The Good, The Bad and the Badass: Sean Connery
What can I possibly say about Sean Connery that hasn’t already been said? By this point, Connery is more than just an actor. He’s an icon. Even if he had never made another movie after his run as James Bond, he’d be remembered as one of the giants of his day. But, James Bond is only the tip of the iceberg for Connery, who’s gone on to reinvent himself several times over his fifty year career as a star.
One thing that makes Connery such a downright model for manhood is that unlike many of his contemporaries, he never tried to hide his age, but embraced it as the thing that made him human. While as Bond he embodied a sort of unattainable ideal, post-Bond, he was one of the most personable heroes of his time. It’s noteworthy that his first post-Bond hit, THE ANDERSON TAPES, had him ditch his toupee, and carry a little extra weight in the gut. And guess what? Women still loved him, and guys still wanted to be him.
To be sure, Connery’s first post-Bond decade was uneven. For every THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING, ROBIN & MARIAN, or THE WIND & THE LION, there’s a NEXT MAN, THE TERRORISTS, or, laughably ZARDOZ (a complete mindf*ck of a movie, that’s still worth watching if you want to “trip balls”).
Connery couldn’t resist the temptation to return to Bond in 1983, for the rogue 007 film NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN, once again donning a toupee, and looking amazingly lean and fit for a guy in his mid-fifties (ironically, he’s a full three years younger than the guy who was playing Bond at the time, his off-screen pal Roger Moore). While the movie wasn’t great, and the production was apparently a nightmare, Connery made enough money off of it that he was able to take several years off, and when he re-emerged, he had reinvented himself by embracing his age. Movies like HIGHLANDER, THE NAME OF THE ROSE, THE UNTOUCHABLES (for which he won a Oscar), INDIANA JONES & THE LAST CRUSADE, & THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER had him as a kind of sage mentor figure to his younger co-stars, even though he often stole the film out from under them. At sixty-five, he even managed to re-establish himself as a modern action hero in THE ROCK, a full thirty-four years after DR.NO.
Connery himself has said that no matter what happens, he’ll always be remembered as James Bond, and I agree. As much as I love the other Bonds (I have a soft spot for Roger Moore) and appreciate Daniel Craig’s reinvention of the character, all the other actors play Bond. Connery is Bond. If you’ve ever read the Ian Fleming novels, you’ll notice that the literary Bond isn’t too similar to his big-screen counterpart. It’s been said that Connery, along with DR.NO, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, and THUNDERBALL director Terrence Young essentially re-created the character for the big-screen, patterning him on their own personalities (mostly Young’s) and it shows. They took the upper-crust, maybe even snobbish character, and made him larger-than-life, and most importantly- fun. People always say Connery was the “serious” Bond, but that’s inaccurate. Sure, he wasn’t Roger Moore, but he always played it tongue-in-cheek (although he went too far in NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN- literally winking at the audience in the last shot). For that, Connery will always be the person we associate with the character, and it’s no wonder that whenever Connery appears on The Oscars (or any other awards show) he’s always backed up by the Bond theme (to his noticeable chagrin).
Outside Bond, I’d say Connery’s best performance is a toss-up between Malone in THE UNTOUCHABLES and Ramius in THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER. While his part in THE UNTOUCHABLES is universally praised (his “never bring a knife to a gunfight” line still pops up in hip-hop tracks), Ramius is often made fun of for the fact that he’s a Russian submarine captain with a Scottish accent. Really though, who cares? Sure, he’s not accurate, but he’s better. He’s badass and larger-than-life, just like our movie heroes should be. That scene where he kills the Red October’s political officer with his bare hands is insanely cool.
I can’t even dare call Connery overrated in any of his movies, lest he happen to read this article from wherever he’s retired to. Even though he’s in his eighties, the dude could probably hop a plane, show up on my doorstep and beat the crap out of me. Well, I doubt he’d care much actually, being too busy shooting a game of golf, or counting his millions. Seriously though, I love Connery in everything, even his bad movies. The only movie of his I really question is METEOR, which was a late addition to the seventies disaster movie cycle, as well as a kind of a precursor to ARMAGEDDON or DEEP IMPACT, featuring Sean as a scientist looking to stop a giant meteor from hitting earth. Connery himself absolutely hated the movie, once referring to the special effects depicting the meteors as looking like “little pieces of shit.” Otherwise, he’s a pretty consistent guy.
Connery’s got a ton of underrated films. Even in his bad movies, Connery is super cool, like in THE PRESIDIO, where he beats up a bar-room toughie with nothing but his thumb. One of my favorites is a movie he did in 1981 called OUTLAND. Directed by Peter Hyams, it’s essential a sci-fi remake of HIGH NOON, where he plays a marshal stationed at a mining colony on Jupiter’s Moon. It’s heavily influenced by ALIEN, with the lived-in production design and the score by Jerry Goldsmith. The plot is so cool- with a corporation giving its workers a drug to increase productivity with the side-effect of making a percentage of them insane- that in high school, I all out stole it for a student film I made (en Français, with me in the Connery role- natch). Connery is the perfect everyman hero here, being both believably human (his wife and son have just left him behind to return to Earth), and incredibly tough, with a long chase scene being the movie’s action highlight. It’s a cool little flick, and totally underrated.
For me, Connery’s best ever scene is his train-battle with Robert Shaw’s Red Grant in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. The frenzied editing by Peter Hunt (which pretty much invented the way action movies are cut) mixed with Connery (and Shaw’s) insane physicality made this one of the best on-screen fights of all time.
Alas, Connery's been retired for the last decade, and doesn't seem to be keen on returning anytime soon. From all your fans Sean- hope you're having a great retirement, and thanks for the movies!