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Monday, July 03, 2017

When Connery Became The Outlaw Bond

Never Say Never Again (1983) Takes On Embedded 007

Sean Connery came back in 1983 to show everybody what a real James Bond looked like. Roger Moore's jokes had gotten stale, and besides, he'd always seemed too civilized for the part. Moore comes off still as a 70's conception of 007, not a good thing with the 70's itself a largely discredited decade. Funny part was Connery having to encore in what was essentially an "outlaw" James Bond movie, Never Say Never produced by malcontent cast-off from the Eon team Kevin McClory, still sore over that and getting even by exercising remake rights he had in Thunderball. Reading court reports of the battle is a kick; these were cats and dogs warring over bounty that was Bond. It looked for awhile as if Never Say Never would go head-to-head against latest-with-Moore Octopussy, but that got averted when delays pushed Connery's return back a few months, allowing Octopussy to collect its pile first.

The movie must have seemed like an afterthought, but it got made. Connery trimmed down and had a new rug installed. I think he looks great in it now, but that's because I've aged along with Never Say Never Again. In 1983, the show seemed drab, mostly because it didn't bear signatures of legit entries (gun-barrel opening, John Barry music, distinctive main titles). Eon lawyers watched close to make sure this was indeed Thunderball remade, so there's no mistaking the thing having been done before, though only charter Bond clubbers would really notice. Connery's antipathy toward the Saltzman/Broccoli lot, plus a packet of money, led to participation here, McClory allowing his creative input as well. Connery always felt his old employers treated him like a stud puppet. Never Say Never Again looks like it ran short of cash just ahead of the third act, as underwater stuff is perfunctory and nowhere near the first Thunderball's. Bad girls had meanwhile become badder over intervening time, Barbara Carrera a psychotic update on Luciana Paluzzi. In some ways, it was hard to believe that only eighteen years had passed between the two pics.


Blogger Mike Cline said...

A couple hours of my life I wish I could have back.

6:34 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Have loved your Bond pieces, think it's time to weigh in with my own dubious two cents! I'm afraid NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN and the two Daltons are the only Bonds I've never enjoyed revisiting (oh, and the ridiculous '67 CASINO ROYALE.) All three seem to me like perfectly acceptable, but perfectly bland eighties action movies. Even the Moores at their silliest (and, man, were they silly!) had a kick lacking in that trio. Didn't help that OCTOPUSSY was actually one of the better of Sir Roger's episodes.

Am a fan of the Brosnan set, but just like watching Chuck Jones Roadrunner cartoons, I have a hell of a time telling them apart. Remember and relish individual bits, just not sure in which film they are anchored! Plus, I never pronounce Peirce Brosnan's name correctly the first time it crops up in a conversation.

I like that you acknowledge the Eon folks were among the earliest culprits in the multi-action-climax derby. I do miss those classy little codas where, after the slam-bang finale, a villainous straggler would try to get in some last licks (think FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, LIVE AND LET DIE and most shockingly, ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE.) And, by the way, I'd rank OHMSS along with the Connerys and the Craigs as, generally, the best of the bunch.

Have no problem at all with the dead pan vibe of the last four. CASINO and SKYFALL much superior to the other two, but still! I love that the Eon team paid off the McClory estate to bring back Spectre and Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Just not so crazy about the clumsy family backstory. Craig still looks great (and, for that matter, so does Brosnan!) but no need to overstay one's welcome!

9:27 AM  
Blogger DBenson said...

I sort of enjoyed this one, in part because of the game of watching how the old story was reworked. Ironically, it followed the Moore Bonds in going for a lot of comedy -- mostly riffs on man's man Connery dealing with a modern, wimpy world that thinks him old (except, of course, for the babes). A favorite bit was the low-budget M grouchily presiding over a storeroom of CIA castoffs.

Note that the script is by Lorenzo Semple Jr., who has serious work to his credit but is probably best known for the 60s Batman; the 70s King Kong; the 80s Flash Gordon; and finally the 80s Sheena. This typecasting seemed to begin when he wrote the pilot for "Number One Son", a proposed series with Keye Luke resuming his role as Charlie Chan's son.

3:52 PM  
Blogger Barry Rivadue said...

