O.K. Connery

OK ConnerySynopsis: Neil Connery (brother of Sean) stars in this spoof of the JAMES BOND films. A master criminal plans to blackmail Allied governments so that he can control half of the world’s gold supply. 

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O.K. Connery 3.5

eyelights: Neil Connery. the James Bond-related cast. the ham-fisted nods to the James Bond series.
eyesores: Neil Connery. the cheap production. the poor direction. the weak writing.

“Well, well, well. It looks like nobody in your family is a rank amateur, hmm?”

Little known fact: Sean Connery’s brother, Neil Connery, was also an actor.

Was.

For three movies (one of which is a mere cameo in ‘Zuijia paidang zhi nuhuang miling’).

And some television.

Clearly, he wasn’t box office gold. And didn’t exactly light up the screen with his raw magnetism.

‘O.K. Connery’ was the first of these movies. Released in 1967, a few months before ‘You Only Live Twice‘, and one week before ‘Casino Royale (1967)‘, it is clearly designed to exploit the James Bond series. In fact, it’s actually a James Bond knock-off, with Neil playing the secret agent’s brother, with many of the original series’ actors returning (albeit in different, but similar parts), and many of the series’ flourishes.

But there’s only one Bond, and it’s nigh impossible for any other film producers to replicate the Bond formula without having access to the right ingredients (naturally, EON Productions are extremely protective of anything closely identified with their series). It doesn’t change the fact that many have tried to plunder the James Bond series’ success, however, especially during the ’60s and ’70s – as we will see in coming months.

The Italian producers of ‘O.K. Connery’ probably came the closest, considering that they had no legal rights to the characters of the James Bond series (unlike the filmmakers of ‘Casino Royale (1967)’ or ‘Never Say Never Again‘). Perhaps it was the Connery connection that allowed them that extra latitude (as also evidenced in ‘Spymaker‘) but somehow they got away with ripping off many of the series’ conventions – just not the key ones.

Not that anyone would notice: ‘O.K. Connery’ (which was renamed ‘Operation Kid Brother’ in North America) has effectively been lost in the shuffle, being a dismal failure on a commercial and critical level. Its soundtrack, which was partially composed by Ennio Morricone himself, was not even released at the time. And the film is not even officially available on DVD as of yet (although it can be streamed through some official distribution channels).

And rightly so: ‘O.K. Connery’ is a load of crap. I won’t mince words here. As much as I love a lot of James Bond-related material, and that ‘O.K. Connery’ does tap into some enjoyable aspects of the series, it’s an inefficient, ill-conceived and poorly-executed motion picture. It reeks of cheapness, features pathetically weak performances, and subsists on a script that is ridiculous to say the least – and the latter is its greatest asset.

This motion picture finds Neil Connery as… Dr. Neil Connery, a cosmetic surgeon with the ability to hypnotize people with a blink and to lip-read even when his back is turned (a perfect example of the film’s poor direction). Despite his many protests, he is enlisted by the British Secret Service to find a secret agent who was kidnapped by the criminal organization Thanathos, and ends up unveiling a secret plot to ransom world governments.

Sound familiar?

The biggest twist is that Dr. Neil Connery is the brother of James Bond. It’s never said explicitly (likely due to legal reasons), but it’s hinted at many times over, with the other characters beginning to say James Bond’s name and iconic agent number but stopping midway, interrupted. Even his somewhat similar looks are exploited and commented upon: Connery’s hair is styled like Sean’s and he wears mascara to highlight his eyes. Forget the fact that he’s shorter and sports a goatee.

The amusing thing is that there are jibes about his looks and ability: Lois Maxwell (who played Miss Moneypenny in the original series), comments on his looks, saying he’s almost as good looking as his brother. And Bernard Lee (who played M in the original series) congratulates Dr. Neil Connery at the end of the film saying something along the lines that he was almost as good as his brother. Ouch. Talk about standing in the shadows…

Aside for Lois Maxwell and Bernard Lee, who play British Secret Service agents Miss Maxwell and Commander Cunningham, there are other familiar faces peppering the picture, such as Daniela Bianchi (Tatiana Romanova in ‘From Russia With Love‘) as Maya Rafis, Adolfo Celi (Emilio Largo in ‘Thunderball‘) and Anthony Dawson (Professor Dent in ‘Dr. No‘). They are all exploited to the maximum, being granted significant roles in the picture.

