The history of any major movie franchise is littered with “sliding door” moments – decisions that changed the shape and direction of the films that followed – and James Bond is no exception. Adam West turning down the chance to play 007 paved the way for Roger Moore to take the role. The fateful decision to equip Bond with an invisible car in Die Another Day, meanwhile, contributed to producers pushing for a more gritty and grounded 007 in Casino Royale.
For Timothy Dalton, that sliding door moment came as a result of the corporate litigation between producer Cubby Broccoli’s company, Danjaq, LLC, which owned the exclusive rights to produce feature films and television series based on the character of Bond, and Italian financier Giancarlo Parretti, then owner of MGM, the parent company of United Artists, which financed and distributed the series.
Changes in the ownership of MGM, legal wrangles over Bond’s international distribution, and the potential sale of Danjaq led to a six-year hiatus for 007 on the big screen – the longest non-pandemic delay in the franchise’s history. The delays essentially put the brakes on a third Dalton Bond outing. By the time the dust had settled, Dalton had lost interest in the part, while United Artists were keen for a major refresh, citing License to Kill’s disappointing box office return, the lowest for any Bond movie.
Speaking to Matthew Field and Ajay Chowdhury for the book Some Kind of Hero: The Remarkable Story of the James Bond Films, Jeff Kleeman, United Artists’ production vice president at time, elaborated on the decision years later: “We were trying to grapple with the fact that the Dalton movies were not the most beloved of Bond films. We were trying to introduce Bond to a new audience. It seemed counterintuitive to what we were trying to accomplish, to continue on with Timothy at that point.”
Dalton’s tenure as Bond proved a divisive one. While both The Living Daylights and License to Kill were credited with delivering a darker 007, more in line with the character from Ian Fleming’s novels, for many casual Bond fans it marked too significant a departure from the more lighthearted approach taken by Sean Connery and, more notably, Moore.
Dalton’s Bond was a 007 who regularly disobeyed orders and a reluctant heartthrob who appeared to hate his job. It may not have suited audiences in the late 1980s and early 1990s but the harder edge taken in his two Bond outings would later be refined during the Daniel Craig era.
Yet for all the debate sparked by Dalton as Bond, the fact is that without the aforementioned delays, there could easily have been more outings from the only Welsh Bond to date.
The Original Bond 17
Alfonse M. Ruggiero Jr was a writer on Miami Vice when he sent producer Michael G. Wilson a story treatment for a new Bond film in 1989. While the treatment was deemed a little too close in tone to License To Kill, with Bond embroiled with Mexican drug runners, it was enough to convince Wilson to enlist Ruggiero to work on an idea for what would potentially be Bond 17. The result was a treatment put together by Ruggiero and Wilson in May 1990 that looked set to take Dalton’s 007 in an altogether new direction.
Although the realism of the two previous entries remained, the treatment had Bond looking ahead into the 21st century with a tale that embraced the hi-tech world of tomorrow – and the dangers posed by it. The treatment incorporated advanced robotic designs, microchips, and other futuristic electronic apparatus, and talked up the “complex and exotic machines designed for specific tasks” which would need to be built “especially for the film for maximum and dramatic visual impact.” The February 1991 edition of Cinefantastique magazine even reported that Imagineering, the research and development arm of Disney, had been tasked with creating “the most complex anthropomorphic robot ever conceived for the movies.”
The treatment opens on a chemical weapons lab located in Scotland where technicians are seen performing a series of dangerous tests using robotic devices. Out of nowhere, one of the machines goes rogue, leading to the entire lab being destroyed. The action then cuts to the UK Houses of Parliament and a furious debate over the incident during which the Prime Minister would be seen assuring his fellow politicians that the “full resources” of the government were being deployed to investigate.
Enter 007, who’s been summoned to M’s office for a briefing on the task at hand. The film would have seen Bond going up against Sir Henry Lee Ching, a British-Chinese entrepreneur and science wizkid who supplies hi-tech robotic devices to some of the world’s biggest companies but is suspected of orchestrating a series of “accidents” involving malfunctioning robots at other nuclear power plants. In the treatment, Sir Henry is threatening to unleash a computer virus on the world capable of paralyzing every military and commercial unit belonging to those who stand in his way, unless the U.K. agrees to withdraw from Hong Kong.
Coming at a time several years before the U.K. did officially withdraw from the region, the film would have explored the unique tensions surrounding China’s role in the world as well as growing concerns over the threat of computer viruses. The adventure would have taken 007 to Hong Kong, Japan, and China, and would have climaxed with a Die Hard-style face-off in Sir Henry’s hi-tech high rise, which Bond would gain access to via a waste-pipe. In the outline, he eventually defeats Sir Henry by killing him with a welding torch to the face.
