Seems like yesterday we were prepping for the release of No Time To Die. God, this feels like a year-and-a-half in the making. Oh, right, well, you’d be correct – it has been that long! While the franchise readies for the release of the 25th installment, most people gloss over the black sheep amongst the films. This particular film itself isn’t considered part of the franchise – more of a renegade actually. While I can’t count this in the overall Bond franchise, this remake does deserve to have at least one day in the sun. Let’s cover the rebellious Bond film – 1983’s Never Say Never Again!
Never Say Never Again
Directed by Irvin Kershner
Based upon a story by Ian Fleming, Kevin McClory, and Jack Whittingham
Screenplay by Lorenzo Semple Jr.
Starring Sean Connery, Kim Basinger, Klaus Maria Brandauer, and Barbara Carrera
Reber’s Rating: B
This story really begins when James Bond creator Ian Fleming partnered with producer Kevin McClory and screenwriter Jack Whittingham on a script for a potential Bond movie in the early 1960’s. Because the budget would have been astronomical, Fleming instead flipped the idea into the novel for Thunderball – but omitted credit for both McClory and Whittingham. McClory took Fleming to court and handedly won the lawsuit. EON Productions, the team responsible for the Bond franchise, made a deal with the young producer for the 1965 film adaptation – help produce Thunderball, forge your own remake after a decade’s time elapses. McClory gladly accepted.
Following the ten-year moratorium, McClory worked diligently on his own adaptation. Sean Connery agreed to reprise his role of Double-oh Seven, but the challenges laid in making a film that didn’t break copyright restrictions with EON Productions. Aspects of the 1965 film were verboten, but the novel was fair game. Lorenzo Semple Jr. (Three Days of the Condor) penned the script, with British television writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais completing a second pass. The title was James Bond of the Secret Service. Certainly not sexy. Sean Connery’s wife, Micheline, suggested Never Say Never Again. After all, Connery vowed he would never return to the role that made him famous. The title stuck. In the spring of 1983, after one last attempt by Ian Fleming’s trustees to block filming proved unsuccessful, filming proceeded.
If you’ve seen 1965’s Thunderball, then you already know the basics to the plot. The biggest difference? Incorporating Connery’s age, then 52, into the story. In the remake Bond is an older gentleman who’s been fighting the good fight for years and retired from active duty. The Double-oh Section has been shuttered by the new M, no longer interested in archaic practices of yesteryear. Bond serves more as a teacher to MI6 than actually being in the field. But when SPECTRE threatens the world, M has no choice but to reactivate the Double-Oh’s. Thus, Bond is back in action to thwart SPECTRE one last time.
Never Say Never Again outshines many installments of the official franchise in part to the performances. Connery, having taken a decade-plus away as the iconic character, comes back refreshed and offering a different perspective on the character. Hell, you could say Connery influenced how Daniel Craig has portrayed the character during his five-film tenure. Older, world-weary, mentally drained from years of serving Queen and country, this Bond accepts the call to his duties one final time. A dry sense of humor and cold demeanor about him, Connery’s elder Bond stands miles above Moore’s clownish take on the iconic character.
The real treat here is Klaus Maria Braundauer’s turn as Largo. Unlike the 1965 iteration of the character, an older aristocrat with delusions of grandeur, this Largo is pathological, manicial, and psychotic. Possessive and blinded by his ambitions for dominance and conquest, Largo is absolutely chilling, Braundauer’s skills bringing about a multi-layered villain worthy of all-time bests. Hell, his Largo easily tops most of the villains of the main franchise. And the franchise has had some titans on the big screen too. Braundauer steals every single scene he appears, the perfect foil for Connery.
Remove this impeccable cast, you’ve got yourself a film that’s more miss than hit. For starters, French composer Michel LeGrand’s score is light, jazzy, and airy – not exactly the right fusion for an action blockbuster. LeGrand’s orchestration lacks the punch and weight of John Barry’s Bond soundtracks, cheapening some of the more thrilling scenes. The fight scenes themselves, a staple of the character, can be counted on one hand. One fight sequence, with Bond squaring off against stuntman Pat Roach’s Lippe, is more of a Three Stooges gag fest than a real fight. There are a couple of excellent chase sequences, capped by a thrilling bike chase through the French Riveria. Otherwise, most of the film is spent on Connery’s charm carrying Never Say Never Again to the very end.
Though Lorenzo Semple Jr. crafted Three Days of the Condor, he also created the 1966-1969 ABC show Batman. Unfortunately, that same type of silly camp festers into parts of this remake. Connery’s one-liners aren’t anywhere as cringeworthy as Roger Moore’s doozies, but some of the background characters and gags are hammy. A poor attendant thrown around by a big brute on two occasions for a cheap laugh. A maître d’ stuck in a closet who thinks he’s holding a bomb – but instead is a cigarette case. And a young Rowan Atkinson trying to be the comic relief falls absolutely flat, a snobbish accent hiding behind an aloof demeanor.
We can thank Never Say Never Again for helping shape ideas for the official franchise’s future. The villains began to shift more towards down-to-earth sociopaths instead of megalomaniacs hellbent on world domination. In the Daniel Craig era, Felix Leiter would be of African American descent instead of a white male. Bond himself would ditch the tongue-in-cheek innuendos and become more straight-laced with the occasional quip. (That is part of his character after all.) The films would become less about gadgets, more about developing character. The showdown with the villain would become more a game of cat and mouse ala the “Domination” game. If anything, at least the black sheep found a way to leave an impact for decades to follow.
Never Say Never Again came out the same year as Roger Moore’s Octopussy, almost on the same exact date. (Warners smartly delayed till late 1983.) When the dust settled, Moore’s film ended up trouncing Warner Brother’s remake. Octopussy earned $183.7 million globally – Never Say Never Again brought in $160 million. McClory, having the rights to just one Bond film, would try again in the mid-1990’s for another remake but EON Productions took him to court and won. Connery would return to voice Bond one last time, in 2005’s From Russia With Love, EA Studios’ video game adaptation on the Xbox and PS2. As much as Connery wanted to move along from the role that made him a star, he never could shy away from what made him a star.
Even until he passed on 10/31/20 – do the math, that’d be 007 – I suppose his final lines from this flick do stand pat. “Never say never again.” Indeed, Sir Sean. Indeed. Because of you, Bond’s still a titan at the box office to this very day. And Craig’s about to show audiences one last time why this character can’t just Butch Cassidy himself into the sunset.