Pros:Connery as Bond, Carrera as Fatima Blush and Brandaeur as Largo
Cons:music score at times AWFUL, some budget conscious scenes
The Bottom Line: Better than you'd think Bond because of Sean Connery and several supporting characters. Flawed and missing some expected touches but worthwhile for Bond fans. No-Spoilers
Never Say Never Again is the 1983 non-EON re-make of 1965’s Thunderball that brought Sean Connery back (at 52 years old) to reprise his interpretation of the James Bond character. Connery’s performance is superb,(boy do you realize how good he is in the role while watching this one) and several of the supporting actors particularly Barbara Carrera as the utterly neurotic and deadly hench-woman Fatima Blush and Klaus Maria Brandauer as the pathological Largo are excellent making this over-all a very good James Bond film.
Recommend this product?
What many will miss are the Maurice Binder gun-barrel iconic visuals and cool credit sequence at the beginning of the film, the pre-credit sequence, the various Bond theme music cues and some of the series regular actors like Bernard Lee (or Judi Dench) as M, Desmond Llewellyn as Q, and Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny. Edward Fox as M in this one is good but the others are sub-par. The regular actors are missed.
The action set pieces are pretty modest in comparison to Bond films of the late 70s through the present, but I don’t see that as a negative. Many of the over-the-top action sequences are so unrealistic and cartoonish their WOW factor is temporary and many have dated special effects that don't stand the test of time.
There are a few scenes where the slick production values of the EON series are lacking which is a bit disappointing considering the Director of Photography is Douglas Slocombe (of Raiders of the Lost Ark fame). Some of the special effects look a bit cheaper (as well as dated—which is to be expected), despite the 36 million dollar budget, some of the sets look a bit too much like sets, and sometimes the locations aren’t as well photographed.
I also noticed there weren’t as many medium and close-up shots used in non-action sequences. This might also be budget related or maybe without a team of seasoned producers the second unit team simply didn’t provide the sort of insert shots and B-roll footage that similar teams do for the EON productions. I know some of the fault is director Kershner who uses mainly master shots to film a very bland and poorly choreographed Tango dance sequence between Bassinger and Connery. Okay.. maybe neither were very good dancers, but some fun close-ups should have been able to make it sexier and more interesting than what we see on screen here . The whole sequence is mediocre, when it could have-should have been a lot of fun. I wish they had taken as much time and care with the scene as they obviously did with an earlier fight scene that’s a real highlight of the film because it blends humor and physicality in the way we’ve come to expect from the best Bond films. Ian Crawford was the editor and he seemed to be channeling original Thunderball editor Peter Hunt (who also edited the memorable train fight scene between Connery and Robert Shaw in From Russia With Love) for the fight scene. I suppose the second unit team did a better job because it was a key action scene (though that’s my speculation).
Another negative is the music. Some of the instrumental music created by Michel Legrande works well enough but in several cases there’s a light-fusion-elevator-jazz quality to some of the arrangements that are all wrong for what we are watching—and then there are several times when no music is playing whatsoever which in a Bond movie is very odd and too noticeable. John Barry was approached to score the film but declined due to his loyalty to Broccoli and Saltzman. There’s also a pretty cheesy title song with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman.
While I’m talking about the bad, the worst part of the movie, the truly BAD moment happens almost at the very end. I’ll carefully mention it so nothing will be spoiled. First, the action itself shouldn’t have been necessary, but if it was decided that someone should help James Bond at a crucial moment they could have and certainly should have chosen a different character to do it. Having this character suddenly show up is unbelievable and downright stupid. Thankfully it is a very quick moment and it doesn’t destroy the rest of the movie—but boy is it bad. And I mean worse than a couple of the tacky special effects matte style shots that we see in one of the action sequences.
As I mentioned earlier, Never Say Never Again is a remake of 1965’s Thunderball. Way back in 1960, author Ian Fleming worked with screenwriter Kevin McClory on an original script that was going to be made into the first James Bond movie. This did not happen however as the proposed budget for the screenplay was too big and instead the first Bond movie was the more modestly budget Dr. NO (which got released in 1962). Fleming wound up turning the screenplay into his 1961 James Bond novel Thunderball. He didn’t give Kevin McClory any credit however and this resulted in a lawsuit, which after several years wound up giving McClory shared rights to the story and some money. He retained these rights when they wound up making the 1965's Thunderball (McClory got a co-producing credit on Thunderball as well along with EON’s Albert R. ‘Cubby’ Broccoli and Harry Saltzman)and signed a contract that he would not work on another version of Thunderball for the next 10 years. It didn’t seem likely back in 1965 that the series would continue like it has.
