October 31, 2020


Sean Connery, James Bond actor, dies aged 90 (Andrew Pulver and Mattha Busby,  31 Oct 2020, The Guardian)

Born Thomas Sean Connery in 1930, he grew up in the tough Fountainbridge area of Edinburgh and left school at 14 to work as a milkman for the Co-op. In 1948, he joined the Royal Navy, but was later discharged on medical grounds. He began bodybuilding aged 18, and got work as a life model, among many jobs, and entered the Mr Universe contest in 1953, though he did not win. Having been interested in acting for some time, Connery used his Mr Universe visit to London to audition for a stage version of South Pacific, and landed a role in the chorus.

His acting career then took off: first in rep theatre and then small roles in TV shows, such as Dixon of Dock Green and The Jack Benny Program. His first credited film role arrived in 1957, playing a hoodlum in the 1957 British thriller No Road Back. However it was a BBC version of Rod Serling's Requiem for a Heavyweight that provided his breakthrough lead role, playing a boxer facing the end of his career in the ring. His film profile increased as a result, with support roles in Hell Drivers, a lorry-driving thriller starring Stanley Baker, and Action of the Tiger, directed by Terence Young, with whom Connery would later reunite on Dr No.

Connery landed a substantial role in the war-set melodrama Another Time, Another Place in 1957 opposite Lana Turner, then a huge Hollywood star; in a widely retold anecdote, he reportedly came to blows with Turner's lover, the notorious gangster Johnny Stompanato, after the latter suspected the actors were having an affair.

But it was his casting, at the age of 30, in the first film adapted from Ian Fleming's series of James Bond novels that cemented his screen status. Reportedly at the insistence of producer Albert "Cubby" Broccoli's wife, Dana, Connery got the role in Dr No over better known actors due to his "sex appeal". Despite initial misgivings, Dr No was a huge success, not least because it had been produced, cautiously, on a comparatively low budget. Released in 1962, it was a hit in Britain, but also did well commercially in the US.

Connery went on to appear in four more Bond films in succession, between 1963 and 1967: From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice. His dramatically increased star status also allowed him to take films outside the series, notably the psychological thriller Marnie, for Alfred Hitchcock, and The Hill, a military-prison drama directed by Sidney Lumet. However, his increasing disenchantment at playing 007 saw him drop out of the next Bond film, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and he was replaced by George Lazenby. However, the Australian actor's tenure lasted only for a single film, and Connery was lured back for Diamonds Are Forever in 1971 with an enormous fee.

Connery refused to return again - though he did participate in Never Say Never Again, the "unofficial" Bond film released in 1983 that resulted from a legal battle undertaken by the Thunderball co-writer Kevin McClory, again with a huge fee. Connery was now secure in a high-price, high-status existence, allowing him to work on a number of widely differing projects. He took the lead in John Boorman's bizarre sci-fi fantasy Zardoz, acted alongside Michael Caine (a longtime friend) in the Kipling adventure yarn The Man Who Would Be King, played a middle-aged Robin Hood in Robin and Marian, and a crime-solving monk in the Umberto Eco adaptation The Name of the Rose.

In the ensuing decades he retreated largely to colourful supporting roles. He won his only Oscar in 1988 for his turn as the principled Irish beat cop Malone in The Untouchables; he played Indiana Jones's feisty father in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and a renegade Russian submarine captain in The Hunt for Red October. After a difficult experience making The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, during which he reportedly clashed repeatedly with the director Stephen Norrington, Connery "retired" from acting in 2003, and refused an offer to join the cast of the fourth Indiana Jones film in 2007, saying "retirement is just too damned much fun". However, he did complete one more film, voicing the title role in the Scottish-made animation Sir Billi.

Throughout his career, Connery made no secret of his support for Scottish independence, and became a high-profile member of the Scottish National party, taking part in party political broadcasts in the 1990s and appearing alongside then-leader Alex Salmond. His politics reportedly led to the Scottish secretary Donald Dewar blocking plans for Connery's knighthood in 1997, but the honour finally came three years later. However, as Connery had moved away from the UK in the mid-1970s, his substantial financial contributions to the SNP were ended after legislation disallowed funding from overseas residents.

Sean Connery was charismatic, contradictory - and more than just James Bond (Geoffrey Macnab, 10/31/20, The Independent)

What distinguished Connery from British stars of the 1950s was his physicality. He wasn't one of those plummy-voiced uptight "chaps" like Kenneth More or Dirk Bogarde, who dressed in tweed jackets and appeared in Doctor in the House films. He was a former lifeguard and bodybuilder, who also studied dance for three years. Matt Busby supposedly once tried to sign him for Manchester United. He moved with grace and menace, and was at ease with his body.

It also helped that Connery's success took a while. He was in his thirties by the time he was cast as Bond, so he was no callow juvenile lead. There was nothing deferential or nervous about him. He had the same brooding, introspective quality as American method actors like Marlon Brando, James Dean and Montgomery Clift, but none of their neuroses.

Then there was the voice, that deep distinctive drawl that Ewan McGregor and Jonny Lee Miller took such pleasure in imitating in Trainspotting (1996). "Clear enough, Misssh Moneypenny."

Regardless of the nationality of the characters Connery played, whether Soviet submarine commanders, Arab rebel leaders or MI5 spies, that voice didn't change too much. Listen, for instance, to his most famous monologue describing the "Chicago way" in his Oscar-winning role as the Irish-American cop Jim Malone in Brian De Palma's The Untouchables (1987).

"He pullsh a knife, you pull a gun. He shends one of yoursh to the hospital, you shend one of hish to the morgue."

What you notice in almost all Connery's roles is the drive and determination. Even as Bond, he would never let the gadgets, martinis and romantic dalliances get too far in the way of the real business in hand, namely smashing SPECTRE and bringing Blofeld to book.

Connery was nothing if not contradictory. He was the ardent Scottish nationalist who lived in tax exile in the Bahamas; he was the frugal, tight-fisted actor who gave away huge amounts of money to charitable causes. He was the working-class Edinburgh actor who played, not only public school boy Bond, but his share of patrician English army officers.

In the latter part of his career, Connery sometimes seemed more interested in spending time on the golf course than in making movies. Nonetheless, when he did take a role, he always showed the same absolute commitment.

Sean Connery the man has died. Sean Connery the indestructible legend lives on: He was always a little out of his time, combining charm, menace and old-fashioned masculinity (Donald Clarke, 10/31/20, The Irish Times)

Connery's place in cinema history is a peculiar one. His trick was meshing the egalitarian modernity of the 1960s with a timeless old-fashioned recalcitrance. Many of those who unambiguously embraced the era appeared hopelessly old-fashioned by the time of the Opec oil crisis. Never entirely at home with the swinging values, Connery was able to shrug them off and move on to disdain for a whole new set of hip orthodoxies. 

Posted by at October 31, 2020 7:03 PM