The James Bond movie franchise is 60 years old this year. I have already done a little celebration looking at films within the Bond franchise that celebrated their own anniversaries this year. Including the Timothy Dalton led, The Living Daylights, which is 35 this year. All of which, brings me to the point of this article. Timothy Dalton (the best James Bond actor ever) only made two films in the Bond franchise. But, a third (and even more) film(s) was on the cards. Obviously, we never did get a third Dalton starring James Bond flick, but why?
Now, you may have heard that Timothy Dalton’s third Bond outing was going to be an adaption of Ian Fleming’s short Bond story, The Property of a Lady. I’ve seen a few articles and videos covering this very story. Well… it wasn’t. The Property of a Lady was never even considered as being a Bond film, as far as I can tell. This just seems to be an internet rumour that has spread recently. But before I do get into all of that, I do want to cover why Timothy Dalton only made the two Bond films.
As mentioned, a third film was most definitely on the cards, there was even an outline of the story (which I will get to soon enough). Dalton was all set to be in the next film too. However, there were legal issues going on behind the scenes at the time and this prevented any more Bond films from being made for a while. It is a very lengthy story that I’m not going to cover here, but the info on the whole thing is easy enough to find. Anyway, at the time, Bond films were being released at a steady pace. The gap between The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill was 2 years, which was pretty much standard in the franchise and had been for a while. The gap between Licence to Kill and GoldenEye was 6 years. With the exception of the filmed but multiple Covid-delayed No Time to Die, that is the longest gap between James Bond films ever.
Set to be released in 1991, another 2-year gap between films, Timothy Dalton’s third film was being worked on. Then, the previously mentioned legal issues arose and everything ground to a halt. So, why didn’t Dalton return as Bond once the legal issues were sorted? The truth is that he wanted to and the legendary Bond film producer, Albert R. ‘Cubby’ Broccoli wanted Dalton back too. Only Cubby wanted a bit too much, as Dalton recalled when talking to theweek.com:
“I think that I’d love to do one. Try and take the best of the two that I have done, and consolidate them into a third. And he [Cubby] said, quite rightly, ‘Look, Tim. You can’t do one. There’s no way, after a five-year gap between movies, that you can come back and just do one. You’d have to plan on four or five.’ And I thought, oh, no, that would be the rest of my life. Too much. Too long. So I respectfully declined.”
So yeah, Cubby wanted Dalton to commit to multiple films. But after having to wait for several years while the legal issues were sorted, Timothy Dalton felt that he just couldn’t do that. If the legal issues hadn’t stopped production on the films, we most probably would’ve had two or three more Dalton-starring Bond films, at least. As for that third film that wasn’t? Pretty much all of the following information has come from either Charles Helfenstein’s The Making of The Living Daylights or Mark Edlitz’s The Lost Adventures of James Bond: Timothy Dalton’s Third and Fourth Bond Films books.
Timothy Dalton’s last Bond film, Licence to Kill, ‘under performed’ at the box office. I didn’t flop. In fact, it made more than 4 times its budget back. However, it did make the least amount of money of all of the Bond films to date. Reviews of the film, at the time, probably didn’t help much. A lot of them called the film out as being too ‘serious’ and that perhaps, the franchise was getting a bit long in the tooth. That lack of ‘enthusiasm’ for the film panicked the Bond producers. They began to worry that they had made the films too gritty, too dark, too serious. In order to get the franchise back to its former (debatable) glory, they thought that they should make the next film more ‘light-hearted’.
A very early idea for Bond 17 (as it was called) was to even go for an out-and-out comedy, using the 1967 version of Casino Royale as a template, but with the ‘real’ James Bond. That idea was quickly thrown out though as it was just a panicked knee-jerk reaction to the reviews that called out Licence to Kill for being too ‘serious’. Whether that straight-up comedy idea was even taken on board in any meaningful way seems to be debated. However, it did lead to the idea of going back to the Roger Moore era of Bond and adding more jokes, one-liners and so on. The film even had a teaser poster shown at Cannes in 1990.
