To celebrate James Bond’s 50th birthday on screen (and the release of Skyfall), we’re going to take a look at the character and his films. We’ve already reviewed all the classic movies, so we’ll be looking at his iconic baddies, and even at the character himself.
As far as James Bond’s on-screen adversaries go, Franz Sanchez stands out for a number of reasons. Like Julian Glover as Aristotle Kristatos, Robert Davi seems like he might have wandered on to the set from a nearby sound stage. While the murky and subtle double-agent from For Your Eyes Only could have arrived from a John le Carré story, Franz Sanchez looks to have wandered out of Miami Vice. Licence to Kill represented an attempt by the producers to make Bond topical again, with mixed results. It’s still one of the most divisive films in the series.
Part of that attempt to modernise Bond was the decision to cast the character as a morally ambiguous anti-hero out for revenge, in contrast to the clean-cut morality of earlier adventures. However, Sanchez himself was also by-product of the attempt to modernise Bond. Bond was no longer hunting a spy, an assassin or a madman with plans of world domination. Instead, Bond found himself confronting a thug running an international drug cartel.
Licence to Kill is famed as the first film in the series not to use the name of an Ian Fleming novel or short story. It’s hard to argue that Moonraker or Diamonds Are Forever were serious adaptations of Fleming’s work, but Licence to Kill was constructed almost from wholecloth. At the same time, however, screenwriters Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum were heavily influenced by material from the books.
For example, the torture inflicted upon Felix by Sanchez came from Live and Let Die, which has become a bit of a tome for Bond screenwriters looking for a sadistic death torture or two. The second book in Fleming’s series, Live and Let Die featured a few brutal depictions of torture that the later books would steer clear of. Although few made it into the film of the same name, it also provided Kristatos’ method of attempting to execute Bond and Melina in For Your Eyes Only. Licence to Kill also inherited the character of Milton Krest from Fleming’s short story The Hildebrand Rarity. (Incidentally, Sanchez’s whole Miami aquarium seems lifted from Live and Let Die.)
I think it’s also fair to argue that Franz Sanchez owes a conscious debt to the work of Ian Fleming, whether conscious on the part of the screenwriters or not. I am hardly the first person to make the connection, but the character bears an uncanny resemblance to the character of Francisco Scaramanga from Ian Fleming’s The Man With the Golden Gun. While Fleming’s final and posthumous novel provided the title and villain for the second Roger Moore Bond film, Christopher Lee’s character (and the plot around him) had only the slightest resemblance to similarity to the source material.
Lee himself had been somewhat hesitant to play the uncultured and brutal thug of the novel, and made a conscious attempt to portray Scaramanga as a man who – if not of class – sought to be held in high esteem. In Lee’s own words:
I saw Scaramanga not as a madman or cold character but as a very human person…and a very inhuman person in many ways. Here was a man who was totally deadly, a professional assassin…a million dollars a hit…professional, intelligent, highly articulate, a first class brain, had worked for the KGB, for whomever would pay. The man was lethal, deadly cold, calculating, brilliant: at the same time quite capable of being amusing witty and charming…A perfect example of how you can play a part and make it more interesting than in the book.
While Lee played a character very different to the version in the book, Franz Sanchez seems quite familiar. He even shares the same intitials as Francisco Scaramanga, suggesting the similarities might be intentional.
He is, unlike Lee but like the literary Scaramanga, most definitely a Latino character. He is also, unlike Lee’s portrayal but in keeping with Fleming’s, very much a thug. More than that, though, Sanchez stands out among the Bond villains for being relatively content with his lot in life. He isn’t a social striver. He doesn’t crave satisfaction or respect like Scaramanga in the film of The Man With the Golden Gun. He doesn’t try to pass himself off as more cultured or high-born than he is, like Blofeld in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He doesn’t hold some genocidal and elitist world view he seeks to implement like Hugo Drax in Moonraker.
Indeed, Sanchez seems remarkably comfortable in his own skin. He doesn’t crave a position of nominal authority or legitimacy, because he recognises that he has power already. “He’s killed, intimidated or bribed half the officials from here to Chile,” Felix tells us. “There’s only one law down there – Sanchez’s law.” He has a President “for Life” running the banana republic and answering to him, so he doesn’t need anything more – and his ego is not so fragile that he has to be seen to have more. He has no desire to show off or to prove himself according to anybody else’s standards. Indeed, he only organises the tour of his cocaine factory that drives the climax at the behest of his investors.
Unlike most Bond villains, who mask their animalistic tendencies with a mask of sophistication, Sanchez embraces his beastial side in a rather literal sense. Blofeld kept a white fluffy cat, the most delicate of household creatures. Instead, Sanchez walks around with a lizard on his shoulder, an explicit acknowledgement of his own reptilian nature. When he brutally beats his escaped mistress, he uses the tail of a stringray, perhaps the most extravagant item that Sanchez uses over the course of the whole film.
