In Defense of Timothy Dalton

When Spectre opens this weekend, it will mark the 24th official James Bond adventure and Daniel Craig’s fourth go round as the famed super agent. There is no doubt that Mr. Craig’s time as 007 has been a wildly successful venture and it’s brought the franchise to previously unseen billion dollar heights.

Regarding the general consensus of the six actors who’ve played Bond, the least regarded are typically George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton. Not so coincidentally, they’re the two thespians who played him the least. Lazenby played him just once in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and his mediocre work was crushed under the weight of Sean Connery comparisons, who was the only man at the time to have played him. The generally negative rap on Lazenby is one in which I agree.

With Dalton, it’s a different story in my view. When 1987 came around, it was clear that it was time for Roger Moore to call it a day. 1985’s A View to a Kill found Moore playing 007 at the advanced age of 57. It was a mostly rewarding 12 year run in the role, though the pics themselves varied considerably in quality. Enter Dalton, stepping into Bond’s designer shoes in his mid 40s. Ironically, it has since been revealed that Dalton was originally considered to replace Connery for Secret Service and that even the actor himself felt he was far too young at the time to do it.

The Living Daylights would be his first outing. Two years later, Licence to Kill would be his second and his final. Six years later, after MGM’s financial woes delayed production of new entries, Pierce Brosnan would take over with Goldeneye. And while Brosnan’s four picture time in the part is justifiably regarded as pretty strong, Dalton’s double effort is often not.

Yet when I made the daunting task of watching all 007 flicks in a row in late 2012 to early 2013, I ended that adventure by ranking my preferred Bonds from 1-23. And it turned out that both Daylights and Licence landed in the top ten. Not one Brosnan pic did. Daylights, which stands as a more traditional Bond experience, was 10th. Licence to Kill was 6th, just above the beloved Skyfall. That film  stands alone as less of a normal 007 movie and more of a hard edged late 80s action thriller popularized at the time by the likes of Lethal Weapon and Die Hard. So while 007 purists weren’t enthralled, I found Licence to work exceedingly well in the genre it was borrowing. I believe that it’s the most underrated motion picture of the entire franchise.

As for Dalton himself, he was perfectly serviceable as Bond and I would’ve been curious to see his evolution in a third or fourth entry. It was never to be, but if you re-watch his two performances, there are hints of the darker take on the character that audiences would celebrate with Daniel Craig.

So while many talk of the Timothy Dalton era as a forgettable one, my verdict is that it produced two of the top ten flicks among the 23. That’s not forgettable to me.

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