May 27, 2010 4 Comments
Year: 1962, (October) in the UK. However, the film was not released in the U.S. until April 1963.
Film Length: 1 Hour 50 Minutes
Bond Actor: Sean Connery. Prior to playing Bond, the Scotsman was known mostly for his work on British television. Bond was his first lead role in a film and by most accounts he was nervous but excited when he landed the part. While many who worked on the film described him as quite green, all agree that he was a hard working professional who was a delight on set. Director Terence Young once said Connery was the only man he ever worked with who had no ego. Connery, of course, would go on to define James Bond and is widely considered the best of the six actors to fill 007’s shoes.
Director: Terence Young. For some reason, when it comes to the Bond films, the director is an after thought in most people’s minds. (Quick, who directed Casino Royal (2006), the film widely credited with rejuvenating the Bond franchise?) Young, at the helm for Dr. No and two other early Bond films, is considered to be the visionary behind the film incarnation of 007. No small accomplishment considering James Bond is one of the strongest brand names in movie history. In life, Young was James Bond. The Cambridge educated WWII vet was said to be a lady killer, sharp dresser, knowledgeable about wine and was well traveled, visiting many of the exotic locations that would be featured in the Bond franchise. While preparing to make the film, Young took Connery out to several dinners with the purpose of showing his leading man how to dress, order, drink, and command a room as Bond. With Dr. No, all the “rules” that go along with Bond were not yet in place, however, Young’s use of humor, pacing, music, brilliant sets and intricate set pieces would define the Bond franchise going forward. From everything I’ve seen, and this is no slight to Ian Fleming, the film character of James Bond is the creation of two people, Sean Connery and Terence Young. If you want the whole back story on what exactly Young brought to Dr. No as well as the story of Connery being cast as Bond, please read this excellent post.
Reported Budget: $1,100,000
Reported Box-office: Just over $16,000,000 in the US and $59,600,000 worldwide. Nobody involved with the production or at the studio really knew how this film would fare at the box office, but expectations were not high. In fact, the script was considered flat and prior to Young coming on board, nobody thought of Bond as more than an international cop. Additionally, the books were a hit in the UK, but were virtually unknown in the states. While not pocket change, a one million dollar budget was tight for a film with exotic locations and special effect heavy action sequences, even for ‘62 (Laurence of Arabia, also 1962, had a reported budget of $15 million.) One producer said on the DVD commentary that they knew they had a great score, a woman in a bikini, guns, and a tarantula. The rest? Needless to say, all involved must have been over the moon with the films return. So much so that I think they made a few sequels.
Theme Song: The James Bond Theme – Composed by Marty Norman and preformed by John Barry & Orchestra. It’s been said that without the music, Bond is just another action film. While this is an exaggeration, it’s true the Bond films would not be what they are without the hypnotic score. With all due respect to John Williams and Danny Elfman this theme has to be one of the most famous and recognizable ever composed for a film. When the Bond music kick in, it’s the sonic equivalent to Clark Kent taking off his glasses; the audience knows Superman (or Bond) is coming, he’s about to kick ass and he’s going to save the day. Just hearing the theme invokes feelings and images from the Bond films. In later Bond movies, a theme song written specifically for that film will become something of a marketing point, like the casting of the Bond Girl. But Dr. No. simply has the Bond Theme; the music went on to be used in every Bond movie since, and it’s as fresh today as it was in 1962.
Opening Titles: This film is different from Bond films to follow in that there is no action sequence prior to the opening credits. For the opening of the movie, the MGM lion comes up, roars, and the famous white dots move along the middle of the black screen. Then, the single dot or gun barrel moves with a fedora sporting Bond as he walks to the middle of the screen, turns and shoots at the camera, a la The Great Train Robbery (1903). THEN the score kicks in. Next, the dot wiggles to the bottom of the screen the open credits role. The titles feature an awesome colored dot graphic that screams early sixties. The music, though now iconic, must have felt modern and prepared audiences for something new. Then, as quickly as the theme started, it’s stopped, for some drums and dancing women in silhouette, drawing the blueprint for every opening title sequence going forward in the Bond series. Finally, the music switches one last time and we see three old men with canes walking across the screen as an island voice sings “Three Blind Mice.” As the credits end, the three blind men walk out of the credits and into the opening scene in the film itself. Before we even know what’s happening, we are thrown head first into the story. Fantastic opening.
