GLEN WELDON, HOST:
Sir Sean Connery has died. He was 90 years old. Though he became a star by creating the role of James Bond on screen, over the course of his career, he played many characters, all with his distinctive, much-imitated Scottish brogue. I'm Glen Weldon. We're remembering the life and work of Sean Connery by spotlighting three of his iconic performances on this episode of POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR, so don't go away.
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WELDON: Welcome back. With me, from his home in Washington, D.C., is writer Chris Klimek. Hey, Chris.
CHRIS KLIMEK, BYLINE: Hey, Glen.
WELDON: Sean Connery was a working-class kid, the son of a truck driver and a cleaning woman - two different people, should point out there.
WELDON: He joined the Royal Navy and competed in bodybuilding competitions when he auditioned for "South Pacific" on a whim and got the part. The first actor to play James Bond on screen and to some, including, perhaps, Chris, his remains the distinctive portrayal, he quickly became a movie star in the classic sense - the old-fashioned kind of movie star. When you hired Sean Connery, you got Sean Connery with his trademark Scottish accent whether he was playing an Irish cop or a Spanish immortal or a Russian...
WELDON: ...Submarine commander. Chris, you're going to walk us through three of his iconic performances, starting with - I'm going to guess I know.
KLIMEK: Yes. It is Darby O'Gill. It's...
KLIMEK: You know, women wanted him, men wanted to be him, as was always said of Darby O'Gill. That's only half a joke because "Darby O'Gill And The Little People" is the movie that Dana Broccoli, wife of producer Cubby Broccoli, saw when Cubby was casting "Dr. No," the first Bond film. And, you know, he had asked his wife what she thought of this prospective actor. And as every one of his obits has quoted, she told her husband, he moves like a panther. So...
KLIMEK: ...That's - you know, Connery was not what Ian Fleming had in mind as James Bond. Certainly, Fleming made some crack about him being an overgrown stuntman but recanted once he had seen the films. The Connery performance that I have chosen to stand in for the totality of his Bond run is "From Russia With Love." This is the second Bond movie from 1963, I think one of the very best. There is a scene that, at least as recently as 2005 when we got our latest Bond casting, was still being used to audition prospective Bonds. Daniel Craig did it back then, runner up Henry Cavill did it back then.
KLIMEK: It is from 1963's "From Russia With Love." The scene is between Sean Connery and Daniela Bianchi.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE")
SEAN CONNERY: (As James Bond) So you're Tatiana Romanova.
DANIELA BIANCHI: (As Tatiana Romanova) My friends call me Tania.
CONNERY: (As James Bond) Mine call me James Bond. Well, now that we've been properly introduced.
BIANCHI: (As Tatiana Romanova) Careful, guns upset me.
CONNERY: (As James Bond) I'm sorry. I'm a bit upset myself.
BIANCHI: (As Tatiana Romanova) You look just like your photograph.
CONNERY: (As James Bond) You're one of the most beautiful girls I've ever seen.
BIANCHI: (As Tatiana Romanova) Thank you. But I think my mouth is too big.
CONNERY: (As James Bond) No, it's the right size - for me, that is.
KLIMEK: You get not one but two panther purrs...
KLIMEK: ...Including the first time he opens his mouth. Ah, so you're...
KLIMEK: ...You're Tatiana Romanova (purrs).
WELDON: Yeah. OK. So the character of James Bond is - at least as written by Ian Fleming and as portrayed in those first few films - kind of a crazy misogynist. And in 1965, Connery himself kind of weighed in. He said to Playboy magazine, I don't think there is anything particularly wrong about hitting a woman. Although, I don't recommend doing it the same way you'd hit a man - there he's implicitly recommending hitting men.
WELDON: An open-handed slap is justified if all alternatives fail and there has been plenty of warning, which just tells you how much he's thought about this. And then in 1987, he kind of doubled down on it.
KLIMEK: Yeah, that's a policy.
WELDON: Yeah, it's crazy. And then in 2006, apparently, the Herald newspaper, he's quoted telling friends, I don't believe that any level of abuse of women is ever justified under any circumstances, which is just a strange thing to have to say out loud. But we do need to acknowledge that it is part of who he is, part of who he was. OK. So what made him such a distinctive Bond, do you think, Chris?
KLIMEK: Well, Bond needs to be a seducer and a killer, you know? And you notice both of these elements to the character by their absence in later incarnations. You know, Roger Moore was just never physically menacing in the way that Sean Connery was. I actually think Daniel Craig brought that element back. I think Craig really embodies all of the facets of this not necessarily admirable character very well.
The reason I picked "From Russia With Love" there is because the plot of this movie involves an attempt to defect. There's a - well, it's complicated. But the Russian operative - who's actually working for SPECTRE - Tatiana, has to convince Bond that she's fallen in love with this photograph, and he has to convince her that he's fallen in love with her. So it's fake love.
