Sean Connery in WOMAN OF STRAW (1964)

Sir Sean Connery is celebrating his 81st birthday today and I thought it would be a great time to share my appreciation for his terrific performance in Basil Dearden’s entertaining thriller, WOMAN OF STRAW (1964). The handsome Scottish actor with a deep gravely voice and piercing dark eyes has appeared in more than 65 films during his long career but WOMAN OF STRAW is one of the few films where Connery was given the opportunity to shed his good guy image and portray a ruthless villain.

This effective mystery takes place on a lavish British estate ruled by the cruel hand of Charles Richmond (played brilliantly by Ralph Richardson). Charles is a cantankerous old man who gets his kicks insulting his servants and tormenting his dogs while his live-in nephew Anthony (Sean Connery) looks on in bemused disgust. After being bitten by one of his pets, Charles demands that his nephew hire a nurse to look after his wound and much to their surprise, a lovely Italian woman by the name of Maria (Gina Lollobrigida) arrives at the door. Both Charles and his nephew are charmed by Maria’s natural beauty and gentle manner. Charles is eager to employ Maria as his fulltime nurse but his nephew has other plans. Anthony convinces Maria to stay and seduce the old man so they can both benefit from his fortune. Although Charles is an utterly despicable human being, Maria marries him and ends up developing real feelings for the old man before he drops dead. And this is where the plot really gets interesting, so you might want to forgo further reading unless you’ve already seen the film, you see; Sean Connery’s character has been scheming against both Maria and his uncle. He’s got murder on his mind and plans to keep his uncle’s fortune all to himself but to do so he’ll have to convince a jury that Maria is responsible for his uncle’s death and that won’t be easy.

What I admire most about Connery’s memorable performance in WOMAN OF STRAW is the way he underplays his character early in the film before transforming into a murderous monster. Connery had just finished starring in his second James Bond film, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963), and he was riding high on his success and sudden superstardom. But he was also worried about being typecast as the suave and handsome spy so he jumped at the chance to play the ruthless money hungry Anthony. In the film, Connery uses his sex appeal to lure Gina Lollobridigida’s character into complacency while convincing the audience that he’s worthy of their sympathy. It’s a difficult trick to manage but Connery has rarely looked as handsome as he does in this film and his masculine confidence is disarming. You want to like him so his villainous turn is particularly jarring. Connery’s performance is somewhat reminiscent of Charles Boyer in GASLIGHT (1944) and Rex Harrison in MIDNIGHT LACE (1960). These men are masters at disguising their true intentions. But once their treacherous nature is revealed they waste no time in turning into ruthless cads who have merely been masking their evil identities under expensive suits, phony smiles and bucket loads of charm.

According to various witnesses on set, there was some genuine animosity between Sean Connery and his female costar. Gina Lollobrigida was a world-renowned actress at this point in her career but she had a reputation for being temperamental and difficult to work with. When filming ended Connery wasn’t shy about expressing his dislike for her and announced that, “I’ll never work with that woman again.” Connery’s hostility towards Lollobrigida may have benefited his performance because he directs some particularly venomous lines at her with a lot of vigor. In one scene where Connery was asked to slap his costar, he supposedly delivered the hit with more force than was necessary causing a minor uproar on set. Needless to say, Sean Connery is an imposing man when he’s playing a good guy so his bad tempered take on a truly nasty character is more than a little chilling. I think Connery’s downright creepy in WOMAN OF STRAW and I wish he had gotten the opportunity to play characters like Anthony Richmond more often. Once you’ve seen the film it’s apparent that Connery would have made a superb Bond villain if he was given half the chance but he was forced into heroic good guy roles throughout most of his career. Complaints aside, Connery has had the kind of success that most actors only dream about and I think WOMAN OF STRAW is one of the most interesting films in his impressive filmography.

Here ‘s looking at you Sir Sean! I hope you get to enjoy many more birthdays to come.

WOMAN OF STRAW isn’t available on DVD yet but it has been released on video and it’s currently available to view on Netflix instant watch.

