Why Sean Connery is still filmdom's best Bond ever

On Friday, March 2, 1962, Sean Connery arrived at Pinewood Studios for his 8 a.m. call. In wardrobe, Connery slipped into his tailored dress shirt with turn-back cuffs and black-pearl buttons. He tied a thin black silk bow-tie around his collar and slipped on a fitted dinner jacket. Around 10 a.m., Connery was rehearsed and ready for the first shot.

Although Connery had been working on “Dr. No,” the first James Bond movie, since Jan. 16, this scene would mark his debut as Agent 007 in the film. Today, 35 years later, Connery’s introduction as James Bond still grabs viewers.

“I admire your courage,” an unseen Connery says to the beautiful Eunice Gayson sitting across the Chemin de Fer table.

Gayson cocks an eyebrow, sizing up the darkly handsome man. “I admire your luck, mister …?”

Now we see Connery for the first time, lighting a cigarette, eyes slowly traveling up from the flame to meet Gayson. He speaks with disinterest, even coldness. “Bond, James Bond.”

In just more than a minute of screen time, Sean Connery defined a very different kind of hero. In many ways, Connery was ideal for the role of Ian Fleming’s “blunt instrument,” James Bond.

From the tenement houses of Fountainbridge, to the soccer fields, to the touring theater companies that roamed England, Connery grew up in rugged circumstances. He knew how to fight and also how to hold his anger just below the surface. Soccer taught him to move with grace and deceptive speed. Poverty taught Connery efficiency: He still has no patience for waste.

Yet, by 1962 he had much of the education one would expect of the Eton-schooled 007. Connery learned without the benefit of teachers and Oxbridge institutions, just the self-motivated thirst for knowledge. As a result, he is probably better-read than any other film actor in the $10 million-plus pay range.

Connery and 007 had other similarities back in 1962. Both liked fast cars. Both kept few mementos of the past. And both knew how to look at a woman or man and make knees shake, each for totally different reasons.

One quality Connery lacked however, was the sophisticated panache of Fleming’s spy. “Dr. No” director Terence Young took care of that with tailor-made suits and tips on how the urbane uomo del mondo should comport himself. To complement Fleming’s writing, Connery and Young adopted a dark, dry wit, just this side of Charles Addams. Witness Connery’s smile as he leaves an enemy agent to burn in an overheated steam bath, quipping, “Don’t worry. I’ll tell the chef.”

Connery’s Bond never has to deal with annoying paperwork, red tape or long lines. The world knows this man is more important than the rest of us, so we don’t ask him to play by our rules. Connery’s 007 orders others around with abandon.

Even as a captive, Connery imbues Bond with a sense of command. When brought into No’s underground radioactive decontamination chamber, Bond immediately tells the guards how to do their jobs. After a feeble objection, they do exactly what Bond tells them to do. Why? Not because he is Bond, but because he is Sean Connery as James Bond.

Noted Bond fan James Burkart observed that Connery brought a quality to 007 never before seen onscreen: “He could kill a man, and half a minute later be making love to a woman.” Connery’s Bond showed a generation of men how to dress, how to order champagne and how to conduct oneself with confidence, no matter how tense the situation.

Sure, other actors have played Bond, and they all have good qualities. But Connery’s Bond is peerless. In “Octopussy,” Roger Moore’s Bond races across Germany to stop a nuclear bomb from going off. He finds a pay phone, but a woman has it and refuses to finish her call. Finally, Moore’s 007 gives up, stealing her car rather than confronting her. How long do you think Connery’s Bond would have waited for that phone? Not only would Connery have extracted her from the phone booth in an instant, he also would have stolen her car, killed her evil assassin lover, spoiled her plan to embezzle millions from England, and by the end, she would have felt good about it.

Gayson’s character Sylvia Trench got it wrong when she said she admired Bond’s luck. For Connery, luck has little to do with it. When he’s onscreen, he makes things happen.

John Cork edits Goldeneye magazine for the Ian Fleming Foundation and has produced deluxe laserdiscs of “Goldfinger,” “Thunderball” and “GoldenEye.” For more information on the Ian Fleming Foundation, write IFF, P.O. Box 1850, Burbank, CA 91507, or e-mail strangways@aol.com.