Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

Sean Connery, 1930-2020

He made everything he was in a little bit better than it had to be.
November 1, 2020
Sean Connery, 1930-2020

Sean Connery is present in my earliest memory of the movies.

This isn’t hyperbole: Literally the first movie I remember watching, he was in.

And it’s probably not what you’re expecting. I’ve never been an enormous Bond fan, and Connery’s adventures as 007 all kind of blend together for me. This is not a knock on Connery or the character; I just didn’t grow up watching the old Bond flicks on TBS or via VHS or whatever. I came of age during Brosnan’s run and have worked as a movie reviewer during the entirety of Craig’s run. For better or worse, they’re the two I associate with the role.

No, Connery’s first appearance for your humble narrator was in something a bit smaller, a bit stranger. It was as Agamemnon in Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits.

I couldn’t have been more than four or five; details of that first viewing are little more than flashes of memory. I’m sure most of the movie—a trippy little ditty about a boy who throws in with a band of thieving little people who possess a map that allows them to commit robberies throughout time—went over my head. Most of what I remember from that first showing are little more than snippets: Evil (David Warner) blowing up like a balloon in order to expel arrows that have hit him; an ogre with a sore back who, oddly, was married to Mona from Who’s the Boss (another childhood touchstone); the floating, glowing, shouting head of God chasing down our wee bandits.

And a merry king throwing a party for a lost little boy who helped him slay a minotaur.

The king, of course, was Connery; by the time I became aware of him, his image was already being deconstructed by merry pranksters like Gilliam. The first action hero playing one of the first heroes from myth, a king more interested in sleight of hand than the ability to wield a sword. And as the years would go by, it was in movies such as these that I most loved Connery’s work.

Oh, sure, there were more traditional action movie-performances: big, bold roles in big, bold movies. John Patrick Mason in The Rock or Mac in Entrapment. The Hunt for Red October and The Untouchables loom large. But it was the bigger, bolder roles in less traditional movies—some might say B pictures—that I came to love Connery in.

The Egyptian by way of Spain, Ramírez, in Highlander. The bandolier-and-brief wearing savage, Zed, in Zardoz. The legend out of time, Allan Quatermain, in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

And, of course, Agamemnon in Time Bandits.

Connery lent his own gravitas to everything he was in, no matter how goofy it was or, frankly, how terrible it was. I mean, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is no one’s idea of a good movie. Indeed, it’s an actively bad movie. Still. I’ve no idea if he took the picture seriously, but he took the work seriously, and it shows up onscreen. And the same could be said for all of these weird little movies—the paycheck jobs. Sean Connery made every single movie he was in at least a little better than it had to be, his rumbling Scottish brogue cutting through whatever bullshit he was engaged in at any given time. And that’s the greatest thing any actor can do: elevate the material they’ve been given to another level.

So while you’re all throwing on Diamonds are Forever or You Only Live Twice, you’ll excuse me if I pop in my Criterion Blu-ray of Time Bandits and engage in a slightly different brand of nostalgia.

Sonny Bunch

Sonny Bunch is the Culture Editor of The Bulwark. Before serving as editor-in-chief of the film site Rebeller, he was the executive editor of and film critic for The Washington Free Beacon. He is currently a contributor to The Washington Post and his work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, National Review, Commentary Magazine, The Weekly Standard, and elsewhere. He is a member of the Washington Area Film Critics Association