I found it interesting that the producers - at the time of LALD - took a look at a Jamaican sugar cane mill as a possible setting for some action scenes where Kananga throws Bond into the works. When Cain and Hamilton took a look at such a real device they decided it was too big and dangerous a set for use in their film; probably also because you had to use at least a degree of gore there. From what I gather the cocaine cruncher in LTK must have been pretty close to just this thing - and its only good use was of course just that degree of gore. It's not the most blatant example of violence-for-violence's-sake, but it's an indicator the film sidestepped into territory that wasn't by definition its natural habitat.
That's an interesting way to phrase it -- "not it's natural habitat" -- and I think it encapsulates my trouble with the premise. I understand that the "Bond formula" is at once a strength and weakness, and that you have to push things into a different direction now and then to keep it fresh, but LTK, to me, was more a case of just throwing Bond into another genre entirely. MR gets grief for jumping on the "Star Wars" bandwagon, LALD is criticised for cashing in on the "Blaxploitation" craze, TMWTGG is called out for the Kung-Fu movie swipes. I think it's only fair to criticize LTK for the same sort of copycat tactics, trying to emulate the "dirty t-shirt" action films of its era.
And I agree with your point that it's interesting to note how each era's sensibilities affect the films. Felix's fate from the novel would've run totally counter to the mood and intentions of 1973's LALD, but seemed to fill a need in 1989. And stuff like the "death by grinder," Krest's head blowing up and shots of the dead Heller and Sharkey probably would've never even been on the table for a Bond film prior to LTK (certainly not in the 70s entries!). The Bond films -- especially in Cubby's day -- were always about "giving the people what they want," so it's fascinating to look back and see what exactly people did want at various points in time.
As for the Farewell to Arms scene between Bond and M at the Hemingway House in Key West -- the cats were an interesting nod to Blofeld, but, did it mean M was in Blofeld's place ? No. And the cats are rather unavoidable there. Frankly, they missed an opportunity for an interesting Blofeld reference, though not by name, of course, due to rights issues at the time. At any rate, for me the attempts to replace Bernard Lee's M, until they re-booted and brought in Dame Judi Dench, were, well, with all due respect to the actors and understanding they were in a thankless position, meh...And, in the end, "meh" is an apt response to the film. The observations made that it appeared to be a "low budget" Bond are entirely apt.
I have to say I had never considered the cats of the Hemingway House a "nod to Blofeld." I thought they were just there because the Hemingway House is famous for them. Sometimes a cat is just a cat. Honestly, it wasn't until the Brosnan era that the series started being obsessed with "nods" and "tributes" and "homages" to earlier films -- a tradition that continues to varying degrees in the Craig entries. I can't say it's been a good thing, overall.
As for Bond's relationships with women, by the way, Commander -- you might recall how the films presented the nice-guy Bond, Roger Moore, as "tough" when, for a while, they routinely had him slap a lady in the face ? What the ? And there's no calling it a "product of the times" -- it was awful, out of character, and transparent. And he was slapping "good guys" -- not villains ! Even in the old b&w films of the 30s, slapping a lady in the face was depicted as a moment of horrible behavior by a bad person.
I only remember him slapping Andrea in TMWTGG, but that was bad enough. It was an obvious attempt to "toughen up" Roger in the role, but it had the opposite effect. No man looks tough when he's slapping a woman. It's also out of character for Fleming's Bond to slap a woman, and it doesn't come off any better when Connery does it in FRWL. And it's clearly a very un-Roger thing to do. By the end of his run, Roger's Bond was almost TOO chivalrous and gentlemanly, risking his life for example to save Stacey and Octopussy by clinging to the outsides of aircraft, like some kind of knight in shining armor, but swinging to the opposite extreme isn't good, either. (It's hard to imagine Connery's Bond putting himself at similar risk to save a "stupid twit" like Tiffany Case, but at least he didn't punch her for switching those tapes!)
It can be hard to get Bond right when it comes to what's "too caddish." Handing the naked Fiona a pair of shoes in TB was just right, I think. Having sex with Miss Taro only to turn her over to the cops, or with Rosie Carver only to threaten her at gunpoint was also fun (if not very true to Fleming, in either case), but filling Solitaire's deck with "Lovers" cards was going too far, I think, and the kind of thing you'd expect in a "Porky's"-like sex comedy.
Overall, Dalton probably has the best track record of any of them when it comes to treating women well.