Best thing about NEVER is how slick 50-ish Connery looks, compared to his rather weary,jowly DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER appearance a dozen years earlier. If only the movie served him better. My problem with the Brosnan movies is, aside from GOLDEN EYE, they never had distinctive titles. They were boring variations that might as well been called, collectively, TOMORROW ANOTHER WORLD DIES. As for Craig, I wish SPECTRE was a better Bond--it seemed a bit too rote, though the Mexican opening sequence was fine. I'd like to wish the next one will be (gasp) more light hearted true escapism for a change. We've had enough Hamlet.

5:10 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Kind of the opposite of your reaction, John, I loved NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN in '83 but in later viewings it looks cheap and oddly under-rehearsed. There are several scenes in which the ever-capable Connery seems uncertain of his attitude, his words, and even his --HIS -- trademark character.

And the eighties ambiance may be nostalgic for the right age group, but for me it's simply a reminder of that silliest of decades. The "dance" rehearsal with Kim Basinger and the pseudo-Adrian Zmed is both laughable and almost unwatchable at the same time. Only Kim's almost-see-through outfit makes it bearable.

The sequence of Bond and Felix Leiter going airborne in those ... cabinets...those flying Porta-Potties ... is beyond ridiculous. Makes James Bond look like an idiot.

Rowan Atkinson is a terrific comic actor but has no place in this movie. Max Von Sydow is a great actor, but not my idea of a Blofeld. And Edward Fox's M is way too much Upper Class Twit of the Year.

On the other hand, Alec McCowen is a great Q, and the brilliant Klaus Maria Brandauer is a sensational villain.

It's a silly, cheapjack, embarrassing movie which, admittedly, can provide a ton of unintentional laughs if that's your idea of a good time.

6:37 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer recalls Bond-ordeals of his past:

Watching Roger Moore in “Live and Let Die” dance across the snouts of alligators that would not have been out of place in a Bomba the Jungle Boy movie, the thought occurred to me: “This is awful! I will never pay money again to see a James Bond film.” The sight of Yaphet Kotto’s head inflating like a balloon until it popped only put an exclamation point on my determination.
Nevertheless, when “Never Say Never Again” came out, I did put down my coins to see it, and I did so on the strength of Sean Connery’s presence. Much as I wanted to like it, however, I didn’t care for the humor or the riffs on Connery’s age and the decline of the British intelligence establishment, as though conceding that James Bond had become passé. Apart from that, the film seemed to be more a series of outtakes from another film than a coherent narrative.
Truth-to-tell, however, the last Connery films in the original series had more in common with the coming Roger Moore's than they did with “Dr. No,” “From Russia With Love,” or “Goldfinger.” By the time “Diamonds are Forever” was made, the formula of action sequences strung along a thin thread of jokes was well in place. “On His Majesty’s Secret Service” was an attempt to return to the toughness of the first few films, but an abortive one, less so because of any inadequacy on the part of George Lazenby than apparently the derision of many critics at the ending: Bond, the cartoon that cried.
A couple of years ago, I was cajoled by some friends into watching “The Spy Who Loved Me,” which they assured me was the “best of the Moore's.” That is a decidedly dubious distinction. During the early UHF days in Philadelphia, one station tried to finesse a package of PRC films with a tuxedoed host and the title, “The Best of the Worst.” “The best of the Moore's” was distinguished from the others largely by a dour Curt Jurgens who was seemingly determined to play "Curt Jurgens" regardless of whatever else was going on. Otherwise there were no surprises, only, for me, a relentless unpleasantness. I managed to stick it out, though, after which the restraints were removed.
I was not aware of it at the time, but a number of critics actually liked “Never Say Never Again” for its wit and the charm and strength of its star. Whether they were merely sentimentalists championing a cinematic hero of their adolescence, it is a film that I wouldn’t mind seeing again. Perhaps my disappointment had more to do with my expectations than with the film itself.

6:57 PM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

Stinky is no expert when it comes to Bond, having tuned out after Goldfinger. But Stinky will say, as one of the Internet's greatest self-professed toupee authorities, that thing on Connery's head does him no favors.

9:38 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dear John:

My main memory of NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN is that it was good to see Connery again -- he does seem more fit and engaged here than in '71's DIAMONDS -- and that's mostly it. But that was worth the price of admission, and perhaps a little more back in the day. Let's face it: the world was glad to see the real James Bond return to the screen. What else could explain some of those bizarrely favorable reviews? As Roger Ebert suggested, it was magic akin to a Beatles reunion.

