Dr No (1962)

Posted: February 28, 2019 in James Bond
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dr no1

“I am smoking a fag.”

Directed by Terence Young

With Spectre over three years behind us now, Bond #25 still over a year away, and in a desperate attempt to revive my frankly flagging James Bond mojo, I’ve set myself the task of watching and reviewing every Bond film, in order, before the next film debuts.

Given that Bond#25 shouldn’t hit our screens until at least April 2020 this should give me plenty of time to go through the 24 canon films (no original Casino Royale or Never Say Never Again unless I finish early) and so long as I’m watching a film every two to three weeks I should make it!

Be warned, much as I love the franchise I expect to ridicule as often as I laud the films!

And so, as Julie Andrews sang, we start at the very beginning, a very good place to start, with Dr No, that sees 007 despatched to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of MI6 head of station, the wonderfully named Strangways, and his secretary. Once there 007 will become embroiled in a plot by the sinister Dr No to topple American rockets using radio waves.

Now it’s been a while since I last watched Dr No, and my view had always been that it was a film of two halves, one better than the other. Overall this view hasn’t changed, except insofar as those two halves have switched. You see, when I was younger it was the secret base, the atomic power and the madman with the metal hands that excited me. Now, however, I find more to enjoy in the first half of the film, and Bond’s investigation of Strangways’ disappearance, and it strikes me that we don’t see Bond acting as a detective nearly often enough, and whilst he’s clearly identified as having a licence to kill, it’s interesting that people are more concerned with him as an investigator. Honey exclaims that she’s never met a detective before, and even Dr No refers to him as just a policeman.

It’s also nice to see Bond indulging in some actual tradecraft; see as he dusts the locks of his briefcase with talcum powder, and places a hair across the door so that if anyone comes snooping, he’ll know. Not that he doesn’t make use of his licence to kill of course, just see the cold-blooded way he despatches Professor Dent—although this really does seem a trifle short-sighted, Dent was out of bullets and 007 still needed information, so killing him was a bit rash. What was it Judi Dench said in Casino Royale about blunt instruments?

dr no2It’s interesting how many Bondian elements will first appear here. The gun barrel, the James Bond theme, the meeting with M, being armed by Q (sort of given Major Boothroyd is Q, even if he’s not named as such) the flirting with Moneypenny, the flirting with anything in a skirt if we’re honest, and Bond is identified as a gambler and a ladies man before we learn he has a licence to kill, and by my reckoning he sleeps with three women here (albeit off camera, it was 1962) Sylvia Trench (so far the only Bond girl to return as the same character unless Moneypenny counts) Miss Taro and Honey—well ok, it only looks like he’s going to but does anyone imagine they didn’t? Even with the CIA and a bunch of Royal Marines watching?

Oddly once Bond goes over the Crab Key things get less interesting. Perhaps in part because whilst at the time Dr No’s ploy seemed fantastical, these days it’s quite mundane (and it’s never quite clear why he’s doing it, to prove a point? Because someone is paying SPECTRE?) and it also doesn’t help that Dr Evil wears that radiation suit decades later, you’ve got a lot to answer for, Mike Myers (but we’ll get to that properly when I review Spectre).

What can’t be denied is that Ken Adams’ sets are glorious, even before you consider that Dr No was made on quite a tight budget. I doubt you’d be able to make a film that looked this good now for the modern equivalent of a million dollars.

I guess the real trouble is that not much happens in those wonderful sets. Bond and Honey get decontaminated, in a scene that goes on way too long, before settling in for a snoozy nap, and then, finally, our titular villain appears and sets a dangerous precedent by explaining his whole plan to 007. Bond escapes from his cell with consummate ease, and thwarts No’s plan quite easily as well, and notice how none of No’s goons try and take any kind of revenge once Crab Key starts exploding, well I guess they have other things on their minds.

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“That’s Dr No, I didn’t spend three years at evil medical school to be Mr.”

Wiseman does a decent job, but he’s never really given the material or the screen time to make enough of an impression, though you have to admit that he ticks an awful lot of Bond villain boxes in a short amount of time; sinister foreigner, check, disfigured in some way, check, charming and urbane, check, completely immoral, check, genius, check, bit of a nutter, check…

All this and a big aquarium!

Of course no discussion of a Bond film is complete without discussion of the Bond girl (and yes I know it should be Bond woman, but no I’m not going to call them that) and setting aside the delightfully forward and ingenious Ms Trench, and femme fatale Miss Taro, that sobriquet really belongs to Ursula Andress’ Honey Ryder (with vocal assistance from Nikki van der Zyl and the singing voice of Diana Coupland from Bless this House!)

Dr-No-616.jpgNow for many Andress is seen as the iconic Bond girl, it’s all about that bikini apparently. Well let me shatter all your illusions (well most of them) because she’s not a great Bond girl. Yes she’s beautiful (and call me weird but I find her sexier the more clothes she puts on) but that’s about it. She talks tough, with mention of getting revenge on her rapist, and she wields a big knife, but she has zero agency and is no help to Bond whatsoever aside from acting as a damsel in distress for him to rescue then seduce. Contentious opinion #1; Britt Eklund’s Mary Goodnight is a way better Bond girl than Honey is!

As M and Moneypenny it’s hard to disaggregate the performances of Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell here from all their other appearances, they seem right at home from the off. Jack Lord makes for a decent Felix, and though he’s poorly served in the end, John Kitzmiller’s Quarrel does ably assist Bond for the most part, and as a side note, I’m pretty sure there’s some interracial dancing going on at one of the bars, which is nice to see in a film of this era.

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That really just leaves Connery doesn’t it? Now contentious opinion #2, anyone who’s read my blog before will know I’m not always the greatest fan of Sean, but fair dos he’s superb here. He slides into James Bond’s skin with ease and makes 007 a fully formed character right from the off, there’s also some nuance and some downright vulnerability that’ll be lost once he starts phoning it in, but here; he makes an excellent Bond in what is, overall, a perfectly decent, if a touch old fashioned, film.

One final note. Say what you like about Pussy Galore, Holly Goodhead or Xenia Onatopp, I’m pretty sure Puss Feller has dibs on being one of the most ludicrous names in the franchise!

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