Opening Action Sequence: Dr. No doesn’t have the pre-credit action sequence that would become a Bond convention. So, I will use this space to cover the scene that introduces our hero. After some opening business in which MI6 suddenly looses touch with their contact in Kingston Jamaica, we follow a man into the Le Cercle, an exclusive club in London. The camera snakes onto the casino floor of the club much like the camera entering Rick’s in Casablanca (1942) and comes to rest on a group playing baccarat, the dealers back is to the camera. The dealer is playing heads up against a woman who is loosing and goes to buy more chips. We then hear the dealers voice “I admire your courage Miss….” “French, Silvia French. And I admire your luck Mr…” Cut to the dealers face for the first time, an unlit cigarette dangling from his lips. “Bond…(the music kicks in, he lights his Zippo) James Bond.” Silvia French, as cool as Bond, responds “Mr. Bond, I suppose you wouldn’t care to raise the limit.” “I have no objections.” The two engage in witty banter and flirting until business calls James away from the table. Miss. French gets up with him and walks him to the cashier’s window, where Bond collects his winnings and asks Miss. French to dinner. Then, he’s gone. It’s remarkable how much we learn about this character that will be with us through 2010 and beyond in one scene. He’s able to command a table in an exclusive club with easy and charm, while taking everyone’s money. He is wearing an impossibly perfect suit and flirting with a woman no one else would dare even approach. He is smart, sarcastic, witty, blasé, and looks as if he could give a damn about anything happening around him, yet he takes it all in. Finally, he leaves with a stack of money and the best looking lady in the room, off to perform some kind of business. What? We don’t yet know. How mysterious. In short, Bond is in complete control and by far the coolest mother fer in the room. He knows everything, while we know nothing. The ground work for everything that Bond is comes together in these few minutes of screen time. Knowing all that will follow, the scene is perhaps more powerful today that is was 48 years ago.
Bond’s Mission: The film opens with the murder of a man and his sectary. The killing of the female sectary is rather violent and shocking, especially coming so early in the film. She is on a radio when a window is smashed by the three blind mice (not so blind it turns out) who shoot her at close range. They steal two files marked “Crab Key Island” and “Doctor No.” Back in London, MI6 becomes concerned that the radio transmission was suddenly cut off and the game is afoot. The pacing here is economical but not rushed and it immediately pulls us into the story. Who was killed? Why? Bond is contacted at the Le Cercle and comes to learn from M that John Strangways, an agent in Jamaica, was the man who was murdered. Strangways was following up on intel that suggested some kind of radio wave being transmitted from the island was affecting the gyroscope navigation systems in U.S. “rockets.” Bond must leave for Jamaica at once but when he gets home to pack he encounters Miss. French practicing her short game in his bedroom, putting clad in one of Bond shirts … and nothing more. Despite having to leave “immediately” Bond sleeps with his first girl in what maybe his flat. Do we ever see Bond’s place of residence again in any future film? When Bond lands at the Kingston airport it seems half the island is waiting for him, including a U.S. agent, a mysterious woman who tries to take his photo, and a driver who is to take Bond to the Government House. The driver, of course, tries to kill Bond, fails, and Bond knows he can trust no one. After searching Strangways’ office 007 finds a receipt from a geologist and a photo of Strangways with a local fisherman. Bond tracks down the fisherman, who turns out to be the CIA and MI6’s local fixer. Quarrel is the man’s name and he, along with CIA agent Felix, fills Bond in on the details. Strangways suspected Crab Key, an island protected by a dragon and owned by a mysterious Chinese man, maybe the source of the radio waves interfering with the “moon rockets.” “What else do we know about this Chinese gentleman?” Bond asks Felix “Nothing much. But his name, Doctor No.”
