Saluting Sir Sean — Ranking his 007 James Bond films

“Bond. James Bond.” Many have tried to say it over the last 50 years, but only one actor was the first to utter that famous phrase.

Sir Sean Connery passes away at the age of 90, and one marvels at the world of 007 he helped create and then left — only to return to revisit twice.

Officially, Roger Moore made more movies (“Never Say Never Again” was not made by EON Productions) and Daniel Craig may have held the role longest (16 years as opposed to Connery’s decade fronting the series — and yes, I know we’re dissing George Lazenby). But Sean created the role and established the persona that George, Roger, Timothy, Pierce, Daniel and whoever takes it up next will be compared to. The fact he did it so well allows his 007 to still resonate in today’s world.

[Editor’s Note: Preston ranked Roger Moore’s “Bond” films after the actor’s death in 2017.]

The James Bond series has always been a collaborative effort, and while the actor does make a difference in the lead role, he’s often at the mercy of the script and direction.

Connery’s Bond benefited from Terence Young, more of a no-nonsense storyteller, for three of the first four films, while enjoying a partnership with the flashier Guy Hamilton in two 007 movies. Big-production specialist Lewis Gilbert helmed one film while Irvin Kirshner (who directed “The Empire Strikes Back”) shot Sean’s final foray in the role.

The James Bond of the 1960s was much more serious and originally less gadget-driven than the later decades, and Connery once said his approach “entered through the serious door and exited through the humorous door.”

His 007 felt more grounded in reality than Moore’s or Brosnan’s, while still providing more humor (usually an aside to deflate tension) than Lazenby or Dalton.

But enough about styles or types, lets cut through more needless exposition (covered when 007 goes to the Universal Export office to visit M, Q and Moneypenny) and get to the mission: Let’s dive through Sir Sean Connery’s seven performances (yes, we’re counting “Never Say Never Again”) in his signature role. And just like Connery always looked sharp in a tux and often silly in a toupee, we give the highlights (tux) and lowlights (toupee) of each film as well.

So without further ado — ranking Sean’s 007 turns as 007 …:

7. “Diamonds are Forever,” 1971.

He came back for the money, and the series went back to him because George Lazenby elected not to do another film after “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” Connery’s performance is more dialed in than “You Only Live Twice,” but he looks more than four year older than he did in 1967. It doesn’t help that the script is much lighter and serves as the template for the Roger Moore films that were to follow, nor does it help that even though SPECTRE is back, Charles Gray’s Blofeld is completely different from Donald Pleasance or Telly Savalas’ take (and not in a good way). Once the rush of Sean’s return to the role subsides one realizes it’s another story where the villain is holding the world hostage, concluding with the obligatory fight at the lair. But at least we got a trip to Las Vegas out of this one.

Tux — There’s an elevator fight with a diamond smuggler that reminds you why Connery’s tough take on 007 worked so well.

Toupee — predating Sheriff Pepper in the next two films, there’s a car chase with the Vegas police that involves a tacked-on edit where the car goes into an alley on one wheel and leaves on another.

6. “You Only Live Twice,” 1967.

Connery was tired of the role by his fifth turn and it shows on the screen. The introduction of Ernst Stavro Blofeld brings Donald Pleasance into the role, but once again it’s a standard plot with SPECTRE affecting the space race (like they did in “Dr. No”) and hijacking government spacecrafts (like they did in “Thunderball”) while killing incompetent underlings (like they did in “From Russia With Love”). There’s even a countdown at the end of the film reminiscent of “Goldfinger.” While it’s a beautiful film to watch and there are plenty of twists, turns and spectacular stunts, this is the first film in the series to feel like “an installment” and one can see why Sean wanted out of this treadmill.

Tux- 007 takes a gyrocopter to search for the villain’s lair and winds up in a fight with a squadron of SPECTRE choppers, needing to use every gadget at his disposal to survive.

Toupee- Bond’s code-word while finding his contacts in Tokyo is “I Love You.” It gets old really quickly.

5. “Never Say Never Again,” 1983.

