By Nathan Kamal | Published
The death of Sean Connery in 2020 meant the loss of one of cinema’s modern icons, one whose career still echoes in pop culture. Although the Scottish actor had officially retired from acting in 2006 (reportedly after the experience of making the truly execrable The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), the chance always remained that Sean Connery might emerge from retirement for one last great role. Sadly, that did not happen, but we still have an immense, influential, and most importantly, exciting body of work left behind. One of his best movies, 1990’s The Hunt for Red October, just started streaming on Netflix and is well worth a revisit.
The Hunt for Red October stars Sean Connery as Captain Marko Ramius, the commanding officer of the Red October, a Soviet submarine with a new experimental propulsion drive that could change the balance of power in the Cold War. After Sean Connery secretly kills the political officer of the Red October (Peter Firth) and goes rogue, both the Soviet Union and the United States scramble to figure out what this powerful, nuclear-armed vessel is doing. The American response is to initially assume Sean Connery is about to unleash a nuclear first strike. However, a CIA analyst named Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin, the first of many actors to portray the character) rightly deduces that the Soviet officer is attempting to defect to the United States.
from there, The Hunt for Red October becomes an increasingly tense Cold War spy thriller in which Alec Baldwin gets closer and closer to Sean Connery while both American and Soviet forces are increasingly sure they need to destroy his submarine. Along the way, a spy plots countermeasures aboard Sean Connery’s ship, torpedoes are launched and Alec Baldwin gets over his fear of flying. While the film is loaded down with the kind of technical jargon and sometimes bewilderingly dense conversations about various naval maneuvers and political factions, it all moves at a quick, stirring pace.
In large part, that can be credited to the direction of John McTiernan. The filmmaker directed some of the best and tensest action movies of the 1980s, including Die Hard and predator. He brings that same flair to subject matter that has far fewer gun battles (though not no gun battles) than those, and definitely fewer alien hunters (zero, unfortunately). But the movie belongs to the on-screen charisma of Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin, who actually have little screentime together. But there have been few actors in history who can radiate steely calm as the pair of them, and the film does a magnificent job of utilizing their respective talents. While in theory, Alec Baldwin is somewhat miscast as a CIA analyst who is less of an action hero than a desk job employee, he still manages to make us feel Jack Ryan is a man sticking to his instincts despite the fear of potential nuclear war.
For his part, Sean Connery embodies the potentially difficult role of the opaque, quietly commanding Soviet officer with ease. While he infamously did not even attempt to disguise his trademark Scottish accent, it is made a little bit less distracting by his officers also speaking English with a variety of different accents. It also helps that the film is stuffed with a ridiculous amount of supporting talent, including James Earl Jones, Sam Neill, Tim Curry, Scott Glenn, Fred Thompson, and Stellan Skarsgård. Apparently, the decision of whether to have the Soviet crew speak English or Russian was eventually boiled down to a compromise in which Peter Firth switches from Russian to English after saying the word “armageddon,” which is conveniently the same in both languages.
The Hunt for the Red October was a huge box office hit and the first of many films and television series to be adapted from the works of author Tom Clancy, who would go from a best-selling but still niche writer to an industry of his own that is still being imitated. While Sean Connery’s Captain Ramius would not reappear in future movies, Jack Ryan would go on to be played by (deep breath) Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, Chris Pine, John Krasinski, and probably Jacob Tremblay once he’s out of his teens. It makes sense that like another famous spy thriller series, Sean Connery was there at the beginning.