MI-6 agent James Bond (Sean Connery) fails a training exercise and M (Edward Fox) sends him to a health clinic to get back in shape. Bond witnesses a nurse named Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera) giving a sadistic beating to a patient. The man’s face is bandaged and Bond sees a machine scanning his eye. Blush notices Bond and sends an assassin named Lippe (Pat Roach) to kill him in the gym. Bond kills Lippe but M suspends him from active duty because of the damage caused by the fight.
Fatima Blush is a SPECTRE agent, working for Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Max von Sydow). Her beating victim is a U.S. Air Force pilot named Jack Petachi (Gavan O’Herlihy) whose eye has been corrected to match the retinal pattern of the U.S. President, so he can be used to penetrate a U.S. military base in the U.K. He replaces the warheads of two cruise missiles with live nuclear warheads. SPECTRE steals the warheads to extort billions from NATO. Then Blush kills Petachi in a car-crash.
Foreign secretary Lord Ambrose (Anthony Sharp) orders M to re-activate the double-O section and Bond is ordered to track down the missing weapons. In the Bahamas, he finds Petachi’s sister Domino (Kim Basinger), mistress of the wealthy Maximilian Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer)), SPECTRE’s top agent.
Nigel Small-Fawcett (Rowan Atkinson) of the British High Commission tells Bond that Largo’s enormous yacht is headed for Nice, France. Bond contacts agent Nicole (Saska Cohen Tanugi) and CIA contact Felix Leiter (Bernie Casey). He goes to a health centre and poses as an employee. Giving Domino a massage, he learns that Largo is giving a party at a casino that evening. Largo and Bond play a 3-D video game called Domination, in which they receive electric shocks. Bond wins and dances with Domino, telling her that Largo had killed her brother. Bond returns to his villa to find that Fatima Blush has killed Nicole. After a motorcycle chase, he is ambushed and captured. She is impressed by him and makes him sign a declaration that she was his greatest sexual partner, but he kills her with the fountain pen.
Bond and Leiter try to board Largo’s yacht The Flying Saucer to look for the nuclear warheads. Bond finds Domino and uses her to make Largo insanely jealous. Largo traps him and takes him and Domino to Palmyra and Largo’s North African base. Largo punishes Domino by auctioning her off to some passing Arabs. Bond escapes and saves her. Domino and Bond meet Leiter on a U.S. Navy submarine. The first warhead is found and defused in Washington. They track Largo to the Tears of Allah, below an oasis in Ethiopia. They infiltrate the facility and engage in a gun battle. Largo gets away with the second warhead but Bond catches up to him and fights him underwater. Largo is finally killed by Domino with a speargun and Bond defuses the bomb, saving the world. He then retires to the Bahamas with Domino, owing never to be a secret agent ever again.
If this seems familiar, it’s because the plot is virtually the same as Thunderball. The script was written by Ian Fleming, producer Kevin McClory, and screenwriter Jack Whittingham, but their film was not made, so Ian Fleming used the plot in his novel Thunderball. There was a blizzard of lawsuits and McClory and Whittingham got the rights to do a film of their own. But there were precise limits on what plot-developments, character names, and dialogue they could use. The result was the script for Never Say Never Again. The title was suggested by Connery’s wife Michelle, because he had said that so many times, but he was intrigued or bored or vindictive and agreed to do the film. It turned out that the writing and Connery himself were better and deeper than the current Roger Moore and Eon Productions offering Octopussy. And villains like Max von Sydow and Klaus Maria Brandauer didn’t hurt either.
There were several lines in the script commenting on Bond’s age and condition but Roger Moore was actually older than Connery. Connery trained with Steven Seagal to get into fighting trim, but Seagal broke his wrist. Playboy model Barbara Carrera modelled her Fatima Blush on the goddess Kali and a Black Widow spider. She was nominated for a supporting role Golden Globe but lost to Cher in Silkwood. Connery’s wife suggested Kim Basinger for Domino. The score by Michel Legrand is quite good, but audiences could be forgiven for missing the familiar and exciting John Barry music. The film cost 36 million dollars and took in 187 million, though Octopussy was in fact a bigger money maker. It was supposed to kick off a series of alternate Bond films for Sony, but that never happened. At least the jokes were not stupid.
It was Rowan Atkinson’s first movie, but he made use of his character in later films. The closing credits thank A.K., who is arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, who provided a 282-foot yacht, later bought by Donald Trump and renamed Trump Princess, and is now owned by a Saudi Arabian prince. Kim Basinger had refused to play a Bond girl, thinking it beneath her, but her career was in the doldrums and she signed up. Submarine footage came from Ice Station Zebra. Pat Roach, the giant who beat up Bond, was also the giant who beat up Harrison Ford in two Indiana Jones movies. Roger Moore and Sean Connery were good friends and they cooked up a bit in which they would meet each other on the street, but the producers didn’t go for it.