Mar 19, 2020
Never Say Never Again (1983): the lost recap (part 6 of 6)
Previously on Never Say Never Again: The feel-good comedy about a senior citizen learning to find love again on a trip to the south of France was briefly interrupted by a genuine action scene involving a rocket-powered motorcycle. Fatima Blush, the last remaining entertaining character in this movie, had the misfortune of being almost entirely made of nitroglycerin and was quickly dispatched. Luckily, Felix Leiter was there to tell Bond how to beat a murder rap with this one weird trick: stripping down to his underwear. Largo saw Bond kiss Domino, finally giving him an inkling that the agent of the British secret service who snuck aboard his yacht might be up to something.
Well, this is it, folks: the home stretch, the big finale, the thrilling conclusion that absolutely no one was waiting for. Sorry to say, you’ve already read about all the exciting parts of the film, and all that’s left now is to quickly get to the obligatory big battle sequence where the movie throws as many guys with guns into the frame as possible, and they all stand around shooting at each other long enough for us to finally end this damn thing.
At Largo’s fortress home of Palmyra, things are looking pretty bleak for Bond and Domino now that Largo is on to them. Domino, now dressed in a black burqa, is being led by a rope into a courtyard by two swarthy men who tie her up to an old fountain. Meanwhile, Bond is in a cell inside Palmyra, being hung from the ceiling with his arms in cast-iron shackles, and between all the buzzards lurking around and the decaying skeletons covering the floor, this place is lacking a certain je ne sais quoi.
Largo enters and peers out a window at Domino. He provides another less-than-quotable quip with, “Every game has to have a winner”—because he’s a video game designer, as this movie just now remembered—“so, ah… Ciao, bello.” Too bad Domino can’t hear him, or otherwise she’d make him translate that into English for her.
Bond, seeming to think Largo is yet another in a long line of stupid adversaries he’s encountered afflicted with Talking Killer’s Syndrome, says Largo might as well tell Bond where the nuclear warheads are, since he’s going to die anyway. Largo just laughs at him, making you almost think Bond is dealing with a smart villain for once, but then he proceeds to just go ahead and tell him that one bomb is “right under ze president’s feet, in Washington, DC!”
Bond asks where “number two” is. So Largo makes weird hand gestures, and has a goofy grin on his face, and puts his finger on his lips. It’s almost like he’s trying to stop himself from giggling over the phrase “number two”. What is he, twelve years old? Or is he Beavis? I think by this point in the shoot, they were just making up this shit as they went along. To his credit, Klaus Maria Brandauer seems to be trying to have some fun with this role, but they don’t appear to have actually written any lines for him.
Finally, Largo tells Bond that he was a “very good secret agent” and offers the classic parting line, “Bye!” He runs down to Domino, still tied up. He’s carrying a big clunky radio. He puts it down and extends the antenna and says, “I’m sure this will amuse you!” Is it the Morning Zoo Crew? Because those guys are hilarious.
What he plays instead is the music that Bond and Domino danced the tango to. So, why did he have to put up the antenna? Does he not have it on tape? Did he have to call up the local radio station and request it? Will Casey Kasem break in at the end with a long distance death dedication from Largo to Domino?
He tells her “goodbye” as well, then cranks up the music and takes off. Meanwhile, up in his cell, Bond is using his laser watch to cut through his shackles. Yes, Bond still has the watch that Q gave him. Largo’s men must have known Bond would have gadgets (he killed Fatima with an exploding pen, after all), and yet, they didn’t take away his watch when they locked him up. Largo, you deserve to be defeated.
Largo leaves the compound while Bond secretly watches him. Just then, the sound of horses’ hooves are heard in the distance. A dozen men ride up on horseback, all wrapped in flowing garments and looking like the Mujahedeen. The guy who tied Domino up starts talking to them in their native language.
He rips off Domino’s face scarf, and all the men gasp in delight. They’re soon yelling out monetary amounts, so it would appear Domino is now being auctioned off into white slavery. So… instead of simply killing her, Largo has decided that a blonde woman being turned over to a group of Arab men is a fate worse than death. Well, that’s uncomfortable.
The guy who tied her up is acting as the auctioneer, and apparently he isn’t getting the action he hoped for, so he takes off Domino’s robe, exposing her nightgown below, and now the men get really worked up. Domino tries to resist, so the auctioneer grabs her by the throat and throttles her some.
