The Man Who Would be King: Sean Connery, RIP
By Wayne Allensworth
No one did it better than Connery.
Sean Connery was among the last of what your humble servant and life-long movie fan would call a “movie star” in the fullest sense of the term. He was a fine actor as well, an underrated one in my view. Movie stars had an identifiable, larger-than-life persona they embodied on the screen. A true star seemed to have stepped off of Mt. Olympus, and could carry a picture on his or her own. The old film studios built their business around stables of stars.
Connery entered the acting game at the tail end of the Dream Factory period of filmland history, but he fit very well into that mold. His dominating physical presence and charisma was a force of its own. The producers of the James Bond series, Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, signed Connery to play 007 without a screen test—all they had to do was watch him walk. His athletic glide made Connery’s stride as readily identifiable as John Wayne’s.
He could act, too. It’s easy to dismiss his Bond pictures, but that would be a mistake. Connery, with help from Terrance Young, who directed three of the early 007 films, helped create a character that, as outlandish as his adventures were, seemed real somehow. And Connery was able to stretch his acting range as much as Humphrey Bogart did in playing Dobbs in Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Watch him at work in Sydney Lumet’s WWII prison drama, The Hill (1965) or Martin Ritt’s The Molly McGuires (1970). The intensity and power in his acting was never more evident. Later in his career, he took a rakish turn as Indiana Jones’s bespectacled archeologist dad in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). The dashing leading man had transitioned into a top notch character actor, having won an Oscar for his memorable performance as Jimmy Malone in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables (1987).
John Huston’s The Man Who Would be King (1975) is an all-time favorite of mine. The tragi-comic adventure tale based on a Rudyard Kipling story is reminiscent of movies from Hollywood’s Golden Age. Indeed, Huston had been planning to shoot the film for decades, with Connery and Michael Caine eventually taking the roles originally slated for Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart. Connery is said to have considered it his favorite film among all that he worked on.
Caine And Connery in The Man Who Would be King
Thomas Sean Connery was born into a working-class family in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1930. His father was factory worker, his mother a cleaning lady. Their flat lacked hot water, and Sean recalled working delivering milk as a boy. He would later shovel coal, work as a bricklayer, and even polish coffins for a time. He never forgot his Scottish and working-class roots. If you watch his movies closely, you might notice a tattoo on his right forearm that read “Scotland Forever.” Connery’s autobiography was entitled Being a Scot.
Connery, ever mindful of his youthful poverty, was notorious for fighting with film producers over money, and equally well-known for donating to Scottish charities that helped his poor countrymen. He was an athletic man who at one time considered pursuing a career as a professional soccer player, but was also an avid reader.
In the 1960s, Connery became one of the biggest movie stars in the world. When a very young yours truly got his first look at Goldfinger (1964), Connery instantly joined my boyhood pantheon of celluloid heroes headed by the likes of John Wayne, Errol Flynn, Bogart, Mitchum, and the estimable Lee Marvin. Those guys were “toxic masculinity” defined, so it’s not surprising that the BBC called Connery’s Bond pictures “a museum piece,” and piously noted that such movies are “thankfully” in the past.
I hope we will still be permitted to watch their movies in the future.
Goodbye, Sir Sean. Nobody did it better.
The first time Connery uttered 007’s signature line, “The name is Bond. James Bond.” in Dr. No (1962)
Wayne Allensworth is a Corresponding Editor of Chronicles magazine. He is the author of The Russian Question: Nationalism, Modernization, and Post-Communist Russia, and a novel, Field of Blood.