Sean Connery, 1930 – 2020

When it comes to the many memorable moments Sean Connery registered on film, I have an odd personal favorite. It is in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables, the film that won Connery an Academy Award, for playing Chicago cop Jimmy Malone. The small crew of specialized lawmen Jimmy is part of have just successfully thwarted an incoming shipment of illegal liquor at the Canadian border, and Jimmy chases down one of the henchmen in a nearby field. To get his quarry to halt, Jimmy unleashes a brief torrent of Tommy Gun fire. “All right, enough of this running shit,” Connery announces, his intonation so burred that it could snag on shag carpet.

I realize it’s not much of a line, especially in a screenplay written by David Mamet during the brief sliver of time when he leveraged his gift for terse, tough language into more popular entertainment. And Connery doesn’t give it the extra oomph that signals it’s meant to be a memorable capper, like legions of quips he was called upon to deploy in tense situation during his many films playing 007. Appropriately, he drops it casually, with slightly winded irritation. It sticks in my mind because it cracked up the reluctant moviegoer sitting next to me in the theater when I first saw The Untouchables. It made my grandfather laugh.

Connery was born seven years after my grandfather, so watching the Scottish movie star in this remake of an old TV show would have been one of the few times my desperate plea to help feed my burgeoning love of film resulted in my grandfather seeing a rough contemporary on the screen, especially during the MTV-defined, youth-crazed cinematic landscape of the nineteen-eighties. He liked The Untouchables better than more fare I cajoled him into viewing, and he was especially tickled by Connery’s performance, which manages to be both vibrant and lived-in. In retrospect, I can see in my grandfather’s reaction everything the made Connery special: the forceful screen presences, the ever-present layer of humor, the simple ease in being, and — most importantly, I think — the inborn commitment to playing a character in totality. The crack about having enough of the pursuit is completely consistent with everything that’s been already established about Jimmy’s pragmatism, impatience, and awareness of his own aching bones. It feels like a throwaway, but it’s part of the whole portrait Connery crafts.

That thoroughness was a hallmark of Connery’s acting, even in subpar fare (which, to be accurate, was very common on his filmography, a result of the actor’s prevailing interest in padding his bankbook). Without condescension — though sometimes with flinty self-awareness — he always played his role with a keen sense of responsibility. The New York Times obituary of Connery quoted him discussing a personal strategy of specifically scrutinizing the scenes where he doesn’t appear: ““That way, I get to know what the character is aware of and, more importantly, what he is not aware of. The trap that bad actors fall into is playing information they don’t have.”

Connery was a good actor, and it was especially pleasurable to watch him walk away with films when the gray had taken over and the toupees were relegated to the back of the closet, whether instilling gravity, as in The Russia House, or showing whippersnappers how scene-stealing is done, in the caramel-corn nonsense that is The Rock. There’s something particularly impressive about a performer asserting star power as clearly and cunningly as at any point in their career as they edge toward retirement.

I have another contender for personal favorite among Connery’s line deliveries. More conventionally, the moment comes from his justly revered tenure as James Bond. He slowly awakens, and a beautiful blonde comes into focus in front of him. Still bleary, he asks, “Who are you?”

Acting opposite Connery, Honor Blackman gives a remarkably level rendering of one of the most splendid, ridiculous introductions in the annals of cinema. Raising her eyebrows, she says, “My name is Pussy Galore.”

“I must be dreaming,” Connery says, a slight, satisfied, dreamy smile crossing his face.

It’s memorable, funny, lascivious, charming, and, most importantly, properly in character. Everything Connery did uncommonly well is there in four little words and a ripple of reaction across his face. At times like that, it seemed plausible that he was made just for the big screen. And maybe the big screen was made just for him.

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