NO TIME TO DIE, the 25th Bond film, is now scheduled to arrive in September 2021. I’ve been watching and reviewing all the official EON Productions James Bond movies, but what with the passing of Sean Connery last year, I thought it was time to revisit his last Bond, the unofficial NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN.
THE BATTLE OF THE BONDS
Jack Whittingham and Kevin McClory had worked on potential Bond movie scripts with Ian Fleming in 1958. Ultimately unused, Fleming used elements from the scripts for his next book THUNDERBALL.
After lengthy legal battles, McClory was given rights to elements of the Thunderball story and was keen to remake the film, no matter how the official EON producers would have felt. Enticed by approval over the script and casting Connery was lured back for NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN.
Scripted by Lorenzo Semple Jr, bolstered by the hugely successful British comedy writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (known for UK television classics like Porridge and Auf Wiedersehen, Pet), and led “The Empire Strikes Back” director Irvin Kershner, this film had all of the trappings of success. And it was being released the same year as Roger Moore’s Octopussy.
Unable to use the gunbarrel, Bond logo or theme, the opening scene is of Bond infiltrating a tropical hideaway. After some zip line action, a blow dart, a strangulation, a flashbang, and a decent head-butt, a hostage is released by Bond. Then she stabs him. A good sequence ruined by the tame theme song.
The film suffers from an odd 1970s jazz track. Composer Michel Legrand, whose jazz background is revealed here, was an Oscar winner, perhaps best known for his work on the classic French musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, but creates a misjudged soundtrack for a Bond film.
In M’s office we learn the opening was a test for Bond prior to returning to the field. The open acknowledgement that Connery is older works well.
Edward Fox makes for an annoying M but his scenes with Connery are good. Connery looks better than he did in Diamonds are Forever a decade earlier, and his delivery of the dry humour and the twinkle in his eye is very welcome.
Bond: Free radicals, sir?
M: Toxins that destroy the body and the brain. Caused by eating too much red meat and white bread. And too many dry martinis.
Bond: Then I shall cut out the white bread, sir.
A secure gate whips across the screen revealing Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera). She heads into an elaborate drawing room, where some people are sitting in chairs spaced out in a socially distanced fashion.
Blofeld (Max Von Sydow), cat on lap, is very understated, a businessman with money-making plans. Later Bonds would try to make the villain realistic, but this film really needed some over the top villainy.
His number 2, Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer) appears on a screen, and like Thunderball before it, we are launched into an extensive set up to the crime.
Sent to a health spa by M, Bond is busy seducing his nurse. Jack Petachi is also at the spa, kept in his room, and hooked on heroin by Fatima Blush. Petachi’s right eye has been surgically altered to match that of the US president. That night, Fatima slaps him and smacks his head off the wall. Hearing the fight, Bond sneaks to the window to spy on them but is spotted by Blush, night vision goggles on hand who exclaims “007!”
AUF WIEDERSEHEN, PET
Next day in the spa Bond is attacked by a huge goon Lippe (Pat Roach). You may recognise him as the Nazi thug Indiana Jones met on the airfield in Raiders. He also was a major cast member in the UK series Auf Wiedersehen, Pet. The fight is quite good, but really could have done with some tense music. Bond finally throws liquid in the goon’s face (revealed to be Bond’s urine sample) and the goon falls into some shelves which somehow cause lots of glass to lacerate his back and kill him.
Petachi is an Air Force officer and during a training exercise uses his eye log in to swap dummy missiles for live warheads. The two missiles are redirected to the sea where the Largo’s men acquire them.
HIT THE ROAD, JACK
Driving down the road, Fatima draws up alongside Jack’s speeding car and throws a snake into Jack’s lap. His car crashes through a wall, Blush retrieves her snake, plants a bomb, then coldly triggers it before driving off. A strange scene, but Blush’s remote bombs become a nice recurring device.
THE FLYING SAUCER
Largo has a huge ship where he runs his “legitimate” business. He even has a hi-tech hidey-hole where he can do his work and spy on his girlfriend Domino (Kim Basinger) getting dance lessons through a two-way mirror. She dances to some of that 70s jazz while he watches and while it is a little creepy, it possibly isn’t as unsettling as they meant Largo to be.
