In today’s Toast series, we pay tribute to the original Jame Bond spy, Oscar-winning actor Sean Connery. The 25th movie in the popular Bond franchise hits theaters this week and here’s the 007 who started it all.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, here are two definitions of the word “original”: “happening or existing first or at the beginning” and “not like others: new, different, and appealing.” And what are some stellar examples of an original? Hmmm. The original Disneyland. And definitely the original McDonald’s Big Mac. Then, if talking cinema, the original James Bond. Cue that 6’ 2” Scottish cool-as-fire Sean Connery.
The Bond franchise is burning up the media these days with its new movie No Time to Die set to release in just moments, and the 25th instalment promises to bring new fans into the franchise’s sexy, charismatic, aspirational fold. (What moviegoer hasn’t at one time wanted to transplant themselves into this movie franchise as James Bond himself or an iconic Bond girl? Fess up!) It’s inevitable then to wax nostalgic on the glittery beginnings of this legendary film series, which arguably started the “spy” film genre way back in dusty 1962. And to wax nostalgic over its “original” star of Sean Connery. There have been a total of seven actors portraying spy-hero James Bond (aka 007) since 1962, but somehow Sean Connery always makes our heart beat the fastest.
After all, Connery didn’t just look the James Bond part, he oozed the part. To anyone who watched him deliver that classic introductory line back in the “original ” film Dr. No (1962), “Bond…James Bond,” you knew this actor meant business. Lighting his cigarette at just the right time, to coincide with Bond’s side glance to the intriguingly red-dressed Sylvia Trench character, as they sit over a gambling table at the regal Le Cercle, Les Ambassadeurs Club, you knew Sean Connery wasn’t just resting on looks or script. No, he brought something gloriously undefinable to James Bond that kept audiences coming back for more, a total of seven films to be exact. Sean Connery was lightning in a bottle.
The Magic Of Connery’s 007
Of course that catchy instrumental theme song (with iconic gun-barrel graphics) helped Connery’s popularity along. And of course those infamous Bond girls helped establish him as a global cinematic hunk, though there has rightly been considerable concern in recent years over the treatment of these Bond girl characters and what they symbolized to the storylines. Thankfully we live in the more enlightened year of 2021. And finally, those exotic film locales were the perfect back-drop for all those gorgeous pressure-cooker spy plots that made Connery’s character the pinnacle in international political, scientific, religious, etc., intrigue.
The list of magic factors goes on, but ultimately, audiences came back to see Sean Connery. He had to deliver on James Bond, or else end up speared through the chest á la his underwater battle in the sunny Bahamian-set 1965 installment Thunderball. How fast does it take to sink to the ocean’s bottom? You get the idea.
Thankfully, that murky, watery actor’s grave was not to be Connery’s destiny. While Connery starred in his seven hugely successful James Bond films between 1962 and 1983 (though Roger Moore took up the mantle in 1973, and Sean Connery’s role in 1983’s Never Say Never Again was a one-off anomaly in the sequence), Connery still eked out an impressive film career beyond 007. Think Alfred Hitchcock mystery-thriller Marnie in 1964 and medieval period piece Robin and Marian with Audrey Hepburn in 1976. These are just a handful.
Connery then had an arguable renaissance in the late 1980s and early 1990s with Hollywood blockbusters like The Untouchables (1987), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), and The Hunt for Red October (1990), proving his fiery acting power right when many actors might be slowing down. No, this Scottish phenom didn’t slow down at all.
The Star Beyond The 007 Moniker
Then fast-forward to Connery trekking up skyscraper trees in the Amazon rainforest like they were toothpicks in the 1992 film Medicine Man. What white-bearded strength and wisdom. The way his researcher character Robert Campbell talks about finding a cure for cancer and then losing is beyond riveting. A big kabam! Find this scene and just replay it. He’s brilliant. Connery gets us all locked deep into his palpable craziness, making us feel as if any other movie we’ve ever watched is mere child’s play compared to this Robert Campbell’s existential Amazonian cancer caper. But does he find the cure? Of course we have to watch to find out.
Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on August 25, 1930, and passing away in the Bahamas at 90 last year, Sean Connery has gone down in history as not just one of the all-time best actors, but also shining stars. He embodied one of moviedom’s most iconic characters with James Bond, and starred in a veritable smorgasbord of meaty roles besides Bond, even winning a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for 1987’s The Untouchables.
