Sean Connery died on Saturday morning at the age of 90. He rose to prominence as James Bond in six official spy actioners (plus one unauthorized entry a decade later), pictures that practically established the modern action film and blockbuster series as we know it. Even though he made a slew of good-to-great films (The Man Who Would Be King, Robin and Marion, The Untouchables, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Russia House, The Rock, Playing By Heart, Finding Forrester, and so on) during and after his tenure as Commander Bond, that role is as much a part of his cinematic legacy as Han Solo and Indiana Jones were for Harrison Ford.
Diamonds Are Forever
This unofficial 007 film, released by Warner Bros. and directed by Irvin Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back) and written by Lorenzo Semple Jr. (The Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor), is a remake of Thunderball since Kevin McClory owned the rights to that James Bond film. Yes, the picture featured 53-year-old Sean Connery in the character that made him famous, and it is a forerunner of the now-fashionable “can James Bond flourish in the contemporary world” themes.
You Only Live Twice
This is one of the more significant 007 films. In terms of narrative, production design, and villainy, the Lewis Gilbert-directed film established the paradigm for “fantasy Bond flicks.” The “SPECTRE kidnaps space shuttles to trick America and Russia into going to war with each other” plot became the standard fantasy action plot, not just for the 007 films, while the production design (including Blofeld’s volcano fortress) and larger-than-life villainy (Donald Pleasance as our first onscreen Blofeld) paved the way for spoofing the entire superhero spy genre.
This Guy Hamilton-directed entry transformed the James Bond series from a popular superhero take on North By Northwest to a towering cinematic action franchise. The film is also noticeably different from its predecessors, being a more leisurely adventure that is less concerned with spycraft and more interested with imagination. The fact why I don’t love this one as much as most people do (don’t worry, I still think it’s a great three-star 007 picture) is mostly due to how passive Connery’s Bond is throughout much of the film.
The one who started it all, which meant that some of the puzzle parts were still missing. There are essentially no gadgets, no Q (Desmond Llewelyn would make his debut in the following film), and just a smidgeon of the larger-than-life fantasy for which the series would later become famous. Nonetheless, Terence Young’s lean, brutal, and occasionally merciless action film does its job admirably, taking a fairly traditional Hitchcock “wrong guy on the run” premise and injecting it with a commanding action hero. Sean Connery gets the casual harshness and above-and-beyond professionalism right away.
If Goldfinger established Sean Connery’s James Bond franchise as a blockbuster series, Terence Young’s Thunderball established it as the biggest thing coming out of Hollywood. This fast-paced and propulsive actioner features its hero confronting SPECTRE head-on in what would arguably be their first “take over the world”-style plot. Shot in widescreen (2.35:1) and featuring Oscar-winning underwater action (which still holds up today), this fast-paced and propulsive actioner features its hero confronting SPECTRE head-on in what would arguably be their first “take over the world”-style plot. Thunderball, like GoldenEye 30 years later, has its hero almost unintentionally stumble across the larger storyline by careful observation and linking seemingly unconnected incidents.
From Russia With Love
Terence Young hit the sweet spot between real-world espionage and larger-than-life action in this sequel. It’s no secret that President John F. Kennedy chose From Russia with Love as one of his favorite novels, or that this film version was the final movie Kennedy viewed before flying to Dallas in November 1963. Aside from trivia, the 007 film is still one of the finest, and it’s certainly the best of Sean Connery’s seven flicks.