Never Say Never Again: Summing Up James Bond and the Actors who have Played Him

Ian Fleming’s James Bond had been making the rounds for ten years before Sean Connery stepped into his shoes.  Fleming would have preferred Roger Moore as the actor to embody his fictional spy, but Moore chose instead to play Simon Templar in the UK television series, The Saint, which kept him in steady employment for the next eight years.  Then, after a career hiatus, Moore took over the role that Connery had vacated two years earlier. From 1973-85, Moore played Bond seven times, in contrast to his 118 episodes as the Saint.

Fleming didn’t live long enough to see Moore play Bond.  He saw only the first two Connery efforts, disliking “Dr. No” but warming to   “From Russia, With Love.”  After reading the books, it is not hard to see why Fleming was not crazy about the movies.  “Dr. No” suffered from a particularly weak screenplay that downplayed the sadistic finale, as well as eliminating crucial scenes between Bond and Quarrel. Two things made the movie a special one. First, the physical presence of Ursula Andress who, as Honey Ryder,  set a standard for Bond girls to come that would never be equaled.  The other was the casting of Sean Connery, whose Bond bore faint resemblance to Fleming’s generic spy, instead giving the cinema an action hero without precedent.

What was needed now was a movie that could contain such a presence. “From Russia, With Love” was a step in the right direction, but  “Goldfinger” took the leap that immortalized Sean Connery as James Bond.  Goldfinger was the perfect villain, Pussy Galore the perfect female adversary/lover, Oddjob the perfect killer, the raid on Fort Knox the perfect crime. Both M and Q came into their own, and Miss Moneypenny’s contribution to the mix should never be underestimated. The theme music became an essential component of the action, from the brazen torch challenge of the theme song to the various uses to which the instrumental theme was put, to that final masterpiece, “Dawn Raid on Fort Knox,” which was a “Bolero” for the Sixties.

The James Bond formula was set with “Goldfinger.” The movies got bigger, but not better.  Connery left the series, replaced by Moore, who provided an adequate center for the magnified action of the 1973-85 period, but added little in terms of character. Still, for those who came of age during these years, Moore’s Bond films were the pinnacle of cinematic excitement.  And when he took his leave, a legion of muscled super-killers, from  Rambo to  the Terminator, were ready and waiting to kick 007’s ass back to the sixties.

Before that happened, while Moore was still riding high with “Octopussy,” his second to last Bond adventure, Sean Connery returned as 007.  1983’s “Never Say Never Again”  had only two things to make it resemble a James Bond movie.   The script was based on the original, unfilmed screenplay for “Thunderball,” and James Bond was played by Sean Connery.  In every other respect, it was just another mediocre action movie from the mid-eighties, bad in every way that all those other movies were bad. The fight scenes were clumsy, the chases ridiculous, and the confrontations between hero in villain, which had always been so memorable in the Bond pictures, had descended to the depths of absurdity with Klaus Maria Brandauer’s Largo  challenging Bond to a video game of world domination.  Furthermore, the soundtrack by Marvin Hamlisch  was simply atrocious.  There was no aspect of this movie that met the Bond standard.

Except Sean Connery.  Twenty years down the road, he was still James Bond.  Unlike Roger Moore, he did not need a James Bond movie to prop himself up with.  All alone, in this miserable wreck of a picture, he lived again as James Bond.  James Fox was no M, and Pamela Salem was certainly no Moneypenny, but Connery was unmistakably 007, even after the Double O series had been retired from service.

In 2006, a new James Bond rose from the dust of the Timothy Daltons and Pierce Brosnans.  This Daniel Craig was nothing like Moore or Connery, but he was a compelling, fascinating presence in a genre grown ridiculous and stale with its Mission Impossibles and Bourne Identities.  It seemed that every wimpy eighties kid from Mel Gibson to Keanu Reeves had grown into an indestructible action hero. But this Daniel Craig was a real man, vicious yet tender, and a new generation of Bond fans didn’t give a damn about Sean Connery or Ian Fleming.  It didn’t matter to them that 007 would play a card game as vulgar as poker.  Most of them didn’t know what the hell Baccarat was anyway, and wouldn’t be able to follow the game even if “Casino Royale” was faithful to the book.  And screw the ending. Let it be ruined, malformed, and sentimentalized.  This new Bond would still love the heroine, even if she did turn out to be a double agent.

The three Daniel Craig Bonds are excellent movies, and I expect his fourth and last, to be released later this year, to maintain, and perhaps even exceed, the quality of the first three.  But what happens after that is anybody’s guess.  Will those who have grown up with Craig accept a replacement?  And after more than half a century, is it really necessary to keep the franchise going?  I think not.  And what better way to put the whole thing to rest than to bring Sean Connery back for one last time.

Imagine. James Bond.  85 year old.  Retired.  Targeted for assassination. Bring  out the whole barrage of past villains and their vengeful offspring.  Bond picks them off, one by one, but in a final twist is undone by the most unlikely adversary.

Or maybe you would prefer seeing Benedict Cumberbatch in a remake of “Octopussy.”

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2 thoughts on “Never Say Never Again: Summing Up James Bond and the Actors who have Played Him

  1. Great article and I enjoyed the interview. I’d love to see Sean back at 85–why isn’t he a mentor for a new Bond? Anyway, yes, by the time Sean Connery came back to ‘Never Say Never Again’, your point is valid–the movie is crap, but James Bond was James Bond lost in a bad film. I look forward to Craig’s performance this winter and wonder, too, what will happen after Daniel is done. I hope it’s not B.C. I don’t think he’s the least bit sexy. I’d like to see Toby Stephens or Michael Fassbender — although they are too pretty. I wish they’d pick someone as unknown as Connery was when they signed him up for Bond.

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  2. I would have like to see Connery replace Bernard Lee as M. although I am a fan of Judi Dench, I hate the way she plays the role, es but he ecially i n her attitude towards Bond. I agree 100% with you that a little known but classically trained actor should be the new Bond. That was my hope for Dalton, but he was just too juvenile. Cilliam Murphy might be a goodchoice although I also like Fassbender.http://www.celebitchy.com/391161/cillian_murphy_would_like_you_to_stop_talking_about_his_pretty_eyes/

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