Dec 24, 2019
Never Say Never Again (1983): the lost recap (part 1 of 6)
Back in the fall of 2008, I wrote a typically (for that period of time) verbose recap of the “unofficial” James Bond entry Never Say Never Again, breaking through the 20,000-word barrier before I even got around to putting together my usual long-winded intro. I had every intention of posting it back then, but after I looked it over, I wasn’t all that happy with how it turned out. I knew if I poured lots of time and energy into it, I could eventually salvage something from it, but I kept putting it off, and putting it off, and after a while, I completely forgot about it.
Seven years later, I’ve unearthed that document, and I present to you now my never before seen recap of Never Say Never Again! (Well, almost never before seen; a few years back, I used some of this material to write a video script for a two-part episode of Mr. Mendo’s Hack Attack.)
Of course, it’s still going to take a great deal of time and effort to salvage something from this, so I’m taking the unusual step of presenting this recap in multiple parts. On a (hopefully) weekly basis, I’ll be posting a new installment, with each part covering a short segment of the movie. Honestly, I don’t know yet how many installments there will be, or when I’ll finish covering the whole movie. I’m kind of in unchartered territory here, but I’ve committed to recapping this movie in its entirety, and I’m going to do it even if it kills me.
And if you’re wondering what exactly prompted the resurrection of this recap in the first place, this coming November sees the release of Spectre, the first James Bond film in decades to feature the villainous organization of SPECTRE. In fact, it’s the first Bond movie to feature SPECTRE since… Never Say Never Again. And now that all the pieces are falling into place for you, let’s begin.
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If this were still 2008, when Wikipedia was a (relatively) new thing, I would have delivered a few thousand words providing background information on the making of Never Say Never Again and the long and tortured path this non-official James Bond entry took in finally getting to the screen. But now that there are tons of websites where you can easily look up all that info, I’ll just stick to the highlights.
Back in the late ‘50s, prior to the James Bond movie franchise becoming a reality, author Ian Fleming wrote an original Bond screenplay called either James Bond of the Secret Service or Longitude 78 West with the goal of turning it into a feature film. That movie never went anywhere, so eventually Fleming turned the script into the novel Thunderball. Unfortunately, Fleming failed to credit the other men who helped him write the screenplay, which included screenwriter Jack Whittingham and producer Kevin McClory.
Understandably, McClory and Whittingham took Fleming to court, and eventually got credit on future printings of Thunderball, and McClory was granted movie rights to the story. A few years later, after Eon Productions had begun adapting the Bond novels into a wildly successful film series starring Sean Connery, they decided to use Thunderball as the basis of the fourth film. Due to the disputed ownership of the novel, however, Eon first had to make a deal with McClory in which he got producer credit, as well as the rights to remake the film after ten years if he so desired.
There was an additional complication: Thunderball is the novel that introduced SPECTRE, as well as its founder, Bond arch-nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld, meaning McClory could claim partial ownership of both. This is why Blofeld, despite being an iconic character who inspired scores of fictional villains from Dr. Claw to Dr. Evil, doesn’t appear in any Bond films subsequent to 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. (A wheelchair-bound character very much like Blofeld gets dropped from a helicopter in the teaser of For Your Eyes Only, but he’s never named on screen, reportedly because Eon was embroiled in lawsuits with McClory at the time.)
By the late ‘70s, the stipulated ten years had passed, and Kevin McClory was determined to make his Thunderball remake. He began writing a script which went by several titles, including the original James Bond of the Secret Service, and also Warhead or Warhead 8. Eventually, McClory got Sean Connery interested, though initially only to help write the script, not to star.
Eon and Ian Fleming’s estate naturally began more legal proceedings to stop the production, but McClory soon got some Hollywood muscle behind him in the form of producer Jack Schwartzman, former VP of Lorimar, as well as the husband of Talia Shire and Francis Ford Coppola’s brother-in-law (and his son Jason is someone you might know from a Wes Anderson film or two). Schwartzman was able to secure financial backing from Warner Brothers, and also, one presumes, access to their high-priced attorneys.
