By Steve Vivona
I grew up during Roger Moore's reign as James Bond (pity me). Others came of age in the era of "Dr. No" and "Goldfinger," and those younger than me were treated to "Goldeneye" and "The World is Not Enough." With the exception of the serious "For Your Eyes Only" I was subjected to the self-parodying likes of "Moonraker," "Octopussy" and "A View to a Kill."
Only with Moore's retirement and the brief ascendancy of Timothy Dalton was I saved. There was one brief shining moment though. In 1983 Sean Connery did what he said he would never do again - play James Bond.
At the time I had no concept of all the legal wrangling going on over this renegade Bond film. I was not aware that the film wasn't produced by Eon Productions and was essentially a remake of the 1965 Bond classic, "Thunderball" (which I had not seen at that point). All I knew was that the man was back, if only for an instant.
Connery was convinced by his wife to play Bond one last time and she even suggested the title, "Never Say Never Again." He undertook the challenge of playing a 50-something world-weary Bond who showed his age (although he didn't go so far as to lose his toupee!) The best part was that Connery looked trimmer and healthier than he did in his previous Bond outing, "Diamonds are Forever," in 1971!
Producer Kevin McClory's rights to the James Bond character only extended so far as his appearance in Thunderball. Any deviation from that story and his production would have been immediately shut down. He tweaked it a bit for modern audiences but the story remained essentially the same.
A ruthless SPECTRE agent steals two nuclear warheads and proceeds to holds the world ransom. Meanwhile James Bond spends his days teaching and running through endless simulations to keep on top of his game. This new threat from SPECTRE forces "M" to reactivate the double 0s and Bond is back in action.
The trail leads to wealthy industrialist Maximillian Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer), a sadistic minion of SPECTRE. Bond manages to incense Largo as he romances his girlfriend Domino (Kim Basinger in her screen debut) in an attempt to learn the location of the warheads. Bond and Largo play a game of cat and mouse that eventually culminates in an exciting underwater showdown.
Many Bond purists have disowned "NSNA" despite Connery's presence in the role. "It's not part of the canon," they say. I beg to differ. This is Sean Connery we're talking about. It wasn't as though some no-name British guy came in and said, "My name is Bond, James Bond." This was the man who breathed life into this character and he proved he still had it in him.
In fact I loved seeing him play the role as an older man essaying all the aches and pains he should be feeling. Like a fine wine Connery aged gracefully and still had the requisite style, panache and look the role required. He even allowed some age-related jokes at his expense but the proceedings never degenerate into a campy Moore-esque exercise.
Connery was aided by a stellar supporting cast. Brandauer is as good a Bond villain as there ever were. His character brims with insanity and megalomania and his fits of rage are the hallmark of a Bond baddie. Additionally, Barbara Carrera is deliciously evil as the twisted man-hating assassin Fatima Blushe and she almost steals the movie.
Basinger made a stunning Bond girl and from the start it was obvious the girl could act. (did Tanya Roberts ever win an Oscar?) The film also featured great thesps like Max Von Sydow, Edward Fox and Bernie Casey in smaller roles.
I will admit the climax of "NSNA" is somewhat wanting and suffers in direct comparison to "Thunderball," but Connery provides a great ride and the wave of nostalgia for his brand of Bond is palpable.
"NSNA" has all the ingredients of a great Bond film (except maybe a memorable theme song). All the pieces fit together beautifully -- an over-the-top villain, beautiful women, exotic locations, thrilling action and the best actor for the job. Thanks to "NSNA" I have a least one treasured Bond memory from my youth.
MGM has released a bare bones edition of "NSNA" which is unfortunate since their special editions of the "official" versions are uniformly excellent. I'm just happy it's available on DVD and the widescreen transfer is gorgeous with strong colors and a razor-sharp image. The only supplement is a theatrical trailer.