Long before EON Productions became the de facto James Bond production company, before Albert Broccoli decided to work with Harry Saltzman on producing a film based on the James Bond novels, before Harry Saltzman met Ian Fleming…long before any of what we know about James Bond ever came to be, a man named Kevin McClory gained an interest in the spy character known as Agent 007.
McClory met Fleming in 1958 and proposed the possibility of a television series based on Fleming’s soon-to-be-iconic character. Fleming had longed for the chance to move Bond from the page to the screen, and this seemed as good an opportunity as any. So McClory and Fleming began writing a new screenplay along with Jack Whittingham. Unfortunately, the project never saw the light of day. Fleming allegedly took the unfinished screenplay and adapted it into his ninth James Bond novel, Thunderball, published in 1961. Fleming did not credit McClory or Whittingham.
Naturally, McClory was furious, and he and Whittingham filed suit, which was settled out of court in 1963 forcing future versions of the novel to be credited as “based on a screen treatment by Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham, and Ian Fleming,” in that specific order.
The lawsuit prevented Broccoli, Saltzman, and their EON Productions from adapting the novel into a movie until 1965, when EON made a deal with McClory which gave him sole producing credit for the film. McClory also retained the rights to produce a remake of Thunderball after ten years.
McClory attempted to make several Bond films in the 1970s, but each of those projects were abandoned after running into legal problems with the Broccoli family.
In 1982, American producer Jack Schwartzman decided to produce a Bond film with McClory under the auspices of Warner Bros. called Never Say Never Again based on Thunderball. The project was highly publicized as it marked the return of Sean Connery to the role of James Bond after a twelve-year hiatus from 007.
The film debuted on October 7, 1983, just four months after the Roger Moore film Octopussy and was a commercial success, though it fell behind its competitor at the box office.
Never Say Never Again is a frustrating film to say the least. As a generalization, remakes are often weaker than the original, and this film follows that rule. It’s Thunderball with a few tweaks and changes. The film is entirely too self aware and simultaneously not aware of itself enough. Connery feels way too old to be playing Bond, and while Roger Moore is older, Connery just looks older.
The film suffers from an identity crisis the entire way through, and I’m assuming that has a lot to do with the fact that it had so many legal hoops to jump through. Every scene had to be combed for references to the Thunderball film; it could mirror only the Thunderball novel from 1961, not the movie from 1965. It’s because of this strict adherence to the novel at the expense of good screenwriting that the film ends up being so heavily expositional rather than allowing the action carry the story.
Not a great film at all. If you really want to see this story play out, just watch Thunderball.