The courts ruled in McClory’s favor, and he was allowed to proceed with his film, which was now set to be directed by Irvin Kershner (best known for The Empire Strikes Back) and mark Sean Connery’s return to the role of James Bond for the first time in over a decade. The only catch was that the film could only be based on McClory’s original Thunderball screenplay. Which means that Never Say Never Again is essentially just a remake of Thunderball, starring the exact same guy, only he’s way older now. It’s a bit like if Christopher Nolan made Batman Begins and decided to cast Adam West.
By the late ‘60s, Connery had grown tired of playing Bond, due to the increasingly long and difficult shoots, and the constant public intrusions into his personal life, and he also feared being typecast. So he quit the role—twice (the first time after You Only Live Twice, and then again after he was lured back with a massive paycheck to make Diamonds Are Forever).
After Diamonds, he reportedly swore he would “never” play Bond again. And who knows when or where he said this exactly, but this is the source of the movie’s title. After agreeing to play the role again, Connery’s wife admonished him to “Never say never again,” and Micheline Connery even gets a credit at the end of the movie for coming up with the title. Unfortunately, that leaves us with a title that doesn’t really have anything to do with the film, but then again, I think the only one that would have fit is If You Liked Thunderball, Here It Is Again.
The production of this movie set up a Bond grudge match in 1983, dubbed “The Battle of the Bonds” by the press, where the film would hit theaters in the same year as the “official” Bond film Octopussy. In fact, Never Say Never Again is the primary reason Roger Moore came back to make that film. Supposedly, Moore was beginning to feel (correctly) that he was too old to continue playing 007, but the studio didn’t want to risk an untested Bond actor going up against a huge star like Sean Connery. (Though why they dragged Moore back again for A View to a Kill is anyone’s guess.)
In terms of box office dollars, Octopussy won that battle, but Never Say Never Again was a huge success as well. Alas, it really made no difference; while there were deals in place for another Bond movie with Connery, everyone had already decided they weren’t going to make another one before Never Say Never Again was even released.
So you can sort of tell the people making this knew it was just a one-off romp that wouldn’t lead to anything else. As a result, the film feels like a half-hearted effort, often coming off as a bit amateurish compared to the “official” franchise. And overall, the movie is so lighthearted and free of suspense that it might as well be an action-comedy. Let’s take a look.
We kick things off with a shot of the coastline, which looks like it’s being filmed through a screen door. As we fly towards the coast, the “screen” gets closer, and we see it’s actually a pattern made up of little “007” logos. As we pass over the marshy landscape, we fly through one of the zeroes, revealing the title of the movie.
It’s a marked contrast to the way the Eon Bond films start off, to say the least. It seems they had to deliberately avoid doing anything like the famous gun barrel opening, along with other key aspects of the Eon series, to keep the film from getting shut down in court.
We fly through the jungle, with lots of aerial footage of a large mansion. There’s a shot of a man running along a dirt road, who turns out to be our hero, James Bond. The filmmakers intentionally decided to have Connery play an older James Bond here (though notably, Connery is actually three years younger than Roger Moore), so maybe that’s why Bond is dressed like a retiree here, in what looks like a Member’s Only jacket, khakis, and sneakers.
Meanwhile, the movie’s theme song plays, and it’s a pretty dated ‘80s light jazz tune produced by Herb Alpert and Sérgio Mendes, with lots of synthesizers, wailing bluesy guitars, and slap bass. The lyrics tell a vague tale of a woman getting mixed up with a dangerous man “who says never”, but she thinks she might be the woman who can “teach” him to “never say never again,” and I could swear the phrase “Never say never again” is repeated a good forty or fifty times during the song.
Bond movie themes generally share the same title as their movies, which mostly works, but sometimes results in awkward moments like this song, which ranks down there with Lulu singing about “the man with the golden guh-uh-uhn”. When Daniel Craig took over in Casino Royale, it seemed like they had thankfully given up trying to shoehorn the titles into the theme songs, though it remains to be seen if Adele’s “Skyfall” is just an anomaly or a return to convention.
What really sinks this theme song is singer Lani Hall, Alpert’s wife, who unfortunately doesn’t have a strong enough voice for the high notes, and the whole Latin-tinged jazz thing doesn’t work for a Bond film. But I can’t call it the worst Bond theme ever, as long as recordings of “Die Another Day” still exist.
