Skip to main content

I hold neither a symbol nor a gun. My hands are empty. Which of you will take them?

The Next Man
(1976)

(SPOILERS) In which Sean Connery plays an Arab. For the second time. His versatility when confronted by the challenge of portraying different nationalities and ethnicities is renowned, of course. Russians (The Hunt for Red October), Irish (The Untouchables), Greeks (Time Bandits), even Japanese (You Only Live Twice); they’re no problem for one of Sean’s calibre, all arriving fully bestowed with a recognisable Scottish burr. For some reason, this rarely matters (well, You Only Live Twice features an egregiously ridiculous makeover); Connery forces the world to reform around him by sheer dint of presence. So the role of Khalil Abdul-Muhsen, Saudi Arabian Minister of State determined to broker Middle Eastern peace elicits a nod of “Yeah, okay, I’ll go with that”. The rest of The Next Man (also known as The Arab Conspiracy and Double Hit) isn’t nearly so easy to give a free pass to, however.


Perhaps it was the success of the previous years The Wind in the Lion, where Connery played a Berber brigand (who wouldn’t want to be able to say they played a Berber brigand?), which attracted the Scot to the character (most infamously, Connery would later play an Egyptian posing as a Spaniard in Highlander). Or perhaps it was the lure of shooting in the Bahamas (which the actor would call home from the 1990s onwards). Or it could simply have been his occasionally political bent (which in the real world has seen him call, albeit remotely, for Scottish independence). The same awareness that found him make satire Wrong is Right and stumbling eco-thriller Medicine Man. If the latter, it’s a particular shame, as The Next Man is a half-baked concoction from the screenplay (credited to four writers) through to the direction from Richard C Sarafian (one of those co-writers, whose finest moment came with counter-culture road movie Vanishing Point and lowest with an Alan Smithee pseudonym for Solar Crisis).


There’s a kernel of a good idea at the front end of the picture, whereby an unnamed shadowy group is outraged that “a faction within the Arab organisation of oil producing states has entered into a conspiracy” to create “a production consortium competitive to our own”. Everything about this group is sketchy (full disclosure: I didn’t see the108 minute version of the movie, so I may have missed vital plot details or scenes that transform it into a neglected classic, or at least clarify matters), but I would presume this is a means of saying that they represent an Illuminati-type organisation that somehow holds sway over OPEC (Khalil refers to OPEC as a now-confused voice that engineers dark deals and supports terrorist activities). At least, one wonders that this group isn’t attempting to bring it down too.


In the spirit of any conspiratorial group out to quash a conspiracy, they “take steps to neutralise this plan”, which entails an opening 15 minutes devoted to offing the three ringleaders, from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia. This could have taken three minutes and serves to establish the picture’s high fat content, rather than providing nutritious, intrigue or commentary. One of these, Al Sharif, is played by Connery’s co-star from Thunderball, Adolfo Celi.


Cue the entrance of Connery, “a tiger with soft brown eyes” and bearing a comb over rather than the full rug. Khalil was educated in the US (and Shcotland) and, as with his slain friends, appears to enjoy something of a playboy, carousing lifestyle when he’s not giving speeches to the UN.


It’s a bit of a mystery that Khalil appears to have been given carte blanche to introduce is his outrageous plan for a united Arab world, opposing the “immutable forces bent on dragging the world into holocaust”. He calls for a new contract that may replace OPEC, and the opening of a dialogue with Israel to create a Palestinian state. And he wants to look into new sources of energy (a nod to the notional suppression innovations in alternative energy by the capitalist system?) Later he appears to have a rethink when, back before the UN, he proposes that Israel joins OPEC as a non-producing member and equal partner. He wishes to be free of “the destructive political and economic influences which have been exerted upon us by the East and the West”, that have strangled them for centuries. To cap it all he defies those who would keep the Arabs and Israelis enemies.


Khalil apparently runs with the idea that Israel and the Arab states are unwittingly pitted against each other buy the mysterious puppeteers we have seen at the outset, which seems to ignore western allegiances to the Jewish state and suppliance to Saudi interests (the Saudi government apparently complained about the movie to producer Martin Bregman). There are some decent ideas in The Next Man, but they seem rather confused; it’s unwillingness to show clear antagonists looks like a cop out, while simultaneously presenting a main character with a plan that sounds like science fiction. We see much in the way of protests outside embassies; at one point brave Khalil gets out of his limo and persuades a demonstrator “Trust me, it takes time” with regard to the quest for a Palestinian state. But such topicality is off-kilter when balanced against his naïve plan.