Further reading:
The Films of Sean Connery by Lee Pfeiffer & Philip Lisa
Imperial Gina: The Strictly Unauthorized Biography of Gina Lollobrigida by Luis Canales
The Cinema of Basil Dearden and Michael Relph by Alan Burton & Tim O’Sullivan

28 Responses Sean Connery in WOMAN OF STRAW (1964)
Posted By dukeroberts : August 25, 2011 6:01 pm

Thanks for the write-up on this movie. I have never heard of it, but it will now be viewed very soon on Netflix. A mean Connery, plus Gina? I am so there.

Posted By dukeroberts : August 25, 2011 6:01 pm

Thanks for the write-up on this movie. I have never heard of it, but it will now be viewed very soon on Netflix. A mean Connery, plus Gina? I am so there.

Posted By Suzi : August 25, 2011 6:03 pm

Connery is one of my secret crushes. Sigh! I have not seen this film but will keep it in mind after your write-up.

Happy birthday, Mr. C.

Posted By Suzi : August 25, 2011 6:03 pm

Connery is one of my secret crushes. Sigh! I have not seen this film but will keep it in mind after your write-up.

Happy birthday, Mr. C.

Posted By Juana Maria : August 25, 2011 8:40 pm

It’s been awhile since the last time I have watched this movie. I love Sean Connery, and have seen a lot of his films over the years. I loved when Sean Connery was the Star of the Month on TCM. I forget what year and month that was. Keep up the great writing, thanks.

Posted By Juana Maria : August 25, 2011 8:40 pm

It’s been awhile since the last time I have watched this movie. I love Sean Connery, and have seen a lot of his films over the years. I loved when Sean Connery was the Star of the Month on TCM. I forget what year and month that was. Keep up the great writing, thanks.

Posted By richard hegedorn : August 25, 2011 9:34 pm

I have loved this film since I first saw it in 1964 but none of my film buff friends had ever heard of it. It’s a terrific mystery (when mysteries were still that)that kept you guessing until the end. Connery was terrific and Gina gorgeous. What more do you need?

Posted By richard hegedorn : August 25, 2011 9:34 pm

I have loved this film since I first saw it in 1964 but none of my film buff friends had ever heard of it. It’s a terrific mystery (when mysteries were still that)that kept you guessing until the end. Connery was terrific and Gina gorgeous. What more do you need?

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : August 26, 2011 4:26 am

Hope you enjoy it, duke. It’s a glossy thriller that was obviously influenced by Hitchcock but I think it works really well. And Gina & Sean get to wear all kinds of fabulous outfits in it. They look amazing. What more do you need?

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : August 26, 2011 4:26 am

Hope you enjoy it, duke. It’s a glossy thriller that was obviously influenced by Hitchcock but I think it works really well. And Gina & Sean get to wear all kinds of fabulous outfits in it. They look amazing. What more do you need?

Posted By Juana Maria : August 26, 2011 12:19 pm

I have seen it and it was featured on TCM,on May 8,2009, when Sean Connery was the Star of the Month.

Posted By Juana Maria : August 26, 2011 12:19 pm

I have seen it and it was featured on TCM,on May 8,2009, when Sean Connery was the Star of the Month.

Posted By Jenni : August 27, 2011 9:26 pm

Watched this movie in May of 2009 and it was great! Good story, great acting, Sean and Gina, Sir Ralph, what more could a movie fan want?

Posted By Jenni : August 27, 2011 9:26 pm

Watched this movie in May of 2009 and it was great! Good story, great acting, Sean and Gina, Sir Ralph, what more could a movie fan want?

Posted By Hecubot : August 28, 2011 11:25 am

I’ll have to check this out. I do love that odd sub-genre of faux-Hitchcock movies from the sixties including The Prize (with Paul Newman and Elke Summer) and Stanley Donen’s movies like Charade and Arabesque.

Posted By Hecubot : August 28, 2011 11:25 am

I’ll have to check this out. I do love that odd sub-genre of faux-Hitchcock movies from the sixties including The Prize (with Paul Newman and Elke Summer) and Stanley Donen’s movies like Charade and Arabesque.

