Chapter 5 explores the cultural politics of the ageing star, analysing why Connery managed that notoriously difficult transition so successfully. Central to his success, the chapter argues, was his development of a coherent new persona, the father-mentor, who embodies wisdom, knowledge, understanding and above all a centred integrity that he imparts to a younger man who becomes his surrogate son. This construction began fortuitously in Highlander (1986) but gained industry traction as the ‘Connery role’ after he won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor in The Untouchables (1987), whose success also restored him to A-list stardom. The chapter analyses these films in detail along with The Name of the Rose (1986) – his astonishing performance as a mediaeval monk that was a huge success in Europe, demonstrating Connery’s transnational appeal in a role that would have severely challenged an American actor. Close attention is also given to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), in which Connery plays a comic version, and The Hunt for Red October (1990), in which his father-mentor is a magisterial figure. The chapter argues that the father-mentor was a much more capacious construction than Bond, one that offered a variety of acting challenges. The persona enabled Connery to project many of his own values in these roles, which are notable for often being politically progressive, his character at odds with a corrupt and venal society. They are also mythic and thus could accommodate the scale of Connery’s stardom.
Chapter 2 focuses on Connery’s international stardom playing James Bond, from Dr. No (1962) to Diamonds Are Forever (1971). It examines why he was offered the role, the uncertainties about his choice and the series’ hopes of success. It emphasises that Bond was a considerable acting achievement, for which Connery’s early career had provided the skills and training, and the importance of the ironic humour with which he imbued the role, alongside his supple athleticism and sex appeal. It discusses how he developed the role and the increasing subtlety of his interpretation. The chapter foregrounds the Bond roles as a particular form of stardom, the ‘serial star’, the product of an industrial form of authorship in which the producers regarded Connery as a replaceable component in the franchise, claiming it was the character, not the actor, which generated the series’ extraordinary success. This produced an intensified form of typecasting, commodification and entrapment, the usual hazards of the successful star. The chapter explores in detail Connery’s struggles for increased remuneration and recognition and his frustrations at not being offered a partnership. It also discusses how the scale of the ‘Bond phenomenon’ threatened to engulf Connery’s whole identity, how his complete identification with a fictional figure did not allow him to develop a separate star persona, nor was his acting achievement in creating the screen Bond recognised. The chapter concludes with an analysis of Bond’s iconicity as a new form of cosmopolitan masculinity, a classless modernity that displaced previous forms of the British hero.
The Conclusion assesses Connery’s significance and summarises what his career reveals about the nature of stardom. It discusses how Connery’s determination to become an accomplished actor was inseparable from his ambition to be a major international star who could compete for roles with Hollywood stars. It argues that his greatest achievement was to invest ‘popcorn hits’ with the delineation of engaging characters of some depth and complexity, alongside his ability to reinvent his persona from Bond to father-mentor. The Conclusion argues that his Scottish identity redefined post-war Britishness as part of a generational group of British actors in the vanguard of social change. It debates how his representation of masculinity was wide-ranging but always haunted by its association with a retrograde traditional patriarchy and his public condoning of male violence. The Conclusion summarises the importance of attending to the varied dimensions of stardom: commercial, cultural, iconic/mythic, social and political. It reviews the various ways in which stars’ careers must be contextualised within the shifting commercial systems in which they are situated and the conditions of their employment. Although the study has shown that even star actors’ agency is often highly circumscribed, the chapter argues that Connery’s lifelong truculence and his separateness from the Hollywood establishment helped increase stars’ autonomy and economic status. Although Connery was a singular star, the Conclusion argues that his struggles illuminate the complexities of stardom as an occupation.
Chapter 1 explores Connery’s early career before he became James Bond. It analyses the significance of the particular social conditions from which Connery emerged: a working-class area of Edinburgh and the importance of physical display in his cultural formation, notably his bodybuilding. The principal focus is on his haphazard development as a professional actor, the significance of his unorthodox training – including attending classes with Yat Malmgren, the Swedish movement teacher – and the ways in which he negotiated the three interlocking but separate production contexts of theatre, television and film. His neglected television work is examined in close detail, including his ‘breakthrough’ role as an over-the-hill boxer in Requiem for a Heavyweight (1957) and his major parts for the BBC such as Hotspur in An Age of Kings (1960) and his work with Rudolph Cartier on Adventure Story (1961) and Anna Karenina (1961). The chapter argues that during this period Connery’s television work was far more important than his unsatisfactory roles in feature films and the failure of Twentieth Century-Fox to promote his career despite his long-term contract. The intention throughout this chapter is to give this formative phase of his career its proper attention and integrity, and to demonstrate Connery’s commitment to developing the craft of acting as an art form. In this way the chapter contests the conventional approach that interprets every element of his early career as an anticipation of becoming James Bond, which, it is argued, could not have been predicted nor was something towards which Connery worked.
The shift from contract to freelance stardom is the conceptual focus of Chapter 4, discussing the types of role Connery was able to negotiate during the 1970s as a transnational star working principally in Hollywood. The chapter argues that Connery was more successful in the first half of the decade working with directors – John Boorman (Zardoz), John Milius (The Wind and the Lion), John Huston (The Man Who Would Be King) and Richard Lester (Robin and Marian) – who had the autonomy and intelligence to sense his possibilities as a star best suited to playing archetypal, mythical roles in which the Bond persona could be reworked rather than rejected. However, in the second half of the decade, Connery struggled to find appropriate roles as the studios reasserted their control, leading to a succession of undistinguished parts in mediocre films – such as Meteor (1979) – that were commercial and critical failures. The chapter also discusses two films – A Bridge Too Far (1977) and Cuba (1979) – which were flawed but contain two of Connery’s most intelligent and underrated performances. The chapter concludes with a detailed discussion of his return as Bond in Never Say Never Again (1983), another undervalued film, that was both an attempt to resurrect a flagging career and the opportunity to essay a mature Bond. Throughout, the chapter highlights the importance of Connery’s relationship with his agents and the significance of the switch from a British agent, Dennis Selinger, to an American one – Michael Ovitz and the Creative Artists Agency.
Both Chapters 7 and 8 are less concerned with the economic aspects of Connery’s career than its cultural significance, exploring the processes through which he became an iconic star. Chapter 7 notes that very few stars achieve iconic status, building on Edgar Morin’s explanation of film stars’ mythic function. Iconicity is discussed at length because the term is used promiscuously and as an attribute rather than a process, one that is both transcendent but also deeply embedded in particular contexts. Although the chapter ranges over Connery’s entire career, its principal focus is on the 1990s when it was widely acknowledged that Connery had attained legendary status. The chapter argues that his embodiment of myth figures – such as King Arthur in First Knight (1995) – now has an emblematic status; DragonHeart (1996) was a full-length filmic homage to Connery using images from his previous films to animate the movements of the dragon that Connery voices. Both films end elegiacally, and the chapter discusses the ways in which this meshed with a succession of public accolades – including three ‘lifetime achievement’ awards, tributes, festschrifts and hagiographic documentaries – that contributed to Connery’s construction as ‘last star of Hollywood’s Golden Age’. This construction of Connery’s iconicity shows the power of cultural processes in shaping a star’s career, part of the ‘prestige economy’ that operates separately from commercial logics although the results serve to enhance a star’s status and thus the salary they can command.
How Connery tried to deal with the frustrations he experienced playing Bond is the subject of Chapter 3, which examines the same period, the 1960s and early 1970s, from the reverse perspective. It analyses in detail Connery’s attempts to gain recognition as a talented actor capable of playing a variety of roles. These included playing a defiant working-class soldier in a North African prison camp (The Hill, 1965); a Greenwich Village beat poet in A Fine Madness (1966); a western loner in Shalako (1968); a rebellious miner in The Molly Maguires (1970); and a seedy, damaged police sergeant in The Offence (1973), all of which were deliberately non-Bond roles. The chapter also provides an in-depth analysis of Marnie (1964), showing the accomplishment of Connery’s portrayal of an attractive but psychologically disturbed character, even now rarely recognised, in what is conventionally applauded – though not on its release – as a great Hitchcock film. In addition, using George Cukor’s papers, the chapter discusses an unrealised project to film an adaptation of the novel Nine Tiger Man in which Connery was to have played a sexually attractive Indian revenging himself on the imperial English, which reveals much about his image in Hollywood. The chapter demonstrates that although Connery had considerable success in winning critical recognition for his acting accomplishments, these characters failed to interest or appeal to the cinemagoing public. This shows the profound difficulties stars have in altering their persona – in Connery’s case his persona as Bond – and of gaining audience acceptance in different roles.
The Introduction sets out the aims and objectives of the study, which is not a biography but an exploration of film stardom. Its approach is to understand stardom as an economic, cultural and social phenomenon, a ‘mediated self’ that requires attention to the exigencies of Connery’s career as a professional actor, including his training. It argues that understanding Connery’s acting and performance, what he represented on screen, requires both close textual analysis and an examination of his films’ specific production contexts, situated within their systems of production, distribution and exhibition. The Introduction discusses the importance of his complex embodiment of national identity, arguing that through his working-class Scottishness, Connery contested the dominant images of Britishness through working as a transnational star in Britain, America and Europe which gave him a unique persona. That persona, the study contends, was mutable, and the Introduction posits that understanding stardom requires close attention to the processes through which Connery’s image was constructed and reconstructed and to the importance of an iconic, mythic dimension by which he became a ‘screen legend’. The Introduction also points to the social significance of his Scottishness, his public activism promoting the cause of Scottish independence, which was another important dimension of his stardom. The Introduction concludes by discussing the available sources, the importance of drawing on a wide range of material including archival and promotional, and the organisation of the study that combines a linear chronology with more generalised reflections on the phenomenon of stardom.
Chapter 8 explores the various components of Connery’s Scottishness, beginning with an extended discussion of the complex and conflicted nature of national identity in general and Scottish national identity in particular. The chapter examines how Connery’s Scottishness informed his acting, often being deliberately accentuated, and the ways in which Connery was used iconically by various organisations, including the Scottish Tourist Board, to promote Scotland. However, the chapter’s main focus is a detailed examination of the various facets of Connery’s very public and sustained activism for the cause of an independent Scotland. There is an extended analysis of The Bowler and the Bunnet (1967), directed, co-produced and narrated by Connery, which delineates the problems of labour relations in the Clydeside shipping industry and the need for co-operation between workers and bosses. The chapter identifies the documentary as the start of Connery’s political awakening and the beginning of his commitment to the Scottish National Party and the campaign for the cause of an independent Scotland. The chapter traces Connery’s successes – lending his support in August 1997 to the campaign for an independent Scottish parliament – but also his ambivalent status as a tax exile often vilified in the press. The chapter also discusses his formation of the Scottish International Educational Trust in December 1970; his controversial knighthood (2000); Being a Scot (2008), his extended meditation on national identity; his attempts to support the Scottish film industry; and his importance in inspiring a new generation of Scottish actors.
Andrew Spicer’s ground-breaking study provides an authoritative and comprehensive account of the career of this iconic star. He highlights the importance of Connery’s early career, especially his television work that included Shakespeare, before dissecting the ‘Bond phenomenon’, which propelled Connery to international stardom on an unprecedented scale for a British actor but erased his own identity as a commodified serial star. Connery’s twenty-year struggle to escape ‘Bondage’ is discussed at length: his attempts to play against that image in The Hill (1965) and The Offence (1973) and his gradual emergence as an epic, mythic presence in the mid-1970s in The Wind and the Lion, The Man Who Would Be King and Robin and Marian. The study analyses how Connery’s reinvention of himself as a father-mentor enabled him to enjoy a second period of superstardom from The Untouchables (1987) onwards and to ‘age successfully’. How this mythic persona modulated into an all-encompassing ‘screen legend’ is analysed cogently. Spicer also emphasises the significance of Connery’s complex embodiment of national identity, imbuing his screen characters with a working-class Scottishness and through his public role as an activist campaigning for Scottish independence. Throughout, Spicer emphasises the importance of situating stars within their mutable economic and cultural contexts as they struggle for creative control over their careers. Drawing on wide range of archival and other sources, this innovative study’s illumination of one of modern cinema’s greatest, longest-enduring and most distinctive stars will become essential reading for those interested in the phenomenon of stardom.