It’s been said the picture is prescient, of the Egypt-Arab Peace Treaty that came from the Camp David accords and the assassination of Anwar Sadat that followed, but I think that gives The Next Man too much credit. It’s simply a picture born of a period when conspiracy features were a popular dish; hitting some vague marks is more luck than insight.


The big problem, however, is that this is a conspiracy movie with next to no intrigue and zero suspense. We have the cabal conferring in the opening scene, but beyond that everyone knows Khalil is putting his head in a noose (“I give him a month”; “A week” counters a fellow journalist). The picture then crawls from scene to scene as Khalil canoodles with ice queen assassin Nicole (Cornelia Sharpe). Sean displays his facility with polo necks, and professes to be a stranger in a stranger land, but having been Bond he still knows “where they serve an excellent Martini”. There’s an assassination attempt where Connery can exercise a few macho muscles, but it isn’t especially involving.


Sharpe is okay, but too cool in a sub-Dunaway manner for there to be any chemistry with her co-star. And yet, the only scenes that actually leap out involve her. We see her casually showering while leaving the drugged Celli to suffocate within a plastic bag. She then emerges, removes it, and tidies up. The ending, too late, is also pretty good. We discover that Hamid (Khalil’s right-hand man, played by Ecuadorian actor Albert Paulson) is also conspiring against his friend when he instructs Nicole to finish the job; she shoots Hamid and then Khalil (off camera), uttering “Soft brown eyes” as she does so (the title refers to Nicole’s next hit job, but is also suggestive that there’ll always be someone to take Khalil’s place just as he took the place of someone before him). 


Is Hamid working for the shadowy group? Possibly not: he may be a dupe, believing Khalil’s demise is good for his country. It’s all very murky. There’s a neatly efficient line in tying up loose ends also; the earlier assassins are dispensed with, and someone is clearly going to do the same to her after the closing credits.


If this kind of clinical Day of the Jackal approach is in the picture’s favour, it’s about all that is aside from Connery’s presence. There’s a notable brief appearance from Lance Henrickson (as Hendrickson), even smaller than his turn in the previous year’s Dog Day Afternoon. This was also Michael Kamen’s first feature credit as composer. The Next Man, like several other ‘70s Connery pictures, is bereft of the essentials in the script and direction departments. Perhaps Bregman persuaded Connery, coming off Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon and (according to Pauline Kael) looking for a star vehicle for protégée Sharp, that this was a meaningful, substantial affair. If so, Sean was sold a pup.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

He’s probably paranoid, high-strung, doesn’t like daylight. You know, has a lot of crumbs in his beard, if he has a beard.

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) (SPOILERS) I’d like to report I had a blast with Godzilla vs. Kong . It’s lighter on its oversized, city-stomping feet than its slog of a MonsterVerse predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters , and there are flashes of visual inspiration along with several engaging core ideas (which, to be fair, the series had already laid the seeds for). But this sequel still stumbles in its chief task: assembling an engaging, lively story that successfully integrates both tiny humans and towering titans.

You stink, my friend.

Mulan (2020) (SPOILERS) Let that be a lesson to Disney. It’s a fool’s errand to try and beat the Chinese at their own game, no matter how painstakingly respectful – or rather, pandering – you are. Indeed, Mulan ’s abysmal $40m box office take in the country – where it did get a proper release, so no plandemic excuses can be cited – feels like a direct rebuke; don’t try and tell us how to suck eggs. There’s an additional explanation too, of course. That Mulan sucks.

Roswell was a smokescreen, we've had a half a dozen better salvage operations.

The X-Files 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask The Erlenmeyer Flask makes for a fast-paced, tense and eventful ride, but does it make any sense? That less than mattered at the time, but revisiting the mythology arc (for probably the fourth or fifth time) reveals increasingly tenuous internal coherence as the various conspiracy elements begin to pile up and the situations become ever-more convoluted. This will become the Chris Carter’s signature: don’t examine the details too closely, go with the flow. Trust Chris implicitly.

By heaven, I’d thrash the life out of you… if I didn’t have to read the Nine O’Clock News.

