Never Say Never Again (1984)

Director: Irvin Kershner
Starring: Sean Connery, Kim Bassinger, Max Von Sydow, Barbara Carrera, Bernie Casey, Rowan Atkinson, Edward Fox as M, Alec McCowen as Algernon (Q Branch).
Music: Michel Legrand
Title Song performed by Lani Hall

James Bond is back! Never Say Never Again has a long tortuous production history which in itself could fill a book. Despite all the trials, tribulations and lawsuits, the end result is an ‘unofficial’ Bond movie with Sean Connery returning to the role that made him famous in the sixties.

The film is essentially a remake of Thunderball. The story concerns the evil crime organisation, S.P.E.CT.R.E., hijacking two nuclear warheads and blackmailing the western world for one hundred million dollars. Let’s have a closer look:

The film opens with James Bond storming a military complex in South America. A young lady is being held hostage and it is Bond’s mission to rescue her. Using guns, explosives and garotte wires, Bond eliminates the girls captors and enters the room where she is being held. He unties the ropes around her wrists and for his trouble, she reaches under the mattress, produces a knife and stabs Bond in the chest.

Hey, hang on! Where is the gunbarrel logo and the pre-title sequence? As this isn’t an official entry in the EON series, for copyright reasons, Never Say Never Again doesn’t have some of the familiar trapping that people associate with James Bond movies. Firstly, the famous gunbarrel logo at the start of the film – you know the one – where Bond walks onto the screen encircled by a bullets eye view of a gunbarrel – Bond turns and fires and a wash of blood covers the screen – well it’s gone. In it’s place are the numbers 007 repeated across the screen. And there is no pre-title sequence or cow-catcher as some people call it at the start. We are launched directly into the movie. Even Michel Legrand’s score, again for copyright reasons couldn’t use the James Bond theme. It is very different from other music in the series. Some of it is quite good; standouts include the Calypso sounds (including kettle drums) for Bond’s sojourn in the Bahamas, and the orchestral arrangement for the Tango sequence. But the title song, sung by Lani Hall is dreadful. And a small piece of trivia – the trumpet solo in the title song is by Herb Alpert who did the title tune to Casino Royale in 1967. So we are inside a movie that is very different to previous Bond films, and hard-core Bond fanatics may find it all rather disconcerting.

But back to the synopsis. Connery Bond had just been stabbed in the chest. Thankfully it is not for real. It is part of a series of wargames designed to assess the status of all M.I.6 operatives. But Bond’s death does not please his controller, M, this time played in a rather gruff manner by Edward Fox. Bond is sent to Shrublands health farm to loose a few pounds and get back into shape.

James Bond is not the only visitor to Shrublands. Other visitor’s include, Fatima Blush (Barabara Carrera), a killer for S.P.E.C.T.R.E. and Captain Jack Petachi (Gavan O’Herlihy). Petachi has had an operation on his eye, to make his retina identical to the President of the United States. Call me stupid, but where on earth can you find an image of the President’s retina, and secondly how can you replicate that pattern / image into the eyeball of another human being. Aside from that nonsense, Shublands happens to be conveniently close to a military base a base which in planning a training exercise with dummy nuclear warheads. Petachi’s mission is to go to the base, and using his fake eye as identification, change the dummy warheads, for live nukes. Bond realises something is afoot, but before he can act, he is attacked by Lippe, played by ex-wrestler Pat Roach. Petachi succeeds in switching the warheads, and S.P.E.C.T.R.E. get their hands on the nukes and hold the world for ransom. Soon after Bond is once again, called into service, and assigned to find the warheads.

Kim Bassinger, in an early role, plays Domino Petachi, Jack’s sister. Bond believes that if he gets close enough to her, he can find out about her brother and where the weapons are. Bassinger is certainly attractive enough, and while hardly being the worst Bond girl to ever grace the screen, she is a bit green in the acting stakes, and some of her scenes are quite awkward. However, she does have a few good scenes with Connery, particularly in a bath house, where Bond impersonates a masseuse, and on the dancefloor where they perform the tango.

Never Say Never Again’s underwater climax is slow moving and at times it is hard to tell who is good, and who is bad. It is the only true boring ending to any Bond film. It makes you long for the style of Terrence Young, and the ending to Thunderball.

The best thing about Never Say Never Again are the villains. The casting is generally very good. Max Von Sydow plays Blofeld, James Bond’s arch nemesis. Von Sydow is a stalwart of the genre (The Quiller Memorandum, 3 Days Of The Condor) and he adds a bit of weight to the role, although it is essentially a cameo.

The main villain is Maximillian Largo, played by Klaus Maria Brandauer. Largo is architect of S.P.E.C.T.R.E.’s plan to steal the nuclear warheads. Brandauer is a brilliant actor, and his slightly theatrical performance is a great contrast to Connery’s. Brandauer has the ability to change from totally charming (dare I say it – loveable rogue) to icy malevolence with a single gesture.
Last but certainly not least is Barbara Carrera’s over the top performance as Fatima Blush. Fatima is Largo’s number one assassin. She is deliciously wicked, outrageously dressed, and always very easy on the eye. She is the type of woman, who after seducing Bond (though, that isn’t difficult), sets a pack of Tiger Sharks onto him.

Other cast members include Bernie Casie as Bond’s old friend Felix Leiter, and Rowan Atkinson has a cameo in the movie as Nigel Smallfawcett, the companies ‘Man in the Bahamas’. The role is underwritten and not very funny.

If you are a fan of the Bond movies then you must watch this, if only to compare it to the official series, but be warned, despite the presence of Sean Connery, the movie is not very good.

I my opening paragraph for this review I mentioned that Never Say Never Again had a tortuous production history. That’s putting it mildly. For the definitive story on the making of Never Say Never Again and it’s connection to Thunderball, you must obtain a copy of Robert Sellers book The Battle For Bond published by Tomahawk Press. It follows the saga from the late fifties through to 2006. Highly recommended.

This review is based on the MGM/UA Australia DVD.

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