MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #21 – SEAN CONNERY (R.I.P 1930 – 2020)
“There’s one major difference between James Bond and me. He is able to sort out problems!” — Sean Connery
Sadly, the great Scottish actor, Sir Sean Connery passed away at the age of ninety on the 31st October 2020. Born in Fountainbridge, Edinburgh in 1930, Connery walked a fascinating and winding road to the path of famous film actor.
With working class and traveller roots, Connery was a milkman, artist’s model, bodybuilder, Naval seaman and talented footballer, who would earn acting experience in many stage roles from the early 1950’s onwards. In 1957, Connery began to get supporting roles in film and television. But, that same year, he landed his first leading role in BBC Television’s production of Requiem for a Heavyweight. He would also be cast in a prominent role in Cy Endfield’s brutal thriller, Hell Drivers (1957).
According to an apocryphal story, it was Connery’s co-star, Patrick McGoohan, who recommended him to producers for the starring role of Ian Fleming’s James Bond. The Prisoner star and creator, McGoohan, had been offered the role of Bond and turned it down. Connery would eventually accept, and the rest is history.
One could debate the differences and variant aspects of the movie star, the film actor and the character actor endlessly, but the fact is, Sean Connery was ALL three. A versatile actor who could do tough guy, romantic lead, comedic foil, serious drama and action hero roles with equal brilliance, switching between such traits effortlessly. Moreover, he also inhabited each role with a magnetic charisma that one could not keep your eyes off. And there’s THAT voice and delivery! The voice of gravitas and steely sophistication that made you want to listen, whatever Connery may be saying. In short: he was greatest film actors and stars of a generation.
In keeping with the My Cinematic Romance series, I have picked FIVE of my favourite Sean Connery roles. They may not be his best, but they are films I love. In order to challenge myself I have picked just ONE film from the James Bond series. If you prefer other Connery roles then please feel free to comment. R.I.P – Sean Connery.
HELL DRIVERS (1957)
Hell Drivers (1957) is a film that certainly deserves revisiting. Not simply because it is an excellent action drama, but because it contains an incredible cast, with most of the players going on to have major parts in some iconic screen roles. Connery was an unknown when appearing in the ensemble as Johnny Kates, but he more than holds his own as a tough guy working in the cutthroat and granite-tough haulage industry.
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963)
Having read Ian Fleming’s classic spy novel Casino Royale in the last few years, I have to say that the early adaptations of the Bond series were a tremendous representation of his vision of Cold War espionage. If Dr No (1962) was the starter and Goldfinger (1964) the dessert, for me, From Russia With Love (1963) was the main course of the first three films in the franchise. Facing S.P.E.C.T.R.E, who are hell bent of destroying Bond, Connery gives such a confident performance amidst thrilling plot and action. His scenes with Robert Shaw as Grant are pure machismo and menace, culminating in an exciting fight on the Orient Express.
I should really pick Sidney Lumet’s The Hill (1965) for my next choice. That film is a brutal character study set in a military prison during WW2, where Connery gives one of his finest performances. Instead, I have chosen a 1980’s action film about immortals slicing each other to death, to a rock soundtrack by Queen. Nothing in this film should work, from the pop video effects, the crazy mullets and mix of modern and historical settings. But somehow it does. Connery was beginning to settle into the mentor role now and he brings, like Clancy Brown, absolute class to the film. Here, as Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez (an Egyptian with a Scottish accent), he guides Christopher Lambert through a heady mix of sci-fi nonsense, swashbuckling swordplay and brilliant action.
THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987)
Another mentor role, this time portraying Irish beat cop Jimmy Malone, who joins Eliot Ness’s (Kevin Costner) crusade to bring down Al Capone (Robert DeNiro). Even with DeNiro, Costner and a breakthrough role for Andy Garcia in the cast, Connery absolutely owns this film from start to finish. Brian DePalma helms the spectacular set-pieces with aplomb, but Connery delivers David Mamet’s hard-boiled dialogue with confident intensity. Connery’s Jimmy Malone is a superb character performance, delivered with honesty, toughness and poignancy, as Malone finally gets the chance to be a proper copper. Quite rightly, Connery would win best Supporting Actor at the Oscars. Along with his Academy Award, Connery also won two BAFTA Awards, three Golden Globes, and a Henrietta Award during his illustrious career.
INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989)
How do you keep fresh and revitalise a film sequel? Well, by adding ingredients the filmmakers hope will differentiate and familiarise the franchise at the same time. The way George Lucas and Steven Spielberg did this with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) was to open with a thrilling origin story of Indy (River Phoenix) as a teenage adventurer fighting baddies in the West. Moreover, they also introduced surprisingly halfway through, the original Doctor Henry Jones Snr. The film was already knockout brilliant and got even better when Sean Connery first appears as Indiana’s (Harrison Ford) father. While it could have been cheesy with our hero’s Dad on the adventure, it is anything but. There are character reveals galore throughout as we get both a great buddy-buddy double act, and a vulnerable Indy, unsure and lacking confidence in the presence of his formidable father.