WAMG Tribute: Original Film 007 Sir Sean Connery Has Died
With only a couple of months left, 2020 cruelly claimed yet another silver screen icon. Reuters broke the news this past Sunday:
Scottish movie legend Sean Connery, who shot to international stardom as the suave, sexy and sophisticated British agent James Bond and went on to grace the silver screen for four decades, has died aged 90.
“Father Time” seemingly took our first (and for many the favorite) incarnation of the ultimate super spy (tough break you SPECTRE creeps and megalomaniacs). For much of the 1960s, he was the most popular movie star on the planet. We Movie Geeks respectfully raise a martini glass (shaken, not…you know) to his long career.
His journey to movie stardom started fairly humbly across “the pond”. After stints as a coffin-polisher (really), milk delivery man, and bodybuilder (he competed in the 1950 Mr. Universe contest), Connery took up acting, first on stage in “South Pacific”, then on the “telly”. Soon his rugged six foot two physique caught the attention of film studio casting agents. NO ROAD BACK was his feature debut in 1957, followed by the crime thriller, HELL DRIVERS. His big break would come the next year in the “tear-jerker” ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER PLACE in a supporting role opposite American film goddess Lana Turner. From there he filled his days third or fourth-billed in everything from jungle action (a “baddie” in TARZAN’S GREATEST ADVENTURE) to a Disney kids’ fantasy (DARBY O’GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE), even crooning a tune:
A couple of years later Connery would take on the role that would change his life (and the entire film industry) forever. Producers Harry Saltzman and ‘Cubby’ Broccoli, after a long search, cast him in the first of their adaptations of Ian Fleming’s best selling “potboilers”, DR. NO. Here’s how 007 entered cinema superstardom:
The film was a surprise hit around the globe with Connery’s cool charisma as its biggest asset. Every man wanted to be him, and every woman…wanted him. The next year, its follow-up FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE built on the former’s box office. Sure, there had been film series before, but most were “B” pictures (Boston Blackie, Mr. Moto) or “A” films that eased into “Bs” with smaller budgets (Tarzan, the Thin Man). That was true even later with the Planet of the Apes flicks, but Bond was different. Each new film was bigger: more elaborate stunts and action sequences, more wild gadgets. and new “Bond girls”. Audiences couldn’t get enough, as United Artists began re-releasing previous films in very profitable double feature packages (they wouldn’t be leased to TV until the mid-70s). Companies lined up to the producers, hoping that their cars, clothes, and liquors would be used by that “gentleman agent”.
Everyone was wowed by the series, with the exception of its star. Connery was uncomfortable with the intense glare of publicity and intrusive cameras. Plus, he wanted to branch out and prove that he was more than, as the Italians called his character, “Mr. Kisskiss Bangbang”. He was the leading man for Alfred Hitchcock’s twisted MARNIE. Then he worked with Sidney Lumet (the first of four films) in the gritty war drama THE HILL. Connery even saddled up with Brigette Bardot in the Western SHALAKO. All this in between his Bond missions. After his fifth, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, Connery left the series (supposedly over money issues).
He returned to his homeland for THE MOLLY MAGUIRES. Then he did a curious thing while promoting his next Lumet film, the crime caper THE ANDERSON TAPES. Connery’s hair had begun thinning during his second Bond film and was wearing a series of toupees. A friend of mine told me that he and a buddy saw Connery, “au natural”, on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. This pal was stunned and mumbled, “He’s bald as a cueball” for the next hour or so. This might have wrecked any other leading man’s career but Connery’s appeal remained intact.
So much so that he was lured back to Bond (after the limp box office of the non-Connery 007 effort) with DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, after which he told the press “Never again.” (ahem). Thus began a decade of interesting role choices for the actor. Sure, there were misfires, like the trippy fever dream ZARDOZ (his wardrobe, or lack of, was quite scandalous), but there were enduring critical favorites with some of the greatest directors. Connery finally got to work with old chum Michael Caine in THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING from director John Huston (supposedly he had wanted to make it in the 40s with Gable and Bogart). There was also THE WIND AND THE LION for John Milius. He was a weary swashbuckler in Richard Lester’s ROBIN AND MARION opposite Audrey Hepburn. Later Connery would be part of big ensemble films like MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (again with Lumet) and the WWII epic A BRIDGE TOO FAR. He even did a 70s disaster flick, METEOR, with Natalie Wood.
As the 80s began Connery was still a cinema staple. With the “sci-fi’ craze in bloom, he starred in a futuristic riff on HIGH NOON, OUTLAND. Then it was on to a big kids’ fantasy from Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam, TIME BANDITS. But the biggest “stunner” was Connery’s return to Bond in the “unofficial” (Brocolli was not involved) remake of THUNDERBALL, NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN as a greying, but still dashing, fifty-something superspy. He would kick off a different, new series with HIGHLANDER before playing a mystery-solving monk in THE NAME OF THE ROSE. The next year Connery when experience a career resurgence, and some of his best reviews ever, as a world-weary tough Irish Chicago cop in the big-screen version of the 60s TV classic:
THE UNTOUCHABLES. Brian DePalma’s sprawling lawman versus gangsters saga would even net him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1988. Connery was now in even bigger demand as his busy “second act” began in earnest. The next year he joined another big movie series as Professor Henry Jones, Sr. in INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE as the father of Harrison Ford’s globe-trotting hero, in the third installment from director Steven Spielberg. Around the same time, People magazine crowned him “sexiest man alive”. Pretty good for a nearly bald, grey-bearded Scottsman pushing sixty.
A dozen or so years of film roles followed. Action thrillers and dramas, from the nautical submarine story THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER to King Arthur in FIRST KNIGHT. He even got to play a villain in the 1998 movie version of the 60s spy TV show (not the Marvel heroes) THE AVENGERS. And somehow Connery found the time to be knighted in 2000. He finally bid adieu to the big screen (at least in front of the cameras) in 2003 with THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMAN with his role as Alan Quatermain along with producing duties.
But in the next ten years, he lent his voice to several projects, from a Bond videogame to the animated feature SIR BILLI, though none could top his turn as Draco in DRAGONHEART from 1996.
Connery continued to be a pop culture fixture. In the “Gumby Winter Special” comic book story cartoonist based his Santa Claus on the actor’s likeness.
And we have to recall Darrell Hammond’s mimicry of him in a recurring Saturday Night Live sketch parodying “Celebrity Jeopardy”, as the tormentor of host Alex Trebek played by Will Farrell.
Now “M” (or would it be “G”) closes and seals the dossier on the movies’ first Bond, perhaps stamping it “for your eyes only”. But the character continues on, perhaps as a testament to the original. Aside from that “special agent”, Mr.Connery has left us a most impressive legacy of film work that movie fans will enjoy forever. Though he has gone, from reports whisked away in his sleep, we invoke that end credit from the film series: “James Bond will Return”. And Sean Connery will never be forgotten.