Several actors, among them Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan and more recently Daniel Craig, have portrayed Ian Fleming’s British superspy 007 – but none more effectively or with greater elan than Sean Connery, who died on October 31 at the age of 90.
Tall, dapper and athletic, the then relatively unknown actor brought the right combination of ruggedness and sex appeal to Dr No (1962), his first foray as James Bond, into what was to become one of the most enduring film series of all time. Even 37 years after his last 007 outing (Never Say Never Again, 1983), the name of Sean Connery remains synonymous with Bond… James Bond.
Exuding an overpowering screen presence in a wide range of non-Bond films, the Scotsman was especially memorable in such movies as Sidney Lumet’s The Hill (1965), John Boorman’s Zardoz (1974), John Huston’s The Man Who Would Be King (1975) and Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables (1987).
As for Connery connoisseurs, they will correctly cite Alfred Hitchcock’s disquieting psychological thriller Marnie (1964) as the most challenging and complex role of his career. Much maligned by critics and audiences alike at the time of its initial release, Marnie has subsequently been acknowledged as a masterpiece to rank alongside such Hitchcock classics as Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Vertigo (1958), North by North West (1959) and Psycho (1960).
Sourced from a pulp novel by Winston Graham, the film revolves around a businessman named Mark Rutland (Connery) who blackmails one of his new employees Marnie (Tippi Hedren) into marriage after discovering that she is a frigid kleptomaniac with a troubled past and a deep-seated resentment of men, sex and the colour red.
With tongue planted firmly in his cheek, Hitchcock once attempted to explain the actions of the film’s ‘hero’ by telling interviewer Francois Truffaut, “Mark wants to go to bed with a thief because she is a thief.”
From the zinger of an opening sequence that tracks Marnie’s walk across the length of a railway platform to the devastating open-ended climactic revelation, Marnie is the work of a master with deep control of every aspect of the medium. Small wonder then that the reputed British film critic and Hitchcock scholar Robin Wood asserted that “If you don’t love Marnie, you don’t love cinema.”
For a change, Marnie is one of the few films in which Connery plays second fiddle to his alluring co-star. Even if Connery had not made any of the extravagant Bond adventures, his status as one of Hollywood’s most popular stars will remain unsullied for generations to come.