Back in 1987-1988, a film festival in Thiruvananthapuram screened the Brian De Palma classic, The Untouchables.
It was unusual. A Hollywood film was a departure from the regular fare at such festivals. Having heard of the movie from an uncle much impressed by it, my cousin and I made sure to see it.
Born in the late 1960s, I grew up with no particular interest in Sean Connery’s James Bond, the role he is widely known for. His depiction of the spy created by Ian Fleming had spanned the years from 1962 to 1971. My generation’s introduction to James Bond was through Roger Moore’s version of the spy, progressing thereafter to Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig. Indeed the first Bond movie I saw was the 1974 release: Man with the Golden Gun. More years would go by before I saw Sean Connery on screen for the first time – incidentally as James Bond – in the 1983 film, Never Say Never Again. The difference between the suave Bonds then in flavor and the Bond of this film was instantly discernible. It had much to do with the persona and screen presence different actors brought to play. I could imagine what Sean Connery’s Bond from the 1960s and early 1970s may have been like. But the earlier films themselves didn’t appeal for as was the case with young people, my expectations from gadgets, stunt sequences and special effects were rooted in a newer generation and its imagination of James Bond.
The Untouchables blew such trivialities away. It’s was a timeless story of crime, corruption and the quest to bring a gangster to book; it connected across generations. The film was superbly directed and its casting seemed spot on. Robert De Niro was already a big star and his appearance as Al Capone in the film was the strongest reason movie aficionados had to see it. For Kevin Costner who played the lead role of Eliot Ness, this was the movie that made him a major league actor. Alongside the riveting story and scenes of the film (who can forget the shoot out at the railway station?), I came off remembering two characters – Sean Connery’s Jimmy Malone and Andy Garcia’s George Stone / Giuseppe Petri. To me the enduring image of Connery is his Jimmy Malone. It was a powerful, no nonsense performance that fittingly earned him an Academy Award; it made him the only actor to have portrayed Bond who bagged an Oscar too in his film career. Since then, I was lucky to see Connery in a basket of films, among them – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Hunt for Red October, The Rock, Entrapment, Finding Forrester and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. But it is Jimmy Malone that has weathered the years and survived in my mind. I recall two other roles as well. A fan of war movies, I keep revisiting the 1977 production A Bridge Too Far (directed by Richard Attenborough) which features Connery as Major General Roy Urquhart; I also recall the delight I felt in seeing him as Private Flanagan in the 1962 black and white film, The Longest Day.
The glamor of Bond in his younger years and competent acting in his later years – this blend, which Connery came to represent, became an ideal to chase for screen personalities who followed. Sean Connery died on October 31, 2020. He was 90 years old. An actor with a distinct voice and accent, he will be remembered by many for the characters he portrayed on screen.
(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)