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This morning, the world lost an acting legend, as Sir Sean Connery passed away in his sleep, after a period of recent illness, at the age of 90. Known to the world in an assortment of roles, from his Oscar-winning turn in The Untouchables to playing Indiana Jones’ father in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, Connery left an indelible mark on the entertainment industry in decades worth of performances. But of course, one of his greatest claims to fame is the fact that Sean Connery kickstarted a cinematic franchise in its infancy, turning Ian Fleming’s James Bond into a meteoric success. It’s because of those efforts that the 007 legacy itself will always owe Sean Connery an immense debt of gratitude.
When Connery originated the role of James Bond on the big screen, there was very little for him to measure up to. While the character was a literary sensation through Ian Fleming’s pen and Casino Royale had seen Barry Nelson playing card shark Jimmy Bond on TV, the mantle was still up for grabs when 1962 showed the world Dr. No for the first time. If it wasn’t for luck smiling down upon Connery, we may have seen Cary Grant or a number of other contenders playing 007 when he finally made his way to the big screen. Then again, if anyone else had done it, we might not still be talking about the James Bond legacy.
Sean Connery was basically working without a net, on a franchise that could have qualified as one of the precursors to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is especially true with the serialization that arose out of those first seven films -- six of which would see Connery in the role. As James Bond took the fight to SPECTRE and Ernst Stavro Blofeld himself, Sean Connery blazed a path that would be followed to various degrees by his successors. No matter who it was that stepped into the famous bespoke tuxedo throughout the almost sixty years of history that 007 has racked up on the big screen, the longest and most prolific shadow that everyone from Sir Roger Moore to Daniel Craig has had to compete with was that of Mr. Connery.
Even in the wake of no competition to precede him, Sean Connery left an impression so lasting on the Bond franchise that he’s still considered by most to be the best man in the role thus far. It didn’t even take long for the Scottish acting legend to leave that mark either, as his very first scene in Dr. No introduced a catchphrase, an image, and an attitude that is still oft lampooned and imitated to this very day:
The crazy thing about Sean Connery’s introduction in Dr. No is that it actually takes a long time to get to even showing his face on camera. We’re treated to some action and intrigue to open the first 007 film, but it isn’t until eight minutes into the film that we see Connery saying those iconic words and lighting a cigarette at the baccarat table of Le Cercle. It must have hit the audience like a brick through a plate glass window back in 1962, but it’s a scene that still packs just as much punch when watching it in the modern day. It’s almost as if director Terrance Young knew that for a fact, and playing it as such is still one of the most memorable introductions of a hero on screen.
In his first incarnation, 007 was a charmer, but he was also a brawler who had no problems throwing down in train cars, shark tanks, and volcanic lairs. In the face of death, Sean Connery’s Bond always kept some quippy and cutting words in his back pocket and exuded an attitude that always made the man feel like he was wearing a tuxedo for all occasions. Though his later brushes with the role would see his James Bond as an older, less serious version of Connery’s former self, there was always an element of cool that only he could bring to even the cheesiest of lines. It’s why Never Say Never Again isn’t a total write-off as a James Bond imitation as, despite its inferior quality, it had that Sean Connery magic to fall back on.
While the James Bond series definitely evolved and progressed with every era of history that would follow in Sean Connery’s wake, the films never forgot how successful his initial template for the role truly was. When Sir Roger Moore would dive more into jokes, when Timothy Dalton reintroduced the cold edged killer that Daniel Craig would bring back to the screen and, even when Pierce Brosnan brought his extremely suave nature to the role of 007, all successors would acknowledge one singular truth. And that’s the undisputed fact that Sean Connery always has been and always will be a part of the series’ DNA in some way or another.
Today is a heavy day for the movie world, as Sean Connery was way more than James Bond. While there are some movies of his that could be disputed and debated by fans all around as either underrated gems or absolute bombs, there’s no argument that Connery himself was a pro. But at the same time, one can’t dispute the claim that the Sean Connery legacy of the 007 series will always be integral to understanding the character. Even in my own opinion that Daniel Craig is the best James Bond based on Ian Fleming’s intent with the character, I’ll never put down the scientific accuracy of how without Connery’s contributions to the series, we might not be talking about the longest running cinematic franchise in history. Who knows where James Bond would have ended up if it weren’t for those first five movies that showed the world Sean Connery, in his absolute prime, saving the world in time for a chilled drink and a pithy comeback.
As always on occasions such as this, we here at CinemaBlend would like to send our well wishes and condolences to the friends and family of Sir Sean Connery. But we’d also like to raise our metaphorical martini to the man, the myth, and the absolute legend that struck such a chord in cinematic history; as nobody did it better. Sir Sean, may you rest easy, as it’s because of your valiant and entertaining efforts that James Bond will return for many more years to come.