Never Say, Never Again (1983) dir. Irvin Kerschner
Starring: Sean Connery, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Kim Basinger, Barbara Carrera
“Never Say, Never Again” is one of the few Bond anomalies in the history of the franchise - the result of one of the legendary legal disputes in cinema history. The short story goes like this, before Harry Salzman purchased the rights to the Fleming novels, which ultimately became the 22-film, 47-year-old franchise, in 1956 Kevin McClory co-wrote an original screenplay with Ian Fleming based on the Bond character. The film eventually got made by the Salzman/Broccoli team (aka EON Productions) as “Thunderball”, however Salzman only purchased the rights to the Fleming novels, and thus “Thunderball” and it’s remake rights remained property of McClory.
This is how Orion Pictures and Warner Bros Distribution could have made their own Bond movie outside of the familiar franchise creators. While most of the Bondisms are retained in the film, the only aspects missing are the distinct title sequence, the POV pistol introduction and John Barry’s familiar music theme. But what coup and a slap in the face for the EON team to have Sean Connery, the original and most popular James Bond return to his signature role 12 years after he made his last film and vowed, ‘never to make another Bond film.’ This makes the title (coined by Connery’s wife, in response to his declaration) of this anomaly Bond film so appropriate.
And even more embarrassing is the fact that the filmmaking team of Jack Schwartzman (father to Jason, husband to Talia Shire) and Irvin “Empire Strikes Back” Kerschner managed to make this film one of the better Bond films of them all.
The opening features Connery conducting a training test to evaluate his physical abilities as a spy. After all, it’s many years after his heyday as a Cold War spy. His age has shown and he’s sent by M (Edward Fox) to a spa resort. There he finds trouble in femme fatal Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera) doing some nefarious spy work for an evil international businessman.
Meanwhile MI6 and the CIA has just discovered that two of their ICBMs have been launched somewhere into the ocean and stolen. Time to activate 007. And thus, out of retirement comes the Sean Connery Bond. His leads track him back to Blush and a slimy international tycoon with the perfect badguy name, Maximillian Largo (Brandauer). To get Largo Bond swoons his blonde girlfriend Domino (Kim Basinger), exploiting his jealousy and rage.
In comparison to the John Glen/Roger Moore 80's-era Bond, heavy on comic book action and gadgets, “Never Say Never Again” feels like the 60’s Bond. Apart from the opening gunfight scene it takes an hour and twenty minutes before the second act set piece, a well-staged motorcycle chase through Monte Carlo. Instead we get the awesome star power of Connery bedding women and outsmarting his opponents with panache. Twelve years later Connery picks up and embodies the character like his well-fitted tuxedo. Even stripped down shirtless, Connery’s manly hairy chest makes Roger Moore look like the runt of the litter.
The film is also aided by Kerschner’s humanist direction, once again showing his chops working with actors, like he did with “Empire Strikes Back”. Klaus Maria Brandauer’s sophisticated and maniacal Maximillian Largo is arguably one of the top three Bond villains (I’d put Gert Fröbe and Christopher Lee up there too). Kerschner admits on the DVD commentary that his stagy underwater layer finale was rushed and never properly lit, but before then his wonderfully conceived video game battle of “Domination” which involves a head to head battle for countries of the world with electrically charged joysticks is a great scene.
“Never Say Never Again” successfully held it’s own against the EON production of “Octopussy” in 1983 ($55million vs $67million) and in critics’ circles handily trumped Broccoli version. Ironically through various conglomerate buyouts “Never Say Never Again” is now under the same distribution envelope as the EON films. Even then, the temp Bond titles with a numerical digit (ie. "Quantum of Solace" was Bond 22) doesn’t include this last Connery film in the oeuvre. Maybe it’s time to bring Connery out of retirement and hire a real director to remake "Thunderball" again to show them how it’s done.
"Never Say Never Again" is available on DVD from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment