Happy heavenly birthday, Sean Connery

Nineteen sixty-two is among the most significant years in modern history, and Thursday marked a special anniversary. 

The Cuban Missile Crisis drove the world to the brink of extinction, the oral polio vaccine developed by Albert Sabin saved millions of lives, the legendary Marilyn Monroe was found dead, and the big screen was introduced to a new hero.

What an introduction it was.

Having lost a few hands at baccarat, the bewitching Sylvia Trench proposes raising the stakes.

"I admire your courage, Miss...?" responds an unseen man.

"Trench — Sylvia Trench.  I admire your luck, Mr...?" answers Sylvia.

"Bond — James Bond," he replies tersely, as he, handsomely dressed in a black tuxedo, flips open a gold lighter to illuminate a cigarette dangling from his lips.

The moment made cinematic history and catapulted Sean Connery to superstardom.

In addition to commercial success, the films also served as effective narrative tools for the West during the Cold War era.

Bond became a universal icon symbolizing the freedom and the benevolence of the West.  It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that for regular people, the narrative of the Cold War was effectively shaped by these pictures and myriad other imitations.

Connery's Bond was the brave patriot defending his country and its values while enjoying all the extravagances afforded only through free-market capitalism. 

This was aspirational to many, irrespective of nationality — perhaps even for people in the former Soviet Union.  It was a perfect instance of the effective usage of soft power.

Beyond politics, Bond was who every man wanted to be.  He was always surrounded by beautiful women; enjoyed the finest luxuries in life, from Savile Row Suits to Beluga caviar; always outwitted the villain; and always won for his country.  He did it all with good humor.

Connery's brilliant performances, unique onscreen charisma, and distinctive voice defined James Bond and made him the iconic screen superhero who is still loved by audiences worldwide.

On the 92nd anniversary of Sir Sean Connery's birth, here's an attempt to rank all of his Bond movies.

7. Never Say Never Again (1983)

Two decades after Connery first took on the Bond role, he starred in this film, which was an adaptation of the novel Thunderball.

This wasn't part of the official Bond series, hence it already had the disadvantage of lacking standard elements such as the Bond theme, the opening gun barrel sequence, and the beloved supporting cast.

Connery had complained about the domination of technical wizardry in the subsequent Bond films.  This was an opportunity to be more plot-driven, like his earlier films, and perhaps even explore the fact that 007 was aging while retaining the elements of humor, action, and adventure.

Alas, the makers opted for the safer route and retained the lightheartedness the audiences loved.

This was an enjoyable film that obviously lacked the gravitas of Connery's earlier Bond pictures, and on occasions seemed like an unintended parody.

Despite the break, Connery was in fine form, taking on international criminal organizations and amorous Bond girls with equal aplomb while acknowledging his advancing age with good humor.

6. You Only Live Twice (1967)

The formula that made Bond a success was established.  The result was majestic sets, car and aerial chases, and Bond becoming Japanese.

The film was good fun, but the freshness and the ingenuity of the earlier films were lacking.

Donald Pleasence did well as the sinister Ernst Stavro Blofeld — his bald-headed, scar-faced look was lampooned as Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers films.

Despite the script not presenting him with anything new, Connery, who by this time in the series had relaxed into the role, did remarkably well.

5. Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

This was Connery's last film in the official Bond series.  It was the '70s, and the Cold War was no longer the threat it was during the '60s.  The product?  The Bond films became more lighthearted and bordered on comical.

The magnificent Charles Gray, who played Bond ally Dikko Henderson in You Only Live Twice, now played Blofeld.  Blofeld, who in the previous films spoke in a non-specific sinister European accent, transitioned to a perfect English accent.  It was hard to think of him as an adversary of the West.  But the film never took itself too seriously, and neither should the audience.

The film had some amusing action sequences, such as Bond driving a moon buggy while being chased across a desert and flipping his Mustang up on two wheels while being chased on the roads of Las Vegas.

The film is good fun, and Connery packed a solid punch as Bond, once again, despite not being in the prime physical form he was during the '60s.

4. Goldfinger (1963)

Goldfinger was the first Bond film to be filmed in the U.S.

It was the third in the series and was made on a much grander scale than its predecessors.

The results were remarkable, as almost every aspect of Goldfinger became iconic.  It became a worldwide blockbuster while Bond became a verified cultural phenomenon.

It established the formula for the Bond films, with megalomaniac villains, spectacular stunts, opulent sets, beautiful Bond girls with risqué names, gadgets, guns, and humor.

Gert Fröbe was terrific as the wicked Auric Goldfinger, while the lovely Honor Blackman did well as Pussy Galore.

At the center was Connery displaying the intelligence, the ruthlessness, and the humor of 007.

3. Thunderball (1965)

This is the highest-grossing Bond film of all time if adjusted for inflation.

SPECTRE holds NATO ransom with two hijacked atomic bombs, and only Bond can save the day.

The film had it all: exotic and picturesque beaches in the Bahamas, Adolfo Celi's eye patch–sporting villain Emilio Largo, and two terrific female leads in Claudine Auger and Luciana Paluzzi.

Connery was in top form, mixing up the dark and the light impeccably.

2. Dr. No (1962)

This was the very first Bond film.

The lack of a big budget meant the sets were not as grand, the gadgets weren't as inventive, and the action set pieces lacked detail.

This worked to the film's advantage.  Bond had to rely on his wits, his skills as a detective, and his fists to outmaneuver the devilish Doctor No.

It produced a wittier, darker, and more plot-driven film.

The lovely Ursula Andress was delightful as Honey Ryder, the first on-screen Bond girl.

1. From Russia with Love (1963)

This isn't just Connery's best Bond film, but the best in the entire series.

The plot — SPECTRE setting MI6 and the KGB against each other to steal a decoding device — was clever.

The film has many iconic sequences, such as the fight in the tribal setup of Turkey, the fist fight between Bond and SPECTRE henchman Red Grant on a train, and the first introduction to Ernst Stavro Blofeld.  However, the audience wasn't shown his face.  We only heard his voice and saw his hands petting a white blue-eyed Turkish Angora.  Bond's ally Kerim Bey was spirited and colorful.

Sean Connery delivered his best performance in the series.  He is ruthless, uncompromising, focused yet sensitive.

Image: Sean Connery by unknown author, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

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