Al does Dr. No

“World domination. The same old dream. Our asylums are full of people who think they’re Naploeon. Or God.”

The Scoop: 1962 PG, directed by Terence Young and starring Sean Connery, Ursula Andress and Joseph Wiseman

Tagline: NOW meet the most extraordinary gentleman spy in all fiction!…JAMES BOND, Agent 007!

Summary Capsule: Secret Agent 007 James Bond must infiltrate an island hideout, drink like a fish, meet a good lookin’ girl in a 60’s era bikini, fight a dragon, and save the USA moon rocket!


Al’s Rating:  Bwa-naht, Bwan-ah, Bwa-na-na

Al’s Review: When I decided, as a young man, that it was my duty to watch and commit to memory all the James Bond movies, Dr. No seemed like the obvious place to start. It was, after all, the first film of a franchise that defined an entire genre: it was the birthplace of tuxedoed superspies, vodka martinis (shaken, not stirred), evil masterminds, secret lairs, and absurdly named women. However, when I returned Dr. No to the video store the next day, I didn’t pick up another James Bond film. In fact, I didn’t go back to James Bond for another couple of years. This not a bad film, really, but—well, let’s hold on. I’m getting ahead of myself.

The plot of Dr. No involves MI-6 agent James Bond, played by Sean Sanchez Villa Lobos Connery, being sent to Jamaica by his superiors to investigate the disappearance of an SIS Station Chief, John Strangways. Bond’s investigation leads him to hook up with CIA Agent Felix Leiter (Jack Lord, who I swear is wearing my grandmother’s sunglasses) and an island boatman named Quarrel (John Kitzmiller), both of whom were working with Strangways to determine the origin of mysterious radio signals that have been disrupting U.S. rockets.

The three quickly run into of a string of shadowy operatives, which, in turn, put them on the trail of Dr. Julius No (Joseph Wiseman), a reclusive genius who owns the private island of Crab Key. While Leiter stays behind to call in the Marines, Bond and Quarrel make a visit to Crab Key, where they dodge gunboats, fight a dragon, meet a beautiful shell-collecting island girl named Honey Rider, and finally descend into No’s underground lair.

It’s a solid spy story and a film I’ve come to really enjoy over time. Sean Connery is completely magnetic and injects Bond with the blend of humor, danger, and cynicism that’s become the trademark of both the character and the actor. Despite barely being in the film, Doctor No himself maintains a threatening presence and never feels forgotten, even when he’s not onscreen for long stretches of time. No’s iron hands (or whatever) and his quiet, restrained demeanor make him absolutely memorable and really help set the standard for what a Bond villain should be.

As a 13-year-old aspiring Bond-enthusiast, however, this film was a real letdown. Sean Connery was as good as advertised and there were a couple of great scenes—including the famous “That’s a Smith & Wesson, and you’ve had your six” kill—but so much of the film just seemed very dated and kind of lacking. The iconic gun barrel opening is here, but instead of a sweeping theme song, we get Three Blind Mice with bongo drums. The villain has a secret lair, but its more “ramshackle oil rig” than “hollowed-out volcano.” There are girls with rocking bods and silly names, but Sylvia Trench is probably the least sexy name this side of Engelbert Humperdink and Honey Rider might be iconic, but she’s kind of bland and really pretty tame by modern standards.

The plot manages to feel both fairly straightforward and mildly confusing (something the Bond franchise still hasn’t ever really overcome), and there are some story elements—specifically a dragon and some incredibly dumb locals—that feel forced at best and offensive at worst. In fact, I’m just going to skip right over the details regarding Quarrel, who is good-natured, dimwitted, and feels about one bad script page away from running after the white wimmin with his tongue hanging out.

There is a lot of fun to be had in Dr. No, but I don’t think it’s a movie you can go into blindly and it’s definitely no longer the way to introduce 007 to newbies (for that, I would look toward Connery’s third outing, Goldfinger; or the first Brosnan Bond, Goldeneye). All the ingredients are here, though, and, once you have a full appreciation of what the franchise will become, it’s interesting to watch this and tally up where it hits the mark and where it misses. Overall, Dr. No has the chops to land firmly on the top half of the Bond-O-Meter. It doesn’t quite have the James we know and love, but it’s also not hard to see why we’re talking about it fifty years later.


