Sean Connery: Bond and Beyond
Sean Connery may be gone, but thanks to the magic of cinema his star will always burn bright. And quite a star he was. Connery was a classic leading man, akin to those from another era like Clark Gable or John Wayne. This, of course, is due in large part to the seven times he starred as James Bond. But he also sustained a long and successful film career beyond the Bond films. He remained a leading man for 10 or 15 years following Diamonds Are Forever and after that he became the go-to character man for another 15 years.
Whether he liked being associated as Bond or not, the perennial popularity of his 007 films kept his name well known to several generations of filmgoers. Featuring Sean Connery in your cast always indicated to the public that the film was an “A”
production. Just think of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Although he always had a trace of his Scottish accent, the public easily accepted him in international roles. In The Hunt for Red October, he was Russian; in The Wind and the Lion, Muslim; in The Untouchables, he played Irish-American. This is no small trick, if you think about it. The reason audiences were willing to accept him in multi-faceted roles all through his career was that he simply possessed the charisma of a true movie star. Like Gable or even Charlton Heston and Gregory Peck, everyone accepted
Connery as an archetypal hero. In the era of the anti-hero, more modern audiences could also find him believable as a well-meaning protagonist because he possessed a dark side that kept him from appearing too righteous or goody-goody.
In most of his best roles (including the Bond films), you were never quite sure if he was on the verge of violent action. This probably had more to do with his tough and rough upbringing in Scotland than acting chops. But the combination of great
looks, hyper masculinity, and innate intelligence made him the perfect leading man for the mid and later half of the 20th century.
Even though his films were mostly mainstream and action-driven fare, you felt a suggestion of classical stage training. It seems a shame he never made a film that was Shakespearean or more literally epic. In that way, he never came up to the likes of Sir Lawrence Olivier or Richard Burton. Perhaps he never found faith in the right director to venture into more challenging territory. Or perhaps the era of the sophisticated epic or truly literate cinema had passed. If he had made A Man for All Seasons-type film or even his own film version of Macbeth, he might have won a Best Actor Academy Award. It seems he never found the definitive power role that would surpass his James Bond image. But as it is, he did manage to land a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for The Untouchables. It was certainly a well-deserved Oscar considering his lifetime of fine and varied performances.
He did work steadily with director Sidney Lumet and their five film collaborations produced some fine features and performances, most notably The Hill, The Anderson Tapes, and Murder on the Orient Express.
It must be noted that in 1964, during his James Bond era, Connery also starred for Alfred Hitchcock in Marnie. It’s a good fit, and it’s a shame they didn’t try another project together. It’s easy to see why Hitchcock cast him, especially after viewing From Russia with Love. Released in 1963, a year before the Bond formula was firmly cemented with Goldfinger. From Russia with Love is the most Hitchcock-like of all the Bond films. It’s a bit short on action, but it’s layered deep with suspense, romance, and mystery.
Another film from that era that shows a unique side to Connery is the nearly forgotten A Fine Madness. It’s a gorgeous Technicolor black comedy. The cinematography is by Ted McCord just off his The Sound of Music job and Greenwich Village 1966 looks fabulous! In it, Connery portrays Samson Sillitoe, a nearly insane poet genius. The role enables him to cut loose in a very non-Bond way. His co-stars are Joanne Woodward, Jean Seberg, and Colleen Dewhurst, and there is no Pussy
The Man Who Would Be King (with Michael Caine)
Galore in sight here! Today, it’s great fun to watch because of its zany mixture of genres, but in 1966 it was just a little too anti-Bond to be accepted by the critics and public. But it’s a superb example of Connery’s untapped acting range.
Speaking of comedy, Connery’s wry sense of humor, which comes through in most every one
of his films, is one of the characteristics that made him unique as a leading man. Seldom does someone so masculine and sure of himself let his sense of humor shine through so effectively. That rare mixture of physical threat, sexuality, and humor is what has made him, for many, the cinema’s first and only true James Bond. Even though for years Connery resented the super-spy image he created, it did allow him to play many varied roles including Robin and Marian opposite Audrey Hepburn. Some of his most successful films like The Man Who Would Be King and The Name of the Rose prove that he had as amazing a film career as any great star from Hollywood’s Golden Era. In fact, you could say he was a “Platinum Era” star. Darker, sexier, more knowing than his predecessors but nonetheless made up of a sturdy and rare precious metal.
Gerard Alessandrini is a Tony Award-winning writer/director of musicals, best known for the long-running musical satire Forbidden Broadway and the Hamilton spoof Spamilton, both of which have been performed in theaters around the world. He has been the lyricist (and sometimes composer) for over a dozen musicals, including Madame X, The Nutcracker & I, Scaramouche, and the Paul Mazursky musical of Moon Over Parador, and has won numerous accolades, including two Lucille Lortel awards and seven Drama Desk awards. His voice can be heard in Disney’s Aladdin (1992) and Pocahontas. He’s also written special-material songs for many stars, including Angela Lansbury, Carol Burnett, Bob Hope, and Barbra Streisand.