The movie where Neil Connery was hired to effectively play James Bond – with a few more links to 007 thrown in for good measure as well.
The phenomenal success of the Bond series in the 60s led to an entirely new genre: the Eurospy film. Producers in Italy, France and Spain scrambled to create their own Bond imitations to cash in on the spy craze. Some played it straight, whilst others made absurd spoofs and parodies.
Yet perhaps the most surreal was undoubtedly Dario Sabatello’s OK Connery: a film starring Sean Connery’s younger brother as the British spy’s lesser-known sibling.
In 1966 Neil Connery hit the headlines after getting sacked for losing his plastering tools. He even appeared on the radio to talk about it. Director Terence Young (who helmed three official James Bond films) was surprised by how much he sounded like his famous brother, and duly told Italian producer Dario Sabatello about it.
Sabatello immediately sensed an opportunity. He arranged to meet Neil and offered to make him the lead character of his new film. Connery agreed, seeing it as a new challenge that could lead him to a much more lucrative film career. As a plasterer he was earning the equivalent of $7 to $8 an hour, but here Sabatello was offering him a $5,000 lump sum for a few months of work. He was in.
Neil wasn’t Sabatello’s only inspired casting choice. He was determined to exploit the Bond connection as much as possible, so he hired two long-running regulars in the franchise: Lois Maxwell who played Miss Moneypenny and Bernard Lee who played M. They acted as thinly disguised versions of their well-known roles. Maxwell revealed that she actually got more money from OK Connery than all the official Bond films combined.
Sabatello didn’t stop there. He cast Bond girls Daniela Bianchi and Yashuko Yama in key roles and got 007 villains Anthony Dawson and Adolfi Celi to spoof their famous characters of Blofield and Emilio Largo. He even tried to get Sean Connery to make an appearance. Alberto de Matino, who directed the film, revealed that Sean Connery got so angry when he was approached that he “literally kicked his backside.” Connery felt that the whole film exploited him and his brother. He tried to appeal to Sabatello to stop making the film but the Italian producer refused to even consider it.
OK Connery wasn’t just an immediate reference to the fact that they had a Connery on board: it was also an in-joke. Throughout Neil’s screen test, the producers kept saying “OK Connery, OK” to reassure him as he sang, danced and acted out a love scene. In America, the film was marketed as Operation Kid Brother and it had several alternative titles when it was released on video including Operation 007.
The plot is pretty outrageous. A plastic surgeon is recruited by the secret service to take down the evil organisation Thanatos. His name is Neil Connery, just like the actor playing him and he’s the brother of the Secret Service’s top agent. Inevitably, they couldn’t use the name Bond for fear of being sued.
Connery isn’t just a plastic surgeon. He is an expert archer, skilled in martial arts and one of the best hypnotists in the world. It turns out that he’s the only one who can stop Thanatos. They are building a device that can disable anything mechanical or electrical. Their plan is to get control over the world’s gold reserves by threatening to use it.
The story continues – spoilers, in case you’re planning to watch the movie cold – as Thanatos assassinates Ward Jones just as he’s about to sell information to the secret service. But all is not lost. Jones learnt hypnotism from Connery. He used one of Connery’s hypnotism techniques to relay every single piece of data he found to his girlfriend. Connery is the one person who can get the information out of her, and it leads him to a factory where blind men unknowingly make radioactive rugs that will form part of the device.
In the final climax, Connery infiltrates Thanatos’ headquarters just as they’re launching the device. Connery is caught but hypnotises the guards. Then, in one of the film’s most bizarre scenes, a group of champion archers ride to help Connery on horseback. They’re all part of Connery’s expert archery club. Together they take down Thanatos and destroy the device.
Here’s a taste of the movie…
Throughout the film, there are multiple knowing references to Bond, without anyone explicitly mentioning him. The two main villains talk about Neil’s disagreeable family but break off before mentioning Bond’s name or his 00 number. At one point, Connery’s love interest, Maya, even tells him that he reads too many novels by Ian Fleming. It’s all part of the film’s surreal charm.
The movie was released in 1967 to an indifferent audience and generally negative reviews. Critics felt that there were too many ludicrous elements, and it was questioned where Neil could carry off a lead role, especially one where he was constantly compared to his brother.
Ironically, given how he got the part, Neil got dubbed too. Like many Italian movies of the time, OK Connery was filmed without any live sound. By the time it came to record in the studio, Connery lost his voice due to a medical condition. So, in the end, Bond’s brother sounded like an American.
But despite its flaws, the film is worth watching. It offers a unique and intriguing take on a Bond film. We get to see the Bond actors we know in an altered setting led by a Connery. Lois Maxwell even plays a much more aggressive version of Miss Moneypenny, and in one scene, she shoots at the villains with a machine gun herself.
As for the lead actor, Neil didn’t have Sean’s panache or charisma but he ended up giving a credible performance, especially for a non-actor.
Neil acted in a few more films after OK Connery but soon went back to being a plasterer.
Sadly he could never live up to the late Sean Connery on the big screen. But it was an interesting diversion to see him try.
Wonder what Daniel Craig’s family is up to?
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