Villain’s Name: Dr. Julius No
Villain Actor: Joseph Wiseman, a veteran of the Broadway stage, was not the first or third choice to play Dr. No, but most of the better known actors offered the part turned it down. The film was seen as a career killer thanks to it’s less than stealer script and the fact the leading man was a little known TV actor.
Villain’s Plot: Here sadly, is where Dr. No falls apart. It’s fitting that the first movie would hit a speed bump in this department as it seems like a lot of Bond films have trouble nailing the villains plot in a concise and logical manner. I have no idea why this is since Bond movies are known for featuring so many fantastic and memorial bad guys. None the less, as explained to Bond by Dr. No over dinner, the brilliant Chinese/ German doctor is pissed off at the world because both the East and the West (read capitalist and communists) failed to see his geniuses. So, he now lives on Crab Key with the immediate goal of disrupting a US moon launch, step one in his plot to take over the world. How messing up a moon mission gets him on the road to world domination is anyone guess. He also lets Bond know he is a member of SPECTRE, “Special Executive for Counter Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, Extortion. The four great cornerstones of power.” Noble pursuits all. SPECTRE, Dr. No explains, is made up of the greatest minds in the world and transcends petty East vs. West politics. “They are just points on a compass.” Long time Bond fans will also note this is not the last time 007 will come in contact with one of this origination super villains.
Villain’s Lair: Dr. No’s Crab Key hideout fits right in with the proud tradition of Bond villain’s owning grand bases of operation. (Ed. Note, my favorite Bond Villain lair ever was featured in Pixar’s The Incredibles (2004)). Accessible only by boat, the natives are fearful of Crab Key because it’s guarded by a dragon, IE a fire breathing tank. From the outside, the place looks like a heavily guarded industrial complex. Inside, it’s very high tech and modern. The first time we go to the island is with the shady Prof. Dent, the geologist who Bond tracked down after finding a receipt in Strangways’ office. After Bond asks the professor too many questions about Crab Key, Dent is on the next boat to warn Dr. No that Bond is on to them. When the professor arrives at the hideout he is escorted by guards into a large room with no windows; save the huge circular skylight in the ceiling. A disembodied voice, that of Dr. No, makes clear to the professor he is less than happy with him for failing to eliminate Bond. The professor leaves with a caged tarantula and these simple orders, “Tonight.” The room is awesome and the unseen Dr. No is truly scary and evil. It’s sadly the last time in the film he will seem so. The rest of his lair is equally fantastic. The room Dr. No hosts Bond in is underwater and features paintings, trees, statues, and a huge window with gigantic fish swimming on the other side. “One million dollars Mr. Bond.” says Dr. No the first time we see him, 1 hour and 27 minutes into the film. He is telling Bond how much the undersea room costs, though Bond did not ask. Thanks to Austin Powers, there is no way to take this line seriously. Mike Myers also makes the climax of this film, which happens in another amazing room, difficult to watch without giggling. Dr. Evil, obviously, is Dr. No right down to the clear doom hazmat suit helmet. In fact, the climax of Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) is a spot on spoof of Dr. No, complete with an over the top count down to launch, walls of blinking lights that serve no discernable purpose, and even a gigantic globe in the center of the room. There is also a nuclear element to Dr. No’s lair which plays a critical role in the plot, but is never properly explained. It appears that a reactor is necessary to power everything on the island, but why the reactor needs to be shut down to operate the radio beam is never addressed. Further, why is the reactor, implied to be very dangerous, located in the middle of the control room where dozens of men are working to stop the NASA launch? Surly there is a more suitable out of the way location somewhere on the gigantic island. The nuclear element is clearly meant to play off 1960’s fear of radiation and all the havoc that goes along with a meltdown, but it feels shoehorned into the plot. Why couldn’t Dr. No simply drop a nuke on Cape Canaveral?
