Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Never Say Never Again

Again, Probably Saying It, Probably

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgic pic is "Never Say Never Again" (Warner Bros., 1983). British secret agent 007 James Bond (Sean Connery) has become middle-aged, and despite being frequently put into "war games" by his handlers, he still longs for more active field work.

"I turned down Schtar Wars because I didn't underschtand it, so when they gave me thisch, I took it!"

His disappointing performance in the war games causes his superior, "M," to send him to a health clinic to recover from years of smoking and drinking. Meanwhile, at the headquarters for the Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion (Sp.E.C.T.R.E.), leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Max Von Sydow) gives his lieutenants a situation report on the organization's current ventures.
Aw! Kitteh!

While at the health clinic, Bond observes another patient, U.S. Air Force Captain Jack Petachi (Gavan O'Herlihy) being abused by his nurse, Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera), who recognizes Bond and sends another SPECTRE henchman, Lippe (Pat Roach), to eliminate him.
Remember the bald muscle guy from "Raiders of the Lost Ark? Now he has hair.

After what is possibly one of the most memorable fights in any James Bond movie, Bond manages to kill Lippe (in a way that gave me nightmares as a kid) and report to his superiors.
This death may not seem overly horrific, but you didn't see what he had thrown in his eyes beforehand.

Jack Petachi, it turns out, has been drugged, bought, and blackmailed by SPECTRE to use a surgically implanted prosthetic eye to allow the criminals to steal two nuclear weapons from a test flight;
A novel (and more practical twist) on the "doppelganger" trope. 

if he doesn't do their bidding, they'll kill his sister, Domino (Kim Basigner). Once the deed is done, Blush kills Petachi while his sister is unknowingly held in captivity by SPECTRE second-in-command Maximillian Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer).
He even has a front row seat to her jazzercise workouts.

Once SPECTRE makes their demand of 25% of every nation's gross domestic product, the leaders of the world go into a panic, and M is forced to put Bond back into service to track down Largo and put an end to SPECTRE's scheme. Can he do it? Of course he can. This is a James Bond movie, after all…

The strange case of Stavro

… Sort of. The production of the Bond films is fascinating, and a great example of intellectual property rights. I won't get into everything here, but in case you don't know, this movie is a re-make of another Bond story, "Thunderball," the movie version of which also starred Sean Connery as James Bond. At the time of "Never Say Never Again," the MGM Studio Bond film production was being handled by Albert R. Broccoli's Eon Productions with Roger Moore starring as Bond, but long-time Bond enthusiasts might have noticed that after the 1960s there is little-to-no mention of SPECTRE or Blofeld, and that's because of "Thunderball." See, "Thunderball" was originally a movie script developed by producer Kevin McClory, writer Jack Whittingham, and James Bond creator Ian Fleming. When the initial collaboration fell through, Fleming went on to write the novel "Thunderball" based on the work, but didn't credit McClory or Whittingham, resulting multiple lawsuits that eventually resulted in McClory taking back the rights to SPECTRE and related characters (which is why the Roger Moore Bond films switch to Blofeld-like industrialists -- but not specifically Blofeld -- as his antagonists of choice). After 10 years, McClory began to re-adapt "Thunderball," and this movie is the result of that messy break-up. It's also why the Eon Productions cast of James Bond regulars doesn't make it into the film (which is ironic, as most of that cast -- minus Connery -- appeared in the 1967 film "Operation Little Brother" reprising their roles, which stars Sean Connery's little brother Neil as the brother of the unnamed James Bond… I might have to cover that film too).

The good

So how does it hold up? This is easily one of my favorite Bond films. As a child, I must confess that I never made the connection to "Thunderball;" It was many years later while re-watching that I recognized that the villains' names were both "Largo," and the rest of the pieces fell into place. While Connery is essentially playing the same Bond (albeit much older), he's ever-so-slightly less misogynous in this film than the original (where he sexually assaults a healthcare worker -- here he just has a lot of inappropriate touching), 

He almost gets Domino's permission in this scene. Almost.

the new cast is mostly superior to the originals. In particular, Klaus Brandauer's Largo is scary, but in a more subtle, sinister way than Adolfo Celi's humorless eyepatch-wearing ogre in the original. Brandauer is funny, with a cherub-like face that makes him likable, but on a dime can turn his charming smile into a deeply psychotic grimace.
He seems insane at times, making him a terrifying villain.

Carrera's Fatima Blush serves the same capacity as Luciana Paluzzi's "Fiona" in the original film, but she plays the role with a bloodlust that is fueled by her inability to kill Bond, which makes her more formidable.
There is a visual pun where the more bond lives the less buttoned-down her appearance gets.

About the only character that falls flat for me is Basinger's Domino; while she is objectified almost as much as Claudine Auger in the original (lots of tight outfits and swimsuits), she doesn't seem to have as many lines and is just there to look worried and essentially do nothing other than act as a prop for the men in the scenes she's in.
"You're so tensche! Let me rub you with my handsch!"

Director Irvin Kershner, who might be best known for "Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back" (AKA "The Best Star Wars Movie Ever Made") is at the height of his powers here, with dynamic action scenes, frenetic chase sequences, and giving this movie and air of science fiction mixed with a bit of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" style set pieces.

This motorcycle chase is gripping!

The man knows how to create a set piece on a budget!

The Bond gadgets in this movie are much more subtle than in the Eon films, but in a way that adds to their real-world usefulness. This is the first appearance of the much-vaunted laser wristwatch, a Bond staple.

"Ach! There'sch a lascher in me wrischtwatch!"

The only "trick" motor vehicle in the film is Bond's motorcycle, which has a rocket booster and wheel bumpers -- that's it. There is an exploding pen, and later a rocket-assisted landing platform (which might be a callback to the utterly pointless jetpack in "Thunderball"), but little else. If nothing else, at least this version of James Bond has the good sense to wear a black wetsuit and black tanks when diving on a covert mission, unlike the original version where he wore -- and I am not making this up -- a bright orange wetsuit with bright white tanks when trying to be sneaky.
Even so, the underwater scenes are still visually comprehensive.

The bad

Still, as a not-quite-James-Bond film, there are things that you are going to miss:

Look, we're not even going to talk about what they did to the casino scene.

The aforementioned casting changes seem odd (perhaps most notably is that "Q" is not played by Desmond Llewelyn, and that saddens me)
"I came here looking for Q. Who the bloody hell are you?"

, but you also won't hear the iconic "James Bond: 007" theme written by Monty Norman. Gone also, for some reason or another, is the iconic Aston Martin DB5, replaced by a rather impressive-but-not-as-cool Bentley 4 1/4 Litre Gurney Nutting.
I mean, it's shiny. I guess.

It's a small price to pay, but it can be noticeable.

It's a James Bond film

This movie is PG. There's not a lot of swearing, and not a lot of blood, but people do die on-screen, and there are a few moments of casual racism (particularly to Middle Eastern people), but hey, they cast Bernie Casey as Felix Leiter, making him the first black man to portray the character over twenty years before Jeffrey Wright did in "Casino Royale," and he's awesome in this, so that's not nothing.

Blaze that trail!

Where can you find it?

This film is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime Video for no extra cost with the monthly subscription, so check it out if you're interested.

Mister Bond, meet Mister Bean!

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