He keeps sharks and uses maggots to dispose of unwanted bodies. He seems entirely comfortable around these creatures. Unlike Dominic Greene – for example -who tried to pass himself off as a calm individual to mask his own depravity, there’s a sense that Sanchez seems calm for most of the film because he is calm. When Sanchez goes off the deep end at the climax of the film, it’s in response to Bond’s brutal destruction of his organisation and his wealth, not because that’s his natural state.
Despite his opulence and extravagance as an international drug kingpin, Sanchez avoids many of the pratfalls of other Bond villains simply by maintaining his cool, and refusing to give into his insecurities until things start to really go wrong. After he bribes an official into releasing him, Krest tries to convince him to execute the cop who has outlived his usefulness. “What about Killifer?” Krest demands. “Havin’ a cop here is nuts. I wanna deep six him.” Bond villains have executed henchmen and sidekicks for less.
Sanchez refuses to do so, and is comfortable enough with his own situation to part with two million dollars in return from his freedom – rather than getting greedy and trying to keep both. “I made a deal with this guy, and I’m gonna keep my word,” he explains. “Something you’d better understand, amigo. Loyalty is more important to me than money.” Naturally, Bond erodes away the trust Sanchez has with his own men, perhaps suggesting that many Bond villains struggle with concepts like loyalty because of the game they play with the super-spy.
Perhaps Sanchez is only able to live in a world of such trust and loyalty because he has never had to match wits with Bond – maybe Bond naturally reduces villains to quivering wrecks of insecurity, like he does to Sanchez at the climax of this film. I know that going several rounds with Bond would certainly undermine my self-confidence and trust. Sanchez’s relative lack of ambition also contrasts with those of most Bond villains. The cocaine factory at the climax of Licence to Kill must be the most practical (and profitable) lair of the series. (Although I would love to have seen Ken Adams do a design for it.)
To be fair, Sanchez does get a lot of the trappings of traditional Bond baddies. The cocaine factory features a variation on the cliché “conveyor belt of death.” He does get a nice board room meeting with an international group to suggest just how far his “invisible empire” extends. “Drug dealers of the world unite,” he jokes of his plan, but it’s really just a mundane corporate merger. It’s a logical multi-national business deal rather than any gigantic leap in ambition for Sanchez. He’s just being prudent. He’s not planning to conquer the underworld, merely to make it safer to operate in.
The closest Sanchez comes to getting his hands on a weapon of mass destruction is purchasing some Stinger missiles. “Sanchez has arranged to buy four Stinger missiles from the Contras,” we’re told. “He’ll shoot down an American airliner if the DEA doesn’t lay off.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very serious threat, but it’s also a massive step down from something like Thunderball, and pretty far from the kind of thing any Bond villain would concern themselves with – save as a smaller step in some grander plan. Sanchez’s ambitions extend as far as continuing to make money and staying out of prison. That makes him pretty unique against Bond baddies – only Aristotle Kristatos and maybe Le Chiffré come close.
Fleming’s Scarmanga existed as a marked contrast to Bond. At that point in the series of books, Bond was undergoing an existential crisis about his nature as a state-sanctioned assassin. Scaramanga was a man without any of those issues or concerns, content with the life that he was leading. Indeed, in The Man With the Golden Gun, Bond finds himself torn between his own desires and his job. His job demands assassinating Scaramanga, but Bond is personally reluctant to involve collateral damage – his driver, for example.
Interestingly enough, the same conflict is present in Licence to Kill, albeit reversed. Here, it’s Bond’s duty that demands that he leave Sanchez to other organisations, unhappy with the risk of collateral damage and wary of his moral authority. It’s Bond’s own personal sense of justice that demands retribution for the torture of Felix and the murder of his bride. There are, of course, other similarities, most notably in how Bond tries to get close to his adversary.
In Licence to Kill, as in the book of The Man With the Golden Gun, Bond presents himself as a recruit to the villain and infiltrates his organisation in order to get close enough to make a kill. Bond isn’t exactly a bodyguard here, but he’s able to convince his foe that he is looking out for his best interests. “I help people with problems,” he states. Sanchez asks, “Problem solver?” Bond clarifies, “More of a problem eliminator.”
There is, of course, more. Fleming’s novel explicitly suggested that Francisco Scaramanga was a “latent homosexual.” Bond scholar Kingsley Amis suggested that Scarmanga harboured a sexual attraction to Bond, using it to rationalise how a trained assassin would hire a man he’d only just met to be his bodyguard:
My greatest discovery has been to spot what it is that has done most to make the book so feeble. As it stands, its most glaring weaknesses are:
i. Scaramanga’s thinness and insipidity as a character, after a very lengthy though pretty competent and promising build-up on pp. 26-35;
ii. The radical and crippling implausibility whereby Scaramanga hires Bond as a security man (p.67) when he doesn’t know him and, it transpires, doesn’t need him. This is made much worse by Bond’s suspicions, ‘there was the strong smell of a trap about’ and so on.
Now I am as sure as one could be in the circumstances that as first planned, perhaps as first drafted, the reason why Scaramanga asks Bond along to the Thunderbird is that he’s sexually attracted to him, which disposes of difficulty no.1 right away and gives a strong pointer to the disposal of no.1. I wouldn’t care to theorise about how far Scaramanga was made to go in the original draft; far enough, no doubt, to take care of no.1.
