A look at Never Say Never Again

I still find it astonishing that Kevin McClory's renegade 007 film ever made it into production. With little money, script problems and the considerable weight of the Broccoli family against them, the seemingly impossible task of making an unofficial James Bond actually became reality. Is it a good thing to have this floating around in Bondom? My answer is a resounding yes because for all its flaws (and there are many) Never Say Never Again is a fascinating film for anyone interested in James Bond.
With no gunbarrel, how do we start the film? Surely someone must have asked this question when they were planning Never Say Never Again. The solution was actually quite nifty. The screen fills up with 007 symbols and we move into the jungle where an older (but still spry) Sean Connery is taking part in a simulated hostage rescue. It is a far cry from the increasingly outrageous pre-credits of the official films and enjoyable for that reason.

From this we move to Edward Fox as M briefing Bond on the wargame. Fox is (in this universe) the man who replaced Bernard Lee. He plays M as an uppity twit and has no time for the 00's or their methods. Is Fox OTT? Of course. Is he a hoot though? Absolutely. In a departure from the official series, MI6 is painted as an underfunded and old-fashioned institution. It is something of an in-joke. In the Broccoli films 007 gets a car that costs a small fortune and enough gadgets to supply a Japanese electrical store. Here a visit to Q means a pokey warehouse where you can imagine rain dripping from the ceiling. Alec McCowan's Q is a nice stab at something different but no threat to the real Q of the official series and Pamela Salem has very little screen time as Moneypenny.

Following the original Thunderball reasonably closely we move on to the theft of the warheads (updated to cruise missiles). This is conceived with some nostalgically so-so Eighties FX. We meet Barbara Carrera's OTT Fatima Blush (a character devised purely for the film but rumoured to be an old Mclory/Fleming idea) for the first time and there is a highly enjoyable punch-up between Bond and the legendary Pat Roach in Shrublands. This section is also notable for the recycled gags of Clements and La Frenais who steal from their own sitcom Porridge.

The warheads have of course been half-inched by Spectre to hold the world to blackmail. M is forced to reactivate the 00 section and Bond is back in action. It has to be said that Blofeld is a completely missed opportunity here. Max Von Sydow's performance appears to have ended up on the cutting room floor. Instead we get Max Largo played by the always reliable Klaus Maria Brandauer. Largo lives on a yacht in the Bahamas with Domino (Kim Basinger). Bond  suspects of him of being behind the theft and the usual game ensues.

We are treated to the guiltily enjoyable spectacle of a video game battle between Bond and Largo before Fatima recognises Bond and  Domino realises that Largo has had her (drug-addled US Air Force) brother killed after using him to steal the missiles. Bond gives her this news while they dance a tango. The film looks quite glitzy for a moment here and Connery still cuts a dash. I wonder if James Cameron remembered this scene when he made True Lies? We also meet Felix Leiter played by Bernie Casey. Casey becomes the first black actor to play Leiter and a perfectly fine job he does too.  Rowan Atkinson turns up in a comedy cameo as Bond's contact and there is a motorcycle chase which is perhaps the only major set-piece of the film. The chase is activated by Bond finding his contact dead in a water-bed (!). This is actually one of the best moments in the film despite the jazzy trumpet work that surrounds the scene. Fatima's demise is a nice moment too. Despite being in a seemingly hopeless position Bond always keeps his cool and has a gadget up his sleeve.

Bond is imprisoned before finally foiling Blofeld's scheme with some marines in a battle conducted around underground caves. The big ending never quite arrives and the film fizzles out somewhat. Connery breaks the fourth wall by winking at the camera as the film ends. Some people hate this but I don't. Lazenby did it in OHMSS so why can't Sean in his last ever moment as 007?

Overall NSNA suffers distinctly from a modest budget. There simply isn't enough spectacle for even a renegade Bond film. Problems with the script are very evident in the final product. One can only imagine the rejigging that went on and there is ample evidence of whole scenes missing. Indeed some sequences originally mooted for the film were cut on the grounds of money. A shame that this and a script that never truly comes together stops this from being as good as it could have been.

On the plus side Connery (in Diamonds Are Forever mode) is funny and self-deprecating. There are moments of genuine invention and Largo proves a fine villain. For all its flaws NSNA is a welcome addition to the Bond universe. Not nearly as bad as some make out. My own view is that NSNA is a few chromosomes and a few dollars from being a very good film.
- Greg Haugen

c 2006 Alternative 007