Monday, November 1, 2010

Dr. No

Looking back at the very first James Bond 007 film, the thing that sticks out to me is the lack of a theme song.  Oh, sure, the awesome and classic "James Bond Theme" makes its impressive debut in Dr. No, but there is no song with "Dr. No" in the title or the lyrics.  I understand that the franchise's wonderfully ridiculous/awful collaboration with Shirley Bassey was still a few years away, but really?  Here, I'll get you started:
Doc-torrrrrrr Nooooooo
He always says "yes"
To daaaaaaaan-ger!
Throw in some over-the-top orchestrated horns and some surf guitar, get Shirley or Lulu to sing it, and the song's practically finished.  You're welcome.  When the movie gets re-reissued on BluRay, I better get some songwriting royalties.

When we first meet James Bond (Sean Connery), he is already a full-fledged 007 agent, which means that he works for MI6 (the British CIA) and has a license to kill.  That also means that this is not an origin story, either, which is unusual for the first film in a franchise.  The first time he is seen on screen, Bond is playing baccarat, the most mysterious form of gambling in the Western world.  At least, I can't figure it out.  Bond wins a bunch of money at a casino/hotel, checks in at the office and gets an assignment, and then comes back to his room to find that somebody is inside!  Armed, Bond pounces into the bedroom to find the beautiful woman he beat in baccarat is hanging out, wearing his pajamas; and no, the gun does not deter her attempts to seduce Mr. Bond.  If there was a laser-powered suitcase somewhere in this sequence, I could claim this to be the quintessential Bond sequence.  Oh well, it's a damn good introduction to the character that is part man, part spy, and all male slut.  Or, if "slut" is an offensive term to you, please feel free to substitute it with "he-whore."

The plot is pretty basic (for a Bond movie).  Bond is sent to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of the local Station Chief.  Since Jamaica isn't a hotbed for anti-British sentiment, it's not a place where there are many motives for assassinating members of British Intelligence; Bond quickly comes to the conclusion that the Section Chief was disappeared because of his work with the CIA on a case involving Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman).  The good doctor is a mysterious figure who owns his own island off the coast of Jamaica and is obviously up to no good.  Bond's CIA contact, Felix Leiter (Jack Lord), apparently doesn't have the cobblers (or the jurisdiction, I forget which) to check out the island himself, so Bond is forced to recruit some local talent to help.  The "talent" is Quarrel (John Kitzmiller), a fisherman who is superstitious (certainly not because of his dark skin, because a British movie in 1962 certainly wouldn't be racist) and drinks frequently from a jug of rum, which Bond never mentions and allows on the potentially dangerous mission.  If you're as slutty as James Bond, I suppose you never know when an orgy might break out, so I guess that's believable for his character.

Before he leaves for the island, Bond faces a few minor threats to his life, including a tarantula, three blind assassins, and woman willing to use sex as a stalling tactic.  The life of a double-0 agent is a tough one.  Quarrel and Bond sail for Dr. No's island and meet professional shell collector Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress).  She doesn't seem very bright, despite being the daughter of a scientist, but she has a very comely bikini, so Bond lets her hang out with him.  They did not arrive unnoticed, though, and Dr. No's men attempt to capture the group with a tank that is disguised to look like a dragon.  Because dragons are less noteworthy, I guess.  Quarrel dies in the attempt (perhaps soaking himself in rum was a bad idea when facing a flame thrower), so James and Honey surrender.  They are taken to Dr. No's secret complex, where they meet the man behind the madness, someone so evil that he has bionic hands --- Dr. No.  Duh-duh-DUUUUUM!  Who is this reclusive madman, and what are his evil plans?  Will Honey Ryder's name turn out to be a double entendre?  Will we ever find out what evil organization Dr. No belongs to?