THE TEARS OF ALLAH
This phrase was mentioned by Blofeld earlier, so it is strange when Largo gives Domino a colourful necklace with the same name, insisting she wears it always. She jokes about what would happen if she ever leaves him.
Largo: Then I cut your throat.
THE Q SCENE
Bond has a scene with “Algy” where we see a Union Jack pen which fires explosive bullets, and where Bond gets a new watch. Alec McCowen is great in this scene, and sets up a laugh-out-loud joke:
Algy: I hope we’re going to have some gratuitous sex and violence?
Bond: I certainly hope so.
Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais were an inspired choice, for their comedy work really shines through. Even though they recycle the “can you fill this beaker” “what, from here?” joke from Porridge, the humour sits so well with Connery. Indeed the writers worked again with Connery when he had their input to the script for 1996’s The Rock.
The location ushers in some welcome colour (England looked so bland) and Bond flirts with a woman on her boat before Rowan Atkinson stumbles up as local official Nigel Small-Fawcett. His character is not bad for only three scenes in the film, and a nice foil for Bond.
BLUSH IS BACK
Bond has a drink while watching Fatima Blush water ski. As she zooms off the water and onto the deck, she apologies for getting him wet.
Bond: But my martini’s still dry.
They go to her boat where they strip accompanied by some crazy jazzy sex sax. Then they go diving underwater and you wonder why she doesn’t just kill him.
But then she tries, with remote controlled sharks, attracted by a device on his air tank. Blush likes her remote controls. He escapes and, on the surface, the female angler he spoke to earlier picks him up.
Blush, spotting Bond returning on the boat, heads to his room to plant one of her bombs under his bed. Once more, we have a shot where she sits impassively pressing her remote trigger while the bomb goes off behind her. The room is destroyed. Luckily, Bond was in bed with the fisher lady in her room at the time.
THE SOUTH OF FRANCE
The Flying Saucer is relocating to the Mediterranean and Bond, alongside agent 236 “Nicole” (Saskia Cohen-Tanugi) arrives at the airport. And it’s here that we see Bernie Casey as Felix Leiter and the chemistry between him and Connery works well. Viewers of Thunderball will recognise Nicole as the “Paula” of the story.
There are some odd moments as Bond is following Domino as she steps out around town. Lurking behind a tree as she passes seems very strange, but stranger is when he impersonates her masseuse, getting a little too hands on. Played for laughs but I’m not sure how funny it is.
Bond gate-crashes a casino to meet Largo. His way of removing the doorman is great, stuffing him in a storeroom with a gyroscopic bomb that will explode if he moves it. (The payoff is later when he retrieves the device, opens it, then removes a cigar).
The casino scene tries to update the classic card-playing trope with the new fad of the day: video games. Largo challenges Bond to play a video game in an odd scene which is shocking (as the joysticks are wired to the electrics) but utterly devoid of tension. Bond wins, of course, because he is far more capable with his joystick.
Some of the shots in the film are so flat and unexciting and though there are moments in close-up of Bond, Blush, Largo and Domino where the lighting is wonderful the reverse angle following shot is plain again. Quite disconcerting once you spot that it happens a lot.
Bond demands a dance with Domino, and it is here, during a tango that he suddenly says to her:
Bond: Your brother is dead.
We knew already that Domino was Jack Petachi’s sister, but the reveal to her is very strange.
BLUSH AND LARGO
The two villains have two short but fun scenes where they talk about their mission. In fact the more you see of Brandauer’s Largo, the better he gets. His slimy, slightly unhinged performance grows on you. As for unhinged, I’m not the first to suggest that Blush is a spiritual ancestor of Xenia Onatopp, her barking delight at being given another chance to kill Bond and dancing down the opulent carpeted casino steps is fun to see.
Bond finds Nicole face down in a pool and the reveal of her face is quite disturbing. (Often edited out for TV, as was the head-butt in the opening sequence). Blush runs from the scene and Bond cracks open a motorbike Algy had sent for him.
The bike chase makes it feel like a Bond film again as Bond pursues Blush through the streets of the coastal town. Bond dispatches goon cars using some bike gadgets and there is a great leap across the harbour. Sadly, the scene lacks music again. They trap Bond in a tunnel and force him onto a lorry, but as the door raises up, he uses it as a ramp and escapes. Blush leads him into some old tunnels and knocks him off the bike.