The Green Man (1956) (SPOILERS) The Green movie from Launder and Gilliat starring Alastair Sim that isn’t Green for Danger. Which is to say, The Green Man can’t quite scale the heady heights of that decade-earlier murder mystery triumph, but neither is it any slouch. Sim is the antagonist this time – albeit a very affable, Sim-ish one – and his sometime protégée, a young George Cole, the hero. If the plot is entirely absurd, Robert Day’s movie wastes no time probing such insufficiencies, ensuring it is very funny, lively and beautifully performed.

It's Dark Age, by Jupiter!

The Dig (2021) (SPOILERS) An account of the greatest archaeological find Britain would know until Professor Horner opened the barrow at Devil’s End. And should you scoff at such “ fiction ”, that’s nothing on this adaptation of John Preston’s 2007 novel concerning the Sutton Hoo excavations of the late 1930s. The Dig , as is the onus of any compelling fictional account, takes liberties with the source material, but the erring from the straight and narrow in this case is less an issue than the shift in focus from characters and elements successfully established during the first hour.

UFO IN MOSSINGHAM?

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2020) (SPOILERS) One might reasonably suggest the recourse of the ailing or desperate franchise is to resort, seemingly out of nowhere, to space aliens. Even Police Academy didn’t go that far (to Moscow, yes, but not to space). Perhaps animators think kids have no skills of discernment and will swallow any old sugar-coated crap. Perhaps they don’t, and they will. Ice Age had been enjoying absurd success until Collision Course sent Scrat spinning into the cosmos and grosses tumbled. Shaun the Sheep has been around for a quarter of a century, but this is only his second movie outing and already he’s pulling an E.T. on us. Of course, this may all be part of the grand scheme, and Nick Park is simply doing his bit to familiarise the tots in time for Project Blue Beam.

Careful how much boat you’re eating.

Onward (2020) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s Bright , or thereabouts. The interesting thing – perhaps the only interesting thing – about Onward is that it’s almost indiscernible from a DreamWorks Animation effort, where once they cocked a snook at such cheap-seats fare, seeing themselves as better class of animation house altogether. Just about everything in Onward is shamelessly derivative, from the Harry Potter /fantasy genre cash-in to the use of the standard Pixar formula whereby any scenario remotely eccentric or exotic is buried beneath the banal signifiers of modern society: because anything you can imagine must be dragged down to tangible everyday reference points or kids won’t be able to assimilate it. And then there’s the choice of lead voices, in-Disney star-slaves Chris Pratt and Tom Holland.

Farewell, dear shithead, farewell.

Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) (SPOILERS) I saw Highlander II: The Quickening at the cinema. Yes, I actually paid money to see one of the worst mainstream sequels ever on the big screen. I didn’t bother investigating the Director’s Cut until now, since the movie struck me as entirely unsalvageable. I was sufficiently disenchanted with all things Highlander that I skipped the TV series and slipshod sequels, eventually catching Christopher Lambert’s last appearance as Connor MacLeod in Highlander: End Game by accident rather than design. But Highlander II ’s on YouTube , and the quality is decent, so maybe the Director’s Cut improve matters and is worth a reappraisal? Not really. It’s still a fundamentally, mystifyingly botched retcon enabling the further adventures of MacLeod, just not quite as transparently shredded in the editing room.

A subterranean Loch Ness Monster?

Doctor Who The Silurians No, I’m not going to refer to The Silurians as Doctor Who and the Silurians . I’m going to refer to it as Doctor Who and the Eocenes . The Silurians plays a blinder. Because both this and Inferno know the secret of an extended – some might say overlong – story is to keep the plot moving, they barely drag at all and are consequently much fleeter of foot than many a four parter. Unlike Malcolm Hulke’s sequel The Sea Devils , The Silurians has more than enough plot and deals it out judiciously (the plague, when it comes, kicks the story up a gear at the precarious burn-out stage of a typical four-plus parter). What’s most notable, though, is how engaging those first four episodes are, building the story slowly but absorbingly and with persuasive confidence.

Suspicions of destiny. We all have them. A deep, wordless knowledge that our time has come.

Damien: Omen II (1978) (SPOILERS) There’s an undercurrent of unfulfilled potential with the Omen series, an opportunity to explore the machinations of the Antichrist and his minions largely ignored in favour of Final Destination deaths every twenty minutes or so. Of the exploration there is, however, the better part is found in Damien: Omen II , where we’re privy to the parallel efforts of a twelve or thirteen-year-old Damien at military school and those of Thorn Industries. The natural home of the diabolical is, after all, big business. Consequently, while this sequel is much less slick than the original, it is also more engaging dramatically.