He’s the man of a thousand accents, all of them the same. He’s the man who made powder blue romper suits look fashionable. He’s the man who women want to be with and men want to be. Still.
His name’s Connery, Sir Sean Connery. And he’s 80 today.
To celebrate the birthday of the man who was born to be Bond, Jonathan Melville dons a white jacket tuxedo and raises a dry vodka martini to Scotland’s biggest star while counting down Connery’s top five performances, leaving out 007 just this once as everyone knows he’s the best…
5. Robin Hood – Robin and Marian (1976)
Gone are all the trappings of previous Robin Hood’s in Connery’s 1976 portrayal: no tights, few sword fights and hardly any signs of robbing from the poor. In Robin and Marian, Richard Lester embraces the elephant in the room that is Connery’s accent and, instead of glossing over the fact that England’s greatest freedom fighter (or is that terrorist?) is suddenly Scottish, decides to give his Merry Men the same accent. Genius.
Connery’s Robin is an older, more melancholy version than previous cinema outings allowed, time finally catching up with the hero who has returned from the Crusades to a very different England.
Paired with a dignified Audrey Hepburn as Marian, the love story works beautifully, a lifetime apart giving Robin and Marian hopes and dreams that could still be achieved, if only Robert Shaw’s Sheriff was out of the picture.
Often ignored in the Robin Hood hall of fame, this has more wit and heart than many rival productions, giving Russell Crowe a run for his money and making that Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves cameo all the more bittersweet.
4. Daniel Dravot “ The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
It only happened the once, but those who have witnessed it must wonder what stopped it from happening again: for just one film we found Sean Connery and Michael Caine teaming up to portray Daniel Dravot and Peachy Carnehan in John Huston’s The Man Who Would Be King, a boy’s own adventure gone wrong which coasts along on the charm of its leading men and doesn’t put a foot wrong.
Corrupted by power and proved fallible to his followers by his own actions, Dravot may be overly cocky and destined for a fall, but that doesn’t stop the audience wanting him to escape with Peachy and Billy Fish down that mountainside as the inevitable happens.
John Huston provides the spectacle and the imagery, but it’s that undeniable spark between Connery and Caine that makes this one so memorable, the one-liners and glances given a sheen that sparkles way brighter than any of the jewel encrusted amulets they want to pilfer. Quite whether the same magic would have been there in the originally planned pairing of Clark Gable (Danny) and Humphrey Bogart (Peachy) is debatable: thankfully the movie gods were smiling on Huston, even if the film’s were entirely man made.
3. Detective Sergeant Johnson “ The Offence (1973)
Reteaming with Sidney Lumet and Ian Bannen after 1965’s The Hill, The Offence was another opportunity for Connery to show that he didn’t only play caricatures.
Based on a stage play called This Story of Yours, Connery is the jaded DS Johnson, living in a grim North of England comprised of soggy fish suppers, dank housing estates, ringroads and constant cups of tea. Tired of watching the world around him sink deeper into seediness and squalor, Johnson is pulled onto the case of a serial child abuser who has just struck again.
When Kenneth Baxter (Bannen) is taken in for questioning, Johnson seems to relish the opportunity to extract a confession by fair means or foul, his years of pent up aggression finally finding an outlet in the meek suspect.
Playing against type as the increasingly tortured copper who doesn’t find solace with his wife or his colleagues, Connery is a revelation in The Offence, a series of two-handers between Johnson and his boss, Johnson and his wife and, most importantly, Johnson and Baxter, captured in tight shots by Lumet which don’t leave anywhere for the actor to hide.
As with The Hill eight years earlier, The Offence didn’t exactly cause a stampede to the local flea pits, audiences seemingly still not willing to swallow superspy James Bond as a dour policeman with a chip on his shoulder. It was their loss.
2. Professor Henry Jones “ Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade (1989)
I suddenly remembered my Charlemagne: Let my armies be the rocks and the trees and the birds in the sky. Rounding off the Indiana Jones trilogy (let’s forget the most recent effort for this piece) was never going to be easy for Steven Spielberg, the high standards set by Ark and Temple meaning anything new would have to have something pretty memorable about it to satisfy fans expectations.
What we got with Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade was beyond the hopes of even the most optimistic cinema-goer, Connery’s turn as Henry Jones Snr adding a whole new dimension to Harrison Ford’s hero character, giving him a back story and an origin for his previously rather cool moniker: Indy was the name of the dog.
Grabbing the opportunity to play up the humour to the Nth degree, Connery showed that perhaps he should have been given more comedic roles instead of so many tough guys and spies, his turn as the bookish Henry even more watchable than Ford.
Whether he’s tied to a chair, blasting German planes out of the sky or using his umbrella as a weapon, this is the work of an actor comfortable in his skin and aware what is required from a Hollywood star. And he knows his Charlemagne.
1. Joe Roberts “ The Hill (1965)
Sandwiched between two Bonds, 1964’s Goldfinger and 1966’s You Only Live Twice, The Hill may be Connery’s finest screen performance, but it’s also one of his least remembered.
Prolific US director Sidney Lumet, fresh from working with Henry Fonda and Walter Matthau on Fail-Safe, took the helm of this bleak drama set in a British military detention camp in the Libyan desert. Connery shed his toupe but gained a moustache as Joe Roberts, a Sergeant Major whose rebellious streak has led him into the hands of Harry Andrews’ Major Wilson.
Wilson runs the camp with a rod of iron, bully boy Staff Sergeant Williams (Ian Hendry) given carte blanche to do what he wants to the men in the name of punishment. As Roberts tries to find a way to fight back, recruiting an ally in the shape of timid Staff Sergeant Harris (Ian Bannen), Connery’s barely disguised hatred for authority soon comes to the fore, resulting in a series of scenes which show more of his acting chops than a bevy of Bonds.
Foregoing any music on the soundtrack and bleaching his exteriors in harsh sunlight, Lumet ensures that the viewer is almost as uncomfortable as Roberts throughout, Connery relishing the opportunities offered him in this cracking script. And as for that last scene…
Anyone lucky enough to have watched this in a cinema will know that the constant glare of the sun from the big screen, combined with Lumet’s intense camerawork, makes this a memorable experience, though wherever you see this you’re in for a treat.
Tragically, The Hill isn’t yet available on DVD in the UK, a bizarre oversight which can only be rectified by buying a Region One version or visiting iTunes, where it can be bought for the paltry sum of £4.99.
Those are our top five Sean Connery performances, but do you agree? Let us know your thoughts below.