Tuesday, February 12, 2013

#911. Dr. No (1962)

Directed By: Terence Young

Starring: Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Bernard Lee

Tag line: "The First James Bond Film Adventure!"

Trivia: After the film's release in Italy, the Vatican issued a special communiqué expressing its disapproval at the film's moral standpoint

The setting is Le Cercle, a high-class casino in the heart of London. A well-dressed gentleman, his face slightly obscured, is on a winning streak at the Baccarat table, much to the chagrin of Ms. Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson), who, determined to win her money back, quickly writes out a check for another thousand in tokens. “I admire your courage”, the mysterious gentleman says to her, to which she responds “I admire your luck, Mr…” It’s then we get our first glimpse of the big winner, who, after pausing to light a cigarette, replies, “Bond. James Bond”. With that, one of the cinema’s most charismatic characters is born. The first in a string of films to feature Her Majesty’s super-agent, James Bond 007, Dr. No is as much a slice of cinematic history as it is a top-notch spy adventure.

John Strangways (Timothy Moxon), an MI6 operative working undercover in Jamaica, has gone missing, and agency chief “M” (Bernard Lee) sends his top man, James Bond (Sean Connery), to investigate. After arriving in Kingston (and narrowly escaping capture), Bond teams up with CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jack Lord), who’s been sent to Jamaica to look into the activities of Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman), a scientist and full-time member of SPECTRE, or the Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion. The Americans believe Dr. No is responsible for disrupting several rocket launches at Cape Canaveral, and with another scheduled to take off in a few days, they want to ensure he doesn’t interfere again. For his part, Bond is convinced Dr. No had something to do with Strangway’s disappearance, and with the help of local fisherman Quarrel (John Kitzmiller), makes his way to Crab Key, a remote island that houses the Dr.’s secret base. While there, Bond meets the beautiful Honey Rider (Ursula Andress), who occasionally sneaks onto Crab Key to gather up sea shells. She agrees to take Bond and Quarrel to a secluded spot on the island, yet, despite their best efforts to lay low, Dr. No is aware of Bond’s arrival, and sends his henchman out to collect the intrusive spy.

Dr. No is where it all started, from the opening sequence, where we’re looking down the barrel of a gun as Bond strolls in from the right and outdraws us, to Monty Norman’s now-iconic theme. As for this film’s “Bond Girl”, Ursula Andress set a standard few of her successors have matched, and none have surpassed. It’s impossible to think of Dr. No without recalling the scene where her Honey Rider steps out of the ocean wearing only a white bikini and a knife strapped to her waist, quietly singing the calypso tune, “Under the Mango Tree”. Then, of course, there’s Bond himself. Even today, fans of the series consider Connery the “perfect” Bond, and as we see in Dr. No, it’s not simply because he was the first to assume the role. Whether getting under “M”’s skin, flirting with Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), or in a fight for his life with Dr. No’s SPECTRE agents, Connery exudes charm, sophistication, and style, with just the right amount of cockiness to back them up.

One thing Dr. No doesn’t feature is exploding pens, ejector seats, mini cameras, or any of the countless gadgets that would become a fixture over the course of the series; in Dr. No, there’s no “Q”, no spy gear, nothing for Bond to fall back on but his skills (which, needless to say, are plentiful). Also, the pace of the movie is a tad slow, especially when compared to those that would follow it. That said, after 50 years, Dr. No is still much more than a curiosity or a dusty old museum piece; It remains an entertaining motion picture, and the perfect introduction to what has become an explosive, uber-successful film franchise.

1 comment:

James Evans said...

Great review! Just one minor correction - Q is present & correct here. Played by Peter Burton, Major Boothroyd replaces Bond's Beretta with the iconic Walther PPK...