Living on the Never Never

Living on the Never Never

It's fitting that Sean Connery's non-EON Bond film, Never Say Never Again, was part-financed by the now long-defunct British flat-pack furniture retailer, MFI. 

 

By all accounts, Connery toiled relentlessly to put the film together. Some vital components, such as the gun barrel sequence and the James Bond Theme, were missing, and the instruction manual — the novel of Thunderball — was not particularly helpful.

 

To this day, the film divides fans like few others in the canon, that's if it even gets a look in during reviews of the official series. With that in mind, I decided to burn off a few free radicals by jotting down some of my thoughts about it.

 

I'll begin by saying that I'm not a huge Connery fan in general. Still, I have to say his performance in this is note-perfect, and possibly my favourite of his. 

 

As well as his total mastery of the role, he brings a sardonic detachment and knowingness that acknowledges the direction Roger Moore took the films while retaining the steely realism that so many of his admirers appreciate.

 

Another massive plus for the film is the casting. In his entertaining interview with Barry Norman at the time of the film's release, Connery opined that the official series had been "under-cast", which I think is a fair comment. The Bond films are well-known for avoiding big-name actors. 

 

I've also been struck by how during Moore's tenure, less focus was placed on the villains, in favour of the Bond girls, who get more back story and emotions to work with. Baddies such as Kristatos and Kamal Khan are somewhat bland compared with Goldfinger and Blofeld.

 

Never Say Never Again redresses this with phenomenal performances from Klaus Maria Brandauer and Barbara Carrera as Largo and Fatima Blush respectively. 

 

That said, the main Bond girl, in the form of Kim Basinger's Domino, is also well written and played. The lesser characters, such as Prunella Gee's Shrublands nurse, fare less well. 

 

This is particularly the case for poor Valerie Leon, on holiday from working as a receptionist in a Sardinia Hotel. Her character is merely credited as 'Lady in Bahamas'. 

 

The office team are pleasingly reimagined — especially Edward Fox as M. Although I do think Pamela Salem isn't given much to work with ("ooh, do be careful!") as Moneypenny.

 

Connery also assembled a strong technical crew to bring the film to life, even coaxing sound engineer Norman Wanstall out of retirement to get those XT-7Bs sounding just right. 

 

For my money, the one technician who adds the most to the picture is legendary cinematographer Douglas Slocombe. He gave the whole thing an expensive-looking, glossy sheen, which benefits the film immeasurably. 

 

One element that often comes in for a lot of stick is Michel Legrand's score, but I think this is unjustified. The laid back and jazzy vibe really suits the idea of an older, more mature 007, and the music has aged much better than, Bill Conti's in For Your Eyes Only.

 

I think it's fair to say that Never is much less action-packed than the official series, especially compared with the contemporaneous John Glen era. 

 

I'm not sure that's a problem in the context of a more mature Bond and tone generally. The film avoids 'adolescent antics' more so than Moore's oeuvre. Although as a result, the more fantastical elements, such as the whole 'Presidential eye-print check' idea, do jar more than they otherwise would. 

 

When the action sequences do come, in particular the motorcycle chase, but also the title-sequence, Shrublands fight, and shark chase — they are gratifyingly well done.

 

On this point, the old Broccoli motto of "putting every penny up on the screen" is really evident. If you asked a layperson which of the Bond films released in 1983 had a budget of $36m, and which one cost $27.5m, I'm sure in most cases they'd be wrong. Octopussy genuinely looks like the more expensive film.

 

Where the film falls down is ultimately the one factor beyond Connery's control: the legal necessity to hew so closely to the Thunderball story. Given the amount of litigation it has generated over the years, it isn't especially compelling. 

 

While there aren't nearly as many tedious underwater scenes this time around, the climax is irredeemably soggy —not to say ludicrous. How on earth did Domino manage to get there just in time to skewer Largo?

 

In a final analysis, I'd much rather Never Say Never Again existed than not. Its unique position as the only unofficial Bond film that takes itself seriously makes it something of a curio. The film is undoubtedly fresh and original in many ways when compared with the official series of the time. 

 

If nothing else, I think it leaves a lasting cinematic legacy to this day in the form of the Johnny English series.

David Crosbie

David lives in Leeds and has been a 007 fan for more years than he cares to remember. When not working as a mild-mannered market researcher, he enjoys musing on all aspects of the Bond universe.

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