You know, I think my other favorite Bond films, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" and "Casino Royale" - that would be the 2006 one that introduced Daniel Craig - are the ones where he really does fall in love. So we get that rare element of actual emotion behind him and not just, you know, murder in the service of Her Majesty's government.
KLIMEK: So it's a - yeah, it is a - not an admirable character, but a complex character.
WELDON: (Laughter) Famously complex character. OK, your second pick is kind of midcareer Sean Connery...
WELDON: ...From 1975.
KLIMEK: Yeah. So Connery, who was always, like, very wary of being too closely identified with Bond and took his leave pretty, pretty quickly - although after doing, in the end, what'd then add up to seven movies. In the middle of the '70s, he gets together with his buddy Michael Caine to adapt what was even then a nearly hundred-year-old Rudyard Kipling story, "The Man Who Would Be King." John Huston is the director. So everything about this is old, old Hollywood.
But it's a buddy movie. This isn't Connery carrying the film on his shoulders. In fact, you know, having looked at it again last night, I think it's probably more Michael Caine's movie than his. But Connery is the fake monarch who - they have a very sort of Clooney and Pitt buddy-buddy energy in this. They've both cited it as their favorite film to have made, looking back on their careers. And the fact that they enjoy each other so much is partial compensation, I guess, for the really icky politics of...
KLIMEK: ...A Rudyard Kipling adaptation made in the '70s starring Sean Connery. But let's hear that rapport between the two of them.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING")
CONNERY: (As Daniel Dravot) And now, sir, let me introduce you to Brother Peachy Carnehan, which is him, and Brother Daniel Dravot, which is I. The less said about our professions, the better, though we have been most things in our time. We've been all over India. We know her cities, her jungles, her jails and her passes. And we have decided that she isn't big enough for such as we.
KLIMEK: So before anyone gets too potentially turned off who hasn't seen this film, let me just spoil the ending and say he gets his comeuppance.
WELDON: Yeah. Yeah, he does.
KLIMEK: He gets what's coming to him. Don't worry about it.
WELDON: Famously. And speaking of comeuppance, your third and final pick is from 1987, the role that won him the Oscar.
KLIMEK: The role that won him the Oscar and that really relaunched his career after it hit kind of a slump in the '80s. This is as Jimmy Malone, the streetwise, poor Irish beat cop in "The Untouchables," who takes Kevin Costner's naive, idealistic, but kind of dumb Eliot Ness under his wing and shows them the way they do things in Chicago. Let's hear him giving the business to Kevin Costner's Eliot Ness.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE UNTOUCHABLES")
CONNERY: (As Jim Malone) If you open the ball on these people, Mr. Ness, you must be prepared to go all the way because they won't give up the fight until one of you is dead.
KEVIN COSTNER: (As Eliot Ness) I want to get Capone. I don't know how to get him.
CONNERY: (As Jim Malone) Want to get Capone? Here's how you get him. He pulls a knife; you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital; you send one of his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way, and that's how you get Capone.
KLIMEK: Yes. He is as Irish as Bono. I'm sure you can hear.
KLIMEK: And this really introduces the third phase of Connery's career, where now he's going to successfully play a mentor figure to a younger actor in a number of successive films that all do very well. I mean, two years after this, he's Henry Jones Sr. in "Last Crusade" - much beloved, right? "Hunt For Red October," where he's paired off with Alec Baldwin, although I don't think they get together until the end...
KLIMEK: ...Is the year after that. 1996 - I'm going to put in an honorable mention for "The Rock" since he's basically playing Bond...
KLIMEK: ...Except he's an alternate Bond who's been locked up for 30 years, which is kind of fun. It's the only good Michael Bay movie, if you ask me. But that all starts with "The Untouchables."
WELDON: Now, Chris, you haven't seen the John Boorman film "Zardoz," which is why it's not on this list. I guarantee you, once you see this film...
WELDON: ...In which he spends most of it gallivanting around the countryside in a red diaper with a gun...
KLIMEK: Oh, I've seen the stills. I have watched the trailer about 30 times.
WELDON: It is such a crazy movie. And it is, for me, iconic.
KLIMEK: It seems entirely up my alley. And can't get a physical copy of it anywhere on the primary market. So I don't know - maybe this will introduce a run on the few remaining "Zardoz" Blu-rays (laughter).
WELDON: Yeah, yeah. I mean, known and immortalized by James Bond, but will always be close to my heart for such a strangely horny movie as "Zardoz."
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WELDON: We want to know what your favorite Sean Connery performances are. Find us at facebook.com/pchh and on Twitter at @pchh. And that brings us to the end of our show. Chris, thanks for being here.
KLIMEK: Oh, thanks, Glen.
WELDON: And before we go, we wanted to let you know we are going to be talking about "The West Wing," and we want your questions. Send us a voice message with your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Again, send us a voice memo to email@example.com. And, of course, thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. And we will see you all tomorrow, when we will offer up some Election Day distractions.
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