Despite being a decade older, Sean looks better than he does in “Diamonds are Forever” and is having much more fun than he did in “You Only Live Twice.” A rewrite of “Thunderball,” Connery’s victory lap of the role he made famous has 007 looking for stolen nuclear weapons in the Bahamas before winding up in North Africa. There’s a video game confrontation against the bad guy plus a tango on the dance floor with the Bond girl before the necessary continent-hopping that adds intrigue to the original story. At the end of the film, he tells his contact that he’s retiring and is never coming back to the world of espionage. When watching for the first time, we hoped he was lying.

Tux — Barbara Carrera steals the show as the femme fatale, inspiring the likes of Xenia Onatopp in the official series a decade later.

Toupee — with this not being an “official film” there was no gun logo nor 007 theme. One likes the trappings if one is watching Bond.

4. “Thunderball,” 1965.

The highest-grossing of his 007 films (adjusted for inflation) was released during the peak of the 60s spy-boom and this one has everything, from exotic locales to believable villains to beautiful women. The film is well-cast, with Adolfo Celli as the one-eyed Largo and Claudine Auger as Bond-girl Domino. While the gadgets are beginning to get bigger, they don’t overshadow the story just yet. And there are multiple times in this movie you feel like 007 is in real danger- something that was few and far between during the Roger Moore era.

Tux — Bond getting chased through the Junkanoo parade. The rhythm of the scene is electric and it’s easy to think he may meet his end even though we’re not near the end of the film.

Toupee — there’s a scene at the health spa where Bond seduces a nurse in a completely creepy way. I know the Bond series (especially in 1965) is not the most enlightened, but this finds a way to ooze under even those low standards.

3. “Dr. No,” 1962.

The original established the basic framework for the series, from the initial meeting with M to the final fade-out with the girl on or near water (Connery’s movies ended in a boat, gondola, island, life raft (twice), ocean liner, and by a pool). There’s much to like here with a standard detective story that also peers behind many of the goings-on in the spy-world. The villain is well-played by Joseph Wiseman and his underlings appear to be dangerous but not in the league of 007. Bond’s friends feel helpful and not just tacked on. And Ursula Andress as Honey Rider deserves her own paragraph.

Tux — Bond shows he’s a one-man wrecking crew in destroying the villain’s control room.

Toupee — proof that the series was never innocent, there’s a fight scene in Jamaica where Bond kicks a box that’s clearly labeled Red Stripe Beer. Our first 007 product placement, ladies and gentlemen!

2. “From Russia With Love,” 1963.

Probably the best spy-story of his films, the follow-up to Dr. No had twice the budget and more than delivers. There’s multiple layers of deception plus one feels the full level of evil within the ranks of SPECTRE. From using live targets in training to manipulating the British spy manual to get 007 right where they want him, Blofeld & company prove worthy adversaries here. And back for a second turn, Connery proves worthy as well- thinking his way as well as slugging his way past his foes. It doesn’t hurt that it’s shot against the backdrop of Cold War tension; Istanbul could have easily been substituted by Berlin or Vienna. We also get the first Bond gadget in the form of an attache case, knowing that it will come into play later in the film when he needs it the most.

Tux — the famous fight aboard the Orient Express combines Connery’s physicality, the gadgets 007 received, and Peter Hunt’s editing perfectly.

Toupee — the Gypsy camp gives us a sweet gunfight, but also the perfect time to take your bathroom break.

1. “Goldfinger,” 1964.

Took what was beginning to be a successful series and turned it into a phenomenon. Set the basic Bond blueprint: the most successful/admired to follow either mimicked it well (Thunderball and The Spy Who Loved Me) your hunger was fulfilled or went completely against the template (For Your Eyes Only and Casino Royale) you admired it on principle. And in the middle of the best villain, henchman, pre-credits sequence, and song of the series was a Sean Connery who was at his most confident and comfortable in the role-while not being too weary in the trappings of being 007. It’s many people’s gateway drug into the world of Bond, and it’s the most easy digest for people unfamiliar with the 007 universe.

Tux — Oddjob. Everything about him is awesome and memorable, and every henchman who follows can’t help but come up short.

Toupee — while in Miami, 007 wears a “toweling playsuit”/romper. Proof that no Bond movie is perfect, and even the best ones have lapses into ridiculousness.

Dave Preston

Dave has been in the D.C. area for 10 years and in addition to working at WTOP since 2002 has also been on the air at Westwood One/CBS Radio as well as Red Zebra Broadcasting (Redskins Network).

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