DR NO (Britain 1962)

qiiZK2WbtupSSq9TaM57ZtnYH4nIn the beginning was the word and the word was Bond. Here is the genesis of cinematic style over substance. “Dr. No” is incredibly dated but it has a unique, naive quality. There’s no tongue-in-cheek self-awareness here, this is the first glimpse that audiences had of all the different themes that would develop in the series.

This was considered a bit of a joke on release but it was also revolutionary. In the hands of less skilled film makers, it would have been a B grade potboiler but because it was made by an extraordinarily talented and sophisticated team, who had sprung from backgrounds that allowed them to make a multi- million dollar film on a budget of less than a million, it worked beyond all expectations.

Of course Connery was the key but who would have had the foresight to discern just how right he would be for the part before he proved he could do it? Some say he grew into the part but that is not true. Watch the first scene he ever did as Bond when he walks through the airport in Jamaica. The confidently casual stride, plus the almost nonchalant shielding of his face with his hat to deny a female enemy agent a photo of him, are indicative of a secret agent who is in command of the situation.

When at the end of the sequence Bond deduces that the driver, Mr Jones, is also an enemy agent, Connery delivers a look that is to be pure Bond from then on. There is a sense of ruthlessness and a darkly gratuitous anticipation of what is to come when dealing with an adversary that made Connery as Bond so exciting and credible. He was Bond from the beginning as much as Dr No was the blueprint for the Bond series.

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The pre-title sequence was perhaps the only real improvement made in subsequent Bond films. After this, Bond films were Dr No in almost every respect. Because of its modest budget this one had to be more of a humble mystery than an over the top globe-trotting adventure. This is slow-going, and the script relies on our curiosity about the title character in order to maintain our interest. He is revealed late in the game and he’s worth the wait, even if we don’t get nearly enough of him. Creating the mysterious aura around Dr No set the stage for the grandiose Bond villains to come.

Most of the film is steeped in reality, but once we get onto the island, we see a bit more imagination and Bond gets rightfully larger than life. We are automatically made aware that the women in this film are tough and sexy in a different way to the English madams of the post-war fifties. The sneaking in of Sylvia Trench, the femme fatale of Miss Taro, and, of course, the legend that is Honey Ryder – at first a sex object coming out of the sea, then a tough and courageous woman with a knack for using poisonous spiders to reap vengeance. Although dubbed through the film, Ursula Andress is fantastic in all the right places.

The gadgets may have become more high-tech than a Geiger counter, and the stunts went beyond car chases and fist fights, but in essence they were Dr No set in a different country and with another super-villain, displaying the same confidence in his own ability that Joseph Wiseman’s unnerving control of face and voice evinced. 1962 was, in many ways, the last year of the 1950s as far as the cinema was concerned. A new social climate would permit people to see more racy and disturbing material. From now on a formula of glossy locations, plenty of female flesh and cynical violence would part movie goers from their money the world over.

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Comments

  1. I struggle a little with the James Bond franchise. There are a number of the films I really like but others leave me cold and it’s not as simple as saying I like Connery but not Dalton etc. After enduring “The Quantum Of Solace” I said I never wanted to watch a Bond film again, but “Skyfall” was okay (but neither a patch on the Craig “Casino Royale”). I do feel I’m missing out a bit on popular culture in not embracing these films so even before I read your review I thought I’d search out a copy of “Dr No” and your review has confirmed to me that this is what I need to do – start again at the beginning………..(I’m sure I’ll be gnashing my teeth long before I reach “Octopussy”)

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  2. Good luck immersing yourself in all that 007, Phil. I like the way the Connery Bonds were put together. I don’t feel the same X factor with anyone else in the role. Most Bond films are empty and overlong, but the Connery ones seem to have the most carefree spirit. Its probably that 1960s vibe that is so entertaining, but the later Diamonds Are Forever is pleasingly surreal. Roger Moore can be fun, but his age counted against him, and the stories became too silly from Moonraker on. Lazenby was pretty good, but Dalton/Brosnan/Craig product is too serious for my liking. They have become so OTT violent and ridden with special effects to the point that they resemble Die Hard, not Ian Fleming.

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