...a blog by Richard Flowers

Friday, October 05, 2012

Day 4296: BOND GOLD: Dr No


It is the Fiftieth Anniversary of the release of the first JAMES BOND film, "Dr No". It's also the fiftieth anniversary of the first Beatles single too. And it is also also Ms Cathy Gale's BIRTHDAY. So it is OFFICIALLY fifty years since the day the SIXTIES started.

To celebrate this, and the forthcoming NEW James Bond film about the phone hacking scandal "Sky Fail", ALL of my top twenty-five favourite Bond films have been released in a new blu-ray box. (Except for the "other" Casino Royale and the "other" Thunderball. And "Skyfall" is currently represented by a GAP!)

You KNOW what this means though... twenty-two days to watch twenty-two Bond films! Excellent! And what could POSSIBLY go WRONG!

Dr No (1962)

Starring Mr Sean Connery as Ian Flemming's James Bond

The One With: Ursula Andress in THAT bikini. That bloke with the metal hands.

The picture LOOKS beautiful, from the "Le Cercle" club where Sylvia Trench first introduces us to "the line": "Bond, James Bond", to the highways of Kingston Jamaica, and that's really Connery there in the car, no back-projection for the first car chase (not something that can be said about that hearse following him on the mountainside). Jack Lord exudes cool as Felix Leiter, but Connery still blows him off the screen so you can see why he wouldn't be back to do that again.

Daddy Alex particularly remarks on the way that the movie makes no concessions at all to coming in halfway through the book series, with M casually referring to Bond's berretta jamming on his last mission ("From Russia With Love" resulting in him being kicked by Rosa Klebb's poison boot-knife), and later telling Bond and Moneypenny to "skip the usual repartee". This isn't just skipping the "origin story" but expecting you to have done the reading. And all the better for it.

(Actually, this IS an origin story... but it's SpECTRE's origin story, not Bonds!)

Also, Major Boothroyd calls Britain's top assassin "a woman". No wonder HE'S not back for the sequel!

The plot, such as it is, is no more than a series of set pieces. Bond's investigation is perfunctory at best, since pretty much everyone he meets is working for Dr No already, and Professor Dent might as well be wearing a tee-shirt saying "I've got a Guilty Secret, please shoot me!". But each follows logically from the last and the pace and charisma keep the excitement mounting, so who cares!

The film escalates through Bond's series of encounters with Dr No's organisation, with Bond suavely taking everything from fluffy spiders to femmes fatales in his stride until we get to Dr No's island of Crab Key where things start to get a bit hairy. Finally, he confronts Dr No himself in the electrifying dinner scene. And then the movie slightly loses its way for ten minutes before the climax in Dr No's private nuclear reactor.

The book sees the evil Doctor put Bond into his Deathtrap Dungeon. For laughs, mainly. It seems like the filmmakers thought that this might be a bit silly. Or they didn't have faith in their ability to do the giant octopus attack at the end. So instead we get Mr Bond sort of escaping through the oversized air-conditioning, which for some reason has some lite deathtrappage built in. And fortunately he escapes the far end just in time to catch the one guy who works the nuclear furnace exploder controls on his way back from a late toilet break. Which is handy.

Oh, and the movie avoids all mention of GUANO. But the source of Dr No's power is STILL his undoing as, instead of being buried in bird poo, he is boiled-in-the-bag by his own reactor. Icky!

There're a LOT of women in it, which is unusual for a Bond. To be fair, a lot of them are there to stare AT Bond and go "sigh". But Miss Taro (Zena Marshall) and the unnamed photographer "Freelance" (Marguerite LeWars) are both strong pro-active women; as, for that matter, are Miss Moneypenny and Miss Trench. There are a lot of minor roles – Strangways secretary; the woman who takes the message from the radio operator to the comptroller of signals – that would just be omitted from any later film. It's completely unsentimental about killing women too – the secretary getting the same treatment as her boss. A particular favourite moment though is the woman Bond approaches at the harbour when looking for Quarrel. "Him!" she says and points. It's a completely charming moment.

The recurring motif of copper everywhere in Dr No's fortress base is both elegant and reminds of electricity and ultimately Dr No's nuclear reactor again. Odd that it's not aluminium, given that they've swapped the guano for a bauxite (or aluminium ore) mine. But I suppose copper is more visually distinctive. It does make Dr No's guest suite one of the WEIRDEST hotels anywhere – number three has the en suite, the adjoining bedrooms, the coffee bar; number twelve has the manacles and the inlet from the sea and the giant crabs(!) Ken Adam gets to do at least one signature set – the room where Professor Dent receives his instructions from Dr No's disembodied voice. The reactor room set is rather functional though. Though you've gotta love an "Abandon Area" sign that lights up when the reactor's going to blow!

Bond Quips #1: (on delivering the body of one of Dr No's agents to Government House) Sergeant, see that he doesn't get away.

Bond Quips #2: (reflecting on the crashed hearse) I think they were on the way to a funeral.

Other things to watch out for: Pussfeller's nightclub where the cosmopolitan crowd are all dancing with partners of the same skin tone to get around the American censor's rather twitchy attitude to mixed race couples.

Bottom Line: This is ALL about Connery. From the moment he delivers "the Line" he on a trajectory to superstardom that no toppling can prevent. What a magnificent bad-word!

Now check out this interview with the rather wonderful Ms Moneypenny. Can't SHE by the next James Bond when Mr Craig is done?

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