PoolMan’s Rating: It’s fun, but it almost boggles the mind to think that THIS spawned 40 plus years of sequels.
PoolMan’s Review: Ah, the 60’s. Although I’m fast-becoming a grouchy old man (28 is apparently near ancient, according to my wife), even my vast lifespan doesn’t reach back quite far enough to include the Decade of Love. From the looks of it, the 60’s were a simple time, a fun time… a poorly coloured time.

To think that all Bond films essentially start here, with the simple story of a British secret agent apparently doing the USA’s dirty work for them on a teeny island off Jamaica. As the ever so creative tagline would suggest, this is the first “real” Bond movie (preceded by a 1954 TV adaptation of Casino Royale featuring an American Bond… um, no thanks), and it’s Bond at its simplest, starting with so many of its key elements and not much more.

Our man James has been dispatched by Britain’s MI-6 to investigate the interruption of an agent’s inbound report concerning an unknown source interfering with the Americans’ rocket launches using radio waves to tamper with their navigation equipment. The potential to wreck the first moon orbit exists, and obviously that’s something Britain cares about. Um… so, moving on.

Bond hits Jamaica and immediately starts laying out the foundation of what will one day become an incredibly long-lived legacy of film. Starting with the briefing by M and the flirting with Ms Moneypenny, continuing through several vodka martinis, and rocking right on through to the evil tyrant with the physical defect, 007 begins to blaze his way onto the path to fame. He quickly discovers the presence of one Dr No on a private island who apparently has a dragon guarding the beach. He naturally infiltrates the island, gets jailed, escapes into a ventilation shaft (that periodically flushes with WATER), and fights the steel-mitted Doctor while wearing an inflatable radiation suit. Occasionally, his hair falls out of place, but it’s mercifully infrequent, and three women are slept with along the way.

Let’s get this out of the way, seeing as it’s bound to come up. Sean Connery was The Man as Bond. I’m not an enormous 007 fan as a rule, but I can definitely see why audiences loved him so as the spy who won’t die. Pierce Brosnan’s a bit wimpy, Timothy Dalton was just all wrong, and Roger Moore was so old by the time he took the role they had to dub over the sounds of his hips creaking (he was already nearly fifty when he took the role in Live and Let Die, and was closing in on 60 when he did A View to a Kill). Connery was all suave looks, knowing glances, and subtle charms. I don’t even know why people debate the fact. Plus, he even spells “Sean” correctly. When someone asks how to spell my name and they start with “S, H…” I can conveniently just say “No no, like Sean Connery.” And it works.

Sorry, where was I? Anyways, we’ve established that there’s a good actor playing the lead character and the fact that to date there are more Bond movies than I have fingers and toes (I think… it’s been a while since I counted my toes); the foundation is good, is the movie? Well, yes and no. It’s filled with all kinds of those little plot holes that I guess 60’s screenwriters just weren’t clever enough to catch. Distractingly so. Dr No’s driving motivation seems to be poutiness that the USA didn’t let him come work for them, thus setting the stage for him to disrupt rocket launches and therefore rule the world. Uh, sure, seems about right to me. Without really meaning to, the gang I watched it with more or less started going MST3K on it. I mean, they send a hearse after Bond. A HEARSE. Of all the cars you could send to chase down an international agent, they pick the one designed for 3 mile-an-hour funeral parades.

But at the same time, you can really see why it would eventually become such an enduring and popular franchise. Between Connery’s natural charms in the role, the glitzy locales, the parade of beautiful women, and the action setpieces, Bond was born a winner. The fact that we still have him around after forty years is pretty amazing. He may be a misogynistic dinosaur, but he obviously started with (and still has) teeth.

“Hey, can you help me? I’m stuck in the tube and I– AARGH!”

Intermission!

