Some things probably seem a very good idea at the time, just because one element of the plan is potentially sublime. If, however, the rest of the plan is ill conceived and shoddily executed the sublime element isn’t going to help much. The possibly sublime element here is the return of Sean Connery, arguably the most favourite screen James Bond and the star of at least four of the greatest films in the series. Needless to say, his comeback film isn’t one of them. The whole thing comes across as a cheap and cynical exercise, but on closer inspection there are a few things to recommend the film; but only a few.
1983 was touted as the year of the battling Bonds, with Cubby Broccoli’s Octopussy being the official release; a sixth outing for Roger Moore. Meanwhile Connery was ready for his seventh (and last) appearance as 007, in what was essentially a re-make of Thunderball. In the event, Never say never again was released later in the year and was still running in cinemas into 1984, sometime after Octopussy had seen it’s general release, so the head to head contest never really happened. But, if you compare box office takings, Octopussy was the slightly bigger hit. Either way, both films were duds.
Sean Connery is reasonably good as the older 007, and his rugged charm makes the film just about watchable. The story involves Bond’s retirement from the secret service (apparently he has become a teacher). In that sense it is still the only Bond film to realistically portray the character over a long period of time. This really could be the same man who faced Dr. No; although where the events in Thunderball fit in I’m not sure. But when we meet him in this film, he has been out of the secret service for some time. However, the new ‘M’ reactivates the 007 section and Bond is back with a more action filled job. But when the film really needs him, Connery fails to ignite this adventure with the spark present in most of his earlier films. There are occasions where he genuinely shines, but there are also moments where he looks bored with the material.
The genesis of Never say never again has been discussed before, but to fill you in with the details, it all goes back to producer and writer Kevin McClory. He wrote the screenplay for Thunderball in 1961, with Ian Fleming. Fleming went on to write the book of the same name, based on the original story he’d created with McClory. In the end, McClory teamed up with Broccoli and Saltzman on the ‘official’ series to produce Thunderball in 1965. There was also a clause where McClory agreed not to produce another Bond film for 10 years, if it was his wish to do so. As he only held the rights to Thunderball, there was only so much he could do. This worked the other way as well, as Eon productions could no longer use the characters of Blofeld and his SPECTRE organisation in the series as they had been created for Thunderball. When Fleming’s novel was first published, he was unimpressed by what he saw as Fleming taking credit for his ideas. The fact that Fleming made Blofeld and SPECTRE his own more than McClory ever did, simply through the creative effort of four Bond novels featuring them, never seems to have been considered. Whatever the reasons behind the film, it has a lot to live up to given the high standards of the Eon series. If Eon really is an acronym for “Everything or nothing”, and their films usually live up to that promise, Never say never again couldn’t be more different.
The story is almost identical to Thunderball, with SPECTRE stealing some nuclear weapons, with the intention of using them to extort huge sums of money from wealthier countries. Luckily for Bond he discovers their plot while at a health farm that seems to be the front for SPECTRE’s activities. The villains in this one are Klaus Brandauer as Emilio Largo (the same name as in Thunderball) and femme fatale Fatima Blush, deliciously played by Barbara Carrera. She really was a rent-a-villain in the mid eighties, and livened up a season of Dallas at one point, with a bitchiness as noticeable as her shoulder pads.
The opening sequence is intriguing, but not a patch on the official series. The new ‘007’ logo feels like a poor compromise given that the gun barrel intro couldn’t be used. There’s no innovative title sequence or teaser section either. Still, it’s good to see Connery looking fitter than he did in Diamonds are forever, but the film soon nosedives into cheapness. For starters, the music is terrible; the kind of clichéd TV movie drivel that shouldn’t be within hearing distance of a Bond movie, even if it’s an unofficial one. Throughout the film, the music actually prevents me from enjoying it as much as I might. Unfortunately it just throws into relief the other things that are badly wrong with the film. Michel Legrand is the man responsible, and he is certainly no replacement for John Barry.
There are usually several amazing stunt scenes in a Bond film. Never say never again only has the one- a half hearted bike chase, which does have a pleasing climax with Bond being knocked off his bike and forced to endure the wrath of Fatima Blush. Its times like that you think the film might actually improve for more than just one or two scenes. Also, the fight scene in the health farm is violent and energetic, and Connery has never looked harder. If the film proves one thing, it shows how much more convincing Connery was in the fight scenes than Roger Moore, even after so long away from the role.
