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The influence of the Sean Connery era in 'GoldenEye'

With the death of the first onscreen James Bond actor last Saturday at the age of 90, November, the month where GOLDENEYE will celebrate its silver anniversary in two weeks, had a tough beginning. It is undeniable that the 1960s era of Bond is the one that defined how the character should be. And Connery's uttering of the words "Bond, James Bond" was so memorable that everyone that followed him in the role of 007 -Brosnan included- was afraid to replicate.

Feeling that Timothy Dalton's take on James Bond was too dark and Roger Moore's relied too much on humoristic gags, director Martin Campbell decided that the Sean Connery era was the right approach for GOLDENEYE after watching the first 16 films on tape once he was chosen as the director for the first Bond adventure of the 1990s.

Pierce Brosnan, the new Bond, was very fond of Connery due to a personal connection to his childhood: aged 11 after arriving in London from Ireland, GOLDFINGER was the first film he watched in colour on the big screen. In many interviews, he revealed that the impact of watching a naked lady covered in gold paint, a tough Korean sidekick with a deadly hat and a strong leading hero influenced his choice of acting as a career.

GOLDENEYE begins with an action-packed pre-credits sequence where James Bond blows a chemical weapons facility in the Soviet Union. During the first three minutes, we only see him behind his back or covered by the shadows, until we first see his face as he drops a one-liner to a surprised soldier busy on a bathroom stall: "Beg your pardon. Forgot to knock", he says before knocking the surprised goon out. Over three decades earlier, Connery was also introduced through this mystery game by director Terence Young: all we see of him is his back or hands picking up a cigarette or dealing the cards during a chemin-de-fer game. When he introduces himself as "Bond, James Bond", we are get one of the most famous moments in cinema history.

After the main titles of GOLDENEYE, the action moves to Monte Carlo and its famous casino. Here, Brosnan meets Xenia Onatopp. Normally, during the Connery era, Bond meets either a girl or an enemy during a game of cards: Sylvia Trench in DR. NO, Emilio Largo in THUNDERBALL and Plenty O'Toole in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. In GOLDENEYE, Bond meets a girl who is also closely linked to the villain at the Casino de Monte Carlo, defeating her at a baccarat game and then initiating a conquest. The woman has her own plans that doesn't involve Bond, but nevertheless, the structure of 007's meeting with Sylvia Trench is very similar: the woman bets high, Bond goes banco and ultimately defeats her. That leads to a conversation where they know each other. But while Trench is just another conquest of the secret agent that has no direct relevance to the plot, Onatopp is the first concrete contact Bond has with a messager for the main villain.

Perhaps the most visual connection between the Bonds of Connery and Brosnan is the iconic car they share: a 1964 Aston Martin DB5. First featured in GOLDFINGER, making then a brief reappearance in the following film, THUNDERBALL, this car has been instantly associated with the image of Bond as much as the gunbarrel iconography or the 007 logo. Nevertheless, in an attempt to dissociate Roger Moore's image from Connery's portrayal, this car was never featured again in thirty years: George Lazenby drove a DBS model in ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE while Timothy Dalton sat behind the wheel of a V8 Vantage in THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, but Brosnan was the one that was christened as a sort of "spiritual heir" to Connery's Bond by having the privilege of driving the classic silver vehicle, with a small difference in the number plate: BMT 214A instead of the original BMT 216A.

The Aston Martin DB5 is driven by Bond over the mountain roads of the South of France, in a setting that is very reminiscent to Andermatt, the place where Connery tails Auric Goldfinger's Rolls Royce Phantom onboard his DB5. While Connery's Bond investigates his nemesis, he is also stalked by Tilly Masterson. In GOLDENEYE, this is somehow replicated as 007 shares an informal, seductive race against Xenia's Ferrari 355 under the disapproving eye of Caroline, the therapist MI6 sent to evaluate him.

GOLDENEYE's main villain is revealed to be Alec Trevelyan, former agent 006. Much of his antics are related to the antagonist of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE and DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER: Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the same role played by Donald Pleasence and Charles Gray, respectively. The MI6 traitor has his hi-tech base hidden under a peaceful lake in Cuba, while Pleasence's Blofeld conceals it under the crater of an inactive volcano in Japan. From there, Trevelyan uses a satellite to disable things that are valuable to his enemy: the GoldenEye space weapon, which can set off an EMP blast to affect England's economy and technology, setting them back to the Stone Age. In the 1971 film, Gray's Blofeld uses a laser ray made out of diamonds to destroy the arsenal of the world's superpowers, holding them to ransom. And similarly to Tiger Tanaka, Head of the Japanese Intelligence in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, Trevelyan moves trough Russia in an abandoned ICBM train refurnished as a mobile office and surroundings that remind to Czar Nicholas' Romanov's Imperial Train.

A few more connections to the Connery era can be found as Bond has a close encounter with Xenia Onatopp in the spa of St Petersburg's Grand Europe Hotel, a steamy, sexual fight that bears a distant connection to the famous barn combat between Bond and Pussy Galore in GOLDFINGER. The cruelty of the close-quarters showdown between 007 and 006 in the antenna was also inspired by the intensity of two Sean Connery fights, the one against Robert Shaw's Red Grant in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and Joe Robinson's Peter Franks in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER.

Even the unofficial Kevin McClory production NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN, directed by Irvin Kershner and starring Sean Connery outside the canonic EON-produced series, has a few links to GOLDENEYE, albeit less important: this was the first time 007 used a laser watch as a gadget, and Billy J. Mitchell features as Captain Pederson, 12 years before becoming the ill-fated Admiral "Chuck" Farrel in the 17th Bond movie.

Sean Connery departed from this world during his sleep on October 31st, 2020. His contribution to the James Bond franchise will never be forgotten because he was much more than being "a great Bond". He was a Bond who marked a generation, a pop-culture icon the kids growing up in the 60s could identify with. Pierce Brosnan was one of these kids, and he himself would become the pop-culture icon kids growing up in the 90s could identify with. This is precisely why both eras are well-remembered, and why both are still considered by many as the best Bonds to have ever graced the big screen.

The author has written The World of GoldenEye and, more recently, The Films of Martin Campbell

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