We all know that Commander James Bond of the British Royal Navy and licensed-to-kill agent of the MI6 secret service was Sean Connery's greatest role, but the actor also played more than 80 roles aside from 007.
Some of those roles had Connery in uniform. Here are his most notable military performances.
1. The Hunt for Red October (1990)
The first of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan movies remains the best of the lot and it's not because of Alec Baldwin's performance as the CIA analyst. Sean Connery's Soviet submarine Capt. Marko Ramius is every bit as iconic a character as James Bond and the actor nails his performance.
Ramius commands the Soviet submarine Red October and decides to defect once he learns that the submarine has nuclear first-strike capabilities. As he maneuvers his sub across the Atlantic, Ryan is the only American who realizes what the captain plans to do and must convince the U.S. government that the Soviets aren't planning an attack.
Directed by the gifted John McTiernan ("Die Hard," "Predator," "Basic"), "The Hunt for Red October" keeps the tension level high throughout without the benefit of extended action scenes. Connery was never better.
2. The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
Written and directed by the legendary John Huston ("The Maltese Falcon," "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," "The African Queen"), co-starring Michael Caine and adapted from a Rudyard Kipling novella, the movie follows two British military veterans who take off from India and find themselves in the Kafiristan region of Afghanistan.
The locals mistake Connery's Danny Dravot for a god and make him their king. Caine's Peachy Carnahan wants to abscond with the kingdom's treasury but Dravot thinks he likes being a king. Once their scheme unravels (because gods don't bleed and Connery does), the two try to make their escape.
Huston frames the story with Carnahan sharing the tale with Kipling (Christopher Plummer) after the adventure ends, since Kipling plays a part in their decision to leave India in the first place.
Both Connery and Caine are having a fantastic time and Huston never lets the movie's critique of British colonialism get in the way of the adventure. Huston loved the book as a child and had originally planned to make the film in the early 1950s with Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart in the lead roles. That could've been an amazing movie, but Connery and Caine are among the few star pairings that can compete with the original plan.
3. The Presidio (1988)
"The Presidio" is an excellent military thriller about the conspiracy behind the murder of an MP on the San Francisco Army base. Connery plays Lt. Col. Alan Caldwell, the base's Provost Marshal, and Meg Ryan is Donna Caldwell, the wayward daughter who's struggling under her father's close eye.
Mark Harmon is SFPD Inspector Jay Austin, an Army veteran who served under Caldwell and the detective sent to investigate the murder. It's a movie, so the two men have a complicated and competitive mentor/student relationship.
"The Presidio" was directed by Peter Hyams, the efficient director who made tough-guy classics like "Capricorn One," "Narrow Margin," "Timecop" and "End of Days." Connery ditches the hairpiece, takes a pass at an American accent and plays more of a working-class character than we're used to seeing from him.
The script is tight and written by Larry Ferguson, who also co-wrote "The Hunt for Red October." It's the kind of adult movie that used to open every weekend at movie theaters, something that's really entertaining and never too demanding.
4. A Bridge Too Far (1977)
A three-hour epic about a failed Allied campaign during World War II was not the movie that critics or audiences were looking for in the late 1970s. Considered a failure upon its release, director Richard Attenborough's "A Bridge Too Far" has found its audience via television and home video and has now joined the list of beloved war movies.
Operation Market Garden was a British plan to drop troops into the Netherlands to break the German forces and speed up the end of the war. Ill-conceived and based on dodgy intel, the campaign was a notorious disaster.
The movie wants everyone to remember that operational failure doesn't mean the men who fought were any less heroic. Connery plays Maj. Gen. Roy Urquhart, commander of the British 1st Airborne unit that's supposed to land near Arnhem and hold the bridge until an armored division arrives two days later.
Urquhart's men are set to receive tactical support from a Polish unit led by Maj. Gen. Stanisław Sosabowski, played by USMC veteran Gene Hackman. Even though Gene's Polish accent is a little uneven, it's great to see Connery and Hackman on screen together.
Even if you haven't seen the movie, you have likely figured out that Connery and Hackman are supposed to capture and hold the bridge mentioned in the title. The men carry out their mission with dignity even as they're ill-equipped to stop the German counterattack.
5. The Hill (1965)
By the time Connery starred in British military prison drama "The Hill," he was at the peak of his international Bond fame. Filmed on his break between "Goldfinger" and "Thunderball," this brutal film tracks a group of British soldiers sentenced to a military prison in North Africa.
The worst punishment inside is marching up and down a steep hill in the devastating desert sun. Shot in black and white, the depiction of British military punishment is really tough to watch. This isn't a POW movie, but this Army doesn't treat its own men much better than the enemy treats Allied troops in your typical WWII movie.
Connery is all silent glares and physical grace here. He looks great even under extreme duress and the sadistic camp commander doesn't really understand who he's messing with here. There's no happy ending in a conflict like this one.
Directed by Sidney Lumet ("12 Angry Men," "Network"), "The Hill" features an impressive roster of U.K. character actors including Harry Andrews, Roy Kinnear, Ian Bannen, Ian Hendry, Alfred Lynch and Michael Redgrave. American Ossie Davis shows up as a Jamaican soldier.
6. The Longest Day (1962)
Producer Darryl F. Zanuck set out to make the greatest epic film of all time with his three-hour drama about the Allied D-Day invasion of France on June 6, 1944. Zanuck insisted that his movie be filmed in black-and-white long after technicolor had become the preferred medium for epic movies. The producer believed that audiences around the world had experienced the war via black-and-white newsreels so a black-and-white movie would seem more "real" to everyone.
The film has a gigantic cast with enough Americans, British, French and German soldiers and officers for each country to fill out the full cast of its own movie. That makes virtually every role a walk-on and Zanuck made sure there was someone for everyone. Movie legends like John Wayne, Henry Fonda and Robert Mitchum appear alongside pop stars like Fabian and Tommy Sands.
Connery wasn't yet famous but he shows up as a British Army private who makes quite an impression as he jumps from a landing craft on the big day.
7. Operation Snafu (1961)
Originally released as "On the Fiddle" in the U.K., this is the first movie to feature Connery as an above-the-title star and the last thing he made before launching his Bond career with "Dr. No."
It's a shocker, because the future 007 is playing a character in what seems like a British version of "No Time for Sergeants" or "Sgt. Bilko." The movie stars Alfred Lynch as Horace Pope, a black marketeer who finds himself in the Army after he tries to duck a profiteering charge. There he meets the naive gypsy soldier Pedlar Pascoe (Connery) and enlists him in a series of scams designed to line their pockets.
Lynch and Connery have especially good dramatic chemistry in "The Hill," but only Lynch seems to have the goofy comic chops to pull off this material. Sean looks enthusiastic but uncomfortable all the way through this one.
Connery is goofy, awkward and dumb. There's a terrible wig on his head. It's hard to imagine that he's about to be celebrated as the suavest man in the world. The movie was released in the USA in 1965 and marketed by low-rent distributor American International Pictures as a spy thriller. What could American audiences have possibly thought about this odd little British comedy once they'd paid their money and watched this unfold onscreen?
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