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As in cricket or any other sport, cinema is a field in which endless animated discussions enhance our appreciation of the experience. Everyone has his favourite actor or actress and no amount of evidence presented to the contrary would persuade him to revise his opinion. In a sense, sports enthusiasts have an advantage as ranking is always related to performance which is usually measurable with mathematical accuracy; thus there will never be any doubt regarding Bradman’s supremacy in cricket, because of his scores(runs). This applies to other sports as well, e.g goals in football, and points in badminton and table-tennis etc. In acting, however, such yardsticks are not available and the choice of the best actor or best actress cannot be precise or exact. So the panel making the choice will invariably be accused of some lack of objectivity. Under these circumstances, how do we pick the best?
But then here also there are certain universal traits intuitively recognised by all, to be necessarily found in a great actor, whatever the society or country. These are a capacity to be realistic so as to merge with the character portrayed; an ability to convey some of the basic emotions like anger, hatred, love, sympathy, greed and jealousy in a very realistic manner; a degree of rhetoric when it is called for in a character; a capacity to improvise in a natural manner, should the events in a particular scene demand it; and a willingness to remain in the background playing a minor role, so that the hero in the movie who is a novice or of comparatively lesser stature, gets more exposure ( Example: Lawrence Olivier, who acts as a Roman nobleman in Spartacus, merges with the character so completely that he does not overshadow Kirk Douglas )
There is also an element of what is called “style” which is easily recognisable. When several actors play a similar kind of role you can easily pick the one who has it. By style we do not mean being ostentatious; on the other hand, the actor is suave, handsome and sophisticated; He has a distinct gait oozing confidence. His talk is punctuated with appropriate one-liners and puns.
Almost all the great actors of the past, in the golden age of Hollywood, had these qualities in varying degrees, Errol Flynn, Tyrone Power, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart, to name a few-however no actor possesses them today with the exception of one man–Sean Connery.
Sean Connery exemplifies” style” in the above sense as James Bond. In the first scene in the movie Dr.No, Sean Connery enters a swanky Monte Carlo Casino. He makes his presence felt, immediately. He plays a classic casino card game- known as baccarat- with a beautiful girl Sylvia Tench who keenly observes him with admiration. He casually smokes a cigarette. SYLVIA TRENCH loses the game and takes out her cheque book. She stares into his eyes and asks” Mr?” so that she can write his name in cheque. It is then that we hear Sean Connery say the famous words ‘Bond…James Bond’ with the right pause between” Bond” and”James”. It’s this moment that defines the style and charisma of Sean Connery, the super-spy whose unquestioned loyalty to King and country, ruthless efficiency in killing sadistic assassins, destroying international spy organisations with ease and a unique technique of seduction of the most beautiful girls in the world, which have gained him a legendary reputation.
Sean Connery defines the excellence of a particular type or brand of cigarette, drink, suit, shirt, tie, revolver and car which we associate only with James Bond.
He smokes a cigarette specifically, made for him by Moreland of Grosvenor Street London. He likes a dry martini (shaken, not stirred). He wears a Savile Row suit and a Sea Island cotton poplin shirt made by Turnbull & Asser of London. He also wears a Fred Perry cotton shirt. His tie is made by Cecil Gee of London. He always carries a Walter PPK revolver( he never misses a target, and makes every bullet count). He drives an Aston Martin DB car, with built-in special features like ejector seats, concealed weapons etc and carries a briefcase inside which there are several life saving small devices–after all it is the explosion that was caused when Red Grand opened it that enabled Bond to gain an advantage of a few vital seconds to attack Red Grant and kill him. That signature briefcase of James Bond has become famous and popular all over the world with business executives and seasoned travellers. I used to childishly, but pardonably boast that I was perhaps one of the first persons to possess such a Bond briefcase which I bought in Bangkok in 1961!
When Sean Connery enters a room the eyes of all the attractive women are on him. When he checks in at a luxury hotel, the receptionist can’t take her eyes off him. At a restaurant, the waitresses brush past him provocatively. And when he enters his hotel room, he looks for clues of someone having entered his room in his absence. He checks for fingerprints and looks for an almost invisible strand of his own hair he had pasted across the double- door at the entrance, the absence of which indicates intrusion.
Sean Connery’s one-liners with puns which he himself coins( unlike the other actors who played Bond) are witty and clever. In Dr No, Ursula Andres as Honey Rider is collecting shells on the beach. When Sean Connery approaches her she asks him what he is looking for. Sean answers” just-looking”.
While chatting with her she narrates that a man had raped her and that in revenge, she made a poisonous spider bite him. He took a whole week to die. She innocently asks him” did I do wrong” Sean replies” no, but it wouldn’t do to make a habit of it” making his intention clear.
In Thunderball after shooting Vargas with a spear gun, Sean Connery says” I think he got the point”
In Goldfinger, he throws a fan into a bathtub and electrocutes a Villian. Before leaving he says” shocking, positively shocking !”