At some later stage, Fleming’s own prudence or that of a friend induced him to take out this element, or most of it: see p 33-34, which as things are have no point whatever. He as unable to think of any alternative reason for Scaramanga’s hiring of Bond, and no wonder, since the whole point of this hiring in the first version was that it had to be inexplicable by ordinary secret-agent standard. And there he was forced to hold on to the stuff about Bond’s suspicions because Bond would have looked such a perfect nit if he hadn’t been suspicious, and it’s always better to leave an implausible loose end than make your hero look a nit.
Understandably, the editors were less than happy with Amis’ reading of the text, and suggested that the “resident experts” did not agree with his take on the character. Naturally, both aspects are absent from the Roger Moore film, although The Man With the Golden Gun does explicitly link Scaramanga’s sex drive with his use of violence. It has been suggestedthat this aspect of the character also carries over to Franz Sanchez.
Certainly, Sanchez seems rather sexless in his interactions with his beautiful mistress. She draws the most passion him when he’s brutally whipping her – an urge he apparently can’t wait until he’s across the border to satisfy. Indeed, it’s likely Sanchez is just a sexual sadist, but there are hints throughout the film that he’s not really all that interested in his mistress. They spend most of the film doing little more than holding hands while he treats her as an accessory or a secretary.
When they do kiss on the lips it’s a passionless affair, and Sanchez himself immediately makes a mockery of it by kissing the lizard on his shoulder. (“You want one too?”) Even early in the movie, it becomes quite clear that Lupe is fairly detached from her lover. She seems to sleep mostly alone. When Bond confronts her on Krest’s yatch, she states, “He’s not on board. I don’t know where he is.” Bond actually takes the time to point out how strange this sounds, “You’re his girlfriend.” Lupe concedes, “He doesn’t tell me anything.”
In contrast to his somewhat cold physical relationship with Lupe, Snachez is quite touchy-feely when it comes to his male colleagues, like the psychotic Dario or even Bond himself. Indeed, Dario looks like something from a Columbian boy band, with his strangely graceful and theatrical movements. Dario is, despite he relative absence of personality, actually one of my favourite henchmen, if only for the way that he flicks his knife open like he’s in West Side Story and the way that Benicio Del Toro pronounces “honeymooooon.”
To be fair, it’s an interpretation of the character that requires a great deal of reaching, but it’s something that occurred to me on re-watching the film recently. Of course, most Bond villains are strangely sexless – and have been since Ian Fleming wrote them – but I think that Sanchez is similar enough to Scaramanga that the point merits mention. That said, Sanchez remains one of the most fascinating Bond villains to examine and explore, if only because he refuses to conform to many of the Bond villain archetypes we take for granted – while still seeming quite recognisable as a Bond baddie.
Sanchez is certainly far closer to the standard Bond villain than the other “outlier” in Bond’s rogues gallery, Aristotle Kristatos. Both men aren’t motivated by conquest or plans for world domination, instead settling for making large sums of money while avoiding the consequences of their actions. However, positioning Sanchez as a drug dealer rather cleverly allows the film to justify some of the traditional familiar devices. After all, it doesn’t seem too implausible for a drug dealer who live an extravagant lifestyle to keep a shark, just as the factory at the film’s climax seems like something that could exist in both the fictional construct of a Bond film and also in the real world. It’s an interesting combination.
Still, a large part of the appeal of Sanchez comes from the casting of Robert Davi. The script, seemingly learning from The Living Daylights, shrewdly recognises that Dalton doesn’t necessarily have the same comedic knack as Moore (or even Connery), so the film cleverly off-loads the one-liners to Davi. The actor has a wodnerful time with the material, providing perhaps the most quotable Bond baddie.
In his introductory sequence, he gets possibly the darkest Bond one-liner ever, “What did he promise you?” he asks his mistress as his goons manhandle her lover. “His heart?” Sanchez instructs him men, “Give her his heart!” Towards the climax of the film, after disposing of a man he beleived to be a traitor, his henchmen worry about the money that is now splattered with blood. “What about the money, patrón?” one asks. He responds, “Launder it.” Davi has great fun, and he’s great fun to watch – his portrayal of a man gradually losing his hold on sanity at the climax is arguably one of the best villainous performances in the series.
Sanchez is a relatively unique Bond baddie, and one that’s fun to watch. He’s also one of the most interesting, as he allows the writers to toy with many of the franchise’s convention within a relatively unique framework, managing something relatively new while still anchored in some way to Fleming’s source novels.
You might be interested in our other Bond villain character studies:
- Doctor Julius No (Dr. No)
- Auric Goldfinger (Goldfinger)
- Ernst Stavro Blofeld (You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever)
- Francisco Scaramanga (The Man With The Golden Gun)
- Aristotle “Aris” Kristatos (For Your Eyes Only)
- Max Zorin (A View to a Kill)
- Franz Sanchez (Licence to Kill)
- Alec Trevelyan (GoldenEye)
- Elektra King (The World Is Not Enough)
- Le Chiffre (Casino Royale)
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