Villain’s Coolest Accessory/ Trait: Dr. No wears rubber gloves and refuses to shake hands, having lost his ten digits in some kind of nuclear mishap. He now has robot hands capable of crushing a bronze Buddha statue. Dr. No is the first in a long line of Bond villains with physical abnormalities, from bleeding tear ducts (Le Chiffre in Casino Royal (2006)) to steel teeth (Jaws, several films) to terrible blond dye jobs (Max Zorin in A View to a Kill (1985).) The hands themselves are cool, but after the statue trick, he never uses them again, including when he and Bond are grappling hand to hand. A basic rule of drama; don’t introduce a gun in first act if you don’t intend to shoot it in the third.
Bad Assness of Villain: Dr. No is much more evil in concept than in reality. Yes, killing secret agents and attempting to take down a NASA rocket are not nice things to do. However, once we meet him, Dr. No is not all that badass. Not only does he not show up till very late in the film but beyond talking a lot, he really doesn’t do much.
Villain’s Asides/ Henchmen: Dr. No employs hundreds on his island. Outside, there are armed guards while inside the lair, there are men are in pink, green and white hazmat suits. There are also Asian woman who tend to prisoners, like Bond, as if there were in a five star hotel. Beyond Professor Dent, who seems more like a partner out of convince than a sidekick, Dr. No seems to have just faceless minions surrounding him.
Bond Girl Actress: Ursula Andress. Andress was not interested in acting prior to this film but she hung around with Brando and Kurt Douglas who encouraged her to take the part when she was asked. On the commentary she talks about how every time she had to say a line she would get so nervous she almost couldn’t speak. A leading lady unable to deliver lines might be seen as a detriment to a production; however it presented no problems as far producers were concerned. The German-Swiss Andress spoke so little English and had such a thick accent that her lines were re-voiced in post by another actress. No matter, she doesn’t show up to the third act anyway, has very few lines, and even less to do. She is in the movie for one purpose and one purpose only, to look good. And boy dose she ever.
Bond Girl’s Name: Honeychile Ryder – Just a fantastic name that sets the tone for all the Bond girls to follow. We don’t meet Honey till we are almost two thirds of the way through the film, but when she does come on screen, it’s one of the most iconic entrances in film history. Bond and his guide/ sidekick Quarrel sneak onto the mysterious and heavily guarded Crab Key Island under the cover of darkness. Bond suggests they sleep for they will need their strength in the morning. Quarrel pulls off a bottle of rum and passes out. The next morning, Bond is awoken by the sound of a woman singing. He looks toward the voice and sees Honey emerging from the sea, wearing a white bikini and a knife on her hip, carrying shells and singing “Under the Mango Tree.” Bond joins her in singing, startling the woman as he asks “What’s you name? “Rider, Honey Rider.” Honey’s first moments on screen are amazing and ooze of sex, but she quickly becomes nothing more than scenery and is pretty useless when it comes to mission at hand. Sure, she knows how to get deep into the islands interior, but I’m confident Bond could have figured this out himself. Honey gets few lines but when she and James have a quite moment where she tells her story, it’s by far the strangest moment in the film. We are just minutes past an incident where Bond cracks a guard’s neck, killing him, and Honey reacts with such horror that Bond tells her “I had to do it.” While drying off in the jungle, Honey explains how her father, a marine biologist, disappeared off the coast of Crab Key when she was just a girl. (Despite this and the fire breathing dragon she’s encountered she still comes to the island to collect shells?) She goes on to explain that with both her parents gone a friend of the family looked after her till one night he came into her room and tried to rape her. As revenge, she killed him with a black widow spider. “It took him a whole week to die. Did I do wrong?” Bond “Well, I wouldn’t make a habit of it.” She delivers this bit of business with the feeling and conviction one would use when ordering and omelet with side of bacon, despite the fact that moments earlier she was unable to deal with Bond taking down a guard. She spends the rest of the film both looking amazing and getting in the way until the final scene when Bond finally beds her, as he must.
Bond Girl Sluttiness: She hangs all over Bond in moments of danger but never throws herself at him. She is incredibly sexy but has no heat or sexuality after climbing out of the ocean. Beyond the bizarre rape story, I have no idea if sex ever crosses this woman mind. She acts more like a little girl than a woman.
