Bond, James Bond PT 6: Sean Connery

11 Apr

Sean-Connery-as-James-Bond-with-Walther-Air-Pistol

“Vodka Martini, shaken not stirred.”

For many Bond fans there is only one James Bond,  Sir Thomas Sean Connery, Kt, (born August 25th, 1930). Although the first Bond,Connery set the standard for the Bond actors that followed. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Connery was the son of a cleaning woman and factory worker. After a stint as milkman he joined the Royal Navy. By the time he was 23 he had been discharged on medical grounds. Although he was a body builder and loved Football, he decided to become an actor. He felt his football career would be over at 30 and he wanted to have a life long career.

Looking to pick up some extra money, Connery helped out backstage at the King’s Theater in late 1951. He became interested in the proceedings, and a career was launched.

In 1957, Connery played Spike, a minor gangster with a speech impediment in Montgomery Tully’s No Road Back alongside Skip Homeier, Paul Carpenter, Patricia Dainton and Norman Wooland. He then played a rogue lorry driver Johnny Yates in Cy Endfield’s Hell Drivers (1957) alongside Stanley Baker, Herbert Lom, Peggy Cummins and Patrick McGoohan. Later in 1957 Connery appeared in Terence Young’s poorly received MGM action picture Action of the Tiger opposite Van Johnson, Martine Carol, Herbert Lom and Gustavo Rojo; the film was shot on location in southern Spain. He also had a minor role in Gerald Thomas’s thriller Time Lock (1957) as a welder, appearing alongside Robert Beatty, Lee Patterson, Betty McDowall and Vincent Winter, which commenced filming on 1 December 1956 at Beaconsfield Studios.

In 1958 he had a major role in the melodrama Another Time, Another Place (1958) as a British reporter named Mark Trevor, caught in a love affair opposite Lana Turner and Barry Sullivan. During filming, star Lana Turner’s possessive gangster boyfriend, Johnny Stompanato, who was visiting from Los Angeles, believed she was having an affair with Connery. He stormed onto the set and pointed a gun at Connery, only to have Connery disarm him and knock him flat on his back. Stompanato was banned from the set. Connery later recounted that he had to lie low for a while after receiving threats from men linked to Stompanato’s boss, Mickey Cohen.

In 1959, Connery landed a leading role in Robert Stevenson’s Walt Disney Productions film Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959) alongside Albert Sharpe, Janet Munro, and Jimmy O’Dea. The film is a tale about a wily Irishman and his battle of wits with leprechauns. Upon the film’s initial release, A. H. Weiler of the New York Times praised the cast (save Connery whom he described as “merely tall, dark, and handsome”) and thought the film an “overpoweringly charming concoction of standard Gaelic tall stories, fantasy and romance.”. In his book The Disney Films, film critic and historian Leonard Maltin stated that, “Darby O’Gill and the Little People is not only one of Disney’s best films, but is certainly one of the best fantasies ever put on film.”

He also had a prominent television role in Rudolph Cartier’s 1961 production of Anna Karenina for BBC Television, in which he co-starred with Claire Bloom.

Connery’s breakthrough came in the role of secret agent James Bond. He was reluctant to commit to a film series, but understood that if the films succeeded his career would greatly benefit. He played the character in the first five Bond films: Dr. No (1962), From Russia with Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thundeball (1965), and You Only Live Twice (1967) then appeared again as Bond in Diamonds Are Forever (1971) and Never Say Never Again (1983). All seven films were commercially successful.

Sean Connery’s selection as James Bond owed a lot to Dana Broccoli, wife of Cubby Broccoli, who is reputed to have been instrumental in persuading Cubby that Sean Connery was the right man. James Bond’s creator, Ian Fleming, originally doubted Connery’s casting, saying, “He’s not what I envisioned of James Bond looks” and “I’m looking for Commander Bond and not an overgrown stunt-man,” adding that Connery (muscular, 6′ 2″, and a Scot) was unrefined. Fleming’s girlfriend told him Connery had the requisite sexual charisma. Fleming changed his mind after the successful Dr. No première; he was so impressed, he created a half-Scottish, half-Swiss heritage for James Bond in the later novels.

Connery’s portrayal of Bond owes much to stylistic tutelage from director Terence Young, polishing the actor while using his physical grace and presence for the action. Lois Maxwell (the first Miss Moneypenny) claimed that, “Terence took Sean under his wing. He took him to dinner, showed him how to walk, how to talk, even how to eat.” The tutoring was successful; Connery received thousands of fan letters a week, and the actor became one of the great male sex symbols of film.

In 2005, From Russia with Love was adapted by Electronic Arts into a video game, titled James Bond 007: From Russia with Love, which featured all-new voice work by Connery as well as his likeness, and those of several of the film’s supporting cast.

Although Bond had made him a star, Connery eventually tired of the role and the pressure the franchise put on him, saying that he was “fed up to here with the whole Bond bit” While making the Bond films, Connery also starred in other acclaimed films such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964) and Murder on the Orient Express (1974). Apart from The Man Who Would Be King and The Wind and the Lion, both released in 1975, most of Connery’s successes in the next decade were as part of ensemble casts in films such as Murder on the Orient Express (1974) with Vanessa Redgrave and John Gielgud and A Bridge Too Far (1977) co-starring Dirk Bogarde and Laurence Olivier.

In 1981, Connery appeared in the film Time Bandits as Agamemnon. The casting choice derives from a joke Michael Palin included in the script, in which he describes the character removing his mask as being “Sean Connery — or someone of equal but cheaper stature”. When shown the script, Connery was happy to play the supporting role. In 1982, Connery narrated G’olé!, the official film of the 1982 FIFA World Cup.

After his experience with Never Say Never Again in 1983 and the following court case, Connery became unhappy with the major studios and for two years did not make any films. Following the successful European production The Name of the Rose (1986), for which he won a BAFTA award, Connery’s interest in more commercial material was revived. That same year, a supporting role in Highlander showcased his ability to play older mentors to younger leads, which would become a recurring role in many of his later films. The following year, his acclaimed performance as a hard-nosed Irish-American cop in The Untouchables (1987) earned him the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, his sole nomination throughout his career. His subsequent box-office hits included Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), in which he played Henry Jones Sr., the title character’s father, The Hunt for Red October (1990) (where he was reportedly called in at two weeks’ notice), The Russia House (1990), The Rock (1996), and Entrapment (1999). In 1996, he voiced the role of Draco the dragon in the film Dragonheart. In 1998, Sean Connery received a BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award.

In recent years, Connery’s films have included several box office and critical disappointments such as First Knight (1995), The Avengers (1998), and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), but he also received positive reviews, including his performance in Finding Forrester (2000). He also later received a Crystal Globe for outstanding artistic contribution to world cinema.

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