Home James - Sean Connery
This article is from 2008.
As Sean Connery returns to Edinburgh for a date in Charlotte Square Gardens, author Ewan Morrison recalls growing up in the ultimate 007’s shadow and wallowing in those iconic one-liners
‘You only live twice, or so it seems. One life for yourself, and one for your dreams.’
Why is it that I know all the words to this song? Why can’t I get the image of Ursula Andress in that bikini from Dr No, out of my skull? Heading towards the terrifying big four-oh I’ve recently been trying to clear out the mental storage room and what I’ve discovered is that it’s chock-full of Bond. When I say Bond, the other guys are merely so many more zeros before the seven. I don’t even have to say his name, he’s there in all our heads, muttering his witty one-liners from the depths of the collective shub-con-shush.
My connection with Connery may be more acute than most. From an early age I can recall people (mostly leggy women) telling my father that he was the spitting image of Sean. It was true; he had the height, the looks and the educated lowland Scots accent with the bass tones. By the time of The Hunt for Red October, when Connery and my father had both gone grey almost as if by some secret mutual pact, the Connery/Morrison connection was complete. Local kids would sing the James Bond theme tune as my dad walked past.
I found myself in late puberty waiting for my rightful DNA to kick in. Sadly the double helix was un-bonded and I ended up the runt I am today, a little bitter about the fact that Connery ever existed at all. My inability to pull women of the calibre of Shirley Eaton and Honor Blackman was a denial of my birthright. It is a terrible thing to grow up knowing you will never be the man Sean Connery is and I’m sure many Scottish men feel the same. Or many men globally for that matter, considering Connery was voted sexiest man in the world, even in his 60s. When I was in my 20s, in France, I discovered that the word ‘Connerie’ means bullshit. I found it apt. I have to admit, I went through years of truly despising the man and trying to erase his image from my head.
‘Shocking, positively shocking!’ was a one-liner he delivered while offing a bathing assassin with a lamp in Goldfinger. The key to Sean Connery’s style in everything he has done since Bond lies in the way he did those goddamn one-liners. Who can forget: ‘she’s had her kicks’ from the scene in From Russia with Love, in which the evil SPECTRE agent with the neuropoison knife in her boots gets her just desserts after trying to kick Bond to death? Or: ‘bon appetit’ as the bad guy gets gobbled by the piranhas? Or: ‘Oh, the things I do for England’ as he lays down with the Sapphic Helga Brandt in You Only Live Twice.
Then there is my absolute favourite. In Thunderball, after dancing with the voluptuous Fiona Volpe, who takes the bullet meant for him, he lays her on a chair next to two spectators and says: ‘Do you mind if my friend sits this one out? She’s just dead.’ I couldn’t help but laugh that the way ‘sits’ came out ‘shits’. As in: ‘Shits this one out.’
Of course the other Bonds had their one-liners, but none carried them off with the same panache, the same mixture of brutal indifference and throwaway intelligence, gravitas and playfulness. In short, the total, masculine, lack of self-consciousness that is known as ‘style’. These lines are, in fact, a pretty telling history of why the other Bonds fail before his spectral image.
Take George Lazenby’s one and only appearance as 007 in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Although he has a couple of good ones (most notably: ‘He had a lot of guts’ when a murderous goon falls into a snow plow), the producers must have sensed Lazenby’s, or the audience’s, anxiety that he wouldn’t be able to pull it off. Hence the epic turnaround that plagued all the subsequent actors’ dialogue and performances. At a certain moment after an intense, albeit back-projected chase, Lazenby turns almost to camera and says: ‘The last guy didn’t have to do this.’ So started the nod and wink to the audience, the I’m-not-as-cool-as-Connery-but-we’ll-have-a-laugh-anyway strategy.
Maybe it was down to feminism and the need for Bond to become more knowingly ironic, but the fact is that for all Roger Moore’s brio, his one-liners were self-conscious high camp and vaguely homoerotic. As in Moonraker:
Hugo Drax: ‘Why did you break up the encounter with my pet python?’
Bond: ‘I discovered it had a crush on me.’
I’d challenge anyone to recall a one-liner from Timothy Dalton, and by the time it came to the Brosnan with the piercing voice, the tables had turned to such an extent that the best lines were given to Moneypenny. As in Tomorrow Never Dies where she says: ‘You always were a cunning linguist James.’ Note the ‘always were’ betraying a longing for the past un-nameable James. As for the new guy, he spends all his time trying to suck his cheeks in, and is too inherently thuggish to be either cunning or a linguist of any kind.
The ironic fact though is that Connery has never been particularly cunning with his tongue(s), and is probably the only A-list actor who has played so many characters from different cultures without having to change his accent. That he can’t do them is not a problem, his presence is so powerful that we forgive the fact that he is a Lithuanian submarine captain with a Fountainbridge accent. Or that he is a Scottish Robin Hood (Robin and Marian), or an Edinburgh-ish King Agamemnon (Time Bandits). My particular favourite of this type is The Name of The Rose, a movie set in the Middle Ages, which has so many characters dubbed into Americanese that it’s almost a relief to hear a real non-lip-synched voice, even though he is playing a French Monk. I forgave him it all for his outstanding performance as the monk obs(h)essed with dis(h)covering the truth about the murders linked to Aris(h)totle’s second book of poetics(h).
It’s worth noting that the only time Connery has won an Oscar was for his performance in The Untouchables in which he played an Irish-American ex-cop. That award must have been given in respect of the almost impossible task he had to go through to change just one syllable, in the same way that Oscars are handed out to glamorous women who make themselves look ugly for a role. Ian Fleming, on seeing Connery’s first Bond, invented a fake history for the 007 of subsequent novels in which he was of Scoto-Swiss descent.
If you have ever seen Connery dubbed, as I did in Germany watching Highlander, it seems like a crime against humanity. His incorruptible accent has for over three decades been just about all we Scots have to hold up politically as our sign of belonging. You’ve got to admit it, Sir Sean’s commitment to the nation is as unshakeable as his accent. Earning $1.25m on Diamonds Are Forever and entering the Guinness Book of Records as the highest paid actor of all time, Connery gave all that cash away to the Scottish International Education Trust. Not bad for a guy that dropped out of the navy with a duodenal ulcer and had to take a job as a coffin polisher.
So ultimately I forgive him. I may not have Connery in my genes but he’s redefined life as a Scottish male. I may not be able to come up with the witty one-liners but I do believe in personal reinvention à la Connery. You only live twice.
Sean Connery & Murray Grigor, 25 Aug, 11.30am, £9 (£7); Ewan Morrison & Cynthia Rogerson, 20 Aug, 7.30pm, £6 (£4); Both events at Charlotte Square Gardens, 0845 373 5888.