Dr. No Review
By 1962, Ian Flemings novels about the British spy with the perfect wardrobe and the never ending expense account were world wide phenomenon's. The books were best sellers everywhere but for some reason, film studios were less than enthusiastic about bringing James Bond to the big screen.
By the time producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli had sourced the $1 million that they needed to finance the first film, Bond had been portrayed on the small screen as “The cardsense Jimmy Bond” in an easily forgettable American television adaptation of Casino Royale. in 1954. Peter Lorre played the villain Le Chiffre in that particular version of Flemings first novel - but the rest is pretty forgettable.
At the time, studios saw Bond as a bad investment because he was “too British” or “too blatantly sexual”. However, Saltzman and Broccoli managed to persuade United Artists to part with their $1 million - and they've never looked back since! Little did they know at the time that they were about to embark on a journey that would take them around the world several times, introduce the world to some of the most fantastic evil villains to ever grace the silver screen - and this journey would still be gathering pace some forty six years later in the twenty first century...
The rest, as they say, is history - so I'll not dwell too much on Bond the phenomenon but rather concentrate on the film that started it all - Dr No - or rather the Blu-ray package that's brought to us along with five other of the classic Bond films to coincide with the latest film in the franchise, Quantum Of Solace
The first film is based on the sixth of Flemings novels. Set in the authors adopted homeland of Jamaica, Bond is sent to investigate the reasons behind the shutdown of an MI6 outpost. Tied in with the shutdown is the murder of British agent John Strangeways, gunned down by the three blind mice at the beginning of the film. It appears that Strangeways was looking into the case of Dr No, a scientist who has built himself a fortress on the nearby island of Crab Key.
Bond meets up with CIA agent Felix Leiter who puts him onto one of his CIA brothers, Quarrel. On the way they meet the gorgeous Honey Ryder, get captured by the evil Dr No, destroy his evil lair and Bond escapes with the girl...well that's the plot for the majority of the other twenty one Bond films, isn't it? And the reason the franchise has been so successful is because director Terence Young made the formula work in this first film. Can you imagine if the powers that be at UA at the time had sat around a table, watched the movie, thought it was rubbish and pulled the plug on the rest of the series? No - they knew they were on to something good. And it's because everything's right about this film that we had the delights of From Russia With Love and ...err...Moonraker.
So, why did it work so well? The first point has to be the casting. Sean Connery was a gamble when cast in the role at first. A little known actor from Scotland, Connery was more famous for his body building exploits at the time rather than his acting. He was a contestant in Mr Universe several times - though he never actually won it!
However, Connery oozed sex appeal. He had a cheekiness about him that made him believable. Women loved him and men wanted to be him. The funny thing is that if you were to ask a twenty something year old film fan who their favourite Bond was, the majority of them would say Connery. He isn't really anything like the Bond that Fleming describes in his books (that one had a scar down the right hand side of his face and a Superman type curl above his right eye...) - but as soon as Eunice Grayson says “and who shall I make this cheque out to Mr...”
And right on cue, Monty Normans (or was it John Barry's) theme starts up in the background - you know you're in for a thrill a minute ride with 007 as long as Mr Connery is at the helm.
But it wasn't just the ingenious casting of the leading man that made the film work. Forty six years after it was made, Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder has once again been voted the most iconic Bond girl of all time. And the thing is, she actually coined the phrase “Bond girl” as she was the first one. The scene where she emerges from the ocean clad only in a white bikini has been imitated several times but never bettered.
Ursula Andress brings a great sense of vulnerability to the role. Caught up unwittingly in Bonds mission, she has no choice but to go along with him once they are capture by Dr No's henchmen. But at the same time, she has that air of “don't mess with me” about her also - a point she proves when she sets the black widow spider on a rapist.
It's not until later on in the film that we find out that Honey was orphaned as a young girl and her father had died whilst studying marine life around the Crab Key area - it seems that her motive for accompanying Bond are a little more than innocent...
And what about the evil Dr No...? The first in a long line of super villains, Dr Julius No sets the trend. Played brilliantly by Joseph Wiseman, the son of a German missionary and a Chinese woman, No becomes the treasurer of a Chinese crime syndicate known as The Tongs. Not the most trustworthy of people, he soon does a runner with $10 million dollars of their money and buys his way into the secret terrorist organisation known as SPECTRE. He sets up his own atomic powered castle in Crab Key and sets about to sabotage the American space programme.
Wiseman plays the evil No perfectly and steals every scene he's in - not an easy feat up against the charismatic Connery...Dr No's world seems to be full of everything that made the late 1950's and early 1960's such an interesting time to live.
