In the weeks to come, I intend to watch all the Bond movies in sequence and write snarky things about them. Some of the films I’m pretty familiar with due to the countless TV reruns – I’ve even seen some in their original theatrical run. Others I’ve not seen at all, like ALL the original Connery ones. Fair warning, these posts will be spoileriffic.
Without further ado, I start at 1962’s Dr. No.
After the obligatory gunbarrel sequence, it’s straight into the opening titles – no action-filled cold openings yet. While not as sophisticated as the later films, the title sequence lays down the Bond hallmark of stylised graphic motifs and gyrating silhouettes. The theme is, well, Monty Norman’s familiar Bond Theme, which segues into a calypso beat.
After the establishing scenes in London, we head off to Jamaica for the bulk of the film. It is a fitting location for the first film given that Ian Fleming wrote most of his novels there.
None, really. Major Boothroyd in his role as Q-Branch comes in during the mission briefing, describe Bond’s favoured Beretta as a woman’s gun, and exchanges it for the Walther PPK instead. Oh, and later on Bond takes delivery of a Geiger counter to count the Geigers, but that’s pretty standard kit for this kind of thing.
After two-thirds through the movie, after much exposition and some vague hints, Dr Julius No is finally revealed late in the piece. As acted by Joseph Wiseman, No is charming, intelligent, completely sociopathic, and of course full of himself. He has creepy prosthetic metal hands, having lost the original pair due to the ignorance of the safe handling of radioactive material. As a villain, he’s kind of – not really villainous enough – No really only gets that one dinner conversation to flesh his character out before the climactic action scenes.
Of course Bond escapes from his cell via a duct and messes up the sekrit plan by overloading the reactor, No has a limpid tussle with Bond and ends up falling into the cooling vat like a punk. Then all of No’s minions freak out because Bond has started a minor nuclear incident and destroyed their livelihoods.
The “Three Blind Mice” are about as close as you’d get to the classic henchman role, but they seem to be contracted to run interference on the big island at anyone sniffs around Crab Key too closely. They take a few pot shots at Bond but their threat level fails to rise about strictly annoying. Professor Dent also tries to end Bond’s life but is outsmarted and eventually dispatched in cold blood. Actually, Dent is really more of a lackey than a henchman – we have to be specific about the various classes of adversary.
Bond works the spade pretty hard in this one. I think the count was four if you count Moneypenny and the lack of a harrassment policy at MI6. After a couple of minor flings, after he makes his way to Evil Genius Island, he encounters Honey Ryder, acted by Ursula Andress. As we know, in the world of Bond it is compulsory for beautiful women to have ludicrous double entendres for names. Naturally, Ms Ryder is an itinerant beachcomber; she sells sea shells by the sea shore, which she presumably returns to after being abandoned by Bond soon after their debriefing.
I wasn’t actually keeping count (will have to do that next time around) but Bond imbibes least two martinis and later on he gets to sass No about the vintage of Dom Perignon served at the confrontation. Even in Bond’s iconic reveal, he was probably hitting the giggle juice at the baccarat table pretty hard too.
Felix Leiter turns up as the US liaison, but Leiter’s main contribution to the mission seems to be getting Quarrel onto Bond’s side after an awkward first meeting. Quarrel is capable if a bit obstinate, but after assisting Bond’s passage to Crab Key, poor old Quarrel bites it at the wrong end of the flamethrowing tank.
The tarantula. (Then again I’m not an arachnophobe.) And the “dragon”, that is the aforementioned tank. But most particularly the decontamination sequence; I was impressed with the care and effort that No’s underlings put into making sure Bond and Ryder were fit enough to dine with their boss. It’s an awareness of health and safety protocol Ol’ Tin Hands had to appreciate through bitter experience.
While considerably slower paced than what we’ve come to expect, there’s always something being advanced. At first it just seems that Bond is buzzing around Jamaica, bedding various women and killing various men, but the plot eventually thickens. As it turns out, No’s evil plan’s is ludicrously mundane. Building his own nuclear reactor to jam some rockets so they fly off course? That’s high school science fair stuff! To me there seems little profit or influence to be gained from the rocket diversion racket. Fortunately, later villains had much grander schemes to unfurl upon the world.
The producers weren’t allocated a huge amount of cash for the first Bond movie, so you can see where the money wasn’t being spent. Having said that, they made good use of the Jamaican locations to establish the setting. Once we actually see No’s base with its modernist aesthetic with accents of ostentation, it’s such a step up from the swamp and bauxite mine that it effectively establishes the early standard for Bond villain lairs.
For the first 007 flick, I think Dr. No stacks up. It feels a bit slow, but not unbearably so – it was probably quite pacey for the early 60s. Given the chance the define the film Bond, Sean Connery starts things off on the right foot, and the basic formula and style of the series was set, to be embellished and reworked in the films to come. Much of its status comes from being the first, and brought enough success to build a platform for the most durable of film franchises. I’d give it a respectable 14/20 – for some people this might seem a bit low, but it gives me a baseline as I get stuck into the later films.