Sunday, October 7, 2012

Stubs – Dr. No

DR. NO (1962) Starring: Sean Connery, Joseph Wiseman, Ursula Andress, Jack Lord, John Kitzmiller. Directed by Terence Young. Screenplay by Richard Malbaum, Johanna Harwood, Berkeley Mather. Based on Ian Fleming’s novel Dr. No.  Produced by Harry Saltzman, Albert R. Broccoli. Run Time: 110. Color. UK. Action, Espionage

Fifty years ago on October 5, 1962, two monumental events occurred in British culture that have resonated across the globe. On this date, The Beatles released their first single on Parlophone records, Love Me Do b/w P.S. I Love You. The single did well, climbing to number 17 on the British charts, thanks in large part to orders from NEMS record store in Liverpool. Brian Epstein, the Beatles manager also happened to run NEMS. The Beatles next single Please Please Me in 1963, would do much better climbing to Number 1 and the next seven years the group would not only dominate the British pop charts, but also everywhere else in the world. They are still to this day the standard by which other rock and pop musical artists are judged. (See reviews of their films by clicking here.)

Also on that date, the first James Bond film, Dr. No, opened, based on the popular novel by Ian Fleming. In the intervening 50 years, there have been 24 Bond films, with the 25th, Skyfall, opening next month. The film series now the second highest grossing just behind the eight Harry Potter films, has gone through several changes, including seven different actors playing the title role of the spy with a license to kill.

(On a side note, October 5, 1969 saw the first Monty Python’s Flying Circus episode on the BBC, but that’s an entry for another blog.)

Watching the first Bond film, especially against more current incarnations, you can see the elements of the franchise being formed. Dr. No is in many ways a primer for the rest of the series. To begin with, the opening title sequence to future films seem to use this one as a model. They will get more polished and the production values will get better, but the targeting of the Bond character and his subsequent shooting of the sniper started here.

We get a peek into the infrastructure of M16, the British organization that employs Bond and gives him double 0 status, which allows him to kill when necessary. His boss in this film and in every subsequent Bond film is M. Here it is played by Bernard Lee.

Then there is the Bond theme, that quintessential piece of music that has played in every Eon-produced Bond film since. It is much like hearing a fanfare from one of the Star Wars films. The experience is not complete without it. Connery also delivers the “Bond. James Bond” line for the first time as well as drinks his vodka martini shaken not stirred.

Bond is a womanizer, sleeping with three women in this film. But there is no nudity and the sex is always off screen. That is also a characteristic of the franchise which alludes to the sex, but avoids the down and dirty. We have the first Bond Girl, Ursula Andress (aka Ursula Undress for subsequent roles and Playboy photo spreads), as Honey Ryder. And we also have Miss Moneypenny (here played by Lois Maxwell), whom Bond flirts with before and after his meeting with M.

And of course, we have a well-funded villain, Dr. Julius No (Joseph Wiseman), a millionaire Chinese businessman, who is part of an organization called SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion), with a vague mission of taking over the world. [Ever wonder where the TV show, the Man from U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law Enforcement) got THRUSH, or Get Smart got CONTROL and KAOS? Acronyms were all the rage in the 60’s.]

But this is not the high tech heavy product placement show that Bond films have become. There are really no gadgets, so no Q. The only thing Bond gets is a new gun. I don’t believe he even drives an Astin Martin in the film, a car that would be synonymous with Bond.

The story starts with the assassination of the British Intelligence Station Chief in Jamaica, John Strangways (Timothy Moxon) and his secretary by three assassins, introduced to the tune of Three Blind Mice. M (Bernard Lee) sends James Bond (Connery) to investigate and to see if it is connected to Strangways work with the CIA on radio interference effecting launches from Cape Canaveral.

Upon his departure from the plane, a female photographer tries to take Bond’s photo and he is greeted by a driver who tells him he’s from Government House. A quick phone call to Pleydell-Smith (Louis Blaazer) at Government House determines that no such car was sent, but Bond gets in anyway. They are followed by two men in a convertible, but they manage to pull off the road and the convertible passes by. When Bond interrogates the driver about who sent him, the driver takes a bite out of a cyanide laced cigarette and commits suicide rather than talk.

Bond continues with his investigation, going to Strangways’ house. There he finds a receipt for work done by Professor R.J. Dent (Anthony Dawson) and locates a photo of Strangways with a boatman that he later finds out is named Quarrel (John Kitzmiller), whom Bond recognizes as the driver of the chase car from the airport. At first, Quarrel is uncooperative, but Bond follows him to a local bar where he promises to talk in private. But Quarrel, with the help of the owner of the bar, tries to beat up Bond. However, Bond is able to turn the tables on them and is only stopped when the second man in the chase car shows up. He turns out to be CIA agent, Felix Leiter (Jack Lord), whom Bond had been told would help him.