Sean Connery had a growing resentment at being typecast as James Bond AND he also felt he wasn’t making enough money or sharing in the huge profits the Bond movies were making. Broccoli, Saltzman and Connery were all once friends, but a big riff developed when Connery tried to force the producers into giving him a substantial raise around the time of Thunderball. The producers thought that Connery’s agent should negotiate any new deals and basically refused to talk to him about it. Connery took this very personally. The friendship was affected. After You Only Live Twice finished filming, Connery decided NOT to make any more Bond movies. So the producers made On Her Majesty’s Secret Service with George Lazenby. That film didn’t do as well at the box-office and the main reason was because Lazenby was no Sean Connery. So they negotiated with Connery who eventually accepted what amounted the largest amount of money ever paid to an actor at that time (he received around 3 million plus some share of the profit that supposedly amounting to around 6 million total). After Diamonds are Forever got some of the worst reviews of any of the Bond movies made yet, Connery decided it was time for him to walk away. Even when he was offered over 5 million to reprise the role in Live and Let Die, Connery wanted to do other things and not just be known as the actor who played James Bond. When asked by a reporter if he would play James Bond again in the future, Sean Connery answered, “Never Again.”
Incidentally, Roger Moore, was endorsed by his friend Sean Connery as the right man to play the role of James Bond. Connery reportedly remains friends with Moore, but didn’t patch things up with Saltzman and Broccoli.
Kevin McClory might have courted Connery to play Bond in his proposed re-make of Thunderball, called Warhead (then) as early as 1975, but Connery more likely was acting as a consultant on the project and wasn’t intending on playing Bond at that point. The project stalled and EON productions sued McClory tying things up for several years. There were lots of legal action going on between McClory and EON, particularly around the time The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) went into production which seemed to originally have elements that were in McClory’s Warhead screenplay. Originally, Blofeld and the SPECTRE organization was going to be part of SPY (which in the finished production did NOT happen). (The Blofeld character would make a pre-credit appearance in 1981's For Your Eyes Only )
A few years later, producer Jack Schwartzman (husband of Talia Shire—the actress and sister of Francis Ford Coppola) got involved in reviving the Thunderball remake with McClory. Connery was part of the package in the early 1980s and now intended to play the part of Bond. Perhaps the legal challenges to McClory, the big pay-check and the opportunity to do the character in a better movie than Diamonds Are Forever were Connery’s motivations. He also had some input and perhaps control over the casting of other parts (he suggested Brandauer and Sydow after seeing them in the film Mephisto!). Lorenzo Semple Jr (of TV’s Batman, and the movies Papillion and 70’s King Kong re-make) had re-written the screenplay. Connery insisted the tone of the film be done properly and he had writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais do (uncredited) work on the screenplay. The title of the film became Never Say Never Again because of Sean Connery’s wife Micheline who remembered what Sean said several years earlier about playing James Bond –Never Again. She actually receives an end screen credit for coming up with the title. Director Irvin Kershner (Empire Strikes Back) complained that Schwartzman was a good businessman but an inexperienced film producer and Connery was more involved behind the scenes possibly because of his Bond experiences and Schwartsman’s lack thereof.
Never Say Never Again begins (as the credits roll) with an action scene that shows us Connery as an older but still very physically fit Bond attempting to rescue a kidnapped woman from some unnamed South American looking captors. As the scene begins the romantic, somewhat campy title song is playing which doesn’t fit the action very well—but it switches into more appropriate music before the scene is over. There’s also a twist that I won’t reveal.
We’ll later learn that the new M (Edward Fox) has pretty much phased out the 007 agents and missions involving agents who are licensed to kill. Bond’s physical fitness and lifestyle has come under scrutiny and he’s ordered to check into a health spa facility to undergo a regiment of vitamins, healthy foods, colonics and exercise. There’s some genuinely witty and humorous jokes about his age. (I was struck by the similarity in some of this to the current SKYFALL with Daniel Craig).
