Never Say Never Again

Anyway, onto Never Say Never Again. An interesting exercise in how much you can flog the Bond brand and still have it pass.

This one isn’t in the comprehensive Bond box that I’ve been working my way through, and it’s not exactly easy to find on disc elsewhere, but anyway, I ponied up to watch a stream, legit. The damn thing is going to be in my Youtube account forever. In case you haven’t guessed, Never Say Never Again isn’t an Eon Productions movie, it’s sort of non-canon, but it sort of isn’t.

The provenance comes down to this:
– Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham co-wrote a screenplay with Ian Fleming sometime in the 50s with the intent to make a TV movie or something. The movie didn’t come into fruition then, so:
– Fleming turned the basic premise into a Bond novel under his own name in 1961, titled Thunderball
– McClory sued him for plagiarism and eventually they settled in 1963
– By this time Broccoli and Saltzman had begun producing 007 films for real; they agreed with McClory that they could adapt the novel for the fourth film, which came out in late 1965
– Part of the deal was that McClory, while still essentially controlling the film rights to the story, was not to make another film based on Thunderball for ten years.

Despite the embargo, Kevin McClory was keen enough to do a remake that he brought Sean Connery into the development process, though not necessarily to play the lead role again. Of course, as it turned out, he ended up putting on the toupee again for one more go around, and in fact, the “rebel” 007 film would not have worked with anyone but the guy who defined the role in the first place.

It seems that McClory also came up with the SPECTRE organisation and Blofeld and the cat, so it’s probably for that reason they haven’t featured as the peak enemy since Diamonds Are Forever until the most recent movie, err, Spectre. But they appear here, like everything else, a little off-beam from what we’ve come to expect.

So, as in Thunderball, a guy called Largo orchestrates a plot to steal a warhead on behind of SPECTRE for extortion purposes while Bond starts the film being ordered to a health spa and inadvertently stumbles onto an aspect of the plot.

And of course, like Thunderball, the climax of Never Say Never Again is a dumb underwater fight scene, although thankfully it isn’t as protracted.

At least there has been an effort to not just make the same movie scene for scene. Certain plot sequences have been streamlined, like the warhead heist, and the action goes to a few places other than the Bahamas, such Nice in France, and the coast of Ethiopia.

Firstly, the return of the master. Unlike the Eon films of the time, Connery has Bond acting his age – more or less – but slips into the role like a pair of comfortable old slippers.

Klaus Maria Brandauer plays Largo as pretty much a completely different person to the Largo from Thunderball, aside from his love of yachts. (Not so much the name – “Flying Saucer” doesn’t have the same vibe as “Disco Volante”). Maybe not quite as heavy handed in demeanour – although he still flies off the handle when provoked – more like a techbro whose mastered most (but not all) of those neurolinguistic programming manuals. Generally it’s an interesting, nuanced role, but even given his outbursts of temper, he seems a little too laidback for the crazed megalomaniacs of SPECTRE.

The femme fatale is SPECTRE goon Fatima Blush, played by Barbara Carrera, whom sets up lackey and US pilot Jack Petachi (Gavan O’Herlihy) with the President’s eyeball (or something like that) to authorise the swapping of live warheads into the cruise missiles that Largo’s crew will collect after their launch. After the deed is done she has Petachi killed. There’s the same amount of verve as Volpe in Thunderball, but also with a hint of mirth as well. This is a lady who enjoys her work.

Kim Basinger plays the main squeeze, Domino Petachi (yep, the pilot’s brother) who starts out as Largo’s mistress. Well, it sure would be awkward if she found out Largo had her brother killed, wouldn’t it? So, yeah, Bond comes along, beats Largo in a game of Risk*, and charms the pants off Domino. And of course he lets her find out Largo had her brother killed, with predictable consequences.

(* – If I was including a Farce section in this wrap, the nutty video game sequence would be it.)

Even the regular side roles have been reworked. Notably, Q has been written as a completely different person to Major Boothroyd with a completely different outlook; Alec McCowen’s “Algy” seems to appreciate Bond putting his equipment under stress. While his appearance is brief, he probably also gets the best line of the movie.

Edward Fox’s M is a nervous micromanager and is probably the most annoying character in the film. Give us some slightly peeved gravitas, please. Bernie Casey as Felix Leiter, as usual, still does the mopping up, getting Bond out of the odd fix, and writing up the paperwork.

Also, Rowan Atkinson turns up in the Bahamas for some reason.

The production generally looks good, though, there are parts where it outshines Octopussy at times, but like Thunderball it comes to a dull, water-slapping end.

The beginning is OK, though. Because the movie couldn’t have the traditional gunbarrel to dramatic cold open to title sequence, they quite sensibly get right into it with Bond hacking and slashing through a bunch of foes in what is revealed as a training exercise. The title song fits the formula well, but after that, the soundtrack might as well be non-existent. Well, there’s not a lot you can do when you can’t bring in the dependable Monty Norman/John Barry motifs.

The Wrap

While I think Never Say Never Again stands up better than some of the mainline films, indeed I think it gives Sean Connery a more fitting final instalment than Diamonds Are Forever.

The damned problem with it is that it never reaches the giddy heights of the best of 007, even when sometimes the giddy heights are implausible at best. It is a well-worked but run-of-the-mill rehash of an older run-of-the-mill film. I felt it was worthwhile having another look during this ridiculous whole-of-series viewing, but it cruises along in second gear for most of the film (barring the motorbike pursuit scene, perhaps) and at the end it’s a case of “is that it?”

To quote myself on Thunderball a few weeks back:

“Bizarrely, I think the 1983 remake of the story, Never Say Never Again, may have been a better film, although the underwater climax in that one was also a bit crap.”

What is it about saying things we later regret? I mean, the underwater climax is still crap, but a better film otherwise? Hmm. I have a feeling I might need to ignore some of these scores when ranking them all at the end, but since I gave that 15, I’d better give this the same mark. 15 out of 20 jazz ballet moves.