But the biggest problem is all the action that’s been going on during the theme song. I guess they wanted to avoid more potential legal troubles by not pausing the movie for stylish credits with women dancing with giant guns in slow motion. But now the reason for those kind of credits becomes apparent.
All throughout the song, Connery Bond is stealthily creeping up on and fighting with camouflage-clad guerillas. We get Bond firing a machine gun, throwing a grenade, punching out guys, strangling guys, and even shooting a blowgun at one point, and it all couldn’t be more incongruous with the slow, romantic ballad that’s playing.
Basically, this whole opening sequence is Bond infiltrating a mansion with various weapons and gadgets. At one point, he distracts the guards by throwing a Frisbee-like device that makes sci-fi beeping noises. Well, I suppose making your enemies think they’re seeing a UFO is as good a diversion as any.
Meanwhile, Bond climbs an electric pole and hooks himself onto a power line, which doesn’t seem like a good idea at all, and then uses it as a makeshift zip line to land on the roof. He then uses the cord to strangle another guard to death. And all of the guards are speaking Spanish, because I think it was a legal requirement in the ‘80s that all action movies had to take place in the jungles of either Vietnam or South America.
Bond takes out a guard using the aforementioned blowgun, then throws a flash grenade that disorients some of the remaining guards, allowing him to blow them all away with a machine gun. He comes upon a female hostage tied up in bed. He goes to free her, but one last guard jumps out of the woodwork, knocking the gun from Bond’s hands. He makes quick work of the guy with a little Bond-fu.
Finally, Bond goes to free the captive. As soon as he cuts her hands free, she reaches behind her pillow and pulls out a knife, and buries it in his side. Well, there’s gratitude for ya.
Bond just kind of groans. You see, it’s not his lung that’s been punctured, but rather his ego, because this was all just a training exercise. Ah yes, the training exercise, a reliable Bond fake-out. From From Russia with Love (where a bad guy killed a decoy disguised as Bond) to Brosnan’s VR simulation in Die Another Day, training sequences have been an oft-used cheat in Bond films to make you briefly think major characters have been killed off. (Hell, even Star Trek did this kind of opening just one year prior, with a training sequence where you’re led to believe all the main characters get killed.)
Of course, the whole preceding sequence seemed pretty violent and convincing for a training exercise. For instance, what’s up with that guy that Bond hit with the blow dart? The dart was silent, and hit him from behind, so there’s no way he could have been just play acting there. I can only conclude that James Bond actually murders people for training.
Another problem with the movie shows up in this intro: the hostage is, I’m sorry to say, just not that hot. And the same goes for almost all of the women we see in this movie, aside from the two lead actresses. I don’t mean to sound shallow, but it’s a bit jarring given how the “official” Bond movies are filled with some of the most beautiful women in the world, even in non-speaking roles. Also, a more attractive hostage would have made it a lot more believable for Bond to be distracted enough to be off his game like this.
Cut to footage of Bond’s mansion assault on a video screen. A digital timer has been superimposed to give the impression that this is surveillance footage, but there are obvious cuts and edits in the footage, almost like they’re just playing back that part of the movie.
Pull back to a posh office, as a stern-faced British guy (Edward Fox) watches the footage. This is supposed to be M, though no one ever calls him that in this scene. M sees Bond get “killed” and winces. Another guy in a suit looks at a stopwatch and notes that this took 1 minute and 47 seconds. Standing by the mantle, Bond says of his time, hilariously, “Not too shabby, sir.”
M points out the obvious, which is that if this were a real mission, he’d be dead. He says Bond should have “studied the plot more carefully!” Apparently, there was a whole elaborate scenario with an heiress’ daughter being held hostage for eight weeks by “fanatical revolutionaries”. According to M, Bond should have realized she “could’ve been brainwashed!” Who’s scripting training exercises for MI6, Tom Clancy?
They bicker some more about how this is the second time Bond was killed playing these “war games”, but Bond insists that one of those kills wasn’t actually a kill. “I lost both legs, I did not die.”