The main plot points and characters of Fleming’s novel were followed fairly closely, though updated and a few changes were made. SPECTRE’s number 1 Ernst Stavro Blofeld (played by Max von Sydow complete with white Persian cat) sets forth a plan to steal two nuclear warheads and then intends on blackmailing the nations of the world for an enormous ransom to prevent him from blowing them up (the amount is equal to 25 percent of their annual oil purchases). The plan is being supervised by Maximillian Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer) who calls the operation “The Tears of Allah” and lives aboard a huge yacht called the Flying Saucer. Also aboard the yacht is his girlfriend Domino Petachi (played by a young Kim Basinger). Domino’s brother is U.S. Air Force officer Jack Petachi (played by Gavan O’Herlihy). Petachi is a heroin addict and is being blackmailed by Largo associate and SPECTRE agent Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera) to access the U.S. President’s launch codes which will enable SPECTRE to steal two armed Nuclear missiles. Bond accidentally winds up meeting both Jack and Fatima in a health club he’s been ordered to go to. He doesn’t realize what they are plotting until later on when the plan is already hatched and he has to stop it.
Throughout most of NEVER there’s a light, humorous tone that is wittier and less silly than the Moore Bond films. Connery exhibits all the charm, charisma and most of the physical ability he had over 10 years earlier. He’s still quite the ladies’ man and his flirtations with women are believable and Connery has enough of a gentlemen’s air about him it works without being creepy or salacious. His interactions with both Carrera and Bassinger work better than you expect them to.
There’s also several references, some subtle, some very obvious to the Wizard of Oz. I found these particularly fun because of another film Connery made (with John Boorman) called ZARDOZ and I suspect some of the references were encouraged by Connery and the screenwriters he worked with to do some script re-writes.
Carrera’s over the top portrayal of the colorful villainess Fatima Blush is a real highlight. She was deservedly nominated for several acting awards and brings a wonderful energy whenever she appears on screen.
Brandeur’s portrayal of Largo starts off a bit under-played and perhaps under-written but he eventually gets some memorable scenes and really shines in how he attacks his role.
Bassinger play Domino as a very vulnerable, naïve character. It’s not quite as developed or written as well as some of the other characters but she does a pretty good job with it. She also appears in some scenes wearing a skin-tight see through work-out outfit!
As one of the best Felix Leiter’s we get Bernie Casey who’s unfortunately not used very much. Also showing up is Black Adder/ Mr. Bean himself Rowan Atkinson doing a couple of bumbling comic bits. His comedy business isn’t particularly inspired but Connery’s reactions to him are memorable and make the two scenes he’s in work pretty well.
Von Sydow doesn’t have much to do as Blofeld but he commands your attention in his couple of screen appearances.
Among the best action sequences is a long fight that occurs between Bond and a big tough SPECTRE agent (Pat Roach) in the health club. It’s well edited, choreographed and has some inspired cleverly humorous moments to enjoy as well. Another worthwhile sequence involves one with Fatima in a fast car with Bond pursuing her on a rigged out motorcycle. A few moments within the chase are a bit too unbelievable unfortunately but mostly it works. A lot of the ending sequence takes place on what looks like an obvious interior set which detracts a bit from its effectiveness. The action isn’t unique enough to have much wow factor and the suspense is minimal.
Never Say Never won’t be on my top 10 of Bond Movies…but it might make the top 12. I had not seen it since it first was released in theaters in 1983 and a had fun watching on the DVD I rented for Netflix. Unfortunately is was the bare-bone DVD and there’s a better DVD version that include an upgraded transfer, a director commentary and a short retrospective documentary that explains some of the behind the scenes production problems and how Kevin McClory got the rights to make the film.
Never Say Never Again is a very entertaining 1983 re-make of 1965’s Thunderball that marked the return after a 10 year absence of Sean Connery to the role of James Bond. It has some flaws but most of the cast shines and it’s better than most of the Moore, Dalton and Brosnan Bonds.
©2012, Christopher J. Jarmick All Rights Reserved.