Losing The Best Bond

I was very saddened to read today about the death of Sir Sean Connery, at age 90. The BBC reports that he died peacefully in his sleep in the Bahamas after a prolonged period of poor health.

Sean Connery will of course always be remembered for defining the role of James Bond — and doing so in a way that was so total and complete that every other actor who played the role was measured against Connery’s portrayal. Some of the actors, like Daniel Craig, have done a fine job as 007, but I’ll always view Connery as the best Bond, and I don’t really think there is any argument. Connery brought dash, humor, and tremendous physical presence to play, and was totally believable in every part of the Bond character — whether it was flirting with Moneypenny, trading witty remarks with M and Q or the villains always plotting to seize the world, seducing any woman who might help make his mission a success, or fulfilling the ultimate element of “00” status — and employing his license to kill. Connery’s fight scenes in To Russia With Love and Goldfinger are classics precisely because Connery was utterly plausible in standing toe to toe with Odd Job and Robert Shaw’s soulless assassin for SPECTRE.

But Connery wasn’t just James Bond. Unlike other actors who could never quite escape the long shadow of a career-defining role, Connery went on to a long and distinguished movie career that included winning an Oscar for his role as the tough, incorruptible cop in The Untouchables and making memorable contributions to The Hunt for Red October and The Rock. My favorite post-Bond film is Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where Connery stole the show as Henry Jones, Indy’s bookish, disciplinarian Dad who was obsessed with finding the Holy Grail and who was instrumental in helping Indy find the Grail–and who reconciled with Indy in the process. It’s no coincidence that many fans, like me, consider The Last Crusade to be the best Indiana Jones film — in my view, just edging out Raiders of the Last Ark.

It’s sad to lose a great actor like Sean Connery, and our thoughts go out to his family. It’s a comfort to know, however, that his roguish charm and cinematic contributions have been preserved and will always be there for us to enjoy.

The Best Bond

We may go see the new James Bond movie, Skyfall, this weekend.  I think Daniel Craig is an exceptionally good James Bond, but I still put Sean Connery at the top of the Bond l– James Bond — list.

When you think about it, playing Bond isn’t easy.  He’s supposed to be a handsome, charming rogue who is irresistible to the ladies.  He has to deliver droll lines with impeccable timing.  He must look dashing in a tuxedo, play expert baccarat, and order a drink with style.  He must seem intelligent, capable of acting as an independent spy, and able to respond effectively to the unexpected.  And, most fundamental of all, he must be believable as an unstoppable, cold-blooded killer.  The whole point of James Bond, of course, is that he has a license to kill and is perfectly comfortable with his role as assassin.

It’s the last point, I think, where most Bonds have fallen short.  The pretty boy Bonds — and I put Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan in that category — never seemed credible as the ruthless, single-minded killing juggernaut.  Connery always did.  His Bond was a big man, sharp as a razor, who looked like he actually could win a fight to the death with Odd Job or Robert Shaw’s unflappable Russian killer.  In the two finest Bond movies, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger, Connery managed to bring all of the Bond elements together in one stunning package.  You knew he meant it when he told some femme fatale that he had enjoyed her favors solely for king and country.  If I were a supervillain or a supervillain’s henchman, Connery’s Bond would be the one I feared the most.

After the Connery era ended, the Bond series has veered in various directions.  Many of the Roger Moore movies — and some of them were pretty good — focused more on over-the-top scenarios and humor, rather than the stone-hearted killer that is Bond’s core.  Other Bond movies have gone too far in the direction of gadgetry, or absurd conquer the world schemes, or “Bond girls.” All of those movies, I think, also lost some of the essence of Bond.

I’m glad that the two Daniel Craig efforts I’ve seen so far have moved Bond back into his role as flinty-eyed assassin who will complete his murderous mission without much reflection.  Craig, like Connery, also is believable as someone who would unthinkingly snap some stranger’s neck like a dry twig in order to complete his assignment.  At some point, Craig’s Bond might be a contender — but for now, Sean Connery’s Bond remains definitive.