He further defends himself by saying things are totally different out in the “field”, when he’s playing for real: “your adrenaline gives you an edge!” M snootily wonders if Bond still has his “edge”, though you can’t help but see where he’s coming from. I’m not sure if it was the greatest idea to kick off a Bond movie with an over-the-hill Bond screwing up royally.
On an unrelated note, Sean Connery is totally wearing a toupee here. When he was playing non-Bond roles in the ‘70s and ‘80s, he freely showed off his real hairline, but I guess they figured no one would buy a James Bond with a receding hairline. But come on, who are they trying to fool? What, do they think nobody saw Outland? Do they think no one saw Five Days One Summer? Do they think nobody went to see Zardoz? Uh… you know what, forget I said anything.
Bond points out that M has had “little use” for the Double-Os since he took over. M admits that he holds Bond’s methods “in much less regard than my illustrious predecessor did!” So, this movie is putting forth the notion that the Double-Os are a bit of a dated relic, which is actually something that would later work its way into the “official” movies—Pierce Brosnan’s Bond has virtually an identical conversation with Judi Dench’s M at the start of Goldeneye.
But M knows exactly what Bond’s problem is: “Too many free radicals!” He explains that these are “toxins that destroy the body and the brain!” Oh boy, is M about to start selling him Amway products? He says these toxins are caused by “eating too much red meat and white bread! And too many dry martinis!” Bond thinks for a moment, then says he’ll have to cut out white bread. Buh-doom-boom.
But M imposes a “strict regimen of diet and exercise” upon him. “We shall purge those toxins from you!” What the hell? Did Deepak Chopra do an uncredited rewrite? I came here for a spy thriller, not a new and exciting approach to holistic healing.
Bond guesses that M is sending him to a health clinic called “Shrublands”. Cut to Bond walking out to share this news with this movie’s Moneypenny, who’s also… not that hot. I know Moneypenny’s supposed to be sort of the plain Jane in Bond’s life, but Lois Maxwell and Samantha Bond are total bombshells compared to this woman. It’s all very disconcerting; it can’t be that hard to find attractive actresses capable of delivering three or four lines on camera, can it?
Bond explains that he’s on his way to Shrublands to “eliminate all free radicals”, and in another “funny” bit, Moneypenny thinks this is some sort of dangerous mission, telling Bond, “do be careful”.
We next find Bond driving up to Shrublands, which in this movie is being played by the Luton Hoo luxury hotel, a popular filming location. And Bond is driving a Bentley for the first time since From Russia with Love, which was apparently his vehicle of choice in the novels, before the films gave him the much more popular Aston Martin.
The porter who greets Bond out front takes a gander at the Bentley and says that they “don’t make ‘em like this anymore!” Bond replies, “It’s still in pretty good shape.” Apparently, the writers thought the metaphor wasn’t obvious enough, because it’s repeated immediately as we cut to Bond being examined by a doctor. The doctor says Bond has “enough scar tissue for an entire regiment!” and Bond replies, “Right, but it’s still in pretty good shape.” Right, I think we got it.
The doctor promises to not only “rehabilitate” Bond, but also “reeducate” him on, among other things, “the virtues of nutrition, proper exercise, meditation, and hopefully, spiritual enlightenment!” How about monogamy? Maybe you should be advising him to always wear a condom, Doc. That’ll probably do way more for his health and longevity.
The doctor reels off a list of the fun stuff in store for Bond later, including a colonic, and a cup of “parsley tea”. But thankfully, there’s a sexy nurse here to keep his mind off things. Well, as sexy as this movie can muster, anyway.
The nurse says she’ll need a urine sample, and asks him to “fill this beaker for me.” And we learn that despite his age, Bond still has a way with the ladies when he replies, “From here?” Oh, James, you charmer, you. Of course, this being James Bond, the nurse has to act like the idea of a man whipping it out and long-distance peeing right in front of her is somehow a turn-on. Hey, maybe if you’re really special, he’ll take a dump on your head!
Cut to a bank, where a woman in stiletto heels, leather pants, and a fur coat asks a man behind a desk to take her to a safety deposit box, and they’re both shot from the shins down. They get to the safety deposit boxes, and the woman is finally revealed to us as Barbara Carrera in the obligatory “sexy henchwoman” role of Fatima Blush. She’s basically this movie’s version of Fiona Volpe from Thunderball, except here she wears a succession of wild outfits that put just about any other Bond girl to shame.
