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Business News/ News / World/  Bond who broke the bonds
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Bond who broke the bonds

When the man appeared on screen, you were almost biologically compelled to watch him and not the others in the same shot

Connery was the only flesh-and-blood man who was much bigger and more loved than James Bond.Premium
Connery was the only flesh-and-blood man who was much bigger and more loved than James Bond.

Sir Sean Connery is no more. The only flesh-and-blood man who was much bigger and more loved than James Bond. All obituaries remember him as the first man who was Bond, the spy with the licence to kill and seduce at will, convincing millions of men around the world that his was the role model they could dream of—guns and girls—and never be good enough to be, and entrancing further millions of women with his combination of recklessness, insouciance and super-strong pheromones.

Yet, the truth is that 007 was only a small part of Connery and he walked away from it when the series was jubilantly thriving, and certainly a principal reason for this was the uber-coolness he had brought to the role. But he felt hemmed in because he believed Bond would hamper his acting career choices. He returned for Diamonds Are Forever (1971) for a then-unheard-of fee of $1.25 million, with which he founded the Scottish International Education Trust, a charity to help deprived Scottish children. And later in 1983, in Never Say Never Again. He needed the money—he had just lost a fortune in some Spanish land deals. We are, after all, human.

Tales abound about how a Scotsman born to a dirt-poor family, forced to leave school at the age of 13, working as a coffin polisher and bricklayer, with no Eton education like Bond had, and only some minor roles in films to his credit, could land the role of Bond. But let’s go to the most authentic source, Albert (Cubby) Broccoli, the co-producer of the series. “When Sean left our office," he said, “and walked across the street, we knew from the way he walked and the way he talked that he was the best possibility."

Ian Fleming, initially sceptical, gave Bond a half-Scottish heritage in his later books to fit the actor’s Scottish accent.

Throughout his life, Connery remained a fierce supporter of Scottish independence from Britain. This delayed his knighthood by some years, but he may not have minded or cared. Even in the role for which he won his only Oscar, Jimmy Malone in the 1987 film The Untouchables, he played an Irish cop with a distinctly Sottish accent.

But above all, after he left Bond behind, he established himself as an actor of great range (Daniel Craig has a tough act to follow), earning worldwide adulation, which he detested, having once said famously: “To get anywhere in the world, you have to be anti-social; otherwise, you’ll get devoured". He hated Hollywood life, preferring to live in Spain. He aged gracefully and in full public view—losing his hair and acquiring greater dignity and respect with every passing year. Effortlessly, he built a place for himself above the star system, playing character roles, and sometimes even the ageing hero, like in The Name of the Rose, or Entrapment. In a way, he became much larger than life than 007, but remained a gentleman, as countless people who knew him have tweeted in the last 36 hours, and have universally maintained.

The Untouchables is perhaps one of the most entertaining films ever made (at least for men). Connery appears for a total of maybe 30 minutes in the film, but his sheer screen presence overshadows the hero, Kevin Costner. Cinematically, Malone, the street cop, is the balancing factor to Robert de Niro’s bravura performance as Al Capone. The film, quite simply, would not have worked without that counterweight. When Costner tries to recruit him in his team to take down Capone, Malone asks him: “What are you prepared to do?"

“Everything within the law," comes the reply.

“And then what are you prepared to do?" asks Malone.

“You want to get Capone, here’s how you get him. He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue…That’s how you get Capone."

It is an unforgettable scene, and one cannot easily think of any other actor (Al Pacino, yes, or Javier Bardem when he gets older) who could have made it that, because for those dialogues, you not only need the craft, you need that indefinable quality that makes the audience believe in you: If you are saying it, we’re with you. Can you imagine anyone else carrying off the role of Indiana Jones’ father in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade with such sly gravitas, leaving Harrison Ford looking like a sidekick even though he is the hero in one of cinema’s most lucrative franchises?

Connery did not act in a film for the last 17 years, because he came to detest Hollywood, choosing golf over glitz. That is our loss. When the man appeared on screen, you were almost biologically compelled to watch him rather than the others in the same shot. He commanded attention, and he never disappointed. He was, in a very different way from the title of his celebrated film, untouchable.

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Updated: 02 Nov 2020, 06:59 AM IST
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