Posted by: dougery | December 9, 2010

Better Late Than Never: Dr. No (1962)

For some inexplicable reason I know next to nothing about James Bond.

How something so intrinsic to the pop sensibility of everything I love, from the Venture Brothers to just about every spy thriller and pulp comic-book created since the early sixties, has eluded me for so long is baffling and I might add, downright embarrassing. So I’ve decided to remedy the situation by watching the Bond films in sequence and discussing them here. The process might end up taking me years to complete but this noble quest is something I feel I should, nay, must do. So a few weeks ago I shot Dr. No (1962) up to the top of my Netflix queue, and this week my mission commenced.

Now a fair disclaimer: One simply cannot exist on this planet and not encounter the man with a license to kill in some way shape or form. I am no exception to this. However, before last night I had never seen an entire James Bond film from beginning to end which is kind of remarkable, right? The bits and pieces of the movies I have seen are all from the Pierce Brosnan era. I am most familiar with Goldeneye–not because of the film, but from the lethally addictive multi-player video game on the N64 of the same name. To this day I cannot walk through a set of library stacks without contemplating where the best location to plant a proximity mine would be. I also know Bond’s favorite drink and how it should be prepared, am aware of his truly heroic libido, can name the type of gun he prefers even though I know next to nothing about firearms.  There is Austin Powers and of course Scorpio:

A character from the Simpsons in one of their finest episodes. Scorpio wouldn’t exist without James Bond and Dr. No. And for that reason and that reason alone, it was high time I take a look.

Good evening, Mr. Bond.

The film begins with an astoundingly long title sequence that would be virtually intolerable to move-goers today. The credits play endlessly over a stylized swirl of  feminine silhouettes interspersed with odd Twister mat sized colored circles. Very mod. The stars of the film are introduced and we get the now legendary ‘gun barrel sequence’ where our protagonist walks across the screen, turns, and shoots the camera, causing maroon to bleed down the screen as the barrel comedically sways toward the bottom.  Eventually the soundtrack shifts to a calypso version of “Three Blind Mice,” and the film opens with said ‘mice,’ a trio of blind black men with canes who are actually assassins but then again anyone with an ounce of sense knows this the moment they dodder across the road.

Immediately we get a grand sense of place. Jamaica is prominently featured in Dr. No almost as much as Sean Connery is, and the tropical, vaguely Third World aspect of the setting are tip off that we are a long way from the apple pies of suburban America, or for that matter, the tea tables of Jolly Old England. Much of the film’s action will take place on crowded quays, white sand beaches and lush jungles, which is not only camera friendly, but something a viewing audience in say, the Dakotas, would find as alien as the moon. Yes, this exotic locale is just such a place where someone can get away with being up to no good (couldn’t help myself) and right from the beginning the bodies pile up.

Bond is dispatched to Jamaica after a communication line goes dead. But not before we officially make his acquaintance, almost a full 10 minutes into the film, at a blackjack table. The camera work here is important, as it literally puts us into the body of a woman seeing Bond for the first time. As every female in the movie will do, we are meant to fawn over the man, his classy style, his effortless success at cards, his cool confidence, the way he says his last name twice when introducing himself (which nobody before or since has been able to pull off). By the time the camera swings out we are meant to want to follow him anywhere. Apparently it worked as the franchise Dr. No built still continues to this day, almost 50 years later.

I was struck by the way sheer dumb luck factors into Bond’s success throughout the course of the plot. The man isn’t only good, he’s insanely lucky. First there is the endless stream of good cards. Next, cars scream past on otherwise deserted roads just as hit men are about to fire on him when he exits a cab and walks up to his hotel. Finally, in one of the movie’s many unintentionally funny moments, a large spider crawls up the entire length of Bond’s body, under the sheets as he rolls over, finally traipsing off his shoulder and onto a pillow as if bored instead of, you know, biting him at any point along the way. A truly effect means of assassination, the old spider while you’re sleeping bit.

And yes, Bond’s a Lothario. That woman we became at the blackjack table? He beds her at like, 4 in the morning before getting on a trans-Atlantic flight to Jamaica a few hours later. Once there he meets Ms. Taro, the first ‘evil’ Bond girl (and a fun trivia fact that is):

But then again we already know she’s a baddy because she’s Asian. Not that that will deter Bond from sleeping with her, even after he knows she is merely biding her time to kill him. The man’s sexual appetite is so ferocious that it probably deserves it’s own entry in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. I suppose it is Bond’s inescapable charm and rugged good looks that distract Ms. Taro from killing him in delicto flagrante.

And we’re not done with the womanizing, far from it. Bond’s hat trick is completed when he lands on Dr. No’s island stronghold and comes across a conch hunter (I mean that’s a profession, I guess?) named Honey Ryder. Even he smirks at the name. But nobody cracks wise when the woman walks out of the water like some bikini clad Aphrodite sans clam shell. Oh what, she’s holding them in her hands right over her… well you get the idea. We’re instructed to think mythological beauty here, and evidently it was more than successful. 007 fanatics still squeee over ‘the first Bond girl’ Ursula Andress:

Which is all well and good and maybe I’m going to get some questions about my masculinity here, but to me the main visual event of the movie are the ridiculously campy mad scientist interiors of Dr. No’s hide-out. Fur rugs, those sixties fireplaces that look like space pods, huge rooms with superfluous control panels and buttons and signs that say Warning and Danger and ‘Destroy Me Here To Save the Day.’ Even Dr. No’s suit and goofy metal hands seem designed to look a certain way rather function to any practical degree. If they had only tried the conservative cool of Bond’s tux, well, they wouldn’t be in this problem, would they?

Part of the camp is due to the film’s small budget, and it will be interesting to watch as the movies get more and more lavish and expensive as the series goes on. Nowadays one can’t have a Bond film without a new Bond car or even a Bond watch. I wonder if there are displays in gun stores when Bond films release with cardboard cut-outs of Daniel Craig holding rows of Walther PPKs? You don’t have to look hard to find the endless internet discussion on future Bond girls, and example that the movies are fetishistic of actual human beings, too.

Closing Thought

Right from the beginning we are told that some bully, some ‘Other’ is trying to put the kibosh on good old American fun and ingenuity. The de-affirmation is right there in the film’s title. So logically Bond’s quest is to free up the civilized world and it’s space programs and allow them to reach out and colonize the Universe. If nothing else what I got from watching Dr. No this is that the film teaches us it is perfectly okay for an American (or more specifically, our cooler, older, more stylish British fore-bearers) to literally f— the rest of the world.

Bond Grade (out of 007): 005.

A point for the hilarious ‘dragon’ tractor alone.

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Responses

  1. it’s probably a given that i would say this, but… READ THE BOOKS. they are chillingly horrible and sexy and wondrous. they also nearly all have naked ladies on the covers, and who doesn’t love that?

  2. you mean these books?:
    http://thepenguinblog.typepad.com/the_penguin_blog/2008/05/covering-bond.html

    The graphic design is so good it hurts.
    Absolutely loverly.

  3. well, you would think so but actually i was referring to these ones:

    freaking penguin and their incessant rereleases.

  4. I can’t believe you said “squee.” Who ARE you!?

  5. i was scary good at goldeneye. no oddjob’s allowed obviously.


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