Rowan Atkinson also turns up at one point, as Bond’s bumbling contact in the field. He’s actually quite amusing and I get a strange delight from seeing Connery and Atkinson in the same film together. The main Bond girl is actually Kim Basinger as Domino, who is quite good, conveying the right amount of fear (and eventual hatred) of Largo. Edward Fox is vaguely amusing as ‘M’, and the fact the character is a bumbling oaf can be excused (as he is meant to be a different character than the one Bernard Lee played). Pamela Salem is wasted as Moneypenny, as she’s only in it briefly. Why Moneypenny looks so much younger than the matured Bond is never explained either. If this is meant to be a film realistically depicting Bond’s retirement from the secret service, they could of have at least seen the idea through properly. The presence of a new ‘Q’ (Alec McCowen) is not welcome at all, and adds nothing to the picture. On the positive side, the new Felix Leiter (Bernie Casey) is quite interesting, if only because he’s the first black actor to have played the role, and he’s far better than some of the ‘official’ Leiters. He also comes at a time when the character had been absent from the official series for ten years. Carrera is highly amusing as Blush, and really enters the spirit of a Bond film. Sadly this isn’t the Bond film she deserved. 12 years later there would be a similar female of nasty proportions with Famke Jenssen’s role in Goldeneye. It wouldn’t surprise me if Carrera was an influence. She isn’t the main protagonist, however. Sadly Klaus Brandauer isn’t the most engaging villain, and comes across as petty and unthreatening. Where the film does get it right is in the casting of Bond’s arch-nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld. In the characters last screen appearance to date, the role is played by Max Von Sydow, an actor of considerable talent. Sydow lends Blofeld a gentlemanly air, whilst remaining very sinister and calculating. Even in this unofficial outing, he still has a white Persian cat (a creation of the Eon series). It’s a pity Blofeld and Bond don’t meet in this film, and that Sydow isn’t in the film more. It’s also a pity that Sydow’s excellent Blofeld happens to appear in such an awful Bond film. So the one perplexing thing about Never say never again is how it manages to have such an impressive cast, but wastes them on below average material. But as some of the performances are decent enough, it might well keep you watching.
Elsewhere there is storytelling of the sloppiest kind. The problem is that the story is full of ridiculous oversights. Blush and Largo try their best to kill Bond, and later he gets captured on Largo’s yacht. So then what does Largo do? Let’s Bond wander free on his ship, and then looks surprised when all hell breaks loose. Also, why the marines show up later on, to help out, is never explained either. Saying that, I still find Connery lifts the film to a higher level, normally when you’re just about sick of the film and ready to switch over to the other channel. “I can’t stand that shitty music any longer”, I think to myself, “and Barbara Carerra’s dress sense is bloody awful, even if it was 1983”. But then you get a great Bond scene, like the end of the bike chase or with Sean making a doorman hold a cigarette case (which he thinks is a movement sensitive bomb). And the game of “Domination” that Bond and Largo play is quite novel, even if the game voice sounds like it’s one of the Cylons from Battlestar Galactica. For brief moments the film looks set to give the original series a run for its money, but it never keeps up the momentum.
Never say, never again has two saving graces in the form of its hero (Connery) and one of its villains (Sydow) as well as a few good lines and the odd decent performance. The rest is either just unappealing or seriously misjudged. The formula for creating a Bond film is not as simple as adding the requisite components together and hoping for the best. Never say never again feels like it was made with just that kind of judgement in mind. And for a man fresh from successes like The Empire strikes back, Irvin Kershner’s direction lacks a substantial amount of panache or style.
This really is the most disappointing film of the many Bond titles reviewed in this blog. It’s an unworthy swansong for Sean Connery, although it can’t really be called part of his “era” as it comes so long after his supposed finale in Diamonds are forever. It is a bland and insipid excuse for a James Bond film, and while there are several scenes that do the character justice and offer some decent level of entertainment the film is ultimately an anomaly amongst Bond films, more so than On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Ironic that OHMSS could perhaps have been a faultless Bond adventure, if Connery had been present. As it is, some of us still give George Lazenby his dues and although in Never say never again Connery is present, the film is far from faultless.
And yet McClory, a man who just couldn’t let his chance go and admit defeat, apparently wanted to launch another Bond film for the 21st century, before his recent death. Presumably, as before, this would have been another re-hash of Thunderball. It seems the audience’s rightful expectation of a good film came further down his list than proving he can upstage Eon productions. On the strength of this outing, it’s perhaps as well McClory will now never again produce another Bond film.
And always never again!