Leiter reveals that the CIA had determined that the radio interference was coming from the vicinity of Jamaica, but that aerial photography could not reveal the source. Quarrel tells them that he had taken Strangways around to the various islands, where Strangways would take samples. However, there was one island that they had to sneak onto, Crab Key, which is owned by a mysterious Dr. No. On the island is a bauxite mine, which Dr. No protects with armed security and radar.

Bond takes the receipt to Professor Dent, who tells him that Strangways had brought him rock samples, which Dent determined were worthless and discarded. Dent, though is alarmed and takes a boat out to Crab Key to see Dr. No, who is displeased that Dent has been unable to kill Bond. He gives Dent a tarantula to put into Bond’s bedroom.

When he catches Playdell-Smith’s secretary, Miss Taro (Zena Marshall), listening at the door, he doesn’t turn her in, but rather invites her to show him the island. She reluctantly agrees.

When Bond tests Quarrel’s boat, where Strangways samples were stored, with a Geiger counter that he picked up at Government House, he find that it is still radioactive. He shares what he finds out with Leiter and together they convince a reluctant Quarrel to return to Crab Key. Quarrel is nervous because legend has it that there is a dragon on the island, but Leiter tries to convince him that it is a rumor circulated by Dr. No.

Miss Taro calls James to change their meeting from his hotel to her apartment, which happens to be located up some deserted road off a cement factory. It is of course a ruse and Bond is nearly run off the rugged mountain road. But instead, and as always, he turns the tables and the car chasing him is the one that goes over the railings to a fiery death.

Miss Taro is surprised that James has shown up at her door and calls into her boss for instructions. She is told to keep him occupied for a couple of hours. What better to way then to have sex? But Bond must sense this is a set up. He calls for a cab under the guise that his car is won’t start, but the cab turns out to be the police, who take Miss Taro into custody. Then Bond goes back into the apartment to wait for his assassin to arrive. That turns out to be Professor Dent, who empties his gun into a pillow Bond has arranged on the bed. When Dent’s gun is empty, Bond reveals himself. But Dent tries to escape and Bond cold-bloodedly kills him.

Later that night, Leiter, Quarrel and Bond head out to Crab Key. Leiter returns to the harbor with the motor boat, leaving Bond and Quarrel to row into shore. They manage to evade radar, hide the boat and get some sleep. The next morning, Bond meets Honey Ryder (Andress), a local girl who collects conch shells and looks really hot in her iconic white bikini.

While Honey doesn’t trust Bond at first, she leads Quarrel and him to her secret hiding place. But on the way, they are overrun by island security, but manage to escape capture. But their freedom is short-lived. That night, the three are besieged by the island’s legendary “dragon” which is an armored vehicle with a flamethrower attachment. In the brief fire fight, Quarrel is burned to death and Bond and Honey taken prisoner.

After being decontaminated, Bond and Honey are taken to a prison which more resembles a luxury hotel suite. But the two of them drink coffee that is drugged and they pass out. Later at dinner, Bond finally meets Dr. No (Wiseman), who reveals SPECTRE’s plan to disrupt the next American space launch with his atomic-powered radio beam. Honey is taken away by security and Bond is beaten by the guards and thrown into a real prison cell.

But Bond manages to escape through a vent and, dressed like a worker, manages to get into the control room, with an atomic reactor set in the floor, all overseen by Dr. No. Bond manages to slip past guards and overloads the nuclear reactor, just as the American spacecraft launches. Bond and Dr. No get into hand-to-hand combat, which results in the good-doctor being boiled alive in the nuclear reactor’s cooling vat.

On his way out, Bond rescues Honey from being drowned and the two escape in a motor boat, just as the island’s reactor explodes. Their boat runs out of fuel, but they are rescued by Leiter who has a bigger boat.

Viewing this film in hind-sight, which is the only way to look at it 50 years later, Dr. No seems quainter than subsequent films in this series. There is judo, but no parkour. The special effects are kept to a minimum. And this is somewhat more of a detective story than espionage film. Also, the pacing is slow by today’s standards, but that’s true with many films made before television dissected our attention span into five minute segments.

One reason to watch Dr. No is to see Sean Connery play James Bond. He seems born to play this part and watching subsequent actors play the part is sort of like watching someone else play Harry Potter other than Daniel Radcliffe or someone other than Yul Brenner in the King and I. Others could play the part, but they only pale by comparison.

If you’re a fan of Bond films, especially the ones with Daniel Craig or Pierce Brosnan, you owe it to yourself to see how the franchise started. Overall, this is a very solid film. And while the films may get better production values, the stories don’t always get bigger and better than this.

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