For James Bond fans it all sounds so very exciting, but it’s nothing more than a guetapens:

  • The opening theme song is so gawdawful that one could cleanse one’s palate with the one from ‘Never Say Never Again’.
  • The score is vaguely Bond-ish, but it’s so repetitive and loud that it actually overwhelms the film.
  • The gadgets are lame, as though designed by a grade school boy: a belt that turns into a spear (don’t ask!), a lapel-flower camera, a knife with a projectile blade, …etc.
  • The vehicles are run of the mill – aside for a remote-controlled exploding car at the beginning.
  • The sets are frequently so cheap-looking that they look like they were designed for high school plays (ex: Thanatos’ meeting room or the underground lair).
  • The girls are generally pretty but are mostly vacuous, like pretty trinkets for the film and nothing more.
  • Maya, the main villainess isn’t threatening in the least. Not only is she too flamboyant to properly do covert operations, she looks like she never learned to run. Pathetic. But pretty.
  • The fight sequences are so poorly choreographed that there are moments when you can see the actors struggling to do what is asked of them.
  • The fight sequences are so poorly edited together that you can tell when stuntmen are used, just like in those early ‘Star Trek’ episodes.
  • The ending, which should be the peak moment of the film, consists of an invasion of Thanatos’ lair by bowmen – against men with guns, who seem to have forgotten how to use their weapons.
  • Connery and Thayer, the chief villain, duke it out hand-to-hand before then having a bow and arrow duel. Really. Guess who wins? I’ll give you three guesses…

Even though it is credited to four writers, the screenplay is so amateurish that it frequently doesn’t make sense.For example, at one point, Thayer decides to compel Connery to do plastic surgery on a man that he wants as a replacement for the leader of Thanatos. But he expects it to be done overnight, so that he can then take over Thanatos the next day. Honestly? This guy won’t need any recovery time whatsoever?

There’s also this one female character who keeps popping up wherever Dr. Connery is, even when he flies to different countries, or when he goes back to his apartment. Suddenly, there she is, on all fours, looking for something she lost on the ground, in a vain attempt to attract his attention. Which she does: but they keep getting interrupted by Ms. Maxwell and Colonel Cunningham. Comedic? Pathetic? Both?

It doesn’t help that the direction is also ridiculous. There’s this scene in which Maya decides to use her female employees to distract a bunch of soldiers. So they dress up as garish dancing girls and stop them on the highway, in the middle of nowhere. The soldiers naturally don’t bat an eye at the oddness of this circumstances and spontaneously leave with the girls, only to be taken out of commission.

There’s an amazing scene in which Dr. Connery infiltrates Thanatos’ Arabian rug-making operation (yes, rug-making), in which they only use blind men to do the work. So he dresses up and pretends to be blind, tapping his cane incessantly, as though he had a nervous tick. And then he frequently stops while walking, looks around and then continues to pretend he’s blind. Then starts a revolt of the blind workers.

Le sigh... but what more can you expect from the director of Italian Hercules rip-off films?

And to say that Neil Connery’s acting abilities are serviceable is really just being polite. The guy had no charisma or presence whatsoever. Most of the time he’s expressionless, and when he isn’t he’s either lascivious or sulky. As for his physical abilities, he doesn’t have any. Whereas Sean had a panther-like quality, Neil looks like a grocery store clerk who is play-acting as an action star.

Granted, it was his first film, and he shouldn’t be compared with his effortlessly magnetic older brother, but Neil really doesn’t show any signs of being naturally-gifted here. He’s a weak leading man, bogging down most of the scenes he’s in. But he could have been an okay villain; he has a creepy quality about him that is somewhat akin to Dr. No’s. Except without the presence to be effective.

The only strong point of ‘O.K. Connery’, aside from its James Bond-connected cast, is the the power struggle going on behind the scenes at Thanatos. It’s rare that the villains are given much to work with aside from mounting a plan and having it defeated by their nemesis, so it was kind of cool to see that there was more to it. In fact, Thayer was actually a main character, getting a lot of screen time.

But that’s it. Beyond that, ‘O.K. Connery’ (or ‘Operation Kid Brother’ or ‘Operation Double 007’ or ‘Secret Agent 00’) is a total washout; it’s no wonder that they didn’t bother to make a second one. Beyond the curious, there probably weren’t many people who were genuinely entertained by this picture – not even younger audiences. I can’t fathom anyone involved with this proudly putting it on their resume.

It is said that the producers of this film offered Neil Connery to Eon Productions as a replacement for Sean after he left the series (which was right after this), but that they were turned down. Neil would only grace the screen a few more times, mostly on the small screen, and then contented himself with running a plaster business in Glasgow. Honestly, it’s no great loss: this Connery was barely OK.

Dates of viewings: August 28-9, 2014

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