“Never Say Never Again”
Bond: Sean Connery
Classic, Cheese, or Crap?: CRAP
In 1958, Ian Fleming began trying to bring his famous spy to the big screen. He was introduced to a writer named Kevin McClory, and together (eventually joined by screenwriter Jack Wittingham), they began work on a screenplay they would eventually title, “Thunderball.” Due to the failure of McClory’s first feature film, however, Fleming lost interest in the collaboration. Instead of pursuing the screenplay further, he cannibalized the major elements (including SPECTRE and Blofeld) and turned them into a new novel of the same name.
The story would eventually make it to the big screen once Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman began adapting the books.
But behind the scenes, Kevin McClory was fighting in the courts for his rights to the original Thunderball screenplay. It was a legal fight that would lead to the death of Blofeld, the end of SPECTRE, and eventually, “Never Say Never Again”.
Kevin McClory began his legal crusade over Thunderball even prior to the publication of the novel. He received injunctions prior to “Thunderball”‘s release, and eventually he and Fleming reached an out of court settlement. In order to bring the book to the screen (after Fleming’s death), EON Productions cut McClory in as a producer on the film, and in return he promised not to pursue any other avenues with his rights to the novel for a period of ten years. In 1976, after the ten-year period expired, McClory began announcing his intention to remake “Thunderball” under the title “Warhead”. Again, a protracted court battle ensued… and in the aftermath EON Productions “killed” Blofeld, (and symbolically, SPECTRE) at the beginning of 1980’s “For Your Eyes Only”.
In 1983, the final legal hurdle was cleared, and the McClory led remake of “Thunderball” was underway. They weren’t allowed to use many of the elements we’ve come to associate with James Bond films – those belonged to EON Productions. So there was no gun barrel opening, no 007 logo, no Bond theme. But they did have one thing that fans associated with Bond… Sean Connery.
Returning to the series for the second time, his motivations have been widely speculated upon. Conjectures range from him having a grudge against Cubby Broccoli to not wanting Roger Moore to have more films as Bond than he did to the fact that his career was in a bad place in the early 80s. What is known is that Connery was given creative input on the film, $3 million up front and a share of the film’s profits. An enticing deal for any actor.
Irvin Kershner was brought in to direct, fresh off of his enormously successful work on “The Empire Strikes Back”. The pressure was on, too, as EON and Roger Moore were also releasing a Bond film that year – “Octopussy”.
The film itself is a loose retelling of the core “Thunderball” plot with SPECTRE, led by Bolfeld and Largo, stealing nuclear warheads and attempting to blackmail billions for their return. Bond gets involved in the plot after a visit to a health club. “Never” treats Bond’s age frankly. Connery was 52 at the time, and the film makes no bones about it. He still gets involved with his share of ladies, though, notably Kim Basinger in one of her earliest roles and Barbara Carrera in one of the most over the top performances ever given by a Bond girl. Klaus Maria Brandauer (Largo) and Max von Sydow (Blofeld) are the villains, but I dont find either of them to be particularly memorable. I’ve never thought Brandauer was all as great as he was cracked up to be, and von Sydow is only given a couple of quick kitty petting scenes.
Between Connery’s age, the lack of official Bond elements, and the fact that the script is a retread, you have all the makings of a very poor movie. Throw in a dash of Carrera chewing scenery and Kim Bassinger tossing her hat in the ring for blandest Bond Girl… and now we’re really talking something crappy. To top it all off, I realize that a lot of Bond films incorporate technology that seems dated in retrospect… but the video game sequence where Bond faces down Largo is positively archaic now. Completely out of date. The film has a couple of moments of note… the motrocycle chase and the horse stunt are cool, but overall, this is one of the worst (non-official) entries into the Bond canon.
Oh. And Roger Moore and EON won the “Battle of the Bonds”. Although both films were financially successful, “Octopussy” outgrossed it, $188 million to $160 million.
They should have said “Never” just one more time.