|Sean Connery as James Bond|
Sean Connery: a dangerously seductive icon of masculinity
Peter Bradshaw celebrates the career of the former milkman who brought a working-class edge to the role of James Bond before further unleashing a sense of menace in roles for Hitchcock and Lumet
Tue 25 August 2020
The introduction was a kind of challenge, or seduction, invariably addressed to an enemy. And the subtly anglicised Edinburgh accent, which appeared to soften or muddy those monosyllables, encouraged legions of comics and pub bores to think that they, too, could do the voice. In the early 60s, Connery’s James Bond was about as dangerous and sexy as it got on screen – until directors like Alfred Hitchcock and Sidney Lumet came along, and saw how Connery’s on-screen menace could be taken to the next level.
Connery became James Bond in 1962 after minor roles in British movies and an appearance in a Walt Disney whimsy called Darby O’Gill and the Little People. As 007, he was an instant, staggering success – conveying exactly the right dangerous sexiness and borderline-sociopathic capacity for disciplined violence – much mocked, much drooled over. The former milkman and bodybuilder was the working-class Bond, a Bond who had come up through the ranks, though director Terence Young reputedly schooled him in the ways of classiness: how to dress, how to light a cigarette. Connery’s natural muscular power and wry humour modified the elegance and eccentricity of Bond in just the right way. Ian Fleming was sufficiently impressed to fabricate Scottish roots for Bond in subsequent books.
|Sean Connery and Ursula Andress |
in Doctor No
As much as the Beatles, it was Connery’s charismatic Bond who kept alive Britain’s postwar amour-propre. Does Britain appear to be waning pathetically on the world stage? Oh no. Britain is still powerful – but in secret, you see, like 007. Connery’s Bond created the notion that the soft-culture brand image, the tricks and the toys, the gadgets and the cars, could be just as potent as real power and wealth. He played the role seven times, in Dr No (1962), From Russia With Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967) and then two afterthought Bonds, Diamonds Are Forever (1971), when his hairline appeared suddenly to come forward after some years of retreat, and Never Say Never Again (1983), effectively a retread of Thunderball. His public image was merged with that of 007, and he accepted this burden with the same dangerously simmering resentment and controlled anger that made him such a glorious success as Bond. Perhaps only Daniel Radcliffe has experienced the same utter immersion or self-annihilation.
His appearance in Hitchcock’s Marnie in 1964 focused on the dark side that had been nurtured in the Bond franchise, but without the justification of missions on the secret service, it looked more unsettling. His wealthy publisher Mark Rutland is arrogant, possessive – and a rapist. The saturnine darkness of Connery answers the strangeness and anxieties in Tippi Hedren’s mysterious Marnie.The other great Connery picture from the Bond years was Sidney Lumet’s brutal The Hill (1965), in which he plays a soldier sent to a military prison camp in the Libyan desert and forced, with the others, to endure sadistic punishments such as climbing a man-made “hill” in full pack in the burning sun. This role showcased the rougher, tougher side of the young Connery that 007 had smoothed away somewhat.
He had two other great films in this period. John Huston’s The Man Who Would Be King (1975) was a classic epic in the Lean style, based on the Kipling novella, in which Connery and Michael Caine play British ex-military chancers Daniel Dravot and Peachey Carnehan. Trying their luck in the land of Kafiristan, they look to become staggeringly wealthy when the credulous natives mistake them for gods.
Richard Lester’s Robin and Marian (1976) found a quieter, gentler register in Connery, owning up to his advancing years, really for the first time in his career – playing the ageing Robin Hood, opposite Audrey Hepburn’s Marian.THE GUARDIAN
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