By Eleanor Ringel Cater
The late Tom Clancy wrote a great number of best-sellers. Surprisingly, only a few of them were made into movies.
I was lucky enough to attend the press junket for “The Hunt for Red October,” Clancy’s first film to be made into a movie. It starred Alec Baldwin as Clancy’s celebrated fictional CIA operative, Jack Ryan. It was Baldwin’s only outing in the role.
Harrison Ford took over for the next two Ryan capers (“Patriot Games,” “A Clear and Present Danger”) and finally Ben Affleck lumbered through the part in “The Sum of All Fears.”
The sex buzz at the “October” press gathering, however, wasn’t Baldwin. It was Sean Connery, who played Ryan’s nemesis, a Soviet submarine captain. At 60, he had just been named People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive.
Connery delivered. He looked like an aging warrior King; think the ageless charisma of Cary Grant. And he tossed off quips without even having to raise one of those famous 007 eyebrows.
For example, when I asked about an old axiom that men who are 60-plus and balding are more virile, he replied smoothly, “Well, it’s years since I’ve been to bed with a 60-year-old balding guy.”
And in a Scottish brogue.
Interestingly, Connery got the role through the back door, so to speak. He was a last-minute replacement for Klaus Maria Brandauer, probably best known as Meryl Streep’s philandering husband in “Out of Africa.”
Brandauer was held up by a scheduling conflict and Connery—well, exactly how he came on board was a bit murky; the director said one thing; the producer another and Connery really wasn’t saying.
Anyway, essentially, he liked the script and the timing was right.
And here’s how things are done in Hollywood when a huge name like Connery can work you into his schedule. Since the movie was already several weeks into shooting, director John MacTiernan was deep into the sub scenes with the rest of the cast. So John Milius, who directed Connery in “The Wind in the Lion,” worked with the actor long-distance over the phone.
Why Milius? Well, aside from the Connery connection, he happened to have an office next to MacTiernan. The pair began by discussing every aspect of the renegade Soviet captain, from the way he looked to his motivation for going rogue, so to speak.
About the former, Connery said, “We decided it should be somewhere between Stalin and Samuel Beckett.” And the reason he does what he does? The actor didn’t explain beyond mentioning the man’s “remoteness” and “the expertise.”
Okay, enough about Sean Connery. I liked “The Hunt for Red October,” well enough, which, even then, was facing its overdue date because a certain Wall had fallen.
Best think of it these days more as a “Star Trek” movie, with the Soviets as the Klingons. (Interesting Synchronicity Aside: I didn’t know this when I first wrote the “Star Trek” comparison, but Jack Ryan is coming back to the screen this Christmas in “Jack Ryan: Shadow One” and he’s played Chris Pine, our new Captain Kirk in the “Star Trek” rebirth).
Let’s get back to the Clancy adaptations. I think my favorite is “Patriot Games.”
Harrison Ford, as I said, replaces Alec Baldwin and the change is definitely for the better. This time, Clancy’s CIA savior-of-the-world foils an attack on a minor Royal by a rogue branch of the IRA.
In doing so, he kills one of the terrorists and the lad’s brother swears vengeance against Ryan’s loved ones (wife Anne Archer and daughter Thora Birch).
In a way, the picture recalls “Cape Fear:” an implacable enemy stalking the hero’s happy family on a dark and stormy night. But it’s a feud gone global, with, what was in the ‘90s, high-tech.
The lead terrorist is played by Sean Bean, who was just a few years away from global fame in both “The Lord of the Rings” and “Game of Thrones.”
To please Clancy’s fans, there’s a mid-movie plunge into CIA headquarters that bogs things down. But overall, “Patriot Games” is a satisfying thriller, strongly anchored by Ford’s weathered weariness and slow-fuse resourcefulness.
And just to tie it all up, Ford was voted People’s Sexiest man in 1998, at a comparatively youthful 56.