If you take a look at some of the other movies Sean Connery was making during and immediately after his tenure as James Bond, they reveal an actor working desperately hard not to be typecast. His roles of this period include a frustrated poet, a scheming would-be inheritor, a prisoner in a British army glasshouse, a master thief and an Irish-American terrorist. And in perhaps the ultimate subversion of Bond's reputation as a lady-killer, Alfred Hitchcock cast him in Marnie as the man who blackmails Tippi Hedren's titular kleptomaniac into marriage and then rapes her.
By the end of the Sixties, Connery had broken away from the 007 franchise and was free to pick and choose the parts he wanted to play, yet he returned to the fold for Diamonds Are Forever just four years after quitting. Why? Well, the obvious answer would be: for the money. And it's true, he did squeeze a fortune out of United Artists - an estimated $15.9 million, adjusted for inflation. But perhaps the clincher was United Artists' promise to finance two modestly budgeted projects of Connery's own choosing. The second of these, a proposed adaptation of Macbeth, was thwarted by the release of the Roman Polanski version and never went into production, but Connery's other pet project, an adaptation of a more recent play, John Hopkins' This Story of Yours, became Sidney Lumet's The Offence.
In addition to its curiosity value as a small film without which a much bigger picture might never have been made, The Offence is a superb movie in its own right and deserves to be better known. I would actually rate this as my second favourite of Lumet's films - after Dog Day Afternoon, in case you're interested - and Connery's performance in it as being among his finest work. He plays Detective Sergeant Johnson, a burned-out policeman obsessively hunting a child molester in a ghastly unspecified New Town. In the aftermath of the latest attack, a dishevelled and agitated man, played by Ian Bannen, is brought in for questioning. Johnson is convinced of the man's guilt and decides to extract a speedy confession, with tragic consequences.
Lumet is regarded as an actors' director, not really known for possessing an elaborate style, but with the fractured narrative, the flashes back and forth in time, the slow motion and dream sequences, he really pulls out all the stops here to make the material as cinematic as possible. The way in which Johnson is haunted, not so much by the terrible things he has witnessed but by his imaginative ability to see the world through his quarry's eyes - the very thing that makes him good at his job - prefigures Michael Mann's Manhunter by well over a decade. The Offence also bears interesting comparison with another film of 1972, coincidentally also made in England by an American and adapted from a stage play, Joseph L. Mankiewicz's Sleuth. Both of these pictures centre on a duel to the death in which, perversely, it is the winner who forfeits his life.