BlogalongaBond #1 – Dr. No (1962)
I’ve loved the Bond movies since my parents took me, aged 6, to see For Your Eyes Only at the cinema. Since then, I’ve seen all of the films innumerable times, but I haven’t had a beginning-to-end marathon since 1998…and they’ve made four new films since then anyway. Fan fail.
So when ace blogger The Incredible Suit realised that there are 22 months in which to watch the 22 (official) Bond movies in the run-up to the next one in November 2012, BlogalongaBond was born. The idea is simple. Watch a Bond movie a month, write about it, link to BlogalongaBond’s Facebook page, read what other bloggers think, and then wait impatiently for the next month to begin so you can start all over again.
Slaves to chronology, we’re starting with the first Bond movie, Dr. No, which is kind of ironic considering the film’s producers thought nothing of ignoring the first five Ian Fleming Bond novels and heading straight for 007’s sixth published adventure….
(Terence Young, GB, 1962)
Instantly Bond, if not yet 007-heaven – but with Connery’s culture-shaking arrival, the staid 1950s are about to be dragged into the swinging 60s
There’s no Q to dish out the gadgets and grumpy advice, no theme song or John Barry score (officially, at least), little in the way of zingers and less globe-trotting than an average episode of the Jamaican news… but it’s amazing how much Bond producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman got right, first time.
However many of the details aren’t quite 007 as it would come to be understood, Dr. No is quintessentially Bond from the moment that gun-barrel stare-down and staccato guitar line kick things off. The lavish mix of the exotic and the erotic – the clash of sultry Ursula Andress versus the hissable otherness of Joseph Wiseman’s more-robotic-than-racist No; the sight of an English gentleman punching henchmen’s lights out in the tropical sun; and the move from M and Moneypenny’s wood-panelled offices to Ken Adam’s preposterously futuristic villain’s lair – doesn’t change significantly from here to the present day.
The Eon team got exactly what they wanted, a big-screen version of Ian Fleming’s superstud/superspy that revels in its flippant violence and exciting escapes. At this stage, it’s reasonably faithful to the novels, although there’s a dash of the added punch of the Daily Express cartoon strips, and a touch of Hollywood in the paring down of dialogue in favour of restless movement – although we’re still a film or two away from the wholesale robbery of North By Northwest’s quip-laden peril.
Sean Connery – prowling, watching, commanding – is an instant hit, and it’s hard to countenance many of the choices preferred to the Scotchman. (Patrick McGoohan, maybe, but Cary Grant? Even if the suavity fitted, there’s no way he’d have played the taciturn, dismissive brutality of Bond the way Connery does.) He’s the first true modern film star, as brooding and authentic as kitchen sink heroes like Albert Finney or Richard Harris, but with the matinee looks and physique of a Burt Lancaster. Only Steve McQueen – and later Clint Eastwood – would match him as 1960s action man.
The biggest frisson here is seeing the old guard, in the form of the British Government’s by-the-book, pipe-smoking dullard (a man so sporting he’s letting a terrorist run his operations off the coast because nobody’s complained!) being upstaged and usurped by Connery’s more direct approach to diplomacy. Bond is no desk-bound thinker, but a doer…and what he does in politics goes double in romance. Philip Larkin famously reckoned that “sexual intercourse began in nineteen sixty-three…between the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles’ first LP,” but the evidence here contradicts that. Two implied shags and a third underway when the film ends. Get in there, my son!
That said, despite the year of release, this isn’t quite a 1960s film. Bond as written by Fleming was an old-school, post-war man of means, and for the colour and style of Terence Young’s direction the film has clearly been forged in the stiffer culture of the 50s. The biggest casualty in retrospect is credulity, because it’s not meant to be watching with the irony we now associate with Bond. The very silly attempted-assassination-by-spider is played straight, with Monty Norman’s score bleating melodramatically as Connery whacks a slipper against the floor – an unintentionally funny moment that makes you realise how invaluable the quotable one-liners and John Barry’s jauntiness are in keeping boredom at bay with self-mockery.
Similarly, there’s Dr No himself, a character with less screen time even than Harry Lime in The Third Man but without the arch wit to make his villainy entertaining. Frankly, his scheme to send a rocket spinning out of control is rubbish. What he hopes to achieve is never satisfactorily explained; it’s a minor nuisance at best, a bully knocking a toy from a child’s hands but leaving the child unharmed. There’s a moment during dinner, when Bond is mocking No’s ambitions – “world domination, the same old dream” – when Connery all but rolls his eyes at the ridiculousness of it all. It’s the moment of pure alchemy when a good movie is transformed into a great franchise. Simultaneously, the actor, the character, the film itself, all realise that, for this to work, it’s going to have to be fun. In that moment, the 007 we know and love is born.