James Bond writer/producer Michael G. Wilson and writer Alfonse Ruggiero, Jr., known for his work on TV shows such as Miami Vice and Wiseguy, teamed up to write a draft story for Bond 17. Sticking with the idea of penning a lighter, Roger Moore-like Bond film, they wrote a rough story that involved robots going out of control that wouldn’t have felt out of place if Michael Crichton had written it. There are a few places that go over exactly what was in this story draft. Sites like mi6-hq.com and 007.info have plenty of details on this version of Bond 17. I’m just going to give you the outline of what the script entailed here.
Opening in Scotland at a chemical weapons factory. A team, led by the Minister of Defence, Nigel Yupland, discover a lab that is run completely by AI robots. One of the robots breaks down and bursts into flames and the investigating team tries to escape. The fire spreads and the factory explodes. In England, the Prime Minister ensures that an investigation of the explosion goes ahead, working with Yupland.
Cutting to M’s office. Of course, James Bond is the one brought in to find out what happened at the chemical weapons factory in Scotland. It turns out that MI6 received a letter that threatened the destruction of the factory. So, not an accident at all. Meanwhile, MI6’s Hong Kong office has also received a similar letter saying that another factory in China would also be destroyed in three days.
In Nigel Yupland’s situation room. He, Bond and Q are going over some low-quality photos and surveillance footage of possible targets, all of them have had a break-in recently. Q promises to get the images cleaned up so they can look for clues, but says that it will take 8 hours. Cutting to Tokyo, the Kohoni Industries complex is broken into by a mysterious figure. They find a crate heading to Nanking, China and swap the microchip in one of the robotic devices before making their escape.
An alarm sounds and the intruder is chased through Tokyo. They manage to make their escape in a Lamborghini and make their way to the docks, still being chased. They drive the Lamborghini onto a ferry and escape. But the chasing security take down the car’s license plate. Now free from their pursuers, the mysterious figure takes off their mask and is revealed to be the well-known cat-burglar, Connie Webb.
Back in England and Q has cleaned up the security footage of the other break-ins. Bond and Yupland ID the burglar as Connie Webb, revealed as being an ex-CIA agent and highly skilled. So, Bond is sent to Tokyo to track down Webb and find out who she is working for, using a new microchip that Q has created as bait to lure Webb out of wherever she is hiding. Before going to Japan, Q takes Bond to his garage where the iconic Aston Martin DB5 is kept. Q tells Bond that the car is going to be dismantled by Nigel Yupland as it is no longer in use. But Q does not want to see that happen, so he arranges for the car to be sent to Japan for Bond to use on his mission.
In Tokyo at a ski resort, Bond meets up with an ageing veteran spy heading for retirement called Denholm Crisp. Crisp has arranged for Bond to stay at the ski resort… the same resort that Connie Webb is staying at. Bond spots Webb and follows her. She gets into her Lamborghini, with Bond tailing her in his DB5. Realising that she is being tailed Webb puts her foot down and a car chase ensues. Webb heads to a helipad and makes her escape in a helicopter. Bond gets on another copter and has the pilot chase Webb.
The pursuit leads to a snowy mountain and by the time Bond gets there, Webb has already tried to make her escape on skis. Bond jumps from his copter (wearing skis) and so begins a classic ski chase with lots of typical jumps and such. Webb tries to lure Bond into a snow cornice (overhanging snow). However, she gets too close and the snow falls on top of her, she is trapped. Bond hurries over and saves Webb from her snowy tomb. The next day and they pair meet up for dinner, all while retiring agent, Denholm Crisp, watches on. Bond does what he does with his Bond girls and they go back to Webb’s room at the ski resort.
