Never Say Never Again was a rival production to the ongoing Eon series and, for tedious legal reasons to do with writer/producer Kevin McClory’s claim on its authorship, was a second adaptation of the novel Thunderball. So, while not part of the ‘canon’, it is an authorised James Bond movie… Nevertheless, it’s like a photocopy: recognisable and more or less adequate, but you do wish you had the original instead. It was directed by Irvin Kershner, who three years earlier had made The Empire Strikes Back – but this seriously lacks that film’s blockbuster sheen. Compared to the main series, NSNA just comes off a cheap and gloomy. Whereas Cubby Broccoli gave us glamour and quality, McClory can only provide overcast skies and stock footage. There are some pretty hefty coincidences and plot contrivances too – not least that the whole story is based on the notion that, as long as the US President looks into a retinal scanner, he or anyone close to him can then do whatever they like with the American nuclear arsenal. Having said all that, the film does have a knockabout charm, Sean Connery is great fun, the Bond girl’s not bad looking, and the two main baddies are quite entertaining. Six Tears of Allah out of 10.
Bond: Sean’s back – 12 years since he quit the official series for a second time, but a few years before his Untouchables/Last Crusade/Hunt for Red October renaissance.
Villains: Fatima Blush is a vampy and increasingly deranged SPECTRE agent who, early on, poses as a nurse, beats her patient up, then teases him with a flash of stocking. After he’s done some espionage for her, she kills him by throwing a snake into his car as he drives along. She’s my favourite thing about the whole film. Max Von Sydow plays Blofeld; there’s no attempt to hide his face. The chief bad guy is Maximillian Largo, played with Euro-charm twinkle and flashes of real menace by Klaus Maria Brandauer. He has a fascination with computer games, solely so he and Bond can play a tense one-to-one arcade game that gives its loser an electric shock.
Girls: The opening scene has a woman tied to a bed; when Bond frees her, she stabs him (it’s part of a Secret Service training op). As in Thunderball, the health farm has a physiotherapist who is easily seduced by 007. Valerie Leon plays a fisherwoman Bond picks up in Nassau. In France, he has a dull female helper and visits a health spa – there’s a doe-eyed receptionist, then James pretends to be a masseur in order to get close to Domino (and sneak a peek at her naked body). Domino is the movie’s female lead. When we first see her, she’s dancing in a leotard and leggings – Largo is perving at her through a two-way mirror (as, by extension, are we). She’s played by Kim Basinger, a bit insipidly but very pleasing-on-the-eye-ily.
Regulars: Aside from Bond, it’s a new cast, of course. Edward – or is it James? – Fox plays M. There are pointed references to his ‘illustrious predecessor’, surely a nod towards the main series. Pamela Salem appears as a dippy Miss Moneypenny. Blofeld, as mentioned, and his cat show up. This film’s Q, named Algernon for some reason, is much more working-class than Desmond Llewellyn’s take. And Sean gets his fifth different Felix Leiter: Bernie Casey, the first black actor to play the role.
Action: The opening scene sees Bond single-handedly storm a compound. He has a long brawl in a gymnasium with Pat Roach, who played tough guys in all the 1980s Indiana Jones movies. It spills out into the corridor and a crowd of people don’t notice because they’re watching boxing on a TV. The scene ends in a lab – Bond throws some liquid in Pat’s face and it turns out to be his own urine sample. There’s also Jack’s snake-related car crash, a motorbike chase through narrow Riviera streets, and the climactic battle in Largo’s base. On horseback, Bond rescues Domino from a slave auction, then somehow persuades the horse to jump off a 50-foot-high battlement into the sea. Like Thunderball, there’s lots of dull underwater stuff. The best ‘action’ scene in the film is Bond and Domino’s dramatic, choreographed dance routine at the casino.
Comedy: Good humour is mined from Bond’s advancing age. M advises against too much red meat, white bread and dry martinis. “Then I shall cut out the white bread, sir,” he says. The famous “From here?” gag about giving a urine sample is repeated from an episode of Porridge (its writers worked on the shooting script). “I hope we’re going to have some gratuitous sex and violence,” says Q during his one scene. Rowan Atkinson appears as a buffoonish embassy official. Bond tricks a doorman into holding a ‘bomb’ absolutely still, otherwise it’ll go off – it’s actually his cigar case. In the final shot of the movie, Sean winks at the camera.
Music: Michel Legrand wrote the not-very-Bondian score. At one point, it goes all rapidly plucked double-bass and scat-scat jazz trumpet. The terrible theme song, performed by Lani Hall, plays over the opening scene (rather than an abstract title sequence).