Meanwhile, Largo hops on a boat to leave the scene. And it appears that bomb number two is just sitting there on his boat, out in the open. Well, he does tell his men to “cover it up,” so at least there’s that.
Meanwhile, Bond has cut himself free, and is able to get the drop on his guard. And he actually does it in a semi-clever way. When the guard enters, Bond doesn’t jump down from the ceiling like you’d expect, and there’s even a moment where the guard deliberately looks up at the ceiling when he can’t find Bond. But then he goes over to the window, where Bond has cut through the bars. He leans forward to get a closer look, which is when Bond, who was hanging on a ledge below, grabs the guard and tosses him to his death in the water below.
Bond is soon running through the corridors. Some guy with a canvas bag over his shoulder comes in, and Bond knocks him out with a good right jab, then runs outside. The auction is still going on, and one guy, who I guess is supposed to be particularly gross, reaches down deep, and pulls out all the gold pieces he can find to buy Domino.
Bond is now wandering around the area with a head scarf on, and your guess is as good as mine as to where he got that. He sees a guy on horseback and calls him over. And for a second, you almost think Bond’s going to punch the horse in the face, Blazing Saddles-style. Instead, he pulls the horse down to the ground, tossing off its rider.
Meanwhile, the guy with all the gold becomes the winning bidder of the white slavery auction. He tries to claim his prize, but Bond comes riding up, and Domino hops on the back of his horse. They try to ride off, but a big wooden gate slides shut in front of them.
Now begins a horseback chase, as Bond and Domino escape the assembled horde of ethnic stereotypes. And every time one of them raises a rifle to shoot at Bond, the auction “winner” immediately stops him. Hey, if you purchased Kim Basinger with a handful of doubloons, you’d be trying your best to protect your investment, too.
Bond and Domino are finally cornered on top of the fortress, so in a daring stunt, Bond and Domino and the horse all leap off the fortress and into the water. And let’s just say this stunt is achieved through a dazzling array of not-so-special effects.
First, when they jump off, they’re shot in silhouette, with the sun behind them so we can’t tell these are stunt doubles. Then the camera shows just their faces as they leap off, with a fake sunlight background behind them. And then, a miniature model of Bond and Domino and the horse plummets down the side of the fortress.
And finally, stunt people are falling into the water along with the horse. And yes, that is a real horse that was forced to fall about thirty feet into a tank of water, which apparently caused some controversy at the time, and this scene was even censored for the UK release due to animal cruelty.
The guys up on the fortress wall aren’t deterred, however, and begin shooting at them in the water. And hey, there’s a shot of the horse swimming away. The horse is okay, everybody!
They keep shooting as Bond swims for a rowboat that just happens to be three feet from where they landed. Suddenly, an explosion goes off, blowing out a wall of the fortress, and Arab dudes go flying. As it turns out, a stock footage submarine is firing on them, and the US Navy has answered Bond’s message and come to the rescue. Though, I’m not entirely sure why the Arab guys are getting fired on. Are we to assume they all work for SPECTRE? Or do they just look evil/ugly/brown enough for the American military to have no problems with blowing them all away?
Bond and Domino continue to swim along, and a motorboat comes out to rescue them. On board are several men, including Felix Leiter, who tells Bond he’s “a hard man to keep up with!” Bond says to alert Washington, because that’s where one of the bombs is. They motor off, and we cross-fade to stock footage of a submarine submerging, and stock footage of a submarine cruising along underwater.
Down in the submarine, Bond is taking a shower with Domino. He says, “It was never like this when I was in the navy!” Are you sure, James? I have a feeling there was plenty of naked showering going on when you were in the Navy, but you never asked, and no one told.
Bond gets out and holds up a towel for Domino to cover up. She’s worried, however, because she knows he’s planning to go after Largo. Weirdly, the two of them are acting like they’re totally in love now, with Domino saying she doesn’t want to “risk losing you.” Okay, that’s a bit sudden. I think the most they ever spoke to each other before this was when Bond was sexually assaulting her back at the spa.