Inside Webb’s room, Bond shows her Q’s new microchip (bait) and asks her if she knows anybody who could be interested in buying the technology. As she is holding the chip, there’s a knock on the door but it’s not room service. Bond gets up to answer it and he is knocked out. He wakes up cuffed to a chair and the Kohoni brothers (the owners of the Kohoni Industries complex that Webb broke into) are in front of him. Webb is interrogated about the robbery by one of the bothers and says that they will tazer Bond if she does not talk. She keeps quiet and Bond is given several 1000 volts of electricity, knocking him (still cuffed to the chair) to the floor. He’s hit with another blast of the tazer, only this time, he grabs the leg of one of the Kohoni brothers. The electricity passes through Bond and takes out one of his captors. Breaking free from the chair, Bond fights the other Kohoni brother before he and Webb escape through a window. Now on the streets and still being chased, Connie Webb makes it to her Lamborghini and escapes (with Q’s microchip), leaving Bond behind. He uses a nearby torchlight parade as cover to lose his pursuers.
Back with Webb and she makes contact with Otto Winkhart, the person she has been breaking into factories for. Webb tells Winkhart all about Q’s new microchip that she now has and he is very interested in getting hold of it. She agrees to sell it to Winkhart and the two meet up.
Now with the chip, Otto Winkhart flies to Hong Kong to meet Sir Henry Lee Ching a man with his finger on the pulse of technology… and someone who wants Britain to withdraw from Hong Kong. This was written before the Handover of Hong Kong in 1997. Anyway, Ching was going to use Q’s microchip to create and spread a computer virus that would disable every military and commercial computerised machine in the world. Oh, and he has a ‘girlfriend’ that is a cyborg who would fight Bond at one point and even has a car chase, featuring a high-tech supercar.
In Sir Henry Lee Ching’s situation room, he has a map of the world and he highlights the Nanking power plant (where the crate that Webb swapped the chip was heading). He hits a button and what happened in Scotland in the opening happens in Nanking. Sir Henry Lee Ching, via Otto Winkhart, via Connie Webb, was behind the whole thing. Bond eventually turns up at Ching’s base of operations and the climax of the film occurs. Bond wins and saves the world once more.
That is the basics of what the story being Bond 17 was, as written by Michael G. Wilson and Alfonse Ruggiero, Jr. It was a rough outline of a story and it is quite clear that the aim was to make a fully original Bond film and not adapt The Property of a Lady, as others insist on claiming. I mean, that short story is about Bond getting involved with Fabérgé eggs and an auction to unveil a KGB agent. Nothing to do with robots and a megalomaniac wanting to shut down the entire planet’s computer systems. As far as I can tell, The Property of a Lady never was going to be Timothy Dalton’s third James Bond film at all.
That rough story went through various rewrites in 1990… and that was when all the legal stuff that stopped production on any Bond film happened. Work on the next Bond film didn’t pick back up until May 1993 when it was officially announced that the 17th Bond film was in production. Even then, it was still untitled and only known as Bond 17. No The Property of a Lady title anywhere. Elements of the story for Bond 17 and its several rewrites became the basis for the Pierce Brosnan era though. The not-so-serious tone, villain using advanced technology to threaten the world, etc. Even bringing back the Aston Martin DB5 made it into GoldenEye. In fact, GoldenEye was being written through 1993 and 1994 with Timothy Dalton in mind. 94 was when Dalton officially announced that he would not be returning and Pierce Brosnan was the new James Bond.
I looked, I’ve really, really looked and can not find any official mention that Timothy Dalton’s third Bond outing was going to be The Property of a Lady anywhere. The film was only ever referred to as Bond 17 and was written as a completely new story, not based on any of Ian Fleming’s previous Bond books or short stories. I don’t know where the rumour of Dalton’s third film being The Property of a Lady began. There’s not even a slight mention of this being the title of the film through the history of the film’s development. I’m genuinely curious how this all started because there are people making videos and writing articles explicitly saying that the film was going to be called The Property of a Lady and yet, there seems to be no basis for that information at all. I think it was just something that was casually mentioned on the Internet and it soon spread like wildfire.