In Thunderball again he comes out with two classic one-liners. When Claudine Auger as Domino emerges from the water, Sean Connery as Bond says ” My dear uncooperative Domino”. Domino replies” How do you know that ? How do you know my friends call me Domino?” Sean replies” it’s on the bracelet on your ankle”. Domino says again” So, what sharp little eyes you’ve got”. He replies” wait till you get to my teeth”.
In Goldfinger, when Sean Connery suddenly wakes up, in a scene he sees a very beautiful girl. With half-opened eyes, he asks” who are you? “. She replies “ My name is Pussy Galore”. Bond says” I must be dreaming”.
Sean Connery is the gold standard against which all other Bonds are judged or measured And there has never been a Bond as suave, handsome, and genuine as Sean Connery before Dr No or after” Diamond is forever”. He is James Bond- all the others are pale imitations. Sean Connery reinforces this image in every Bond movie. The fantastic fight with Red Grant in a compartment in the Orient Express, in which he strangles him with a watch in the end and the manner in which he electrocutes Odd Job in Gold Finger, are just two examples. He flirts with danger constantly as he flirts with pretty women, before seducing them. The element of danger adds spice to either activity.
Cinematography today is completely controlled by computers, which create all special effects, such as space ships, space fights using laser guns and holographic images. This generation does not experience the thrill of watching a sword fight between Stewart Granger and Mel Ferrer but enjoys watching the fight using lightsabers between Darth Wader and Obi Van Kenobi in Star Wars.
In such movies, the individual actor has no role to play and hence cannot be blamed. By the very nature of their production contemporary movies do not give any chance to an actor to show his acting talent (here and there, one may come across a Robert De Niro or an Anthony Hopkins, but they are exceptions.). Technology dominates cinema like never before.
What did the actors of the early 1930s to the 1960s possess which present-day actors either do not possess or do not have a chance to display. With very little help from early cameras, poor sound equipment, studios with rudimentary facilities, those actors had to rely solely on their own acting ability, personality, and articulation. Yet another factor was their wide experience in the theatre, particularly Shakespeare and other great dramatists.
See them again at a glance, those remarkable actors ;
Lawrence Olivier the greatest actor of the twentieth century uttering the greatest soliloquy in all literature;
” To be or not to be” from Hamlet, with the right diction ( which would even the Bard would approve);
John Gielgud, uttering the words
” Et Tu, Bruté?—Then fall, Caesar”, as he brings out his shock and agony after being stabbed in the senate by his dearest friend Brutus and dies, in Julius Caesar
Richard Johnson as Cassius spitting venom in asking Brutus
“Why man he doth bestride the narrow world Like a colossus and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves? “
Referring to Julius Caesar. and Richard Harris as Cromwell, explaining in a husky voice that ‘the King is not England and England is not the King’;
Long before Richard Gere courted Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman”, dashing Errol Flynn swashbuckled his way into Olivia de Havilland’s heart in” Robin Hood”; debonair Clark Gable made Vivien Leigh’s heart flutter with the look he gave from the bottom of the stairs in “Gone with the Wind”; handsome Tyrone Power made Rita Hayworth swoon with his charm in “Blood and Sand”; and fearless and tall Gary Cooper walked down the Main Street in High Noon, to save a small western town by shooting down single-handedly the baddies, who had come to pillage and plunder.
Lawrence Olivier delivering” St Crispin’s speech” in ‘Henry V’; Alec Guinness as King Charles requesting for protection from the cold to prevent people from thinking that he was shivering out of fear of death in the movie ‘Cromwell’; Gielgud as Julius Caesar telling Charleton Heston as Antony
‘Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look. He thinks too much, such men are dangerous”– this really is acting at its best—a level beyond which it is impossible for the human ability to go.
Even Hollywood does not need or have such actors any more. Their genius lies in old celluloid films in the archives, preserved as the conscience and memories of a golden age when style, acting ability and romance defined the greatness of an actor and the excellence of a movie. They would have remained there and got totally damaged beyond repair by fungus mould but for their timely restoration by modern technology which has made it possible for moviegoers of this age( if they want) and old-timers out of nostalgia, to witness the chariot race in Ben Hur, the destruction of the philistine temple by Victor Mature( as Samson) in” Samson and Delilah” the parting of the Red Sea in “The Ten Commandments”, Charlie Chaplin impersonate Hitler in ‘Great Dictator’, Stewart Granger injure Mel Ferrer in the final sword fight in Scaramouche, and Gary Cooper with a slightly faster draw of his revolver by a split second, shoot down Burt Lancaster in Vera Cruz.
The golden age of Hollywood has therefore been recreated, for actors of this age to see and emulate those giants, and for moviegoers of today to see those magnificent films of a bygone era.
Pic Courtesy- Pixabay