  • The Name is Bond, James Bond: As the first film in the EON Bond Universe, Dr. No features several important character introductions.
    • Sean Connery as James Bond
    • Bernard Lee as M
    • Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny
    • Jack Lord as Felix Leiter
  • License to Boink: Bond crosses paths with the first three Bond girls in this film, though only Honey Ryder tends to make the “official” lists.
    • Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson)
    • Miss Taro (Zena Marshall)
    • Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress)
  • License to Orchestrate: Sadly, Dr. No doesn’t get a theme song of it’s own, but we are introduced to Monty Norman’s James Bond theme (and re-introduced, and re-introduced). Our title sequence is the first of many created by Maurice Binder: it’s crazy 1960s, with lots of flashing spots and epilepsy-inducing patterns. After the Bond theme, we hear some steel drums with some booty-shaking dancer silhouettes, and then a cheerfully Caribbean version of Three Blind Mice accompanied by some non-booty-shaking blind man silhouettes.
  • Groovy, Baby: You can see Austin Powers all over the early Bond films.
    • Austin’s conveyor belt “unfreezing process” is very similar to Dr No’s anti-radiation scrubbing
    • Austin’s blackjack scene in International Man of Mystery seems to be riffing on the baccarat scene that opens Dr. No
    • The name “Dr. Evil” is almost certainly a reference to the name “Dr. No”
    • Dr. Evil’s clear plastic helmet at the climax of International Man of Mystery is nearly identical to Dr. No’s headgear here, and that control room seems awfully familiar
    • The “bikini-clad figure coming out of the water” scene is also recreated (uh, sort of) in The Spy Who Shagged Me.
  • Nobody Does It Better (Except the Book): Although Dr. No is the first EON film, it’s actually the sixth Ian Fleming novel. The movie sticks fairly close to the book, but there are a few key differences.
    • Dr. No takes place following the events of From Russia With Love, which ended with Bond being poisoned by Rosa Klebb. His investigation in Jamaica was supposed to be an “easy” assignment so he could take a vacation.
    • Although the Honey Ryder bikini has become iconic, the novel actually has her diving naked.
    • Instead of metal hands, Dr. No is outfitted with giant metal pincers, He also has a condition known as dextrocardia, where the heart is on the right-hand side of the body.
    • Like many villains in the Fleming novels, Dr. No works for SMERSH, which was an actual Russian organization in the 1940s. The movies have all changed this to the fictional SPECTRE (the SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion).
    • When Bond is captured, he is put through an obstacle course where he must survive burnings, electric shocks, and a fight with a giant squid.
    • Bond kills Dr. No by burying him alive in a pile of guano. No, really.
  • Indiana Jones must crib notes from James Bond… just like Harrison Ford would one day use a pane of glass between him and the snake (Raiders of the Lost Ark), Connery has a pane of glass between him and the tarantula on his arm.
  • At one point, Bond stops to look suspiciously at a painting in No’s hideout, but it’s never elaborated as to why. The painting, a Goya portrait of the Duke of Wellington, had actually been stolen in 1960, weeks before filming started.
  • It’s over an hour and a quarter before the title character (Dr No) finally makes any kind of onscreen entrance, and even then all we see is his metal hands and fancy formalwear.
  • So in the middle of this base, run like “a concentration camp”, they have friendly Asian hostesses with impeccable manners and clean luxury cells.
  • Check out that one black guy dancing in the bar… he looks like he’s about to die from an excess of funky on the brain.
  • Did the Empire design No’s reactor room? It’s all low security and no handrails over the dangerous pits of doom.
  • The role of Dr No was offered to several actors, including Christopher Lee (of LotR fame) and Max von Sydow. The role of Bond was supposed to be offered to Roger Moore from the get-go, but Moore was committed to doing The Saint at the time.
  • This is the only Bond film that DOESN’T have a “James Bond will return in…” tagline at the end.
  • The title “Dr No” cause a translation issue for the Japanese release, where it was barely caught in time before being released as “We Don’t Want a Doctor”
  • Honey’s voice is dubbed; it’s not actually Ursula Andress speaking.

Groovy Quotes

Dr. No: The Americans are fools. I offered my services, they refused. So did the East. Now they can both pay for their mistake.
James Bond: World domination. The same old dream. Our asylums are full of people who think they’re Naploeon. Or God.

[Honey has just come up out of the surf in a bikini]
James Bond: Don’t worry. I’m not supposed to be here either.
Honey Ryder: Are you looking for shells too?
James Bond: No, I’m just looking.

[A hearse full of bad guys chasing Bond has gone over a cliff]
Worker: What happened?
James Bond: I think they were on their way to a funeral!

M: If you carry a 00-number it means you have license to kill, not get killed!

Felix Leiter: Ahoy, Mr. Bond! Ahoy, Mr. Bond!
James Bond: Well, well. What’s the matter? Do you need help?
[Honey stands up into plain view]
Felix Leiter: Quite sure you don’t.

James Bond: Bond. James Bond.

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3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Al does From Russia With Love « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

  2. Pingback: Al does From Russia With Love « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

  3. Pingback: Al does Goldfinger « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

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