Interestingly enough, the treatment also includes the introduction of a new MI6 chief, Nigel Yupland, who sees Bond as an anachronism of the Cold War, in a perspective that would later be incorporated into Judi Dench’s M for GoldenEye. You’re probably starting to see quite a few ways this unmade Dalton movie influenced Pierce Brosnan‘s tenure years later. More on this in a minute.
“The Property of a Lady”
Following on from the treatment, British writing duo William Osborne and William Davies, best known for the Arnold Schwarzenegger/Danny DeVito comedy Twins, were hired to work up the treatment for Dalton’s Bond 17 into a screenplay. This resulted in a markedly different film from the Wilson/Ruggiero outline, according to Some Kind of Hero, although both were credited in the draft submitted in January 1991.
In their version, the action began in North Africa where Bond, under the guise of competing in a powerboat race, parascends his way into a Libyan chemical weapons factory, outwitting the facility’s hi-tech robot guarding system and Colonel Al-Sabra of the Libyan State Secret Police. Later diving into the water to escape by powerboat, Bond finds himself berated for failing to achieve the mission’s main aim of destroying the plant, only for the facility to then explode in the background, with the remains of the base’s robot landing on the bonnet of the boat. The action would then head to London and MI6 HQ where Yupland is on a cost-cutting mission, with Q Branch set to be shut down and Miss Moneypenny due to be married.
According to Some Kind of Hero, in this version, the plot centered on the theft of the Scimitar, a new stealth fighter worth billions in arms sales to the U.K. economy, which was stolen during a U.S Navy exercise. Tasked with tracking the fighter jet down, Bond discovers plans are afoot to use the Scimitar to launch an undetected nuclear attack on China in a move designed to force a regime change that would see hardline military leader General Han assume control. Once in power, the plan is for Han to hand Hong Kong over to industrialist Sir Henry Ferguson to have as his own principality. Ferguson is plotting from a secret retreat in Kowloon, where he has been secretly supplying Han with weapons, helped by Las Vegas based gangsters the Vinellia Brothers.
The script included several notable side characters, including Connie Webb, an ex-CIA agent, who would have served as the main love interest, and Denholm Crisp, a retiring spy based in Hong-Kong. Ferguson, meanwhile, would have been aided in his plot by Rodin, a henchman kitted out with any number of hi-tech gadgets. Pitched somewhere between the tone of the previous Dalton and Moore movies, set pieces would have included a fight at a rodeo, a monster truck chase through Las Vegas, a raid on a Hoover Dam weapons depot, a white water rafting seduction sequence, and a brawl involving female bodybuilders. According to Some Kind of Hero, the script also depicted a car chase involving Bond and his Aston Martin DB5 in pursuit of Ferguson driving a vehicle with its own array of weapons and gadgets, along with a version of the original treatment’s finale in a technologically advanced skyscraper. While China and Hong Kong were still listed among the film’s locations, Osborne and Davies’ script also took place in Libya, Vancouver, and Vegas.
Designed to position Bond in the post-Cold War age as a reluctant Lethal Weapon style hero who is “getting too old for this,” hopes were high that the project, referred to by many as “The Property of a Lady,” would kickstart Dalton’s Bond career after a couple of early stumbles. Yet the drama surrounding Danjaq and MGM ultimately put a stop to those plans, leaving the project, which had been due to be released in late 1991, languishing in development hell. By the time work resumed in 1993, it was decided a new direction was needed, with the producers eventually settling on a story pitched by Cliffhanger writer Michael France set in a post-Cold War Russia amid mounting tensions over weapons of mass destruction.
With Dalton’s contract expiring at the end of ‘93, and with the film yet to go into production, he eventually made the decision to bow out. Reports indicate MGM was happy for him to exit.
How This Failed Dalton Movie Influenced Brosnan
Although many of the ideas for Dalton’s third Bond outing went unrealized, sprinklings of the work of Wilson, Ruggiero, Osborne, and Davies can be found across the Brosnan outings that followed. The film’s villain Sir Henry Lee Ching/Ferguson shares some similarities with Jonathan Pryce’s Elliot Carver in Tomorrow Never Dies, albeit with the unrealized stealth jet repurposed as a stealth boat. The pre-credits demolition of the Libyan base and the delayed explosion of the bombs planted at the facility would be revisited in GoldenEye, while the focus on robotics and the presence of a female ex-CIA agent can also be found in Die Another Day.
While the success of those first two Brosnan entries hint at what might have happened had the third Dalton Bond gone ahead, the reaction to the technological focus in his final film and Halle Berry’s Jinx suggests it’s no forgone conclusion that the film would have been a success. Given that GoldenEye not only delivered the best Bond in over a decade but also introduced director Martin Campbell, who would go on to helm Casino Royale, things may have ultimately worked out for the better.