She and the bank guy stick keys into two deposit boxes and turn simultaneously, revealing that the wall is really a secret entrance to an underground lair that looks like the interior of an Egyptian pyramid. Fatima is “scanned” by two spotlights, and a gate opens for her.
She walks past a metal skull ornament into a luxurious conference room full of Important Men in Suits, where a speech is currently in progress. A vaguely European male voice describes how their organization has “invested extensively in the Middle East and Central America, to promote insurgency and revolution!” Also, they have supplied “both rebels and government forces on an equal basis!” He adds, “In matters of death, SPECTRE is strictly impartial!”
And the guy speaking is revealed to be Max Von Sydow, a legendary actor who needs no introduction. He may be the only guy in the world who could pull off appearing in both The Seventh Seal and Rush Hour 3. Sydow is also carrying around a white Angora cat, so you can probably guess that he’s this movie’s Blofeld. He does a decent enough job in the role, but he doesn’t have a whole lot to do besides providing exposition and periodically checking in on the real villain. I’d guess Sydow shot his entire role in a week, probably less.
Blofeld continues to deliver a stock Evil Speech while stroking his kitty. Finally, he gets to specifics, announcing for the first time “SPECTRE’s most audacious enterprise”, next to which all “previous ventures are inconsequential”. Well, except for the time they attempted the exact same scheme in Thunderball.
He declares that “our esteemed Number One” (no, not Riker) will be in charge of the operation, called “The Tears of Allah”. Why is Allah crying? Did he see this movie? Blofeld says Number One will now join the meeting, and just like that, they superimpose a video feed of Number One onto a painting. Sheesh, at the very least they could’ve had the painting slide up to reveal a screen.
Number One will later be identified as Maximillian Largo, Bond’s primary adversary in this film, and possibly the least intimidating Bond villain since Nick-Nack. In Thunderball, he was named Emilio Largo, and I don’t know if this movie screwed up by calling him “Number One”, but in Thunderball, Blofeld is Number One, while Largo is Number Two.
Largo is played here by Klaus Maria Brandauer, who frankly just looks like a blond Adam West. He has to be one of the most non-descript Bond villains of all time, right down there with Elliot Carver and the main villain from Quantum of Solace, who I defy you to name without looking him up.
When he appears, Blofeld… continues talking. He explains that a US Air Force officer has been “introduced to a cruel mistress: heroin,” which has made him SPECTRE’s “obedient servant”.
Klaus Adamwest Brandauer nods, and in his German accent, Largo explains that the Air Force officer has been surgically given a “corneal implant”, and “his right eye print is now an exact replica of that of ze President of the United States!” He says the officer will be moved to a “convalescent clinic near London” (hmm, I wonder which one that could be?) and “Number 12”—referring to Fatima Blush—will be giving him the “most tender loving care”.
To round out the exposition, we learn the Air Force officer’s name is Captain Jack Petachi, and we get a candid shot of him. And leaning on Jack’s arm is a blonde woman, who we all recognize now as Kim Basinger, but this was her first big breakout role. Basinger is playing Domino Petachi, Jack’s sister, and fulfilling the “villain’s girlfriend who falls for Bond” role. She’s basically this movie’s version of Domino Derval from Thunderball, who was played by Claudine Auger. And some of you well-versed in crap films of the early ‘80s might recognize Gavan O’Herlihy, the actor playing Capt. Petachi, but more on him next time.
The infodump is done, and course this setup is pretty much the same plot as Thunderball. The main difference is there, Domino’s brother is a French NATO pilot who’s murdered after a SPECTRE agent is surgically altered to look just like him. But as we’ll learn next time, the end goal is the same: to steal nuclear warheads.
That’s it for now. So far we’ve only covered the first ten minutes of the movie, but hopefully without all the preamble, I’ll be able to recap a lot more in future installments. About the best thing I can say for these opening minutes is that while the film might come off as a bit rough, it’s still competent enough. But trust me, that’s going to change pretty quickly. I’ve just barely scratched the surface of the really goofy shit to come later. Check back soon for part two!