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Never Say Never Again
Tonight's Feature Presentation

NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983)

Starring: Sean Connery, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Kim Basinger, Barbara Carrera, Max von Sydow, Bernie Casey

Written By: Lorenzo Semple, Jr., Kevin McClory (story), Ian Fleming (story), Jack Whittingham (story)

Directed By: Irvin Kershner

The Short Version

Kevin McClory won his infamous lawsuit, and finally remade Thunderball.

Sean Connery puts in an enjoyable and lascivious final encore as James Bond, 007.

This movie is very self aware, and absolutely does not take itself seriously.

Two of the all-time classic Bond moments are in this film, “official” or not.

It may not be canon, or even all that great, but what action fan can resist seeing Connery as Bond again?


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

MONTEREY JACK CHEESE BALL.

Perhaps recycled from a Monterey Jack Thunderball.  (rim shot)


Pairs Well With...

VODKA ON THE ROCKS.

Bond may have a few martinis in this flick, but when he orders a drink at a bar, what he asks for out loud is vodka on the rocks.

“I hope we’re going to have some gratuitous sex and violence!”


Never Say Never Again is one of those films where the backstory is more famous than the story itself.

If you’re a serious James Bond movie fan, you’re probably familiar with this one already.  Bond’s transition from the printed page to the silver screen was not an overnight occurrence, and there was a considerable amount of Development Hell that went on in the process of making it happen in the early 1960s.  One of the first screenplay drafts that was presented and scrapped was a joint effort by both Bond’s creator, Ian Fleming, Jack Whittingham, and a gent named Kevin McClory.  Later on, McClory would notice that the story for Thunderball looked an awful lot like that draft he’d worked on earlier with Fleming, so he sued.  While a settlement of sorts was quickly reached, further legal wrangling occurred some years down the road, with the end result being a ruling that while Albert Broccoli’s production company – the people behind the James Bond series as we generally know it –still had the rights to the character of Bond and everything else that derived from Ian Fleming’s related works, McClory had a claim to anything that came from his own work, and certain joint rights, as well.  As far as anyone not directly involved was concerned, this meant two things.  First, if you ever wondered why you suddenly stopped seeing Blofeld and SPECTRE in Bond flicks, that’s why; McClory owned them.  Second, McClory now had the rights to make his own James Bond movies… as long as they were all remakes of Thunderball.

This, of course, is exactly what Never Say Never Again is.

As for the film’s title, that refers to its second major coup (the first being that it was made at all): the return of Sean Connery for a second encore as 007 (he returned from absence the first time in Diamonds Are Forever) after he’d publicly stated that he’d “never again” play the role of James Bond.  When he agreed to do this movie, his wife teased him about it, and her teasing remark about Connery never saying never again morphed into the official title.  (Mrs. Connery even gets an official notice in the end credits.)

Just think of how convoluted it would have gotten if Connery had been able to talk the producers into letting his quite willing friend Roger Moore make a cameo at the end of the movie.

But now, I suppose, we should get back to the beginning, and have a look at our story.

As we catch up with 007 (Sean Connery, Zardoz), we find that things have definitely changed around the office.  The new M (Edward Fox, The Day of the Jackal) is a stuffed shirt snob who doesn’t believe in making use of the double-oh section, and he has a particular dislike for Bond.  With an undisguised declaration of disdain for the agent’s lifestyle, M sends Bond to a “health farm” to have his system purged of “free radicals” through a series of colonics and enemas and all sorts of other unpleasantness.  While there, Bond encounters a mysterious patient, but before he can investigate much further, he ends up crashing through half the building trying to fend off an attempt on his life.

Before M can find some new way to punish or humiliate Bond, however, a crisis comes up: two nuclear warheads are stolen during a test mission launched from British soil, and now SPECTRE – The Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion – is threatening to set them off in one week’s time unless the governments of the world agree to a ridiculous ransom.  Whether M likes it or not, he has to put Bond on the case, and that means sending him to the Bahamas…

As noted, Never Say Never Again is a blatant remake of Thunderball.  What differences there are in screenplay generally exist to accommodate the aging of James Bond or the passing of twenty years for the world at large, along with the addition of some previously unused bits from Kevin McClory’s original story.  What differences there are beyond that are almost immeasurable.

Let’s get this part taken care of right away: in all of the ways that matter, Thunderball is a far superior film.  Indeed, without sentiment for the Bond character and his world to buoy it, Never Say Never Again is almost carelessly mediocre, or worse.  But sentiment counts for a lot.

