Saturday, October 31, 2020

Connery Ends His Run

This was not the sort of news I hoped to read on this Halloween morning. Variety offers the bottom line:
Sean Connery, the Scottish-born actor who rocketed to fame as James Bond and became one of the franchise’s most popular and enduring international stars, has died. He was 90.

Connery, long regarded as one of the best actors to have portrayed the iconic spy, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000 and marked his 90th birthday in August. His death was confirmed by his family, who said that the actor “died peacefully in his sleep surrounded by family” in the Bahamas. It’s believed he had been unwell for some time. His last acting role had been in Stephen Norrington’s “The League of Extraordinary Gentleman” (2003).

Connery was an audience favorite for more than 40 years and one of the screen’s most reliable and distinctive leading men. The actor was recently voted the best James Bond actor in an August Radio Times poll in the U.K. More than 14,000 voted and Connery claimed 56% of the vote. Global tributes poured in for Connery on Saturday following news of his death.
In its own lengthy obituary, The New York Times recounts some of Connery’s more memorable non-Bond roles:
In the 1970s and ’80s, Mr. Connery gracefully transformed himself into one of the grand old men of the movies. If his trained killer in the futuristic fantasy “Zardoz” (1974), his Barbary pirate in “The Wind and the Lion” (1975) or his middle-aged Robin Hood in “Robin and Marian” (1976) did not erase the memory of his James Bond, they certainly blurred the image.

Mr. Connery won a best-actor award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts for “The Name of the Rose” (1986), based on the Umberto Eco novel, in which he played a crime-solving medieval monk, and the Academy Award as best supporting actor for his performance as an honest cop on the corrupt Chicago police force in “The Untouchables” (1987). Mr. Connery taught himself to understand that character — Jim Malone, a cynical, streetwise police officer whose only goal is to be alive at the end of his shift — by noting the other characters’ attitudes toward him.

After reading Malone’s scenes, he told The Times in 1987, he read the scenes in which his character did not appear. “That way,” he said, “I get to know what the character is aware of and, more importantly, what he is not aware of. The trap that bad actors fall into is playing information they don’t have.”
“Despite all that,” writes The Spy Command’s Bill Koenig, “his seven Bond films”—from 1962’s Dr. No to 1983’s Never Say Never Again—“defined his career and made him a star.
Dr. No producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, working with a modest budget, decided on Connery relatively early in pre-production. United Artists, the studio that would release 11 Bond films before it was absorbed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, initially was skeptical.

Eventually, UA executives were sold. It was a decision they would profit from handsomely. The 007 series was UA’s major asset in the 1960s, a decade when the studio also released such films as
West Side Story, In the Heat of the Night and low-cost but profitable films featuring The Beatles.

Connery’s Bond was both sophisticated and ruthless. The actor was tutored in the former trait by director Terence Young, who helmed three of the first four 007 movies. It was Young who polished the rough diamond of an actor who came from a working-class background in Scotland.
I didn’t teethe on Bond flicks, but thanks to my father’s stochastic TV-viewing habits, I finally came to them as a teenager—and have watched every one of those pictures since. I won’t argue with the proposition that Connery was the best Bond, especially in productions such as Goldfinger (see here and here). While I am also a fan of Roger Moore’s Live and Let Die (1973), Pierce Brosnan’s GoldenEye (1995), and Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale (2006), whenever I re-read one of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels or any of the continuation novels penned by John Gardner, Raymond Benson, Anthony Horowitz, or others, I immediately picture Connery’s face on their protagonist. He may have preferred not to be typecast as incomparably prepared British espionage agent 007, but it will always be that part which defines him for me as well as for millions of other movie-watchers.

READ MORE:Sean Connery, a Lion of Cinema Whose Roar Went Beyond Bond,” by Jake Coyle (Associated Press); “Sean Connery on Slapping Women: Dangerous Opinions, But a Man of the Time?” by Scott Mccartney (The Scotsman); “Sean Connery: An Appreciation,” by Bill Koenig (The Spy Command).

1 comment:

teeritz said...

Yes, he cast a long shadow for all Bond actors afterwards. And like you, whenever I read the books, it's Connery's face that I see on Bond.
Despite his age and recent state of health, I still dreaded the day that I would read of his passing. Still, from all reports, he died in his sleep, at his home in the Bahamas, with much of his family nearby. A million-dollar ending.
Aside from his Bonds, we have a nice list of other fine performances. He did good work and left a nice legacy.