A crewman comes over the loudspeaker to inform Bond that the bomb in Washington has been “located and defused”. Wow, that was easy! Not to mention cost-effective and budget-conscious. The crewman also tells Bond that his “chief” in London wants to talk to him. In comes M’s voice, and as you’d expect, M is yelling at the top of his lungs, like your grandpa on the phone who still doesn’t realize he’s going deaf.
M yells, “We’ve cracked the code for disarming the warheads, but we’ve only got five hours to find the second bomb!” Bond interrupts him, so M promises to make this “brief”, because “I know you’ve got your hands full!” Yuk, yuk.
M then goes on to tell Bond that if he survives, the two of them can have lunch at his “club”. Bond calls this a “thrilling prospect”, but he “may have other plans”. And then he goes back to making out with Domino. I don’t even know what the point of this conversation was. Should Bond really be taking time out for shower sex when there’s still a nuclear warhead in play? Don’t Bond films usually wait until after the world-ending threat is dealt with for Bond to get laid while simultaneously brushing off authority figures?
More submarine stock footage follows. On the bridge, the captain peers through his periscope, and tells Bond that there’s no sign of any activity on or around Largo’s yacht. They wonder why Largo dropped anchor in this place, and Bond looks at a map of a nearby isthmus. Suddenly, it comes to him. He asks Domino (and no, I have no idea why she’s just hanging around the bridge) for her “Tears of Allah” pendant, and sure enough, the design on the pendant matches the coastline perfectly. Okay, but why? Was Largo planning to use this as a map? Because it doesn’t seem like he needed it to find the place.
Bond explains to the others that “the story goes that the prophet wept, and his tears made a well.” He notes that there’s a diamond embedded in the pendant, which “must mark a place”. On the map, this corresponds to “Right where the oil fields begin!” Again, why would Largo even have a necklace like this made in the first place? It seems to serve no purpose other than being a major clue to his evil schemes.
This takes us to a shot of the Flying Saucer. Below the surface, a hatch slides open, and out pop a whole lot of random guys in scuba gear, and two of them are carrying the nuclear warhead on some kind of motorized sled. And a close-up shows it’s Largo himself who’s pushing around the bomb. Hey, if you want something done right…
Back on the submarine, the Navy men pick up “underwater activity”, and Bond tells them to look out for any “underwater caves”. Naturally, Bond is back to being psychic, because he’s able to point out on a map the exact cave that they’re steering the bomb into.
He notes this is the site of an “underground river”, which is followed by lengthy shots of the scuba guys swimming through it. Back on the sub, there’s a line about the waters being too shallow for them to follow, so Bond asks the submarine commander if they’re “equipped with the new XT-7Bs?” The commander can’t believe Bond knows about the XT-7Bs, because they’re “top secret!” Indeed, Bond confirms he learned about them from “a Russian translation of one of your service manuals”. Ah, the Cold War. A never-ending source of mirth.
Cut to the XT-7Bs being fired, which at first look like cruise missiles, but as they come out of the water, they split apart, revealing a miniature Bond inside one of them, and a miniature Leiter inside the other. It looks like something out of one of those old Supermarionation shows. The two men are now riding around on these cheap-looking jet-powered platforms, and I could swear they’re made out of track lighting.
They touch down in a village near the shore, full of people living in tents, and apparently this is their covert, super-spy way of chasing down Largo: by piloting bizarre aircraft out in broad daylight in the presence of dozens of witnesses. And now the two men are at the edge of water in scuba gear again, about to dive in.
We get more tedious diving footage as Bond and Leiter track down the guys with the bomb. Largo and his men eventually bring the warhead up to the surface inside an underground cavern, and Largo is anxious, telling his men to be careful.
And now they’re dragging the bomb on a cart along some tracks, and heading through a tunnel. A moment later, Bond and Leiter are in the same tunnel. They figure out that the bomb is being taken to an ancient underground system of caverns. Bond goes in, telling Felix to get back to the sub, to let them know his position.
Meanwhile, Largo and his henchman Dr. Kovacs get in front of a camera. It seems this is the same camera that makes people’s faces magically materialize over a painting in Blofeld’s study.
Yes, Blofield is still in this movie. He congratulates his men on a job well done. “When the warhead is ready for its final voyage, we will drink a toast!” Unleashing nuclear hellfire and killing thousands of innocent people? I’ll drink to that. And this is the last we’ll be seeing of Blofeld in this movie. As I said earlier, I’d be extremely shocked if it took Max von Sydow more than a day to film this part. I’d compare his take on the role to the likes of Donald Pleasence, Telly Savalas, et al, but he’s given so little to do here that there’s really no point.