HOISTED BY HER OWN PETARD
There she stands, dressed like a pirate, demanding that Bond admits that she was the best sexual encounter he ever had. This wild egotistical moment is weird but works and she throws him a scrap of paper to commit his admission to writing. So Bond produces his Union Jack pen and fires it at her. Blush’s exit is fantastic and explosive, and while it may not be her own bomb that gets her, it’s a fitting end.
BACK ON THE SAUCER
Felix and Bond are underwater at the hull of The Flying Saucer. A hatch devours Bond who finds himself on deck being offered a nice robe and martini and being welcomed by Largo.
They arrive at Largo’s North African fortress where the villain is openly creepy now, manipulating Domino and getting his goons to imprison Bond.
Then there is a great “goodbye” scene from Largo.
Largo: Every game has to have a winner. So. Ciao, bello.
Bond: Where did you hide the bombs?
Largo: You still think of escape? I must say I admire your spirit. Well, bomb number one is right under the president’s feet in Washington D.C.
Bond: And number two?
Largo: Number Two? (Finger to lips, and smiles) You were a very good secret agent. Really. Bye.
Then as he leaves, he plays the tango on a stereo and leaves it in the courtyard where Largo’s goons are about to hurt Domino. The tango music is a nice touch.
Bond uses his watch to laser his shackles, steals a horse, grabs Domino and they escape the fortress by leaping from the tallest tower – still on the horse. Leiter picks him up on a sub and the “Tears of Allah” necklace Largo gave Domino earlier is revealed to show the location where Largo will plant the nuke.
A throwaway line on the radio reveals that the Americans have located the first nuke. That one line makes you want to see THAT ticking clock scene instead of watching Bond on boats. Domino’s Tears of Allah necklace is revealed to show a map where Largo will be planting the final nuke.
The Commander of the Navy sub Bond is on is played by the same actor who would be the naval officer killed by Onatopp in the South of France in Goldeneye. Maybe it was the same character? Felix and Bond exit the sub in style, two XT7B missiles which when they surface, open to reveal the men in two separate Thunderball-style jet packs.
Most of the finale wisely avoids underwater scenes. Instead, Largo and his men are moving the nuke through an ancient underground temple as it is near a point where the bomb could cripple Middle Eastern oil supplies. A suitably Bondian plan (The World is Not Enough would use a similar plot 16 years later).
The two temple sets are pretty good, and the shoot outs, crashing statues and explosion are effective, but not particularly thrilling. For some reason, the temple always reminds me of the temple at the finale of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, even though that was six years away.
LARGO’S SLOW DEATH
Largo escapes the temple with a tiny sub transporting the missile. Bond catches up and they have a slow, silent, and uneventful fight. Pinned to a rock by the missile, Largo pulls a harpoon gun on Bond, but he is himself harpooned by Domino. Underwhelming.
Bond and Domino are relaxing in a pool when Small-Fawcett arrives bearing a request from M that Bond comes back.
Bond: Never Again.
When you learn about some of the problems they had with the script during filming you can see why the tone seems to shift so much. The performers are good, although Basinger is poorly served by traditionally weak “Bond girl” dialogue.
It’s not a terribly exciting film to revisit. A quick check on YouTube shows many examples of people adding Bond scores to some of the action scenes and they are much more effective.
But the film is what it is, and to suggest they change it now is a disservice to the original filmmakers. Although even Irvin Kershner said he would have reshot it if he could.
The “Battle of the Bonds” was a media creation. Neither Moore nor Connery wanted anything to do with manufactured rivalry. On reflection, I think Octopussy comes out on top.
Never Say Never Again is a film elevated by the fact that it is SEAN CONNERY as Bond, and that, on its own, is just enough to make it a winner.
|Production Company: Taliafilm|
Produced by: Jack Schwartzman, Kevin McClory
Director: Irvin Kershner
Screenplay: Lorenzo Semple Jr, (Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais uncredited)
Composer: Michel Legrand
“Never Say Never Again” by Lani Hall
Cinematography: Douglas Slocombe
Editor: Ian Crafford
London Premiere: December 1983
Klaus Maria Brandauer
Max von Sydow