Bond Girls Best Pick-up Line: Sometimes actions speak louder than words. Zina Marshall’s Miss. Taro has invited Bond to her home on the other side of the island. While in root, James avoids getting run off the road by would be assassins. When he knocks on her door, the fresh out the shower Miss. Taro answers wearing a towel around her head, another around her torso, and high heels. Adding to the comedy of the moment is her surprise at Bonds arrival, since he was meant to be killed on the way to her house. So…. she was just hanging out, drying off, in her stilettos.
Bond’s Best Pick-up Line: My favorite line from Bond to a woman is a blow off and not a pick up line. After a woman in a dance club tries to take Bond’s photo he demands to know who she is working for. She claims to freelance for the local paper which Bond quickly exposes as a lie. He then dismisses her saying “Now run along freelance.” Cold, funny, perfect.
Number of Woman 007 Beds: 3 ladies, 2 of them twice. The fore mentioned Silvia French is bedded less than 17 minutes into the film; after Bond wins her money and says all of six sentences to her. He doesn’t even have to bring her home, she shows up at his place unannounced. Fantastic for the first Bond conquest. Next is Miss. Taro who Bond first solicits while she is on her knees ease dropping on him at a door. Despite the nastiness on the way to her abode, the two do it twice (does she keep the heels on?) and then Bond sends her off with British agents, never to been seen again. But not before she spits in his face. Surprisingly, Honey and Bond don’t get down to business till the last scene in the film. While escaping Crab Key Island, their small two seat boat runs out of fuel (Petrol if you’re British.) The two pass the time getting to know each other until Felix shows up with the British Navy to rescue them. They don’t get on the Navy boat, electing to stay in their small craft as it dragged like a digging. They just can’t keep there hands off each other and while going for round two, Bond unties the line so they are once again alone…and adrift. Cheeky. This is the start of a running joke in the Bond films where Bond is either interrupted or saved by the British government while performing with a lady. It must also be noted here that in 1962 this was racy stuff. Particularly the scenes with Zena Marshall where she and Connery were actually in bed together, something that was all but verboten at the time. Young decided to lighten the sexually and chill the censors out by adding elements of humor. Hence the piffy one liners and the high heels in the shower. 007’s caviler and almost sarcastic attitude toward bedding women would come to define the James Bond character.
Number of People 007 Kills: At lest seven men and one tarantula; slammed repeatedly with his shoe. The most shocking is the murder of Professor Dent. After several failed attempts to dispose of Bond (including the fore mentioned tarantula being unloaded in Bonds bed) Dr. No’s lackey Prof. Dent enters a room where Bond is sleeping and empties several bullets into him, or more accurately, into blankets rolled up under the sheets. Bond gets the drop on the professor, holding him at gun point while casually smoking. After some banter Bond seemingly convinces the professor to spill the plot (“You might as well know since you won’t live to tell.”) Just before he gives everything away, the professor makes a quick move, recovers his gun, and fires at Bond only to hear an unsatisfying click. Years before Dirty Harry lost count of how many bullets were fired and asked a punk if he’s feeling lucky, Bond tells the professor “It’s a Smith & Wesson, and you’ve already had you’re six.” Without batting an eye, Bond then pumps him twice. Awesome. Much like the sex in the film, the censors were less than pleased with the hero killing a man in cold blood telling Young it was “not very sporting.” Young argued that this was guy who tried to kill Bond twice in the past thirty seconds, not to mention several other times in the film, and that 007 had every right to give him what he had coming. As for the other killings, Young once again tried to down play the violence with humor. Bond’s first victim is upright in the back seat of a convertible when 007 pulls up to the Government House “Sergeant, make sure he doesn’t get away.” When he runs a black car off the road, Bond quips “I think they were on their way to a funeral.” Again, much like Bond’s double entendres when it comes to sex, his humor in the face of killing was originally meant to soften up censors but would go on to become a trademark of the film series. In actions films of the ’80, these smart assed one liners would become a cliché that was flogged to death by Bruce “Yippy Kai-yea M.Fer!” Willis, Arnold “I’ll be Back” Schwarzenegger, and many others. One last note, at the end of the film, Bond blows up Dr. No’s lair and half of Crab Key Island. Before the explosion there are dozens of Dr. No’s employees running around. We see many of them escape and none die on camera, but one can assume some poor souls didn’t make it. Hence my count of “at lest seven men.”