Bond continues to snoop around in the caverns, and finds Largo and his men using ropes to lower the bomb down into a well, while Largo shouts anxious commands at them. Now we’re in another part of the underground chamber with a pool of greenish water. Largo enters and proclaims, “The Tears of Allah!” He fills his hands with water and drinks it, then promptly spits it out. “Sweet,” he says. “Like money!” And the same color, too! He tells Kovacs that “For centuries, this has been a monument to power, but nothing like what we now possess!”
Meanwhile, Largo’s men are still doing random things around the warhead. Bond has snuck around behind the stone head of a large statue, pushing on the head with his legs. Eventually, Bond succeeds in destroying another priceless historical artifact as the stone head tumbles down, sending all the guys running around in a panic. That’s when Leiter (wasn’t he supposed to go back to the sub?) lays down some machine gun fire and tosses a grenade, causing an explosion and setting a random goon on fire.
Leiter is out of ammo, but then a random guy yells out to him. It’s the US Navy, and the cavalry has arrived. Leiter says, “What took you so long?” Yeah, it was all of what, five minutes?
A big, monotonous gun battle rages between the soldiers and Largo’s men. Meanwhile, Largo, Kovacs, and some other random guys work feverishly to arm the bomb. They finally succeed in getting it armed, and they all make their escape, letting the bomb’s “power sled” (which is actually what it’s called in the DVD subtitles) go floating down into the greenish waters.
Bond dives in, meaning to swim after it. But then Largo sets off a bomb, causing big rocks to fall down and block his path. Bond runs back into the large cavern, and there’s more gunfire and explosions going on. On the commentary track, director Irvin Kershner admits that he hated filming this part, and it shows. A bunch of faceless guys shooting at each other with no indication of who’s winning or losing is just about the definition of mind-numbing. But then again, the big underwater Navy-vs-SPECTRE battle that capped off Thunderball wasn’t anything to write home about, either.
Bond is able to make it over to Leiter, telling him that Largo got away with the nuclear warhead. “Call down a chopper! I’m gonna try the oasis!” The oasis? What oasis? Regardless, he runs out. Now that Bond’s out, the Navy guys really go to town. Leiter fires off some flash bombs, blinding the bad guys, while the Navy moves in.
And now we find Bond suspended in a harness below a helicopter. Well, that was fast. I guess I should be thankful that they’re at least trying to wrap things up quickly. And all those same villagers are watching Bond, most likely wondering why this one crazy white dude is finding all sorts of goofy ways to fly over their village in one afternoon.
Bond leaps out of the harness, and down into a well. The next thing we see is Bond swimming down to the ocean floor, now in full scuba gear. He swims along for half a minute, and now the power sled is coming right at him. He ducks beneath it, then attacks the guy pushing the sled, who I think is Largo, but let’s face it, pretty much every guy looks identical underwater. They tangle for a bit, and then Bond gets the upper hand by ripping off Largo’s facemask.
As Largo struggles to get his mask back on, Bond swims towards the bomb, which has continued cruising along. Bond jams a knife in the motor blades on the power sled, causing it to go around in circles. And then Largo catches up with him, and they fight some more on the ocean floor.
Eventually, Bond aims the sled at Largo, pinning him against a rock. And now Bond has a key which allows him to open up the special arm/disarm box on the warhead. It’s possible I missed something, but I have no idea where he got that. Bond starts punching in random numbers, apparently trying to guess Largo’s disarm code by pure chance.
While he’s doing this, Largo secretly grabs a harpoon conveniently stuck to the sled. He slowly aims the harpoon at Bond. There’s a shot of a harpoon firing, and surprise! It’s really the harpoon from Domino’s harpoon gun ending up in Largo’s chest, which is the same way Emilio Largo died in Thunderball. And yes, the Navy apparently let Domino swim down here with them, for the sole express purpose of killing Largo, presumably as payback for killing her brother.
Bond then defuses the bomb, and there’s no tension or suspense whatsoever as this happens. He swims over to Domino, who’s suddenly freaking out over Largo being dead.
