Thursday, January 12, 2012
From the Rental Vault (1983): Never Say Never Again
"Never" came in 1983, when Connery agreed to do the "non-canon" Bond adventure Never Say Never Again, a title suggested by his wife Micheline in light of his earlier declaration. The movie is a second screen version of Ian Fleming's 1961 novel Thunderball, the first being Connery's 1965 outing as Bond in...Thunderball.
Never wasn't made by Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman's Eon Productions, so it lacked the gun-barrel opening sequence and Monty Norman's iconic "James Bond Theme." Screenwriter Kevin McClory, after a long legal battle with Eon Productions and Ian Fleming, had the rights to film a version of the Thunderball novel based on his claims to have supplied much of its plot. McClory won his fight and tried to make his movie a couple of times before finally succeeding. He didn't have the music and he didn't have the opening sequence, but he did have one thing that the "official" Bond franchise lacked: Sean Frickin' Connery wielding his official license to kill and unofficial license to thrill. Given that the official franchise's 1983 entry was the tired Octopussy, featuring the increasingly tired-looking Roger Moore, that's a major-league head start right there.
Never also bests its competition in the form of its villain, pitting Klaus Maria Brandauer's playful psychopathic Largo against Louis Jordan's surprisingly small-scale Kamal Kahn. Largo is aided by the scenery-chewing Barbara Carrera as Fatima Blush and bossed by the sinister Blofeld, master of SPECTRE. His weakness -- Domino Petachi (played by Kim Basinger), sister of traitorous air force officer Jack Petachi -- proves to be the handle that Bond will use to pry his way into SPECTRE's plan to use nuclear weapons to extort money from NATO. Bernie Casey also uses his brief time to good effect as CIA agent Felix Leiter.
At 52, Connery was actually three years younger than Moore and at that point had aged much better. The Never screenwriters and director Irwin Kershner used his slightly long-in-the-tooth status to good advantage in the movie, highlighting Bond as something of a Cold War dinosaur in an age of supposedly different needs and standards. Service Director M has little use for Bond and gadget-man Q's slashed budget can't offer him much in the way of spyware. But when it counts, the somewhat older and wilier 007 can outsmart any would-be world-dominating megalomaniac and still outfight most of them. The idea that Bond's time has come and gone gives Never a kind of wry tone that Connery carries off well, probably appreciating the fact that he was back playing spies again a dozen years after he said he wouldn't. And although he's 22 years older than Basinger, she was already 30 when the movie was made -- not some 20-year-old coed -- which reduces the creep factor for this movie, at least. That, and the fact that he's Sean Frickin' Connery.
Never isn't flawless -- it's at least a half-hour too long and it's one of the many movies that labors under the delusion that murky underwater fight scenes between stunt doubles are exciting. Basinger is kind of bland, even more so against the colorful backdrop of Connery, Brandauer and Carrera. Bond movies had been trending towards more active heroines, especially in For Your Eyes Only's Melina Havelock, but Basinger was a throwback to the more passive model of the early 1960s.
It was a splash of fun in the Bond series, though, and fun was something that Octopussy and A View to a Kill, Moore's final Bond outing two years later, lacked. It didn't always take itself so completely seriously, making it a nice change of pace as well as a much better Bond finale for Connery than the jokey Diamonds. It was also a welcome chance to see the original "Nobody does it better" guy back in action, one last time. We might wish it wasn't the last time -- even though Connery is 81 and officially retired from movies and Dame Judi Dench has been spectacular as M in the last six Bond outings, it could a hoot seeing Sir Sean glower and harumph at his just-this-side-of-rogue agent 007 as he overstepped his authority...again.
MGM, which distributes Eon's Bond movies, bought the distribution rights to Never Say Never Again in 1997, which means it's included in multivolume Bond sets of DVDs and is no longer an orphan.