Never Say Never Again walks that fine line between farce and adventure in extremely self-aware fashion, to the point of actually breaking the fourth wall at the end by having Sean Connery wink at the camera.  The fact that there’s a serious plot to destroy a significant amount of the world’s oil reserves with a nuclear weapon seems to be merely incidental to director Irvin Kershner, who instead puts the heaviest emphasis on pointing out the gags, the shiny things, and Bond’s own sexual prowess.  (Along with the fact that he beds more women on camera than he does in any other Bond film, literally every woman he passes turns her head to follow him.  It actually starts getting tiresome after a while.)  The bad guy (Klaus Maria Brandauer, The Russia House) has nukes, but screw it; nukes don’t involve staring at Kim Basigner (LA Confidential) dancing around in a leotard that you can see her nipples through.  A climactic battle?  Who needs it?  So what if the audience might not even realize that this is indeed the main bad guy that Bond is fighting at the end?  Putting effort into and emphasis upon such things would suggest that the actual point of Never Say Never Again is its plot, when in fact the only real point is that Kevin McClory gets to say “I won” and give a giant middle finger to the official standard bearers of Ian Fleming’s franchise.  Even the casting of Sean Connery is secondary to that, though it sure helped the film’s marketing.  So please, don’t think that anyone on the production team is taking this movie seriously, because they’re not.

Now with that said, once you decide to take Never Say Never Again in that spirit, it’s still a fair amount of fun.

It’s still fun first and foremost because older man or not, Sean Connery still knows how to play James Bond... at least from muscle memory.  Indeed, he’s only sharpened as an actor since his last turn as 007, and even though he’s slowed a bit, he still looks more credible in a fight than Roger Moore... and yet.  He’s got the wit that we all remember and he still deals the one liners as smoothly as ever, and let’s face it, it’s just cool to see the champ take one last run around the stadium while he’s still in decent enough shape to do it without embarrassing himself... but.  The fact is that this is not the Sean Connery of Thunderball. This is the Sean Connery of Meteor. And while he's a better actor at this point, he's also playing a part written to overcompensate for his age.  Granted, the fact that he seems to be having such a good time goes a long way toward allowing you to do the same, and for the sake of enjoying the film, I suggest that you just run with that idea.

This movie’s also fun because even in the midst of this noncanonical silliness, Never Say Never Again happens to contain two of Bond’s most memorable moments, one right after another.  The first is the “Domination” video game that audiences will later realize was their substitute for a decent climactic duel between Bond and the villain.  (It’s also an exact metaphor; Bond blocks both of his opponent’s nukes from being used, and never sets any off himself.)  It’s as simple as simple gets, and yet it’s always the first thing that anyone remembers about Never Say Never Again, and the immediate top-of-the-head reaction of literally everyone I’ve talked to about it is to say “that was cool!”  (Though only about half of them went on to say they’d be willing to try it with the electric shock feedback and all.)  It’s as though for this one scene, the director decided to wake up and crank the tension, and the end result is a classic moment that over the course of time has come to define the movie.  This is immediately followed by the film’s second most memorable moment in the form of Bond’s tango with Domino.  Though it’s not a typical thing for him to do by any means, it nevertheless feels right, as though it were a missing piece that had been waiting to be added to the puzzle that is everyone’s favorite secret agent.  The dance may be cut short, but it does stick with you, largely because it just seems so essentially Bond.

Also memorable but not necessarily in a classic way is the henchwoman character of Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera, Lone Wolf McQuade).  Carrera herself is fine, playing the part with extreme gusto and flamenco flamboyance.  Her character is heavy on the comic book side, and finally jumps the shark completely when she holds off executing Bond for the sake of making him write and sign a note stating that she was the best lay he ever had.  No, I am not kidding.  For many audiences, this moment actually kills the entire movie, and if one is taking it seriously, I can see that it would.  With that said, it’s moments like this that prove that you absolutely cannot take Never Say Never Again seriously.

And if you needed any more clues to prove that point, Never Say Never Again also marks the motion picture debut of a certain Mr. Rowan Atkinson, best known to you as Blackadder and Mr. Bean, and known here as Nigel Small-Fawcett, turning the tables on the tradition of naughty girl names in Bond movies.  (If you don’t get the joke, keep trying.)  The character is an obvious fool in the “hat with bells” sense, and actually ends up being too farcical for his surroundings.

It’s unfortunate that Max von Sydow (Dune) ends up being wasted in the Blofeld role here, because he’s perfect for it.  The movie, alas, throws the part away.  Klaus Maria Brandauer also shows great potential as our main villain, Largo – he plays the role as more of a true psycho rather than a caricature baddie – but since Never Say Never Again puts the action of the plot on the back burner, you don’t get to see what he’s really made of beyond repartee.

With that said, there is just enough action for one exciting motorcycle chase and enough close-in fisticuffs to warrant the hiring of a martial arts trainer who was unknown at the time but who would become world famous seven years later.  During said training, Sean Connery’s wrist ended up being broken by this instructor… showing that at least in this case, Steven Seagal could beat 007 in a fight.

At the end of the day, Never Say Never Again is a sentimentally fun footnote to a legendary actor’s place in a storied franchise, and a sad testament to Kevin McClory’s ego.  In many ways, it is no less preposterous than the Roger Moore films of the 1970s, but the fact that it simply never takes itself seriously and completely forgets to add excitement to the climax puts Never Say Never Again a step or several below them.  Take away the familiar names and especially the one familiar face, and this is at best a mediocre-if-not-bad action movie that’s light on the action.

But again, sentiment counts for a lot.

Bottom line, Never Say Never Again is a fun diversion, and worth the time for any Sean Connery fan, but it’s no substitute for the real 007.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, December, 2011


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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