Licensed to Kill
original British film poster
Directed byLindsay Shonteff
Written byLindsay Shonteff
Howard Griffiths
Produced byJames Ward
Alistair Films
StarringTom Adams
Karel Stepanek
Veronica Hurst
Peter Bull
John Arnatt
CinematographyTerry Maher
Edited byRon Pope
Music byHerbert Chappell
Distributed byEmbassy Pictures
Release date
  • July 1965 (1965-07)
Running time
96 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office$1.2 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)[1]

Licensed to Kill is an Eastmancolor 1965 superspy imitation James Bond film starring Tom Adams as British secret agent Charles Vine. It was directed and co-written by Lindsay Shonteff. Producer Joseph E. Levine picked it up for American and worldwide distribution and reedited it under the title The Second Best Secret Agent in the Whole Wide World.[2]

The theme song for the American version, composed by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen and performed by Sammy Davis, Jr., is used in the 2011 film drama Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.


Facing numerous assassination attempts, a Swedish scientist who has invented an anti-gravity device and his daughter seek to provide the invention to the United Kingdom. With James Bond unavailable, H.M. Government provides Agent Charles Vine (Tom Adams), a former mathematician, as a bodyguard and assassin.



Based on the success of the film, Columbia Pictures offered director Shonteff a five-picture contract, but they disagreed over conditions.[3]

Welsh Trinity College, Oxford graduate and former RAF Intelligence Howard Griffiths[4] emigrated to Australia where he wrote extensively for Australian television series such as the spy series Hunter (1967), and police shows Division 4, Homicide, and Blue Heelers.

U.S. release

1966 US release poster

Joseph E. Levine had great financial success after cheaply purchasing an Italian film called Hercules and releasing it in America with a massive publicity campaign, and decided to do the same with Licensed to Kill. However, the American release reedited the film by having the opening assassination performed by a mother pulling a Sten gun out of her pram of twins being changed to a pre-credit scene. Levine engaged songwriters Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen to write a title song performed by Sammy Davis Jr and arranged and conducted by Claus Ogerman over the credits with the new title. The American release then eliminated scenes of Francis de Wolff talking to John Arnatt about seeking Bond for the assignment, and of Vine in bed with a girl and a crossword puzzle giving double entendre clues. The American release also eliminates much of the dialogue about the anti-gravity device, called "Regrav", which makes the denouement of the film less comprehensible.

The American publicity for the film echoed the "Number 2, but tries harder" advertising of the Avis Rent a Car System prevalent at the time. Levine launched a November 1965 nationwide 100 word essay contest to be titled "the most unforgettable second-best secret agent I have known".


Alan Burton in Historical Dictionary of British Spy Fiction wrote positively of the film, describing it as "a cut-price James Bond picture with plenty of thrills and some wit", and wrote of Tom Adams as Charles Vine as doing "a passable imitation of Sean Connery".[5]


What Eon Productions's reaction was to the blatant imitation is not known, but Shonteff was missing from the two Vine sequels starring Tom Adams:

Shonteff later made three spy films with the hero named "Charles Bind". In the first, his boss is also named Rockwell:


  1. ^ "Big Rental Pictures of 1966", Variety, 4 January 1967 p 8
  2. ^ Blake, Matt & Deal, David The Eurospy Guide Luminary Press 2004
  3. ^ Bryce, Allan Nickels and Dimes and No Time. The Ups and Downs of Lindsay Shonteff featured in Jaworzyn, S Shock Xpress" The Essential Guide to Exploitation Cinema Titan 1994
  4. ^ The Australian Obituary 16 Nov 1999
  5. ^ Burton, Alan (2016). Historical Dictionary of British Spy Fiction. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 348. ISBN 9781442255876.
  6. ^ Giffard, Denis, editor The British Film Catalogue 1895–1994, British Film Institute