Never Say Never Again (1983) – Film Review
Director: Irvin Kershner
Cast: Sean Connery, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Kim Basinger
By @Roger Crow
It’s a sobering thought to realise I’m now the same age Sean Connery was when he made his final ‘007’ movie.
Yes, an alt-James Bond movie, like a piece of fan fiction made with millions of dollars.
Many of us of a certain age recall 1983, and the battle of the Bonds as the official 007 movie that year, Octopussy, dominated the box office, while Never Say Never Again (which I finally saw in the January of 1984) was more of an unofficial curio. As any fan will tell you it was a remake of Thunderball, because producer Kevin McClory had the rights, and obviously Sean was made an offer he couldn’t refuse to return to the role for the first time since 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever.
“Hit and miss”
I hadn’t seen the film for more than a decade, and on one level, it’s fascinating. In 2012 I was lucky enough to visit Nassau where some of the dockside scenes were shot, so it’s weird seeing them so many years later, knowing that a Starbucks would eventually pop up round the corner from where Connery was chatting.
And while the movie is very flawed, there is a lot right with it. The screenplay is hit and miss, but there is a great one-liner from Porridge (about a urine sample) which is re-used by Sean to fine effect; Connery was a big fan of Porridge‘s Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, and got them to polish some of the dialogue in The Rock years later.
Aside from the godawful opening theme by Lani Hall (a lowpoint for writers Alan and Marilyn Bergman, and composer Michel Jean Legrand), things kick off with one of those action scenes which actually turn out to be a training exercise. This was old hat even in 1983, though it does exactly what the film needs: grabs the viewer and remind them what a 53-year-old agent can do when the chips are down.
While 007 goes for a detox at a health farm, and beds the ever wonderful Hammer/Carry On veteran Valerie Leon, Gavan O’Herlihy (who we sadly lost in September 2021) plays Spectre stooge Jack Petachi, a heroin-addicted United States Air Force pilot. He’s the sacrificial pawn who steals nuclear missiles for crime lord Blofeld (Max von Sydsow). He’s also the brother of Domino Petachi – the trophy girlfriend of the movie’s real bad guy, Maximillian Largo. Domino is played by Kim Basinger in her first major movie; we can tell this is 1983 because she wears leg-warmers and is doing a workout which looks like something from a Jane Fonda video.
Klaus Maria Brandauer’s Largo is easily one of the best Bond villains, despite the fact it wasn’t a real 007 film, and the fact he looks like a member of ABBA. The fact he also likes perving over Domino via a one-way mirror is also a reminder of how dodgy he is. That kiss between him and Domino is noticeable for a string of saliva between the two, which made many a viewer go ”Ew!” decades ago, and it should really have had a closing credit for still being so memorable.
As 1983 seemed to be the year when home video game fever exploded like a Space Invader generated by an Atari 2600, there had to be a scene where Bond takes on the villain in a video game showdown. It’s easy to mock this sort of thing now, when blockbusters look like video game cut-scenes anyway, but back in the day, this actually felt quite exciting.
Most Bond movies need a femme fatale, and Barbara Carrera is wonderfully bonkers as the psycho Fatima Blush, who now looks like a dry run for GoldenEye‘s Xenia Onatopp. A shame the film deflates once she literally explodes, but that’s just one of the problems with that third act. The underwater showdown between Bond and Blofeld is so underwhelming that I spent decades feeling like I missed something. There might be a director’s cut out there somewhere which features a far more sophisticated finale, but I doubt it. I even watched this latest screening’s ending a couple of times to see what I missed, but no. Like an expensive firework on a rainy night, the movie just fizzles out.
Thankfully the casting is sublime: Bernie Casey is a terrific Felix Leiter; Alec McCowen is a great Q, and Edward Fox turns his blustering office boss routine up to 11 as M. A shame Rowan Atkinson looks so cringeworthy now as the obvious comic relief, Nigel Small-Fawcett, but he’s barely in the movie, so it hardly matters.
For all the film’s faults, it’s great to see Sean Connery in the 007 role one last time, and obviously all the more poignant now given the fact so many of the cast have left us.