Most Outrageous Death/s: The shooting of Prof. Dent is shocking but not outrageous. I was thinking of this category being about people who were shredded by yo-yo saw blades or decapitate by deadly bowlers. While not outrageous, Dr. No’s death is the silliest. After he and Bond grapple on a slowly descending platform, Bond gets the upper hand as Dr. No (wearing his Dr. Evil hazmat suit) is dipped into …what exactly? As far as I can tell, its really hot water. But it’s implied to have some kind of radioactive properties that don’t melt the Doctor, but simply pull him under.
Miss. Moneypenny: Lois Maxwell! She played the role in 14 films opposite 3 different Bonds. (She also was Miss. Moneypenny in a 1975 movie called Bons baisers de Hong Kong or From Hong Kong With Love.) I will get into Maxwell in a future post, as well as the character of Mr. Moneypenny. (This puppy is way long as it is, but it’s the first movie, a lot to cover.) I will say her introduction is fantastic. Bond opens the door to her small office located off M’s, tossing his hat onto the rack. After some light back and forth Mr. Moneypenny notes 007’s attire. “You never take me to dinner looking like this James; you never take me to dinner.” “I would, but M would have me court marshaled for illegal use of government property” “Flattery will get you nowhere – but don’t stop trying.”
M: Bernard Lee, who was M for eleven films (and Bons baisers de Hong Kong) played the part in every Bond movie up till his death in 1981. Like Miss. Moneypenny, I will tackle Lee and M in a future post. That said, the character is firmly established from the get go. M’s office is as it always will be, a room that impressed me ever since I was kid. It also stuck me on this viewing how M’s purpose, at least in this early film, is to dispense with the plot in an economical manner. Just one more thing Mike Myers hit on the head, naming his M character Basil Exposition. M’s only other role in Dr. No is that of a curmudgeon trying to cramp Bond’s playboy style.
Q: No Q here fans, move along. And since we have no Q, we have no ….
Number of Gadgets: NA
List of Gadgets: NA
Gadgets/British Government Property Bond Destroys: Sadly nothing. Sure, he soils a suit and gets his nice blue golf shirt all messed up on Crab Key, but that’s about it.
Other Property Destroyed: Bond blows up Dr. No’s lab, runs an enemy’s car off the road and inadvertently gets Honey’s boat shot full of holes, but that’s about it.
Felix Leiter: Jack Lord, in the only film which he will play Felix, 007’s faithful CIA counterpart. I must admit, I forgot Lord was Felix in this film and my first thought when I saw him at the airport was “Hey, it’s Det. Steve McGarrett!” (My grandmother was a HUGE “Hawaii Five-O” fan.) The Felix character always cracked me up and I’m always happy to see him in Bond films. He is supposed to be the American secret agent man, but next to “Bond the Superhero” he’s a mall parking lot attendant. I will do some research into this but I have a strong feeling Felix is a way for the British to take the piss out of the U.S., and good on em. It’s a great joke; their man is all powerful and saves the day every time while the American simply looks on and plays a gofer.
Best One Liners/Quips: Covered a bunch already and more to come, but the following exchange it quite enjoyable. While at dinner with Dr. No, Bond grabs a bottle and goes to strike a guard with it. Dr. No. “That’s a Dom Perignon ’55, it would be a pity to break it.” Bond “I prefer the ’53 myself.”
Bond Cars: Sunbeam Alpine Series 1, which appears in the parking lot after Bond “orders” it. It’s a small blue convertible that handles the sandy mountain roads of Jamaica like a champ. That said, no toys. We need Q.
Bond Time Piece: He may have had one, but to be honest, I didn’t notice.
