Never Say Never Again

  • never_say_never_againYear:  1983
  • Director:  Irvin Kershner
  • Series Rank:  #15
  • Year Rank:  #52
  • Oscar Nominations:  none
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none
  • Bond Girl:  Kim Basinger (Domino Derval), Prunella Gee (Patricia Fearing)
  • Bond Villain:  Klaus Maria Brandauer (Maximillian Largo), Barbara Carrera (Fatima Blush), Max von Sydow (Ernst Stavro Blofeld)
  • Bond Support:  Edward Fox (M), Pamela Salem (Moneypenny), Alec McCowen (Q), Bernie Casey (Felix Leiter)

Should I count this film?  Certainly the books I own don’t, but those books are official books, published with the cooperation of Eon Productions.  This isn’t an Eon film, but thankfully it is a Bond film because it comes between Octopussy and A View to a Kill and it is desperately needed.

First, a word about why I count this film and how it came to be.  I won’t get into the sordid story over the writing of Thunderball (but you can read about it here), but in the end, Kevin McClory was granted the rights to remake Thunderball and he decided to go ahead and do it and got Sean Connery to star in it.  Though it is not an Eon film I count it for the purposes of this project while I don’t count either of the first two versions of Casino Royale.  That’s because the first Casino Royale was for television and this is about films and the second Casino Royale was a spoof that didn’t fit the concept of James Bond as we know him and this film does.

Now, when this film finally went into production, after years of back and forth, the most recent Bond film was For Your Eyes Only.  But I think this film really is a response to the earlier Roger Moore films and (by lucky coincidence) the final two Roger Moore films, one of which came out a few months before this one and one of which came out two years later.  This Bond is no joke.  Oh yes, there are elements of humor, some of which revolve around Connery’s age (he’s actually three years younger than Moore and looks much younger but this film admits that while the Moore films wouldn’t admit that Moore was by this point way too old to be playing the part).  But the humor isn’t a driving force, and even when Bond is being funny, he doesn’t rely on the pathetic puns (asked by the assassin Fatima Blush if she is the greatest woman he’s ever had, he replies “Well, to be perfectly honest, there was this girl in Philadelphia.”).  There are some humorous asides, but this film is a genuine spy action film.  No wonder the Austin Powers films mostly parodied the original Connery films – the Moore films were already too much of a joke.

The plot, as I said, is a retread from Thunderball.  There are some significant changes, changes to names, changes to locations, there are fewer sharks (though there are some) and the underwater finale is much, much shorter.  But in essence, nuclear bombs are stolen by SPECTRE, Bond faces off against Largo with Blofeld lurking behind the scenes (though this time we actually get to see him) and Bond falls for Domino.

domino-basingerThere are aspects of this film that are inferior to Thunderball.  The main one is the Bond girls.  Yes, Kim Basinger probably does a better job as Domino than Claudine Auger did, but personally I much prefer Auger (also, Auger wore a black and white bikini while Basinger wears a Jane Fonda 80’s leotard complete with leg warmers).  And Basinger’s Domino actually gets to shoot someone with a spear gun rather than just warn Bond.  936full-never-say-never-again-screenshotBut, Barbara Carrera, in spite of the inexplicable Golden Globe nomination, is far inferior to Luciana Paluzzi.  Carrera’s final rant about being the best Bond has ever had and demanding he write that (“I just remembered,” he demurs, “it’s against Service policy to give endorsements.”) is pretty funny but not very good.  I was totally okay with what happened next just to get her out of the film.  And if you thought Basinger’s outfit was terrible, that’s nothing on what Carrera wears in this film.

Never-Say-Never-Again-1983-4But when we get to the villains, well, that’s where this film takes a big step up over Thunderball.  The original Largo was cast based on his looks.  But Klaus Maria Brandauer would soon be an Oscar nominee (and should have won the Oscar) and he can really pull off this role with some menace and some suavity, all at the same time.  His video game stand-off with Bond (did Atari have a deal with them?) is pretty cool.  Even Max Von Sydow, in his limited role that’s almost kind of pointless is a big step up from most Bond villains, and certainly the most recent Moore villain.

Overall, this film is a mixed bag.  It’s not quite a return to form, although probably a little better than Diamonds are Forever.  It is willing to make some bold changes (Bernie Casey is a black Felix Leiter over two decades before Geoffrey Wright).  Some of the things that they couldn’t do because it wasn’t an Eon film don’t work (they couldn’t use the iconic James Bond theme and the music they do have is pretty bad), but some things work quite well (Alec McCowen is a rather amusing cranky Q).  It cuts down some scenes that didn’t work in the original (too much underwater) and adds in a rip-roaring chase with Bond on a motorcycle.  It even has an amusing nod to the original with Bond in a submarine launched missile that’s really kind of a jetpack.  In the end, it’s a solid Bond film, and given what had just come before it and what would follow from Eon Productions, that was just what was needed.