Fiercely proud of his Scottish roots (he even had a tattoo to prove it), and once called “Scotland’s Greatest Living National Treasure,” he was a mover and shaker who cinema was lucky to have. So, here are five classic film treasures from the 1960s and 1970s where we say thank you to the man who brought us James Bond and so much more. Cheers to the memorable Sean Connery. James Bond lovers everywhere will be thinking of you this week.
5 Classics Starring Sean Connery
1. Dr. No (1962)
In celebration of all things “original,” Dr. No is the original James Bond flick, and definitely a must-see. Like all James Bond movies to come, it involves those three powerful, potent ingredients touted in the film’s vintage movie trailer: “intrigue, treachery, and love.” Watch Sean Connery introduce the world to the now-infamous Ian Fleming book-character from the early 1950s. But now it’s the colorful, bright, technologically advanced early 1960s, and this movie is an example of that.
The plot is James Bond against the title character, Dr. No, who’s trying to mess with an American space launch by blasting some kind of radio beam, causing ultimate mayhem. It’s a good vs. evil showdown, and Connery’s spy skills and physical prowess must’ve been mind-blowing to watch back in the early 1960s. Bonus, watch Swiss actress Ursula Andress sizzle on the screen as the “original” Bond girl (aka Honey Ryder).
2. Marnie (1964)
What’s not to love about an Alfred Hitchcock film? They’re filled with mystery, suspense, great actors and cinematography, and enough symbolism to stimulate conversation for days. And Marnie doesn’t disappoint. See Sean Connery’s publisher character Mark Rutland fall in love with a beautiful, though troubled, Tippi Hedren character called Marnie. Or is it more that Connery’s a hunter who likes to catch wild things? Hmmm.
Here’s a psychological drama to the nth degree, and Connery and Hedren have good romantic chemistry together. That is, if only the secret behind Marnie’s mysterious behavior wasn’t so disturbing the audience could focus on the romance. But that’s the brilliant Hitchcock. He’s renowned for wreaking havoc on us innocent moviegoers. Marnie is possibly Hitchcock’s most sexually-charged and controversial movie ever.
3. Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
Known for its stellar ensemble cast (Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Albert Finney, and others), here’s a film where Sean Connery shines alongside other brilliant actors. It’s exciting to see. Based on a 1934 novel by the queen of mystery herself, Ms. Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express is a mystery not easily unraveled. Meanwhile, it has surprisingly humorous touches. (Cue that Hercule Poirot moustache donned by Albert Finney.)
Get caught up in this classic “whodunit.” Connery, accustomed to depicting tasty on-screen intrigue given his many James Bond films, is beneficial to this film’s success. It was a huge commercial and critical hit back in the mid-1970s.
4. Robin And Marian (1976)
Here’s Sean Connery as Robin Hood. For diehard Sean Connery fans who love this “Scotsman who just happens to be an actor,” here’s your flick. Robin and Marian give major authentic Celtic vibes. The film allows Connery to show off his rugged Scottish–ness by playing revered Robin Hood of medieval English folklore. No James Bond hero here, but definitely another iconic character whose mission is to save the day. Good on you, Robin Hood. And good on you, Sean Connery, for choosing this plum role that was undoubtedly right in your wheelhouse. Even your Nottingham accent was apparently authentic!
Bonus, Robin and Marian boasts an extremely rare appearance of Audrey Hepburn, who had all but retired from acting back in the 1970s. Watching these two together is truly a treasure.
5. Meteor (1979)
Back in the 1970s, disaster films were the genre “du jour.” And for great reason. They were often pulse-pounding, thought-provoking, and were actually the early precursors to all those amazing CGI special effects disaster flicks we see lighting up the movie theaters today. Meteor is a disaster flick that’s sci-fi in nature. Picture a five-mile-wide asteroid named Orpheus that can wipe out all of humanity on planet Earth. And Sean Connery is part of the team to stop it. Though the 1970s cinematic capability is limited and antiquated, and some moviegoers might find the pacing slow, watching Sean Connery, Natalie Wood, Henry Fonda and others take up this popular 1970s genre is still beyond entertaining. Sean Connery knew how to entertain, and through the magic of streaming, we still get to enjoy his classic movies today, including Meteor.
Sean Connery, one of the ultimate heroes in moviedom, lives on.
Catch all the stories from The Toast series here.
I was once an exec for The Economist magazine. Nowadays, I'm a published poet, travel writer, and "vintage" pop culture blogger from the New York City area. I love movies, and especially those dusty old classics. I "heart" the rich history of film.