Other Notable Bond Accessories: Other than the hat, which I love, the one item of note is Bond’s sidearm. During the mission briefing, M orders Bond to hand over his Berretta while Major Bloothroyd, a third party in the room for the briefing, makes a quip about it being a ladies gun. Bond defends the weapon saying he’s never missed with it, but M counters that it jammed on his last mission resulting in a six month hospital stay for Bond. M then threatens to revoke Bond’s double O status (I.E., his license to kill) and return him to “standard intelligence duties” unless he takes the 7.65 mm Walther PPK. Bond naturally takes the Walther but tries to sneak out with the Barrette as well. M catches him and orders Bond to leave the Berretta behind. This is just throw away stuff in any other movie but it fascinating business in the world of Bond. Why is James attached to the Berretta if it belongs in “a ladies hand bag” and has failed him in the recent past? Bond was so badly hurt he spent six months in hospital; does he ever enter a hospital for care again in the series? What happened? What were his injuries? What was Bond doing when he was simply “standard intelligence?” This is the only hint we get to Bond’s background in the first film to feature the character.
Number of Drinks 007 Consumes: 5 or 6. He has some Dom, a beer and of course, martinis. His first drink is delivered to him when he checks into his room in Jamaica. Though we never see him make the order, the drink comes mixed, like he asked, not stirred. In his first meeting with Dr, No, the villain offers him “A medium dry martini, lemon peel, shaken, not stirred.” “Vodka?” Bond asks. “Of course” Dr. No responds, indicating he’s done his homework on our old boy. It’s worth noting, Bond is never seen asking for his martinis blended in his preferred fashion, but he gets them that way none the less. I was also stuck by the fact that everyone is drinking and smoking (including Bond) through the film. The sex and killing was a major hang up that pushed the envelope of the Production Code, but smoking and drinking happen freely with Quarrel even playing drunkenness for laughs in the classic drinking (in this case rum from a growler) to fortify courage gag. In a day and age where there is a push to give any film that features a character smoking an “R” rating (meaning, no one under 17 years of age can view the film in a theater without being accompanied by an adult guardian) yet sex and violence are more prevalent and explicit than ever, Dr. No plays like a fun house mirror of the moral concerns in 2010.
Bond’s Gambling Winnings: It’s a personal rule of mine that any movie Bond gambles in is a good one. However, I didn’t remember that the very first scene he’s in he’s playing baccarat, and taking a woman’s money to boot! This made me very happy indeed. I don’t know how much he takes off her but he cashes in a pile of plates for a stack of bills which he then freely hands out as tips to half the floor. Love this guy. He also plays solitaire while waiting for Prof. Dent to show up and shoot him.
List of Locations: Unlike other Bond films there is one location outside of London, Jamaica. I’m assuming this was a budget thing but they use the island to its fullest and it is as exotic as a local as any. In 1962 Jamaica was newly independent from England and tourism was in its infancy so the island consisted of fishing villages, slums and villas for the super rich. No high-rise hotels or beach front resorts. Young uses the island to maximum effect from the mountain roads to dark lagoons to stately plantation homes and even a shanty beach side bar. Unlike other Bond films where he bouncing from one city to the next, we get to live in Jamaica for a while, and the film benefits. The island is beautifully shot. My favorite looking sequence features Bond, Honey and Quarrel traveling up a river on Crab Key and devising an ingenious way to hide from several guards with dogs. The light is perfect and the sequence creates a true sense of exploration and adventure. It’s also worth noting that a few years after this film, Jamaican music exploded in popularity in the UK and Bob Marley became an international superstar. Some critics have pointed out the popularity of Dr. No may have contributed to Jamaica become more visible on the world stage.
