BOND: Revisiting DR. NO - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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BOND: Revisiting DR. NO

Matthew Kresal promises he won't steal your shells.

A series of white dots move across a black screen, freezing only to present the words “Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman present”. Suddenly the dots turn into the insides of a gun-barrel with a well dressed man wearing a hat walking along, the gun-barrel following his steps. The man turns and fires a gun towards the audience, blood flowing down the inside of the gun-barrel just as the soon-to-be-iconic piece of music begins to play. This of course is the opening of the first James Bond movie Dr. No in 1962. A movie that cost a little more then a million dollars to make and featured a cast of relative unknowns, but launched a lucrative movie franchise. Looking back nearly sixty years, and two dozen films later, how well does this opening hold up?

Perhaps the thing that holds up the most is Sean Connery's debut as James Bond. From the moment he says his first line leading into perhaps the most famous introduction in movie history, the then unknown actor becomes James Bond. Connery's Bond is a Bond who can be believable in a tuxedo at the beginning of the movie, fine suits throughout much of what follows. and yet be beaten and roughed up by the end. He’s also a Bond who is seductive and charming yet cold-blooded with a sharp wit. As a result, this is a hero who is utterly believable yet somehow fantastic at the same time, and Connery captures that quality with absolute assurance throughout.

This is all the more important since Connery is without two Bond movie elements for much of the movie: the Bond girl and the villain. Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder finally appears 62 minutes in while Joseph Wiseman as the title villain doesn't make an onscreen appearance until there's only 25 minutes left in the movie (and that's in a shot of his hands and legs). While neither role is particularly large, both Andress and Wiseman make the most of their appearances. These range from Honey's now iconic introduction coming out of the ocean clad only in a white bikini, to Wiseman's sparking dialogue with Connery's Bond. Both of them set the standard for all those who follow both for the 1960s and beyond, and became icons in the process.

The supporting cast is strong too. Soon to be stalwarts of the franchise Bernard Lee as M and Lois Maxwell as the ever faithful Miss Moneypenny both firmly establish their characters in the space of a few minutes. Helping out Bond on this first adventure is future Hawaii Five-O star Jack Lord as one of the best screen versions of CIA agent Felix Leiter, joined by John Kitzmuller as Quarrel, a role that hasn’t aged well over time but in which Kitzmuller does a pretty good job nonetheless. Rounding out the supporting cast are Anthony Dawson as Professor Dent, Eunice Gayson as Sylvia Trench, Peter Burton as Major Boothroyd (aka Q, the role that Desmond Llewelyn made famous), Louis Blaazer as British diplomat Pleydell-Smith and Zena Marshall as the mysterious Miss Taro. All around Dr. No is blessed with a fine supporting cast.

Given the film effectively had a low budget, even in relation to the other Bond outings of the sixties, it looks splendid for its time. Ken Adams production design, even in the most insignificant of sets, gives the movie a larger then life quality that perfectly suits it, even if it does get the design of a nuclear reactor a tad wrong. The production design is aided immensely by the cinematography of Ted Moore which not only shows off Adams sets (such as the single shot that shows off Doctor No's dining room) but also gives the movie a strong sense of menace throughout. The editing of Peter Hunt keeps the movie moving in what could otherwise be dull moments. Even the limited amount of action sequences in the film (which amounts to a few fistfights and a car chase) are well staged pieces of work. The score from Monty Norman also seems to be a bit lacking, especially with its repetitive use of the James Bond theme, though it has some effective moments such as the tarantula scene or the final confrontation between hero and villain. All of these elements, under the supervision of Terrance Young make for a film that stands out, production value wise at least.

Which brings us to the script. Adapted from Ian Fleming's sixth James Bond novel, the script is, in brushstrokes at least, for the most part faithful to the original novel, though it does lose the begging-for-cinematic-treatment obstacle course sequence used in the novel’s climax. The plot and the villain's plot are perhaps simplistic compared to some of the world threatening ones of later movies of the series: agent 007 is sent to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of a British agent who was investigating the potential sabotaging of American rocket launches (keep in mind this was 1962 and the space race was still in full swing). It is the script that also dates the film most heavily with the casual racism used towards the Jamaican characters, especially with Quarrel and Bond's interactions with him, having the most adverse effect. Those moments, like Quarrel's belief in a dragon on Crab Key or taking Bond's command to “fetch my shoes”, are cringe worthy today. Yet, they also help to show how far not just Bond but perhaps the world has come in nearly sixty years.

Despite some flaws, Dr No holds up well. From Sean Connery's note perfect debut as Bond to the effective performances of the rest of the cast and the production values that hold up decades later. While the script and plot may seem dated today, judged for the era, they were solid pieces of work. All told then, James Bond was off to a good start and the best was yet to come...

Matthew lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.

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