They swim to the surface, and just like that, we immediately cross-fade to Domino cavorting in a pool. And the swimsuit she’s wearing actually has the face of a lion on it. Ah, the ‘80s. She gets out and walks over to Bond in the hot tub, and she’s now holding two cocktails. And we never find out where they are, but I’ll just assume they currently relaxing at Bond’s house. Skyfall neglected to show us the hot tub out back.
Bond sees the frou-frou drinks and complains that he always has a martini at five. She says he’ll “never give up your old habits”, but he assures her that “Those days are over!”, seeming to indicate Bond has now officially retired. And almost as if on cue, an unseen intruder opens the gate. Bond gets suspicious, then heads out to look around.
Bond spots the guy and runs after him. And the guy is wearing a gray suit, so I guess we’re supposed to be fooled into thinking it’s Blofeld. James grabs the guy from behind and throws him in the pool, which eventually leads to the revelation that the “intruder” is actually Nigel Small-Fawcett, back for one last comic relief moment.
As Rowan Atkinson flops around in the pool, he says that M sent him to “plead for your return, sir!” He says that without James Bond, M “fears for the security of the civilized world!”
Bond, or more likely Sean Connery summing up his feelings about playing Bond, simply says, “Never again.” Domino walks up, puts his arms around him, and says, “Never?” Lani Hall returns to the soundtrack, singing, “never, never say never again…” Apparently, the theme song will be answering for Bond this evening.
They kiss, and then Bond turns to the camera and winks directly at us. The screen goes black except for a circle around his face, almost like the ending of a Looney Tunes cartoon, but then the circle forms the middle zero in a 007 logo. Roll credits to a reprise of “Never Say Never Again”, the end.
After taking a detailed look at this film, I feel pretty much the same about it as when I started. Never Say Never Again is a half-hearted effort from beginning to end. There’s very little in the way of the big set pieces, interesting gadgets, or beautiful women we’ve come to expect from James Bond films, and this probably has the least amount of action scenes of any Bond film. Even with two nuclear warheads in the hands of terrorists, there’s no tension here, and you never get the feeling that Bond or anyone else is in any actual danger.
Which is not to say it’s a terrible film. Let’s face it, when it comes to the Bond franchise, there are maybe two or three entries that are really great, and two or three films that are especially awful, and the rest are all pretty much the same movie. Never Say Never Again fits quite easily in that “pretty much the same movie” category, and not just because it’s a remake of Thunderball. The only real reason to watch this movie at all is to see Sean Connery taking on the role of Bond one last time. But instead of being reinvigorated by returning to the character that made him famous, Connery seems to be mostly going through the motions here, just like he was in Diamonds are Forever.
And would you believe that after Never Say Never Again, producer Kevin McClory went on to try to remake Thunderball yet again? In the ‘90s, he started all sorts of wild rumors about a Thunderball remake to be titled Warhead 2000 AD, that was allegedly going to star another former Bond actor, Timothy Dalton, and possibly feature Patrick Stewart as Blofeld. Eventually, Sony Pictures became interested, and they soon announced that they would be producing McClory’s film, and it would also be the first movie in their own rival Bond franchise.
Naturally, this kicked off yet another round of legal battles, as MGM sued to stop the film from being made, and Sony found a way to countersue. Ultimately, however, the two parties settled out of court in 1999, which had far reaching implications: the settlement involved MGM giving up their partial film rights to the Spider-Man character, clearing the way for Sam Raimi’s 2002 film. Meanwhile, Sony gave up the film rights to Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale, allowing that novel to be the basis of a future “official” Bond film. Of course, by the time the movie version of Casino Royale was released, Sony had purchased MGM and acquired partial ownership of Eon Productions and the James Bond character, putting to rest any possibility of a rival Bond franchise for the foreseeable future.
Kevin McClory passed away in 2006, and in 2013, Eon was finally able to resolve their remaining legal issues with McClory’s estate, and is now free to use Blofeld, SPECTRE, and all other characters from Thunderball in future films. And now you know why this fall’s Bond film is Spectre, the first appearance of SPECTRE since the film that is our current subject, and the internet is abuzz with speculation that the film might even reintroduce Blofeld. Thankfully, however, Spectre won’t be another remake of Thunderball. I think two versions of this story is one too many, and the Bond franchise should never say Thunderball again.