In Memoriam: Sir Sean Connery, Golden Globe Winner, 1930-2020

by Philip Berk October 31, 2020
Sean Connery, Golden Globe winner and Cecil B. de Mille Award recipient

hfpa archives

Sir Sean Connery Golden Globe winner, nominee and Cecil B deMille award recipient died at 90, in his house in the Bahamas. Over the years he received the Legion d’Honneur and Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres from the French Academy, the Freedom of Edinburgh award, an honorary Doctor of Letters degrees from St. Andrews University and Heriot-Watt University, a Fellowship from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, and Lifetime Achievement Awards from the British Academy, the American Cinematheque, the National Board of Review, and of course the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

Born into near-poverty, his first job was as a milkman. He joined the Royal Navy, and after being discharged for medical reasons he worked at numerous jobs. The one that led him into acting was modeling. It was his West End performance in the chorus of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific that he developed a serious interest in theater.

He appeared in productions of Witness for the Prosecution and Anna Christie and was then offered supporting roles on television and in a number of forgettable films. Finally, after a six-year struggle, he got his first big break playing opposite Lana Turner and Barry Sullivan in Another Time Another Place, which led to his first leading role in Disney’s Darby O’Gill and the Little People. It wasn’t a star-making opportunity, but Albert Broccoli and his partner Harry Saltzman must have seen something in him and offered him the role of James Bond, which he was reluctant to accept knowing that it would tie him to a long term contract if the film was successful.

And of course, that’s just what happened.

Bond became the most successful franchise in film history, but after six films he wanted out and took control of his career and his fortunes.

Just before signing with Broccoli and Saltzman he had played Vronsky opposite Claire Bloom in a TV version of Anna Karenina and had given an especially strong performance in another TV film of Macbeth. These experiences must have emboldened him to demand that he could make outside films between the Bond movies. And so he did.

Woman of Straw opposite Gina Lollobrigida was a poor choice, but then Hitchcock cast him in Marnie. He found his soulmate in director Sidney Lumet when he did The Hill, a film he was particularly proud of, and played an eccentric poet in Irwin Kershner’s A Fine Madness which sadly didn’t find much favor from either the public or critics. No matter, by the time James Bond had run its course, he had achieved a worldwide popularity unmatched by any actor then working.

With the blockbuster success of the Bond movies, Connery fought the producers for a share of the profits. For Dr. No, he was paid only $16,000. When he finally walked away from the series, he donated his by then million dollar salary (for Diamonds are Forever) to the Scottish International Educational Trust Fund.  Years later he made Never Say Never Again to get even with them. Because of some legal loophole, his earlier film Thunderball belonged to both the Bond producers and Kevin McClory. Connery joined with McClory to film a "remake" of Thunderball, an undertaking that involved as much time in court as in front of the cameras. 

Did he ever resolve his feud with the Broccoli? he was asked at an HFPA press conference. "I went to his birthday party a couple of years ago. The only time he really got up my nose was when the BBC was doing a retrospective on my work, and he refused to let us use clips from Dr. No or From Russia With Love. That was the only time it really made me angry especially since the Hitchcock estate had allowed us to use Marnie knowing it was not for commercial use, just for this lecture!” His last Bond film Diamonds Are Forever coincided with his being voted a third-time HFPA World Film favorite. 

Now freed of his bondage (excuse the pun) he was in heavy demand but none of his subsequent movies lived up to his Bond legacy.

He was a damaged police detective in Lumet’s The Offense, a god in John Boorman’s Zardoz, a suspect in Lumet’s Murder on the Orient Express, a Moroccan Berber in John Milius’s The Wind and the Lion, Michael Caine’s partner in John Huston’s The Man Who Would Be King, Audrey Hepburn’s betrothed in Richard Lester’s Robin and Marian, and an Arab again in The Next Man.

There was no shortage of jobs: The Great Train Robbery, Meteor, Cuba, Five Days One Summer, The Name of the Rose, The Presidio, Memories of Me. But even his renegade James Bond venture Never Say Never Again failed to excite fans.

His career seemed stuck in neutral. Until Brian De Palma and Steven Spielberg rescued him from movie oblivion by casting him as an Irish cop in De Palma's The Untouchables, for which he won the Golden Globe (and the Academy Award) for Best Supporting Actor, and as Harrison Ford’s father in Spielberg’s Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade for which he was nominated a second time for a Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe.

Once again he was a world film favorite, but limiting himself to one movie a year. Starting with John McTiernan’s The Hunt for Red October, Fred Schepisi’s The Russia House, McTiernan's Medicine Man ( which he wasn’t happy with), Philip Kaufman’s Rising Sun, Bruce Beresford’s  A Good Man in Africa, Just Cause, First Knight, DragonHeart. They were all middling successes, but then he joined Bruckheimer on The Rock, which became his biggest box-office hit since his Bond movies. He won strong reviews for Gus Van Sant’s Finding Forrester, which effectively was his swansong.

His classic movies: The Bond films, especially the first and last, Dr. No and Diamonds Are Forever.