We’ve done a lot of James Bond posts, particularly on the movies. One film we’ve neglected to discuss thus far, however, was 1983’s Never Say Never Again.
There are (currently) 23 movies officially sanctioned by the original and subsequently official James Bond franchise. However, there have been two other films and one TV show that also have featured our international spy hero. The TV show was a telling of the Casino Royale story (available on Netflix) as an episode of a CBS series called Climax! It was aired in 1954. The Casino Royale name also was used for a parody that really had nothing to do with the James Bond series other than the name of the film, the name of the character, and some elements of international spy-hood. Casino Royale (1967) was a big budget, big cast mess that had its funny moments, but like so many of the 1960’s sexy comedies, wore out its welcome. The Austin Powers movies owe a lot to the slapstick of this movie.
The major coup of the film was that the creators were able to sign Sean Connery to play the part of James Bond. Connery was 52 at the time of filming and while there are several references to the fact that his character is aging, Bond still has plenty of life left in him. The action and sex are more exhilarating than the other James Bond film released that year: Octopussy (which, incidentally, is the first and only time we will ever see James Bond dressed as a clown; Ian Fleming was rolling in his grave).
In the standard canon, the film Thunderball story had a unique birth. It was written by Ian Fleming but unlike his other stories, it was created through collaboration and was originally scripted to become a screenplay for a film. It was temporarily shelved until Harry Saltzman’s and Albert R. Broccoli’s production company, Eon Productions, resuscitated it for the 1965 film. One of the writers, Kevin McClory, sued Fleming (and won) to retain rights to the story. Eon worked out a deal to move forward with Thunderball but MClory was allowed create his own treatment for future projects. And so, Never Say Never Again was born.
The film has a distinctive feel to it. There’s no mistaking that it is a Bond movie, but there’s a certain mood that gives it an edgier (in 1983) feel to it than the Eon productions. Never Say Never Again received praise from both critics and audiences at the time and managed to be a huge success at the box office. It grossed $160 million worldwide on a budget of $36 million. Unfortunately, it hasn’t aged any better than the other Bond films and has settled into middling acceptance from current users and critics. It also has the misfortune of being compared to the outstanding Thunderball film released nearly two decades earlier, rather than being taken in its own right.
Here’s our review.
The Good: It’s a smaller film than most Bond movies. The budget was sparse and it didn’t have the powerhouse presence of the Eon Bonds, but that actually made it more interesting to us. As we mentioned above, it felt like a fresh alternative to the Roger Moore era movies and compared to the outrageous Octopussy that was released the same year, it was by the superior film. In terms of casting, high marks are deserved for three main players.
Roger Moore is three years older than Sean Connery and looked as old as his age in 1983. On the other hand, Sean managed to look like a James Bond that is only slightly past his prime. There are several references to Bond’s age throughout the film but that doesn’t stop him from salacious behavior and serious fighting ability.
Klaus Maria Brandauer as Maximilian Largo is brilliant, suave, irrationally jealous, and totally off his rocker with heady megalomania. Klaus’ Largo was just about as opposite as possible from Adolfo Celi’s Largo from Thunderball. We’re glad for that. Both were excellent in their own right. Loved him!
We mentioned in another post that Luciana Paluzzi’s Fiona was one of our favorite villains. She was a perfect femme fatale because she wasn’t affected by Bond’s charms. It’s the same with Fatima Blush (Barbara Carerra), albeit with a refreshingly distinct persona just like Brandauer’s Largo. Barbara plays Fatima fantastically as a certified malevolent nut job. Unlike a lot of Bond villainesses, Fatima is extremely unpredictable and dangerous.
Max Von Sydow as Blofeld, Edward Fox as M, and Rowan Atkinson as Nigel Small-Fawcett were also wonderful additions to the cast as were many of the others.
The action is prevalent and the typical undertones of exotic places, outrageous escapes, and more money and power than seems possible make this a certified Bond. One of the most interesting scenes is a computer game of world domination played by Bond against Largo. It involves getting jolts of electricity of increasing severity through the joysticks if one is losing the game. We just can’t figure out how James Bond seems to be good at everything he does. What? Does Daniel Craig’s Bond destroy other gamers at night during Call of Duty binges?
The Bad: The only obvious casting misstep was Kim Basinger as Domino Petachi. Kim’s Domino has no mystique, whereas Thunderball’s Domino (acted by Claudine Auger) looked the part. We like Kim well enough (she is a rather fetching woman, after all), but this role could have been played by someone more compatible with the look the name invokes, like, oh let’s see, how about someone that’s actually Italian.
Sadly, it is impossible to escape the film’s comparison to Thunderball. There are plenty of unique elements in the film but it’s still much the same story-wise. So, there’s almost a been-there-done-that sense as the one watches the film. And, as good as Never Say Never Again is, it’s just a good Bond story rather than a great one.
The Ugly: Really nothing. This is by no means going to end up on a Top 10 List of Best James Bond movies, but it is far better than the horrible Bond movies of the later Moore period. By the way, take a look at our James Bond mini reviews when you’re done here.
Connery may have been a fading action spy hero, but it didn’t detract from the action. Adding in Klaus Maria and Barbara’s performances and we’re giving this film a thumbs up. If we add this to the Bond canon, we would put it a bit above the middle of the list.
3.5 out of 5 stars