Posted By dukeroberts : August 28, 2011 2:31 pm

I finished this movie last night. Sean was a right bastard in this. Ralph Richardson was also a really awful human being. The way he treated and spoke about his servants was unconscionable. And Gina looked absolutely lovely. Thanks for the write-up on this movie. I really enjoyed it.

Posted By dukeroberts : August 28, 2011 2:31 pm

I finished this movie last night. Sean was a right bastard in this. Ralph Richardson was also a really awful human being. The way he treated and spoke about his servants was unconscionable. And Gina looked absolutely lovely. Thanks for the write-up on this movie. I really enjoyed it.

Posted By muriel schwenck : August 29, 2011 7:45 pm

This is one of my favorite Sean Connery movies. (As I type, can’t think of one I like better.) In the beginning Connery is so handsome and so sexy. Mmmmmmm…. His turn around is truly entertaining. As awful as Charles Richmond is, Richardson manages to make him somewhat touching – no one could do that better than Richardson. Highly entertaining, highly recommended.

Posted By muriel schwenck : August 29, 2011 7:45 pm

This is one of my favorite Sean Connery movies. (As I type, can’t think of one I like better.) In the beginning Connery is so handsome and so sexy. Mmmmmmm…. His turn around is truly entertaining. As awful as Charles Richmond is, Richardson manages to make him somewhat touching – no one could do that better than Richardson. Highly entertaining, highly recommended.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : August 30, 2011 1:53 am

I really appreciate all the comments! It’s nice to know that WOMAN OF STARW has a lot of fans. If you’re like late ’50s/early ’60s Hitchcock thrillers this is well worth a look. The three leads (Connery, Lollobrigida & Richardson) are all in top form. Connery rarely got the opportunity to play a bad guy and as dukeroberts said, he really is a right bastard in this. I hope more people are inspired to give it a look.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : August 30, 2011 1:53 am

I really appreciate all the comments! It’s nice to know that WOMAN OF STARW has a lot of fans. If you’re like late ’50s/early ’60s Hitchcock thrillers this is well worth a look. The three leads (Connery, Lollobrigida & Richardson) are all in top form. Connery rarely got the opportunity to play a bad guy and as dukeroberts said, he really is a right bastard in this. I hope more people are inspired to give it a look.

Posted By David Del Valle : August 31, 2011 1:33 pm

I have also been a fan of this film from the beginning…it was my take that the Richardson character was based somewhat on J Paul Getty..? In anycase Sir Ralph has always given the best performance in whatever he choses to play. Sean Connery uses his sex appeal in a creepy way which reminded me a little of his work in A FINE MADNESS…another offbeat role for ouR Mr Bond.

Gina has given many entertaining performances mostly in comedies so it is fun to see her suffer a bit in this one. Her scenes with Richardson are among the best in the film.

Thanks again for placing the spotlight on another deserving film.

Posted By David Del Valle : August 31, 2011 1:33 pm

I have also been a fan of this film from the beginning…it was my take that the Richardson character was based somewhat on J Paul Getty..? In anycase Sir Ralph has always given the best performance in whatever he choses to play. Sean Connery uses his sex appeal in a creepy way which reminded me a little of his work in A FINE MADNESS…another offbeat role for ouR Mr Bond.

Gina has given many entertaining performances mostly in comedies so it is fun to see her suffer a bit in this one. Her scenes with Richardson are among the best in the film.

Thanks again for placing the spotlight on another deserving film.

