Screen legend Sean Connery passes away

Published : November 01, 2020 21:39 IST

Sean Connery, on location in Tokyo, Japan, in July 1966, during the filming of "You Only Live Twice”. Photo: AP

Sean Connery at a news conference in Berlin in February 2001. Photo: REUTERS

Sean Connery, the man who was the first (and according to many) the definitive James Bond, passed away on October 31, bringing to an end an era he defined by his overtly masculine presence, his impeccable style, his prodigious talent and his magnificently expressive eyebrows. The Hollywood icon was 90 and is survived by his wife Micheline and son Jason. Even if the role of James Bond catapaulted Connery into international stardom, he was much more than just the dapper, deadly English spy created by Ian Fleming. He was a consummate artiste who played a wide range of characters and established himself as one of the finest actors of his generation. As a superstar, he was second to none.

Interestingly, after being selected to play Bond in the first movie of the Franchise, ‘Dr. No’, when the producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R Broccoli had sent some of Connery’s footages to United Artists, the production house got back to them with a terse cable – “SEE IF YOU CAN DO BETTER.” Even Connery’s good friend, the legendary Michael Caine, was surprised at the choice. “I was sure they’d give to Rex (Harrison) because he was your living image of upper-crust good-living,” Caine had said. But Saltzman and Broccoli had already made up their minds as to who their James Bond was going to be. They just loved the way Connery moved. United Artists’ precept was ignored, and the very moment in Dr No (1962) when Bond introduced himself with a bored, deadpan tone, almost imperceptibly raising an eyebrow, a cigarette dangling laconically from his sardonic lips – “Bond, James Bond” – Sean Connery as James Bond became a worldwide sensation. If Fleming created the character, Connery created the cult.

There have been other stars – Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig – who have interpreted the role of Bond in their own ways with huge boxoffice successes; but somewhere the comparison with Connery always lurked in the back of the audience’s mind. He was after all the first, and the one who set the standard. He was also arguably the finest actor to play James Bond. Connery was to play Bond seven times to huge popular acclaim. After ‘Dr No’ came ‘From Russia With Love’ (1963), ‘Goldfinger’(1964), ‘Thunderball’ (1965), ‘You Only Live Twice’ (1967). After playing the role in five consecutive films, Connery sought something different, and Bond’s part went to the Australian actor George Lazenby for ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ (1969). Though the film was a hit, it was Connery that the public wanted as Bond again, and in 1971, he returned for the sixth time in ‘Diamonds are Forever’. It would be another 12 years before a middle-aged Connery would reprise his role as the super spy for the final time in ‘Never Say Never Again’ (1983). It was a monster hit, earning $10,958,157 in the first four days itself – a record at that time for all Bond films. Connery, then 52, showed he could still take his shirt off and hit the gym and show the younger generation a thing or two about machismo. But the interesting thing about Connery’s Bond was that it was not just a macho, action man. Though darker and more violent than Fleming’s creation, Connery’s representation was also very subtle, with an underlying sense of comic irony. At one level, it may even seem that Bond was mocking his own image.

After nearly half a decade in celluloid oblivion, acting mostly in B-grade films, it would have been easy for Connery to get typecast after the success of the first Bond film. However, the actor in him could never be satisfied with simple stardom. In 1962, when he had signed a five-year contract to star as James Bond till 1967, he was allowed to make one non-Bond movie a year. Connery’s choice of films during that period demonstrated his need to expand his creative boundaries and challenge himself. In between the James Bond movies, he played the scheming Anthony Richmond in ‘The Woman of Straw’ (1964), the considerate and intuitive husband to Tippi Hedren in Alfred Hitchcock’s underrated classic ‘Marnie’ (1964), the rebellious Joe Roberts in Sidney Lumet’s war drama ‘The Hill’ (1965), the gifted, but psychologically disturbed poet Samson Shillitoe in ‘A Fine Madness’ (1966). He even did a Western – ‘Shalako (1969) with the French siren Brigitte Bardot. When Connery walked out of the Bond franchise after ‘Diamonds are Forever’ in 1971, it shocked the movie goers of the time, as the screen character was at the height of his popularity. However, it was only after he quit the role of Bond that he came into his own as a multifaceted actor.

COLLABORATIONS WITH SIDNEY LUMET

His first film after ‘Diamonds are Forever’ was ‘The Offence’ (1973) – Sidney Lumet’s dark neo-noir crime drama. Connery’s role of an aging, bald, overweight police officer, given to violent fits of rage and cruelty, was not something most bankable Hollywood stars would opt for. However, it was a role that established him as an acting powerhouse alongside being a huge boxoffice draw. This was the third movie that Connery made with Lumet. After making ‘The Hill’, he had acted in ‘The Anderson Tapes’ (1971), and he would go on to act in two more films of the great filmmaker – ‘Murder on  the Orient Express’ (1974), and as the loveable rogue Jessie McMullen trying to tempt his grandson into a life of crime in the comic crime drama ‘Family Business’ (1989).

Unlike many actors of his generation, Connery’s star never showed any signs of setting. In the 1970s he went on to act in such classics as John Huston’s ‘The Man who would be King’ (1975) and Richard Lester’s ‘Cuba’. He played an aging Robin Hood opposite the ever-elegant Audrey Hepburn once again in Lester’s unlikely hit ‘Robin and Marian’ (1976), and the Arab chief of a group of insurrectionists, Raisuli, in the epic adventure movie ‘The Wind and the Lion’ (1975).

THE GREAT SUPPORTING ACTOR

With age Connery, alongside playing lead, also comfortably shifted into doing important supporting roles. Just as he was brilliant as the detective priest in ‘The Name of the Rose’ (1986) – for which he won a BAFTA for Best Actor, he was equally magnificent in his supporting role as Jim Malone in Brian De Palma’s ‘The Untouchables’ (1989). As Malone, he was tough, funny, sentimental, and fiercely loyal and committed to his cause. None but Connery with his gigantic frame of 6’2 and sly humorous glint behind those honest eyes could have done justice to the role. He won his first and only Academy Award (for Best Supporting Actor) for it.

Even in his sixties, he continued to deliver hits movies like ‘The Hunt for Red October’ (1990), and showed he could hold his own against contemporary action stars like Wesley Snipes in ‘Rising Sun’ (1993), and could still carry off action scenes with aplomb in ‘The Rock’ (1996). But he could also steal the show with his inspiring and inimitable comic technique like in Steven Spielberg’s ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ (1989), in which he plays Harrison Ford’s father. That same year Connery was voted ‘The Sexiest Man Alive’ in People Magazine. He was 59 years old. In 1999, at the age of 69, he was voted ‘The Sexiest Man of the Century.” “More than anything else, I’d like to be an old man with a good face,” had had once said.

Born Thomas Sean Connery on August 25, 1930, in Edinburgh, Connery spent in childhood in abject poverty. He began to work at various jobs from the age of nine to support his family, and at the age of 16 had joined the Royal Navy. After being discharged from the navy on health grounds, he drifted into acting as a way of supplementing his earnings. Even as he remained dedicated to his craft, he often took a pragmatic and professional approach to accepting roles. He did not immediately agree to acting in ‘Dr No’, as he was also contemplating a long-term contract for a television series at that time. The years of deprivation had taught him the value of money and throughout his life he was careful in his investments and never reckless. From a nine-year-old boy selling milk and later polishing coffins to being acknowledged one of the greatest cinema stars of all time and receiving knighthood from the Queen, the proud Scotsman whose cradle was the bottom drawer of a dresser, had indeed come a long, long way.

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