There was the nuclear side of it - remember, the cold war was on at the time and nuclear power was a very controversial subject for anyone to discuss. At the time, nothing meant more to the Americans than beating the Russians into space - so what better way to gain support for the space programme than to have some evil nasty foreign spy try and disrupt it - only to be thwarted by a gallant handsome brave courageous hero from one of their allies - who also happened to be a spy.
but Bond has his allies as well as his many enemies - Felix Leiter turns up in many of Bonds screen adventures and in this particular outing, his screen time is limited.
Played by Jack Lord (of Hawaii Five O fame), you get the impression that Leiter is beavering away behind the scenes to enable Bond to complete his mission. Leiter went on to be played by several different actors over the next forty or so years - and Lords turn was one of the most successful and accurate.
Perhaps one of the most controversial casting decisions was that of John Kitzmiller as CIA agent Quarrel. This was one of the first times that an African American man had been portrayed a as brave and courageous hero. Made in the time when a lot of America still had segregation between the colours, it was seen as a breakthrough role that Kitzmiller pulled off brilliantly. But the stereotyped negro is still there for all to see and can sometimes be painful to watch in this day and age. The scene where the armoured car is supposedly a dragon and sends Quarrel running and he falls foul to his voodoo superstitions is particularly stereotypical - but the scene where Bond orders Quarrel to “fetch my shoes” is particularly uncomfortable to watch these days...what a different world we live in...
The characters of Leiter and Quarrel were played by actors who would have one off appearances in the Bond series - but there were one or two that would see it through nearly three decades.
Bernard Lee as M, Bonds boss at MI6, is probably the best cast character in the whole franchise for me. As an avid reader of the novels, I really couldn't see anybody else playing the part. He fit's the bill perfectly with his no nonsense approach to work and a very relaxed rarely seen in the films private life.
An Admiral in the Royal Navy, M is very well off indeed and frequents gentlemen's clubs in London just as much as Bond - probably more so. But as the big red leather door opens and the pipe smoking Lee is behind the large desk ready to issue orders, you just know that the part was written for the late great Bernard Lee. Bullfrog like, you know he would trust Bond with his life - but you also get the impression that he actually looks on him as a kind of son also. Ordering him to do away with his Beretta pistol in order to use the Walther PPK, you get the impression that it's because he actually cares about Bond and doesn't want him to get hurt...
Of course Lee was to go on and play M for a total of eleven times, ending his run with the terrible Moonraker. But there was a member of the cast of Dr No who was to beat Lees record by one - the delectable Miss Moneypenny, played by Lois Maxwell a total of twelve times.
Poor M's secretary - she couldn't have made it more clear she wanted Bond if she had swung naked from a chandelier with a red rose in her mouth! The sexual chemistry between Connery and Lois Maxwell was probably the hottest out of the three actors she played opposite. As Bond opens her door and chucks his chapeaux onto the hat stand, her eyes light up and you can see she's a woman in love.
Moneypenny was only a bit part player in the films she appeared in, often restricted to just one scene. But the scenes between Connery and Lois Maxwell will always be the ones that people remembered.
Alas poor Lois left us earlier this year - but she'll always be remembered as the women that won Bonds heart - and had men everywhere scratching their heads and wondering if Bond was actually James Blind...
Of course, a Bond film wouldn't be just that without it's score, would it? This one opens with the iconic James Bond theme written by Monty Norman - though there has been a long running feud between Norman and John Barry over who did actually write the theme...but I believe that Monty Norman is still credited as the original composer even at the end of the modern bond films.
The James Bond theme makes it's first appearance in the opening titles of Dr No before gently changing into a Caribbean samba mix of three blind mice as the three of them go of to commit murder.
Another memorable tune in this particular film is the one where Ursula Andress appears from the ocean - she and Bond sing a one line duet of “Underneath the Mango Tree” - to date, the only time that Bond has burst into tune. (we're not counting Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia here - Daniel Craig had already taken over).
I think that the biggest question hanging over Dr No is “has it stood the test of time”? Well I think the answer to that is a resounding YES - I think it's actually come back into fashion to be able to own up and say you you're a Bond fan. This is obviously down to the re-boot that the Daniel Craig era has brought about - but there's a touch of the Sean Connery in Craig's Bond - and he's actually proud to admit it. That can't be a bad thing now, can it?
Now committed to High Definition disc by way of this Blu-ray package, it's an unmissable chance for Bond fans young and old to enjoy the franchise before it actually needed re-booting. This is Bond at his best. Bond On Blu-ray - very highly recommended.