★★1/2 A new adaptation of the novel Thunderball, this Bond film was produced by Jack Schwartzman. US release date: October 7, 1983. Budget: $36 million. Worldwide box office gross: $160.0 million (US domestic gross: $55.5 million; international gross: $104.5 million). Running time: 137 minutes.
SPECTRE is at it again. Wicked assassin Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera) has seduced US Air Force officer Jack Petachi (Gavan O’Herlihy) into helping the nefarious organization hijack two cruise missiles from England. Bond (Sean Connery) enters the picture when he spots Blush and Petachi at the Shrublands health clinic, where he’s undergoing detoxification from alcohol and hard living. He later battles Lippe (Pat Roach), a giant of a SPECTRE assassin. After the cruise missiles are successfully hijacked, Bond heads for Nassau, where he meets the lovely Domino (Kim Basinger), the mistress of fabulously wealthy Maximilian Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer)—who may or may not have a spectre at his shoulder.
Behind the Scenes
Producer Kevin McClory won the film rights to Thunderball in 1963 after a three-year court battle with author Ian Fleming, who had based the original novel on a screen treatment he wrote with McClory and screenwriter Jack Whittingham. In 1965 McClory contracted with Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to produce the movie version of Thunderball, under an agreement that required him to wait ten years before adapting the novel again in any future film. Promptly in 1975, he announced a new variation on Thunderball titled James Bond of the Secret Service. But Cubby Broccoli had been burned by the dreadful 1967 spoof Casino Royale, which many viewers thought his company had produced, and he wasn’t about to let another competing Bond film happen again without a fight. With threats of legal action hanging over the project, McClory couldn’t interest a studio in backing it—until he connected with Jack Schwartzman, a former production executive at Lorimar and an entertainment legal whiz who had known of McClory’s project when it was first presented to and rejected by Lorimar. Schwartzman secured the backing of Warner Bros. and production began on a new Thunderball adaptation, now called Never Say Never Again—which would return Sean Connery to the role of 007.
But the production was handicapped by an uneven script that was still being rewritten during filming, and inconsistent direction by Irvin Kershner—the first American filmmaker to direct a serious Bond feature. Legally speaking, the movie was required to follow the countours of the Thunderball story, but it falls woefully short of its predecessor. The hijacking of two cruise missiles, even with David Dryer’s marvelous effects, was less than riveting, and compares unfavorably to the Vulcan bomber hijacking in the 1965 film. In fact, the entire plots lacks the sense of worldwide alarm that was so prevalent throughout Thunderball.
What the new film does have is one of the best casts ever assembled for a James Bond movie, with some wonderful performances that carry the film for a time. Certainly, the very presence of Connery made the whole project worthwhile. His assuredness in the role is remarkable, considering it had been twelve years since his last Bond outing. The throwaway humor, the playfulness, the confident sexuality, the two-fisted machismo—all the elements that had made him a success in the first place—are still present in good quantity. In fact, Connery looks better in this film than he did in Diamonds Are Forever. He’s lean, tanned, and quick on his feet. And he can still deliver those quintessential Bond lines with aplomb. When Fatima Blush water-skis up to him in Nassau and apologizes, “I made you all wet,” Bond replies, “Yes, but my martini is still dry.” Only Connery could get away with a quip like that.
Klaus Maria Brandauer’s Maximilian Largo is the most interesting villain since Auric Goldfinger. Handsome, debonair, and fabulously wealthy, he’s extremely sympathetic until he starts to lose his mistress Domino (Kim Basinger) to Bond. And even in Largo’s most psychotic moments, Brandauer maintains a level of control that makes his performance extremely resonant and believable. For that, both Brandauer and director Kershner must be given strong credit.
But it is Barbara Carrera’s wild Fatima Blush who is truly the film’s life force. Without a ticking bomb (and there really is no time frame for Never Say Never Again’s cruise missile warhead to explode), a key element in any Bond film is the final confrontation between Bond and the villain. Once Fatima Blush is killed, there really is no such confrontation, and the film’s final act begins to die on the vine. A pitifully weak battle between Bond and Largo fails to generate much tension and is cut short when Largo is impaled on Domino’s spear. Though, in all fairness to Kershner, Thunderball director Terence Young faced a similar problem once Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi) is killed.
Aside from the war game pre-credits teaser, the overblown battle with Lippe at Shrublands (will filmmakers ever do justice to Shrublands?), and a brief motorcycle chase, this is a talky outing—with characters grinning and growling at one another without much physical interplay. With Connery in the lead role, though, it’s also a very sexy one—helped immensely by Kim Basinger and Valerie Leon, who’s into sports fishing. High points: Carrera’s Fatima Blush, the Domination video game, Basinger’s dancing, the health club sequence in which 007 gives Domino a sexy rubdown, the tango, and Klaus Maria Brandauer. Low points: Edward Fox’s shrill M and Michel Legrand’s bland score.
|James Bond||Sean Connery|
|Maximilian Largo||Klaus Maria Brandauer|
|Ernst Stavro Blofeld||Max von Sydow|
|Fatima Blush||Barbara Carrera|
|Domino Petachi||Kim Basinger|
|Felix Leiter||Bernie Casey|
|Miss Moneypenny||Pamela Salem|
|Nigel Small-Fawcett||Rowan Atkinson|
|Captain Jack Petachi||Gavan O’Herlihy|
|Lady in the Bahamas||Valerie Leon|
|Nicole—Agent 326||Saskia Cohen Tanugi|
|Captain Pederson||Billy J. Mitchell|
|Girl Hostage||Wendy Leech|
|Dr. Kovac||Milow Kirek|
|Screenplay by||Lorenzo Semple, Jr.|
|Based on an Original Story by||Kevin McClory|
|Executive Producer||Kevin McClory|
|Associate Producer||Michael Dryhurst|
|Director of Photography||Douglas Slocombe, BSC|
|Music by||Michel Legrand|
|Title song performed by||Lani Hall|
|Lyrics by||Alan Bergman|
|Production Designers||Philip Harrison|
|Costume Designer||Charles Knode|
|Second Unit Director||Michael Moore|
|Underwater sequence directed by||Ricou Browning|
|Stunt Coordinators||Glen Randall|
|Special Visual Effects Supervisor||David Dryer|
|Supervising Film Editor||Robert Lawrence|
 “Never Say Never Again (1983),” The Numbers, accessed June 15, 2020, https://www.the-numbers.com/movie/Never-Say-Never-Again.