Saturday, October 5, 2013

Bondathon: Dr. No (1962)

Great, now Bondathon can get started proper. Dr. No, for those of you don't, well, "No", I guess, is the first official Bond film ever made and released in theaters. But because this is the first Bond film, there's a lot of background to cover. The novel "Dr. No" was not, for example the first James Bond book (it's the sixth, released in '58), nor is it the most classic (I know that's a subjective statement but this is a blog so it's fact), nor was it the most popular. All of those things describe Casino Royale, but the rights to that book had been sold in the mid-fifties to someone else. More on that later, trust me. Fortunately, Bond was an established character in an entire franchise of popular books to choose from at this point. Like Jack Reacher, or Katniss, only more people than your dad and your sister liked

So naturally, the time came to create a film franchise. Now I could go all E-True Hollywood Story on you and try and convince you that it was a long-shot, and then show interviews with a bunch of talking heads saying things like "nobody knew it would work!" and "there was a huge risk" and "everyone thought he was crazy!" and "he eventually wound up in rehab", because, while there's certainly an element of all that (except for rehab), as there is with any venture in Hollywood, it's mostly bullshit. It was the Lord of the Rings or Star Wars of it's time; there may have been a risk, but the smart (and shrewd) definitely saw the reward. Sure, not everyone saw the investment value in it; this was, after all, an older, more artistic Hollywood. A Hollywood where Douglas's were Kirked and Hitches were Cocked (those both sound painful...), and movies generally weren't blockbusters unless they were old enough to legally drink and involved Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable sighing at each other for three-and-a-half fucking hours.
Just kidding, no hour spent watching this movie will be a fucking hour. That's for sure....

But the right man saw a way to turn this film into a franchise, showing an attitude towards movies that was surprisingly ahead of his time (if this were to happen today, he would have had reboots planned, and each film would be in three parts). This man was Albert R. Broccoli. Remembering that Salt always went great with Broccoli (I'm so sorry...) Al teamed up with Harry Saltzman, who had recently gotten film rights from the man, myth, and legend himself, Ian Fleming, for seven movies. United Artists, upon hearing this, offered complete financial backing. In order to hold the rights, Saltzy and Brocolli created the company EON to produce the movies, and Hollywood was one step closer to being the sequel-crazy industry it is today.

There's more too, about how the first script involved Dr. No being a monkey, but that's not important.

No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.

Dr. No
Photo credit: United Artists/MGM

Date: 1962
Director: Terence Young
Bond: Sean Connery
Number: 1
Starring: Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman, Jack Lord, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell.
The one with: "Bond, James Bond", Ursula-in-Undress, Jamaica, the tarantula, the "dragon", radioactive material, guy with metal hands.

The plot is actually not that complicated. When a British agent in Jamaica is killed by black blind people, MI6 suspects treachery and sends another agent to go take his place and investigate the circumstances of his death. Because Jamaica is rife with crime, gambling, and naked women, but also seems to be an intelligence dead-zone where odd happenings occur, it fits that MI6 send an agent who is both sexy and dangerous enough to investigate in ways other men cannot. This agent is codenamed 007, but this code name proves pointless because he announces his real name to literally every person who will hear it. Apparently his name is Bond James Bond, which is how he introduces himself.

Bond James Bond arrives in Jamaica and meets with CIA agent Felix Leiter, who reveals that he is investigating a signal in the area that is jamming American rockets! With the help of Jamaican associate Mr. Quarrel, Agent Bond James Bond goes to the island of Crab Key, where he investigates strange ongoings that involve miners mining for suspicious rocks under the employ of the mysterious Dr. No.

Will Agent 007 be able to find out what is happening at crab key? Can he beat a man with metal hands in a fight? What is the nature of the mysterious bikini women he meets, and does it involve romance? You'll have to watch to find out the answers to these questions, which are probably, hopefully, and definitely. 


Photo Credit: United Artists/MGM
 First thing's first: as popular as the books were, and as unpopular (I'm assuming) as that Climax! show was, this was Bond's introduction to a whole world of fans; and the same goes for his actor, Sean Connery. A little background (you should be used to it by now): Connery was not the first choice for Bond. Fleming didn't like him, he wanted David Niven (I'll tell you how that went...), it was Broccoli who chose Connery, a young bodybuilder at the time. The reason being, I suppose, that a young man without much money could be taught to be dapper, but a rich gentlemen could not be taught to be a badass. 

The results are obvious; Connery is fantastic. To get the obvious stuff out of the way, he's suave and sexy from the moment he introduces himself in the middle of lighting a cigar at a table, but he's also dangerous in the way that women like. Or, in the modern vernacular, "he's a hilarious douchebag." Bond doesn't give a shit. He sleeps with plenty of women even though he clearly has a girlfriend back home, not to mention a receptionist with whom he clearly has a history. He's also dangerous in the way that men like, or in the modern vernacular "he might be a psycopath". He famously murders a guy in cold blood in one scene. It's exciting because this is the first time we're meeting the character, and even if you've seen the movies before, watching Connery in the role is a whole different experience.

But the main thing Connery brings to the role is humor, which is something he would later admit in interviews to being a personal choice. Bond never takes himself too seriously, even when he's doing serious stuff, and this would turn out to be why we loved him.

The Villain

Photo Credit: United Artists/MGM
The villain is, of course, Dr. Julius No, which is almost certainly a fake name constructed to either do evil or write detective books. Dr. No is played by Joseph Wiseman, who rarely gets the credit he deserves as the first true Bond villain, perhaps because he doesn't actually show up until fairly late into the film. But that's kind of the point, for most of the film he is MIA, and this somehow makes him that much more creepy. He sets the precedence for baddies who can use money and power to make bad things happen and then cover it up, but when he finally arrives we're not let down. He just exudes power. He matches Bond's humor by being entirely cold and humorless. He's not a perfect Bond villain, and indeed we get some much better ones later on, but for his film he works.

Bond Girls

Photo Credit: United Artists/MGM
Ursula Andress, as Honey Ryder, is sexy, in that weird "she's really really old now"kind of way. Honestly, her acting isn't great though. I know that's a weird thing to want from a role that's historically played by models, but work with me here. I was kind of underwhelmed. We also get Eunice Grayson as Bond's on-again-off-again girlfriend Sylvia Trench.


I'll try and keep this short because this is already a long-ass post. Basically, when I undertook "Bondathon" I wanted to answer the question of "if you're going to sit down and watch a Bond movie, which one should it be?" While it depends on what you're looking for, Dr. No is a pretty great place to start, because, well, it's where everyone started.

 Honestly, when you come down to it, Dr. No is not a very good Bond movie, because it seems like it doesn't offer anything at all new, because when it came out everything was new. It is, however, a great movie for that reason, if only in the sense that introduces us to Bond, and all the crazy things he does. Even when it's slow, it's suspenseful, and when it's fast, it doesn't get too silly. 

The supporting cast is very good as well, we get introduced to Bernard Lee as M, Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny, and Jack Lord as Felix Leiter. It's not perfect, the action isn't very believable. You may say that's a lame accusation for a movie from the sixties, but the next two movies have incredible action for their time.

Ultimately, Dr. No is't just a Bond movie, it's the original Bond movie. So it's a fun, exciting, and cool introduction to the series, but to someone already familiar with the character, it only really offers novelty. 

Rating: A-

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