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Sean Connery (second right), at El Pimpi in 1957.
Flamenco, parties, spies and coups: Sean Connery filming in Malaga

Flamenco, parties, spies and coups: Sean Connery filming in Malaga

The actor's big-screen debut, Action of the Tiger, brought him to the Costa del Sol, where he also filmed one of the few movies he described as "a mistake"

FRANCISCO GRIÑÁN

Saturday, 7 November 2020, 11:41

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When people talk about Sean Connery and his links with Malaga, the film they mention most often is Goldfinger but the reasons are often judicial, nothing to do with the cinema, because the police ironically named their town planning corruption investigation, in which the Scottish actor was accused of being involved, after his best-known James Bond film. But before the spy working on Her Majesty's Service bought a house in Marbella and swapped his gracious queen for the hedonistic court of Prince Alfonso de Hohenlohe-Langenburg, three of his films had been shot on location on the Costa del Sol. The filming of those movies revealed Connery to be someone who loved to go out for some fun and flamenco after each day's work was done.

Sean Connery made his debut on the big screen right here, in Malaga port. After several roles in TV series, his first opportunity arrived with a thriller for Metro, Action of the Tiger (1957), although his name did not appear in large letters because the stars were American actor Van Johnson and French actress Martine Carol.

The movie, which had a budget of 40 million pesetas, was filmed in the old boathouse and the port, which was supposed to represent Athens, although it is doubtful that the Greek city ever had a lighthouse resembling the one in Malaga.

It has been well documented that Connery began to enjoy his stay on the Costa more and more. When filming ended for the day, he would head to a flamenco bar with other members of the team, partying and allowing himself to be photographed with the flamenco artists after the performances.

One of those nights was captured for eternity, in a photo which shows the Scottish actor posing with a group of dancers and singers. The photo forms part of the collection of Paco Roji, who has also put a name to some very young artists pictured with Connery who went on to become famous names in flamenco: dancers Carrete and Pepito Vargas, the singer La Cañeta de Málaga and female dancer La Quica. There can be no doubt that Connery's smile in that photo says it all. Nor is there any doubt about how much he enjoyed his time in Malaga, so it is not surprising that he would end up putting down roots here. The director of that film was Terence Young, who had already realised that Connery showed great promise as an actor. Five years later, he was to give him his greatest opportunity, starring in the film which made him famous, Dr. No.

More invisible man than spy

A decade after that first visit, another of Connery's films was shot on location in Malaga. By then he had become the most famous secret agent in the history of cinema. For the fifth film in the series, You Only Live Twice, the cameras arrived with a squadron of helicopters to convert the sky over the Costa del Sol into part of Japan. The producer even imported tonnes of cables and canvas to turn a mountain in Mijas into a papier maché volcano, and filmed scenes from the air.

The paradox is that in this case Sean Connery was more like the invisible man than a spy, because that whole section of the filming was done by a double, not the actor at all.

That ghostly visit was followed by a third film, Cuba (1979), which brought the actor back to the Costa del Sol during a time in which he was trying to forget about James Bond and move onto personal projects. Director Richard Lester, with whom Connery had filmed Robin and Marian in 1976, convinced the star to take part in this film, but there was one obstacle to making it: it was impossible to film in Cuba.

Connery's "mistake"

The solution, it was decided, was to try to find somewhere with a Caribbean ambience in Andalucía, and that is how the old sugar cane plantations at the mouth of the Guadalhorce river became the settings for the peak scene in which Castro's bearded guerrilla fighters tried to overturn the dictator Baptista. This big-screen war in which Connery played a British mercenary left us with a collection of very recognisable images of Cuba, such as the old spherical tanks at La Térmica, which are now long-gone, the apartment block on Sacaba beach, the Misericordia beach and the plantations of the Azucarera sugar factory, which no longer exists.

There are no photos of Connery enjoying his evenings during that visit, although Richard Lester did reveal something about that time some years later.

"With some people, the problem was how they spent their nights, although in the mornings they did their job like true professionals," he said, but naming no names.

The film didn't receive a very favourable response and Connery wasn't happy. Years later he said he hadn't make many mistakes in his life, but he did with Cuba. However, he never regretted getting to know Malaga better. Shortly after making that film he bought Edgar Neville's wonderful holiday mansion in Marbella, Malibu, and it became his summer residence. He sold it in a questioned property transaction and became the focus of attention in the Goldfinger case. But that, as they say, is another story.

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