuesday 13 June 1989 was a predictable enough affair - it was held at the Odeon Leicester Square in the company of the Prince and Princess of Wales, the last time the couple would grace a Bond premiere before their much publicised divorce and Diana's death in 1997. Though the premiere was also attended by former Bond girls Jane Seymour [Live and Let Die [1973]] and Britt Ekland [The Man With The Golden Gun [1975]], there was a noticeable lack of interest in the media and the crowds that gathered outside the Odeon were noticeably smaller than was usual for such events.

The film opened in the States on 14 July and found itself going head to head with a summer full of blockbuster action movies, including Lethal Weapon 2, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Batman.

Despite EON's best efforts to endear the film to the American market by setting it on their doorstep and filling the supporting cast with American actors, Licence To Kill came of worst in the summer box office battle. With admissions dropping to 11.7 million, the all-important Stateside gross of $34,667,015 didn't even manage to cover the negative costs of $35 million.

 


Above: The climactic finale sees the destruction of Sanchez's drug shipment and a showdown with Bond.

The worldwide gross for the film was also worryingly low [just $156,200,000] and MGM/UA were starting to get nervous. Broccoli too was beginning to wonder if the fizz was going out of his 27-year old franchise. Not long after Licence To Kill was released, Broccoli put EON's parent company, Danjaq, up for sale. MGM/UA were still interested enough in Bond to make preliminary advances on Danjaq but were put off when Broccoli announced his asking price - a hefty £200 million.

What happened next was to keep Bond off the screens for another six years. But the lay-off seemed to do the trick and when he returned, in GoldenEye [1995], it was like watching a new man - in more ways than one.