Well, for the last question the answer is SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence Terrorism Revenge and Extortion, AKA SPECTRE.  That is one awesome acronym.  While the first mention of SPECTRE is certainly noteworthy, this film has a number of "firsts" for the Bond franchise.  It's the first time we hear James introduce himself as "Bond.  James Bond."  His signature drink is introduced, too, although the description is a bit lacking: "medium dry vodka martini, not stirred."  This film also introduces audiences to Bond's boss, M (Bernard Lee) and M's secretary, Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), both of whom would appear in most of the Bond movies over the next twenty years.  Felix Leiter would also become a fixture in the Bond series, although the actors changed from film to film.  Since Dr. No introduces the James Bond Theme, of course the classic "shoot the camera" opening accompanied it.  We are also introduced to the ridiculousness of Bond villain in this film.  The cliche of placing the hero in a slow, easily escapable death trap starts here, with Honey being chained to a rock, waiting for high tide to drown her. Honey Ryder is the first Bond girl, and this is the first time that having a Bond girl in no way keeps James from rutting around with other women.  Perhaps the most important first, though, is Bond's first witty quip after a bad guy dies; when his awesome driving causes the three blind assassins (that's just silly) to drive their hearse (and that's ridiculous) off a cliff, a bystander asks where they were in such a hurry to get to.  Bond answers "They were on their way to a funeral."  And everyone nearby stopped what they were doing to pat Bond on the back and offer double high fives for his morbid and not at all inappropriate joke.  Someone in the background shouted "No you didn't!" and Bond just smiled and said "Oh, yes, I did."  And then he impregnates the nearest woman with only smirk and the suggestive use of his eyebrows.  Um...some of that sequence may just happen in my head whenever I watch this movie.

Just because a film is noteworthy doesn't necessarily mean that it is good, though.  As luck would have it, this one is.  The acting from the Jamaican cast ,while certainly not great, is over-the-top enough to make even the bad acting amusing.  Quarrel, in particular, is fun to watch, but I wouldn't go so far as to say that he did a good job.  Ursula Andress sets the status quo as the first Bond girl; you don't have to act much, as long as you look pretty.  Done and done.  Joseph Wiseman does a good job as the villainous Dr. No, even if his job is to remain impassive and detached.  The all-important role of James Bond was played wonderfully by Sean Connery.  This is the film that establishes that women-want-him-men-want-to-be-him super-cool persona, and Connery is the quintessential Bond.  His fight scenes were well choreographed (for the time), even if they were sped up on screen, he was charming, and he was smart.  What else do you want from a secret agent?  Director Terence Young knew what was important in this film --- conveying that Bond is cool --- and spent most of his time proving that point.  It paid off, even if the plot can be confusing to a first-time viewer and the supporting cast oftentimes just grins vacantly.  As far as action-adventure films go, Young gets the job done and done well.

That is not to say that the movie is flawless.  Many of Bond's secret agent tricks of the trade have been woefully outdated since before I was born and the absence of any crazy spy gadgets makes that all the more apparent.  The funny thing is that the character that replaces Bond's Beretta with a Walther PPK at the beginning of the film is actually the head of Q branch, and is the very same character that Desmond Llewelyn would play until 1999, AKA Mr. Gadget Guy.  And yet, no gadgets.  The subordinate villains in this film are definitely some of the dumbest Bond has ever encountered, trying a number of different methods to kill Bond, but using bullets only as a last-ditch effort.  The fact that Bond is captured, told the evil plot by Dr. No, and still allowed to live is pretty dumb, too.

Those aren't huge problems in a movie with such an entertaining lead character, though.  While this movie still has some rough edges around it (at least, as far as Bond movies go), the overall package is still impressive, even if it is somewhat dated.  Dr. No is missing a lot of the little things that are present in the rest of the Bond series, but it can definitely stand up on its own as an entertaining espionage romp.


  1. I thought I was going to miss Horror Movie October, but Dr. No is certainly a welcomed transition. I cannot remember for sure, but this is the one with his back-up bottle of vodka in his hotel room, right?

  2. Oh, yes. Double-0 agents and alcoholics always keep a spare hidden somewhere.

    Something weird stuck out to me this viewing. Why are Quarrel's nipples always erect? Is it cold in Jamaica?

  3. They wanted to up the sexy factor with those sculpted man boobs. Maybe it has something to do with all the rum? I stay away from that liquor, so I cannot say for sure.