“Bond. James Bond.”
With those words, the late Sir Sean Connery moved from actor to icon as the British super spy.
Playing the role for six of the first seven installments of a franchise that has spanned six decades and counting, Connery transcended it. He forever will be remembered as the man who took his martinis “shaken, not stirred.”
Sadly, on Halloween, we lost the actor at the age of 90. Thomas Sean Connery was born in 1930 in Scotland, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2000, and in between gave moviegoers a feast for the senses with his appealing voice and dazzling good looks.
Now, it would be easy to look at his time as 007 for this column, but his remarkable 58-year career offered so much more. Since I already reviewed his Oscar-winning performance as beat cop Jim Malone in Brian De Palma’s 1987 masterpiece “The Untouchables” a few weeks back, we’ll take a look at three must-see films starring Big Tam.
“Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (1989)
Steven Spielberg’s third installment of the Indy series introduces Jones’ father, Henry Sr., played by Connery. Bringing in a new major character at that stage of a trilogy is usually a risky choice, but the chemistry between Harrison Ford and the late actor was nothing short of mesmerizing. Though only 12 years separate the actors' actual ages, their on-screen family relationship appears genuine.
When Walter Donovan (Julian Glover) brings in the famed archaeologist to help find the Holy Grail, Indy tells him he has the “wrong Jones” and that his father (whom he hasn’t spoken to in years) is the Grail lore expert. Donovan tells him they already tried, but he is now lost, hoping that Indy will pick up the trail.
Reunited, the unlikely duo eventually track down the singular artifact. The script is laced with humor and thrills, as well as some poignant parent-child interactions. Like his Bond, Connery is compelling as Henry Jones Sr., and viewers will be locked into the exciting adventure for the 127-minute run time.
The film is rated PG-13 for some peril and deaths, and Prime has it for $2.99.
“The Hunt for Red October” (1990)
Tom Clancy’s best-selling novel directed by John McTiernan (of “Die Hard” fame) takes place near the end of the Cold War. When Marko Ramius (Connery), captain of the Soviet submarine Red October, disappears from radar in the Atlantic Ocean, both the U.S. and USSR attempt to find the state-of-the-art ship. In what could be considered an act of war, the intense hunt comes as tensions between the two nations stand at crisis level.
In a completely different role from the one played just a year earlier, Connery is magnetic as the submarine captain. Unlike most Russian-themed films, he is actually not the villain. He wants to defect from his adopted homeland because he fears the latest technological advancement could begin World War III. His intentions are unknown to everyone other than his hand-picked officers, but CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) believes there is a reason for his disappearance. In a series of anxiety-inducing scenes (expertly directed by McTiernan), Ryan gets on board the USS Dallas to track the “untrackable” Red October. As the dragnet continues to close in, the film builds to a pulse-pounding climax.
Again, Connery is outstanding, delivering his lines with grace and dignity. There is some subtle humor (the exchange between Ramius and Ryan while a torpedo is bearing down on them is pure cinematic gold), and the action sequences are deeply realistic. The film is said to be based on an actual event. You don’t see Bond or Jones in Connery's depiction, you see an old seaman with a plan.
The 135-minute film is rated PG for some language and violence, but worth every second. It is also on Prime for $2.99
“The Rock” (1996)
The final film of our Connery trilogy is Michael Bay’s “The Rock." The film opens as Brigadier Gen. Francis X. Hummel (Ed Harris) and a group of Special Forces operatives collect 15 VX poison nuclear missiles and then take over Alcatraz along with 81 tourists. In a demand for government money to pay the families of soldiers lost in recon missions he commanded, Hummel threatens to launch the deadly gas on San Francisco.
The FBI director collects his best chemical weapons expert, Dr. Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage), as well as a team of Navy seals to attempt to retake the island from the most decorated U.S. general alive. The only problem is getting to the island, formerly an escape-proof prison. There is, however, one exception, a former “guest” who did escape in 1963, Scottish nationalist John Mason (Connery).
Bay mixes adrenaline-inducing scenes with banter between Goodspeed and Mason. For an action film, it delivers great dialogue, and like the two aforementioned films, Connery hits this one out of the park too.
Though he would make a handful of films after this one, Connery makes John Mason’s exit poignant, powerful and symbolic, giving viewers a great look at a living legend.
The 136-minute film is rated R for violence, language and a couple death scenes that will make you look away, even though you won’t want to take your eyes off Sir Sean Connery. Prime has it for $2.99.
This triple feature showcases one of the best to grace the screen. He will be sorely missed, but, fortunately, we have great films in which to revisit his legacy again and again. RIP Big Tam.
Catch Stockwell lecture
As part of the McHenry County College Faculty Speaker Series, Jim Stockwell will present a lecture in person and via Zoom on "American Cinema: Past, Present and Future" at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12. It's an interactive look at the evolution of film, from its early technology through today's blockbusters, examining some of the most fascinating events and moments of the last 150 years. It's free, with registration required at https://www.mchenry.edu/experts/index.asp or facultyspeakerseriesnovember.brownpapertickets.com. Stockwell is a tenured instructor of film and broadcast journalism at MCC, teaching Introduction to Film, Advanced Film and Introduction to Public Speaking.