Never Say Never Again is a 1983 American spy film starring Sean Connery and directed by Irvin Kershner. The film is based on the James Bond novel Thunderball, which was previously adapted in a 1965 film under that name. Unlike the majority of Bond films, Never Say Never Again was not produced by Eon Productions, but by an independent production company, one of whose members was Kevin McClory, one of the original writers of the Thunderball storyline with Ian Fleming and Jack Whittingham. McClory retained the filming rights of the novel following a long legal battle dating from the 1960s.
Connery played the role of James Bond for the seventh and final time, marking his return to the character 12 years after Diamonds Are Forever. The film’s title is a reference to Connery’s reported declaration in 1971 that he would “never again” play that role. As Connery was 52 at the time of filming, the storyline features an aging Bond, who is brought back into action to investigate the theft of two nuclear weapons by SPECTRE. Filming locations included France, Spain, the Bahamas and Elstree Studios in England.
Never Say Never Again was released by Warner Bros. in October 1983, and opened to positive reviews, with the acting of Connery and Klaus Maria Brandauer singled out for praise as more emotionally resonant than the typical Bond films of the day. The film was a commercial success, grossing $160 million at the box office, although less overall than the Eon-produced Octopussy released in the same year. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, to date, owns the distribution rights and also distributes Eon’s Bond films, and the company has handled subsequent home video releases of the film.
After MI6 agent James Bond, 007, fails a routine training exercise, his superior, M, orders Bond to a health clinic outside London to get back into shape. While there, Bond witnesses a mysterious nurse named Fatima Blush giving a sadomasochistic beating to a patient in a nearby room. The man’s face is bandaged and after Blush finishes her beating, Bond sees the patient using a machine which scans his eye. Bond is seen by Blush, who sends an assassin, Lippe, to kill him in the clinic gym, but Bond manages to kill Lippe.
Blush and her charge, a United States Air Force pilot named Jack Petachi, are operatives of SPECTRE, a criminal organisation run by Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Petachi has undergone an operation on his right eye to make it match the retinal pattern of the US President, which he uses to circumvent iris recognition security at the fictitious RAF Station Swadley, an American military base in England. While doing so, he replaces the dummy warheads of two AGM-86B cruise missiles with live nuclear warheads; SPECTRE then steals the warheads, intending to extort billions of dollars from NATO governments. Blush murders Petachi, by causing his car to crash and explode, to cover SPECTRE’s tracks.
Under orders from the Foreign Secretary, Lord Ambrose, M reluctantly reactivates the double-0 section and Bond is assigned the task of tracking down the missing weapons. He meets Domino Petachi, the pilot’s sister, and her wealthy lover, Maximillian Largo, SPECTRE’s highest-ranking agent. Bond follows Largo and his yacht to the Bahamas, where he spars with Blush and Largo.
Bond is informed by Nigel Small-Fawcett of the British High Commission that Largo’s yacht is now heading for Nice, France. There, Bond joins forces with his French contact Nicole, and his CIA counterpart and friend, Felix Leiter. Bond goes to a health and beauty centre where he poses as an employee and, while giving Domino a massage, is informed by her that Largo is hosting an event at a casino that evening. At the charity event, Largo and Bond play a 3-D video game called Domination; the loser of each turn receives a series of electric shocks of increasing intensity or pays a corresponding cash bet. After losing a few games, Bond ultimately wins. While dancing with Domino, Bond informs her that her brother had been killed on Largo’s orders. Bond returns to his villa to find Blush has killed Nicole by drowning her in a water bed. After a vehicle chase on his Q-branch motorbike, Blush captures Bond. She admits that she is impressed with him, and forces Bond to declare in writing that she is his “Number One” sexual partner. Bond distracts her with promises, then uses his Q-branch-issue fountain pen to kill Blush with an explosive dart.
Bond and Leiter attempt to board Largo’s motor yacht, the Flying Saucer, in search of the missing nuclear warheads. Bond finds Domino. He attempts to make Largo jealous by kissing Domino in front of a two-way mirror. Largo becomes enraged, traps Bond and takes him and Domino to Palmyra, Largo’s base of operations in North Africa. Largo coldly punishes Domino for her betrayal by selling her to some passing Arabs. Bond subsequently escapes from his prison and rescues her.
Domino and Bond reunite with Leiter on a United States Navy submarine and track Largo to a location known as the Tears of Allah, below a desert oasis on the Ethiopian Coast. Bond and Leiter infiltrate the underground facility and a gun battle erupts between Leiter’s team and Largo’s men in the temple. In the confusion, Largo makes a getaway with the second of the warheads, the first already defused in Washington DC. Bond catches and fights Largo underwater. Just as Largo tries to use a spear gun to shoot Bond, he is shot with a spear gun by Domino, taking revenge for her brother’s death. Bond retires from duty and returns to the Bahamas with Domino, vowing to never again go back to being a secret agent.
- Sean Connery as James Bond, MI6 agent 007.
- Klaus Maria Brandauer as Maximillian Largo, who is based on the character Emilio Largo. Billionaire businessman and SPECTRE Number 1, SPECTRE’s senior-most agent.
- Barbara Carrera as Fatima Blush, based on Fiona Volpe; SPECTRE Number 12, assigned to hunt down and kill Bond.
- Kim Basinger as Domino Petachi, sister of Jack Petachi and girlfriend/mistress of Maximillian Largo. The surname was changed to Petrescu for the Italian release of the film.
- Rowan Atkinson as Nigel Small-Fawcett, Foreign Office representative in the Bahamas.
- Bernie Casey as Felix Leiter, Bond’s CIA contact and friend.
- Max von Sydow as Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the head of SPECTRE.
- Edward Fox as M, Bond’s superior at MI6.
- Gavan O’Herlihy as Captain Jack Petachi, a USAF pilot used by SPECTRE to steal the nuclear missiles, and Domino Petachi’s brother.
- Alec McCowen as Algernon/Q, Double-0 section Quartermaster who issues specialised equipment to Bond.
- Ronald Pickup as Elliott, a government agent working under M.
- Pamela Salem as Miss Moneypenny, M’s secretary.
- Saskia Cohen Tanugi as Nicole, Bond’s ill fated French contact.
- Prunella Gee as Patricia Fearing, a physiotherapist at the clinic.
- Valerie Leon as Lady in Bahamas, a fisher & tourist attracted to Bond.
- John Stephen Hill as Communications Officer.
- Milow Kirek as Dr. Kovacs, a nuclear physicist recruited by SPECTRE to oversee the recovery & deployment of the nuclear warheads. Based on Dr. Ladislav Kutze.
- Pat Roach as Lippe, a SPECTRE assassin who tries to kill Bond at the clinic.
- Anthony Sharp as Lord Ambrose, Foreign Secretary who orders M to reactivate the Double-0 section.
Never Say Never Again had its origins in the early 1960s, following the controversy over the 1961 Thunderball novel. Fleming had worked with independent producer Kevin McClory and scriptwriter Jack Whittingham on a script for a potential Bond film, to be called Longitude 78 West, which was subsequently abandoned because of the costs involved. Fleming, “always reluctant to let a good idea lie idle”, turned this into the novel Thunderball, for which he did not credit either McClory or Whittingham; McClory then took Fleming to the High Court in London for breach of copyright and the matter was settled in 1963. After Eon Productions started producing the Bond films, it subsequently made a deal with McClory, who would produce Thunderball, and then not make any further version of the novel for a period of ten years following the release of the Eon-produced version in 1965.
In the mid-1970s McClory again started working on a project to bring a Thunderball adaptation to production and, with the working title Warhead, he brought writer Len Deighton together with Sean Connery to work on a script. The script ran into difficulties after accusations from Eon Productions that the project had gone beyond copyright restrictions, which confined McClory to a film based on the Thunderball novel only, and once again the project was deferred.
Towards the end of the 1970s developments were reported on the project under the name James Bond of the Secret Service, but when producer Jack Schwartzman became involved and cleared a number of the legal issues that still surrounded the project he brought on board scriptwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr. to work on the screenplay. Connery was unhappy with some aspects of the work and asked Tom Mankiewicz, who had rewritten Diamonds Are Forever, to work on the script; however, Mankiewicz declined as he felt he was under a moral obligation to Eon’s Albert R. Broccoli. Connery then hired British television writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais to undertake re-writes, although they went uncredited for their efforts despite much of the final shooting script being theirs. This was because of a restriction by the Writers Guild of America.
The film underwent one final change in title: after Connery had finished filming Diamonds Are Forever he had pledged that he would “never” play Bond again. Connery’s wife, Micheline, suggested the title Never Say Never Again, referring to her husband’s vow and the producers acknowledged her contribution by listing on the end credits “Title “Never Say Never Again” by: Micheline Connery”. A final attempt by Fleming’s trustees to block the film was made in the High Court in London in the spring of 1983, but this was thrown out by the court and Never Say Never Again was permitted to proceed.
When producer Kevin McClory had first planned the film in 1964 he held initial talks with Richard Burton for the part of Bond, although the project came to nothing because of the legal issues involved. When the Warhead project was launched in the late 1970s, a number of actors were mentioned in the trade press, including Orson Welles for the part of Blofeld, Trevor Howard to play M and Richard Attenborough as director.
In 1978 the working title James Bond of the Secret Service was being used and Connery was in the frame once again, potentially going head-to-head with the next Eon Bond film, Moonraker. By 1980, with legal issues again causing the project to founder, Connery thought himself unlikely to play the role, as he stated in an interview in the Sunday Express: “when I first worked on the script with Len I had no thought of actually being in the film”.
When producer Jack Schwartzman became involved, he asked Connery to play Bond; Connery agreed, asking (and getting) a fee of $3 million, ($8 million in 2018 dollars) a percentage of the profits, as well as casting and script approval. Subsequent to Connery reprising the role, the script has several references to Bond’s advancing years – playing on Connery being 52 at the time of filming – and academic Jeremy Black has pointed out that there are other aspects of age and disillusionment in the film, such as the Shrubland’s porter referring to Bond’s car (“They don’t make them like that anymore.”), the new M having no use for the 00 section and Q with his reduced budgets.
For the main villain in the film, Maximillian Largo, Connery suggested Klaus Maria Brandauer, the lead of the 1981 Academy Award-winning Hungarian film Mephisto. Through the same route came Max von Sydow as Ernst Stavro Blofeld, although he still retained his Eon-originated white cat in the film. For the femme fatale, director Irvin Kershner selected former model and Playboy cover girl Barbara Carrera to play Fatima Blush – the name coming from one of the early scripts of Thunderball. Carrera’s performance as Fatima Blush earned her a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress, which she lost to Cher for her role in Silkwood. Micheline Connery, Sean’s wife, had met up-and-coming actress Kim Basinger at a hotel in London and suggested her to Connery, which he agreed upon. For the role of Felix Leiter, Connery spoke with Bernie Casey, saying that as the Leiter role was never remembered by audiences, using a black Leiter might make him more memorable. Others cast included comedian Rowan Atkinson, who later parodied Bond in his role of Johnny English.
Irvin Kershner, who had achieved success in 1980 with The Empire Strikes Back was then hired. A number of the crew from the 1981 film Raiders of the Lost Ark were also appointed, including first assistant director David Tomblin, director of photography Douglas Slocombe, second unit director Mickey Moore and production designers Philip Harrison and Stephen Grimes.
Filming for Never Say Never Again began on 27 September 1982 on the French Riviera for two months before moving to Nassau, the Bahamas in mid-November where filming took place at Clifton Pier, which was also one of the locations used in Thunderball. The Spanish city of Almería was also used as a location. Largo’s Palmyran fortress was actually historic Fort Carré in Antibes. Largo’s ship, the Flying Saucer, was portrayed by the yacht Kingdom 5KR, then owned by Saudi billionaire Adnan Khashoggi and called the Nabila. Principal photography finished at Elstree Studios where interior shots were filmed. Elstree also housed the Tears of Allah underwater cavern, which took three months to construct. Most of the filming was completed in the spring of 1983, although there was some additional shooting during the summer of 1983.
Production on the film was troubled, with Connery taking on many of the production duties with assistant director David Tomblin. Director Irvin Kershner was critical of producer Jack Schwartzman, saying that, while he was a good businessman, “he didn’t have the experience of a film producer”. After the production ran out of money, Schwartzman had to fund further production out of his own pocket and later admitted he had underestimated the amount the film would cost to make. There was tension on set between Schwartzman and Connery, who at times barely spoke to each other. Connery was unimpressed with the perceived lack of professionalism behind the scenes and was on record as saying that the whole production was a ‘bloody Mickey Mouse operation!’
Steven Seagal, who was the fight choreographer for this film, broke Connery’s wrist while training. On an episode of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Connery revealed he did not know his wrist was broken until over a decade later.
James Horner was both Kershner’s and Schwartzman’s first choice to compose the score after being impressed with his work on Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Horner, who worked in London for most of the time, wound up unavailable according to Kershner, though Schwartzman later claimed Sean Connery vetoed the American. Frequent Bond composer John Barry was invited, but declined out of loyalty to Eon.
The music for Never Say Never Again was written by Michel Legrand, who composed a score similar to his work as a jazz pianist. The score has been criticised as “anachronistic and misjudged”, “bizarrely intermittent” and “the most disappointing feature of the film”. Legrand also wrote the main theme “Never Say Never Again”, which featured lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman — who had also worked with Legrand in the Academy Award-winning song, “The Windmills of Your Mind” — and was performed by Lani Hall after Bonnie Tyler, who disliked the song, had reluctantly declined.
Phyllis Hyman also recorded a potential theme song, written by Stephen Forsyth and Jim Ryan, but the song—an unsolicited submission—was passed over given Legrand’s contractual obligations with the music.
Many of the elements of the Eon-produced Bond films were not present in Never Say Never Again for legal reasons. These included the gun barrel sequence, where a screen full of 007 symbols appeared instead, and similarly there was no “James Bond Theme” to use, although no effort was made to supply another tune. A pre-credits sequence was filmed but not used; instead the film opens with the credits run over the top of the opening sequence of Bond on a training mission.
Never Say Never Again premiered in New York on 7 October 1983, grossing $9.72 million ($24 million in 2018 dollars) on its first weekend, which was reported to be “the best opening record of any James Bond film” up to that point and surpassing Octopussy‘s $8.9 million ($22 million in 2018 dollars) from June that year. The film went on general release in the US in 1,500 cinemas on 14 October 1983 and had its UK premiere at the Warner West End cinema in Leicester Square on 14 December 1983. Worldwide, Never Say Never Again grossed $160 million in box office returns, which was a solid return on the budget of $36 million. The film ultimately earned less than Octopussy which grossed $187.5 million.
Warner Bros. released Never Say Never Again on VHS and Betamax in 1984, and on laserdisc in 1995. After Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer purchased the distribution rights in 1997 (see Legacy, below), the company has released the film on both VHS and DVD.