He was a highball swigging double agent who always got the lady; he was the one good Irish cop with the heart of gold in Prohibition-era Chicago; he was an unflappable father of an adventurer and loveable professor of history. Scottish actor par excellence Sean Connery – who passed away on October 31, 2020 at the age of 90 – was all of these things and much, much more in his over half a century as an actor. Perhaps because he imbued each and every part he ever took on with a magic that was unique amongst an entire galaxy of movie stars that he counted as contemporaries and peers, he also symbolized the common man and woman as we would like to think of ourselves if only we possessed those rakish good looks and that unmistakable Scottish elocution. When the lights came on and the director would yell for quiet and action, this Edinburgh, Scotland native embodied all of the innate decency and spot on qualities of humanity that we ourselves long for in our heart of hearts on those late nights when we armchair analyze our own not-so Hollywood productions (also referred to by many as “life”). And he did all of this with a bravura and a panache that was breathtaking.
Platitudes and well-meaning hyperbole to the side, the Man Who Would Be Bond grew up in a world that suggested that he might become anything other than a world renowned actor. At one time or another, Connery worked as a milkman, a day laborer, a lorry driver, a bodybuilder and a coffin polisher. The work came easy to the older of two sons of Joseph Connery and Euphamia C. Maclean; his parents were themselves from a working class and early on many of their values rubbed off on Connery. Which is perhaps where that slight dash of Frank Capra-esque virtue originated from – Sean Connery’s route to Ian Fleming’s 007 was as unlikely as you or myself or Jimmy Stewart slipping on a tuxedo and tripping the light fantastic with Ursula Andress. Yet there he was, Sean Connery, making his mark on the James Bond character so successfully in 1963’s Dr. No that no actor since has been able to break away from the long shadow the actor cast in that and subsequent outings as the Bond character. To put it simply and succinctly, Sean Connery owns James Bond. Everyone since – and there have been some marvelous actors who have stepped into 007’s shoes – is just a pretender to the throne.
Connery made perhaps the biggest impact with this reviewer in director Brian De Palma’s classic take on Good versus Evil in 1987’s The Untouchables. That mention of Frank Capra in the paragraph above came into play spectacularly in his performance of an honest cop in 1930s Chicago who sides with rookie Bureau of Prohibition agent Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) against Al Capone (Robert De Niro). Connery brought a world weariness to his role of beat cop Jim Malone and walked away with the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor – his first and only Oscar. Any novice actor looking for examples of plying your work on an almost otherworldly level would be well-advised to study Connery at his fiery and quietly understated best laying down the unwritten rules of Chicago law to Kevin Costner in an empty cathedral-like church. It rarely gets better than this, folks.
Malone: “You said you wanted to get Capone. Do you really wanna get him? You see what I’m saying is, what are you prepared to do?”
Ness: Anything within the law.
Malone: And then *what* are you prepared to do? If you open the can on these worms you must be prepared to go all the way. Because they’re not gonna give up the fight, until one of you is dead.”
Sean Connery left us yesterday and we are all the poorer for his absence. But, in his stead, we are left behind with a treasure trove of lovely performances that would do any actor proud. For that matter, the gifts of his many decades of work should inspire and encourage even us non-Hollywood types: After all, Sean Connery belonged to us long before he ever headed to Hollywood.
And now, if you’ll excuse me – and in the great last words of The Untouchables – “I think I’ll have a drink.” Tonight the glass is being raised for you, Mr. Connery.