Bonds Special Abilities Displayed: I’m not 100% what this category is yet. One of the many things that I always loved about Bond is he knows how to do anything that’s called for at any given moment. Need to ski, he’s an expert at downhill. Need to drive a submarine, he can do that backwards. Defuse a bomb, hotwire a tank, escape from a windowless room, unhook a bra with no hands, yep yep yep and hell yes. Anyway, in Dr. No he drives a boat (no biggie,) is super proficient at hand to hand combat, and is generally shrewd, more so than I recall him being in future films. He puts baby powder on a brief case and a single hair across a door in his room so when he returns he can see someone has been there. The one other thing I took note of is how Bond escapes from a cell in Dr. No’s lair. He smashes a grate and crawls out of the room via a large pipe that periodically has hot water pumped through it. While crawling through the pipe Bond is wearing a white undershirt which is ripped and bloodied. He also rips up part of his shirt to cover his hands so they won’t get burned. Besides being a very smart and practical way to deal with the scalding pipes, the image immediately reminded me of Bruce Willis in the first Die Hard (1988). I couldn’t help but see John McClane’s bloodied white shirt as he is crawling through air ducts, his bare feet wrapped in his ripped shirt. It was also really cool to see Bond bloody and beat up in ripped clothes. I feel like there are Bond films where he’s always in a tux and never gets a scratch.
Thoughts on Film: Dr. No, the first of 22 Bond films and counting, was famously describe on an Italian promotional poster as “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” It’s 100% that, and quite a bit more. Its 48 years old, has been referenced and out and out ripped off countless times, and still resonates. Which got me to thinking, just what the hell else was going on in 1962? A huge point, rock and roll was thought to be dead. Buddy Holly was gone, Elvis left to serve in the Army and the Beatles…not yet. Brian Epstein singed on as their manager in January of ’62, they wouldn’t hit in the UK till ’63, the US in ’64. As much as it’s now fashionable to think of the 60’s as groovy hippies and the rise of counterculture, that didn’t really happen in the mainstream till ‘67. This is why my beloved Mets, founded in 1962, are forever saddled with this little diddy. Rebellion and edgy fare was also not popular in Hollywood. The best picture nominations were Lawrence of Arabia, The Music Man, Mutiny on the Bounty, and To Kill a Mocking Bird, old studio system type films. Dr. No seems quite “Rock and Roll” and cutting edge next to these more “traditional” films. Bond, the hero, is not a single minded “man on a mission” but morally ambiguous. He takes in drink, travels in fancy cars and stays in top notch accommodations. He doesn’t sideline the task at hand for these pleasures, but makes them one in the same. It’s impossible to picture Bond eating a stale sandwich while sitting in a car for days at time waiting for his mark to show up. Bond also has no trouble jumping into bed with woman and leaving just as quickly. He even kills, with no remorse, in order to achieve his goals. He is a man slightly ahead of his time and in direct violation of the Production Codes of the day. It’s also worth noting that in 1962, the red scare was in full effect. In February, captured American spy pilot Francis Gary Powers was exchanged for Soviet spy Rudolf Abel. October saw the Cuban Missile Crisis. Despite this being the height of the Cold War, Dr. No doesn’t deal with the worldwide tensions in any direct way. However, the ideas of international spying, double agents, and the ever present danger of worldwide nuclear destruction are all over the film. Another 1962 note, in July, two U.S. Army officers were killed in Saigon, Vietnam, a country almost no one in America had ever heard of at that point. It made me think, despite the Vietnam War (yes, war) dominating the next 15 years of history and much of pop culture, I don’t think any of the Bond films deal with it on any level. Another thing I found interesting was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf opened on Broadway, a production much more raw and gritty than any of the 1962 films mentioned above including Dr. No. (In 2010, Broadway’s most cutting edge production is a jukebox musical based on a 2004 “punk” concept album.) Yet the violence and sexuality in this first Bond movie was thought to be edgy and nearly out of bounds. Viewed today, the sexuality is tame but the violence is actually more harsh than I would have thought. Prof. Dent and Quarrels death come so suddenly that they still shock. Truth be told, I wish Quarrel had made it, I missed his character once he was gone. As for Connery, he is just fantastic. The film has a great look and the first two acts play like a cracker-jack thriller. However, the third act is over long and rushed all at the same time and doesn’t come close to living up to the promise of its set up. Plus, Dr. No just isn’t that great of a bad guy and drags the film down in the end. I also missed some of the elements (Q, jet setting, etc.) that would become Bond standards. Even though it fails to fully hit stride, this first film is rather entertaining and firmly sets up many of the things we will come to love about Bond.
Martini ratings: On a 1 – 7 scale