Posted By FRAN CASSIDY : October 20, 2011 11:01 pm

I LOVE SEAN CONNERY AND THINK,HE IS ONE OF THE MOST HANDSOME ACTORS IN MOVIES,ICLUDING OTHERS, CHARLES HESTON,FERNDANO LAMAS, CLARK GABLE PLUS THE ACTORS OF TODAY SUCH AS, ROBERT REDFORD,BRAD PITT,RICHARD GERE& SO FORTH!I HAVE SEEN MOST OF ALL HIS MOVIES AND ENJOYED EVERYONE ONE OF THEM IMMENSELY!IT A SHAME YOU CAN’T PUT “WOMAN OF STRAW”ON A DVD,BECAUSE I WOULD LOVED TO WATCH IT OVER &OVER AGAIN!EVERY TIME I SEE IT ,I FALL COMPLETELY IN LOVE WITH HIM MYSELF!I WOULD EVEN CONSIDERED BUYING THAT PARTICULARLY DVD, IF IT WAS AVAILABLE NOW!I SAW THAT MOVIE IN 1964 THEN,& IT IS STILL MY FAVORITE!I THINK,GINA LOLABRIGDA WAS VERY BEAUTIFUL IN THIS SCENCE AS SHE WAS IN THE ITALIAN MOVIE”AMERICANA” WITH CLARK GABLE!

Posted By FRAN CASSIDY : October 20, 2011 11:01 pm

I LOVE SEAN CONNERY AND THINK,HE IS ONE OF THE MOST HANDSOME ACTORS IN MOVIES,ICLUDING OTHERS, CHARLES HESTON,FERNDANO LAMAS, CLARK GABLE PLUS THE ACTORS OF TODAY SUCH AS, ROBERT REDFORD,BRAD PITT,RICHARD GERE& SO FORTH!I HAVE SEEN MOST OF ALL HIS MOVIES AND ENJOYED EVERYONE ONE OF THEM IMMENSELY!IT A SHAME YOU CAN’T PUT “WOMAN OF STRAW”ON A DVD,BECAUSE I WOULD LOVED TO WATCH IT OVER &OVER AGAIN!EVERY TIME I SEE IT ,I FALL COMPLETELY IN LOVE WITH HIM MYSELF!I WOULD EVEN CONSIDERED BUYING THAT PARTICULARLY DVD, IF IT WAS AVAILABLE NOW!I SAW THAT MOVIE IN 1964 THEN,& IT IS STILL MY FAVORITE!I THINK,GINA LOLABRIGDA WAS VERY BEAUTIFUL IN THIS SCENCE AS SHE WAS IN THE ITALIAN MOVIE”AMERICANA” WITH CLARK GABLE!

Posted By Ron Miller : July 13, 2012 1:11 pm

I agree. And MGM/UA should also release “Masquerade,” the 1965 spy thriller made by the same director and producer, Basil Dearden and Michael Relph. It’s one of the best of the non-Bond spy films that came out after the popularity of “Goldfinger.” It stars Cliff Robertson, Jack Hawkins, and Marisa Mell. Cliff Robertson is an American soldier-of-fortune who teams up with Jack Hawkins to kidnap an Arabian prince to keep him safe until he ascends the throne and will renew his country’s oil rights to the British. The prince ends up kidnapped again by someone else and before the film is over the viewer is treated to gunfights, a spooky castle, a rundown circus, a rickety bridge over a gorge thousands of feet in the air, and spies galore (none of whom is what he or she appears to be), all taking place in and around the Spanish coastal town of Alicante. Beautiful Mediterranean scenery abounds. Check it out if you like “Woman of Straw.”

Posted By Ron Miller : July 13, 2012 1:11 pm

I agree. And MGM/UA should also release “Masquerade,” the 1965 spy thriller made by the same director and producer, Basil Dearden and Michael Relph. It’s one of the best of the non-Bond spy films that came out after the popularity of “Goldfinger.” It stars Cliff Robertson, Jack Hawkins, and Marisa Mell. Cliff Robertson is an American soldier-of-fortune who teams up with Jack Hawkins to kidnap an Arabian prince to keep him safe until he ascends the throne and will renew his country’s oil rights to the British. The prince ends up kidnapped again by someone else and before the film is over the viewer is treated to gunfights, a spooky castle, a rundown circus, a rickety bridge over a gorge thousands of feet in the air, and spies galore (none of whom is what he or she appears to be), all taking place in and around the Spanish coastal town of Alicante. Beautiful Mediterranean scenery abounds. Check it out if you like “Woman of Straw.”

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