I understand the prerequisite -- remake THUNDERBALL just a little differently -- but Semple and Kershner (a Connery fave since A FINE MADNESS) neither transcend nor improve much (or at all) on the '65 original. [That noted, I was happy to see a bit less here of 'BALL's endless underwater footage.] Some of the cast is poorly served by the material. Von Sydow has little to do as Blofeld, Rowan Atkinson's comic business seems weak and superfluous and I still don't understand why Edward Fox's M is so insufferable to Bond... a lot of scenes don't quite play or fall flat. But Brandauer, in his first picture after his MEPHISTO triumph, is excellent as Largo; he's a worthy antagonist for Bond. Kim Basinger isn't bad.

I know Eon and UA went over this with a fine-toothed comb looking for things to sue over and perhaps suppress the whole thing; perhaps that's why it seldom feels like a Bond picture. I would add that the light, jazz-inflected Michel Legrand score is all wrong for the film -- or any action movie. [The title song -- what a terrific opportunity for a composer and singer! -- is particularly disappointing.] As you were discussing the other day, the contribution of John Barry to the 007 movies is incalculable; the music sets the tone and guides and entices the viewer. [I would argue that Barry was probably the key to making the somewhat problematic and overstuffed THUNDERBALL into a releasable picture.]

NEVER was likely hurt commercially a bit by coming out months after the pretty good (and very successful) Moore OCTOPUSSY; it would have been interesting to see what would have happened in the marketplace if the Kershner film had beaten the official Eon production into theatres.

-- Griff

6:57 AM  
Blogger Randy Jepsen said...

Hate this mess. Will never watch it again.

7:59 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

It's a shame "Octopussy" wasn't Moore's final bow as Bond. Much of the comedy was actually amusing; a secondary female sleeps with Bond and doesn't get killed for it; and the plot to cause a nuclear "accident" and force America to draw back from NATO -- even though it was carefully attributed to a rogue Russian general whose superiors disapproved -- was plausible. The opening sequence of a dying clown stumbling into a diplomat's formal party had a nice quasi-Hitchcock quirk. George MacDonald Fraser, author of the great "Flashman" books and screenwriter for Richard Lester's "Musketeer" films, probably had at least something to do with the difference.

"A View to a Kill" squandered that goodwill, in part with a plot that came close to a Boris Badanov scheme on "Rocky and Bullwinkle", complete with a conspicuous disinterest in the reality of "Silicon Valley" (a virtual place, really, than encompasses the Peninsula and much of the South Bay Area).

9:49 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

"Joe From Virginia Beach" files positive report on "Never Say Never" and Roger Moore as Bond:

Just wanted to comment on your recent article on "Never Say Never Again". I
saw the movie, when it first came out, and I like it then and like it now-I just watched
again a few months ago. I thought Roger Moore was a fine Bond. He emphasized different aspects of the character than had Connery. Had he tried to just imitate Sean Connery, it would
probably have killed the series. Moore's movies had a different tone, and I enjoyed them

Besides the legal restrictions, I think those behind "Never Say Never Again"
tried to approach it as a more realistic spy picture, with Connery trying to use his age
to bring some more layers and depth to the character. On the other hand, 1983's
"Octopussy" is one of my favorite Roger Moore Bond films-I loved both movies.

For those who don't think Moore could do a more story driven Bond film with less gadgets, I would suggest they go back and check out "For Your Eyes Only", which was one of Roger Moore's strongest performances as James Bond. In my opinion, it came close to, if not equaled “From Russia With Love”.

Joe From Virginia Beach

8:15 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

FYEO is a very good one.

7:06 AM  
Blogger Lionel Braithwaite said...

Liked this movie when I saw in the theaters as a kid, not so much now.

9:35 PM  
Blogger Lionel Braithwaite said...

@Barry Rivadue, I'm sorry, but I (and perhaps a lot of people) DON'T want to see a funny (or fun) James Bond; the character's an operative in the wetworks division of MI6 (and wetworks means 'wet job' which is a killing of somebody.) The original novels were serious affairs, and the movies should also be the same way-if you don't like them, you can see Johnny English, the Cody Banks films, or any other comedic satire spy movie/TV show. The Moore era was just ridiculous (Live & Let Die, The Man With The Golden Gun, Moonraker & Octopussy being the big egregious examples) and for the sake of realism and dignity for this character, those movies need to be forgotten and never repeated as the plot(s) for a James Bond movie again.

12:47 AM  

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