As Sean Connery celebrates a milestone birthday, what are his greatest films?
- Credit: PA
Sir Sean Connery turns 90 today and we celebrate his 60 years as Hollywood royalty.
Sean Connery celebrates his 90th birthday today. One of the giants of cinema, he refused to be typecast by his early fame as James Bond and not only expanded the type of roles he played, he even nabbed an Oscar into the bargain.
Such is Connery’s status in the film world and his reputation for being selective about the roles he would play, many people don’t realise that he quietly retired from movies in 2003 having played Allan Quatermain in comic adventure movie The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Because he started to go bald at a relatively early age, Connery was never afraid to play parts older than he actually was. He started playing mentor roles in the mid-70s shortly after giving up giving up the role of James Bond in 1971.
Even in action films like 1978’s The First Great Train Robbery, he relished playing a veteran Victorian criminal mastermind. The wise, older hero was a role that he made his own once he managed to put Bond behind him. Bond was the part that made him a star but he was a character that he had an ambivalent relationship with. Best friend Michael Caine said in an interview that during the 1960s and 70s, Connery’s real friends knew never to mention Britain’s superspy if they wanted to enjoy a relaxed night out.
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Connery knew his value in a film and consequently was paid a king’s ransom for his cameo as Richard The Lionheart in Kevin Costner’s megahit Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. On the flipside he never minded being part of an ensemble cast, providing the film was good and he made a huge impression in such all-star extravaganzas as Murder on the Orient Express opposite Albert Finney, Ingrid Bergman, John Gielgud, Richard Widmark, Anthony Perkins and Lauren Bacall and Richard Attenborough’s World War II epic A Bridge Too Far with Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins, Birk Bogarde, Robert Redford, Edward Fox and Laurence Olivier.
It was being part of an ensemble that eventually won Connery the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as a veteran New York cop in Brian de Palma’s Prohibition-era gangster film, The Untouchables opposite Kevin Costner, Robert de Niro and Andy Garcia.
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Connery said that if he had to choose, he would nominate The Man Who Would King as his favourite film but what are the six films that have defined Sean Connery’s timeless career up on the big screen?
Dr No (1962): Dir: Terence Young; Co-Starring: Ursula Andress, Bernard Lee, Joseph Wiseman
Not the best James Bond film, but a decent movie that packs a punch and the film that launched a British film institution. Connery was cast after producer Cubby Broccoli saw him in the Disney movie Darby O’Gill and the Little People and was particularly impressed how he handled himself in a fist-fight in the film. Even though, author Ian Fleming initially objected to Scottish, working-class Connery playing his upper-class English spy, he was won over when he saw the finished film. Connery went onto star as James Bond in From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever and Never Say Never Again.
Zardoz (1974): Dir: John Boorman; Co-Starring: Charlotte Rampling, Sara Kestelman
Not a huge hit but a very distinctive looking film and one that achieved its purpose of taking Sean Connery a million miles from James Bond with him dressed like some sort of space-age Mexican bandit wearing the least flattering costume imaginable – a bizarre early mankini with braces, topped off with a handlebar moustache and ponytail. The film was not a huge commercial success but did well on the art-house circuit.
The Man Who Would Be King (1975) Dir: John Huston; Co-Starring: Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer, Saeed Jaffrey
Adapted from a story by author Rudyard Kipling tells the story of Daniel Dravot and Peachy Carnahan, two ex-soldiers in India when it was under British rule. They decide that the country is too small for them, so they head off to Kafiristan in order to become Kings in their own right. Kipling is seen as a character that was there at the beginning, and at the end of this wonderfully irreverent adventure movie.
Robin and Marian (1976); Dir: Richard Lester; Co-Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Robert Shaw
This is Robin Hood: The Final Years. Considering the film was shot only five years after Diamonds Are Forever, Connery looks 20 years older as the older, almost ancient Robin Hood, come home from the Crusades to find Marian living as an Abbess. He needs to reconnect with the love of his life but the evil Sheriff of Nottingham and King John have other plans and seek vengeance for the past indignities that Robin visited upon them.
Outland (1981); Dir: Peter Hyams; Co-Starring: Peter Boyle, Frances Sternhagen, Clarke Peters
Best described as a western in space, Marshal William O’Niel is assigned to a mining colony on Io, one of Jupiter’s moons. He soon encounters miners who are dying, due to use of an illegal amphetamine. O’Niel follows the trail, and eventually is forced to stand alone like Gary Cooper in High Noon when none of the mining community he is protecting will stand and fight alongside him.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989); Dir: Steven Spielberg; Co-Starring: Harrison Ford, Alison Doody, Julian Glover
My sixth choice isn’t Sean Connery’s Oscar-winning performance in The Untouchables, which, to be honest, was just another reliably engaging performance, but rather this scene-stealing late entry into the Indiana Jones franchise in which he demonstrates that he was a brilliant comic actor – so much so he threatened to shift the spotlight away from star Harrison Ford. The pair made a great team and Connery displayed a wonderful lightness of touch as Indy’s irascible father.