Reviews, Vintage Vault — September 20, 2012 at 3:00 pm

CLASSIC COLUMB: DR NO (1962)

by

“I admire your luck, Mr…?”
“Bond, James Bond”

Introduction

50 years ago, Dr No was released. I have great respect for the class, longevity and production of the James Bond series. The films are truly fascinating. Last year, I read Licence to Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Franchise by James Chapman and as I re-watched the franchise – beginning with Dr No – I could only marvel at the context each film was released within. Originally, I listened to the [now defunct] Hollywood Saloon podcasts, titled ‘Bond Never Dies’. But recently, Arnie, Brock and Stu have watched each film for the Now Playing series, providing over an hours-worth of discussion on each film. Inevitably, I would highly recommend these books and podcasts many of ideas and research in this post would be credited to both these sources to some extent.

Dr No was the first James Bond feature-film at the cinema. The first Ian Fleming 007 book, Casino Royale, was made into a TV-film for a TV-series whereby they adapted classic books. The TV-film of Casino Royale had been adapted with an American ‘Jimmy’ Bond and was completely different to what soon became James Bond under Eon Productions. Harry Saltzman and Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli nabbed the rights and the first James Bond feature-film was in production.

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Introducing the Icon

Introducing James Bond, even in Dr No was a moment that would never be forgotton. Sylvia Trench introduces herself – “Trench, Sylvia Trench … and you are?”, cue the Bond theme and Connery’s impeccable delivery: “Bond, James Bond.”. It is worth noting that this beginning is actually incredibly fast-paced – finding out what he is expected to do, Bond (Connery) has 3-hours to get prepared and be on his flight to Jamaica – but not before Sylvia Trench lays herself at Bond’s feet. In his shirt and playing golf. Women fall for James Bond but, though over the years the way this happens is changed and adapted, for the vast majority of the 60′s and 70′s, James Bond’s charm and animalism ultimately wins over women and they give him what he wants. Dr No is no different in how women are subordinate to James Bond and, ultimately, men. This is iconic in James Bond - women are drawn to him and, though this seems quite possible with a young Sean Connery in role, the fifty-something Roger Moore in A View To A Kill requires a little bit more convincing and, to some extent fails to truly convince us as viewers.Though iconic moments are constantly introduced in films following Dr No, the basic set-up is established - including the gun-barrell. Goodfellas ends with an explicit reference to The Great Train Robbery and, to some extent you can see the similarity between this gunbarrel sequence and what became the only way to start a James Bond film … until Casino Royale (2006). Chapman notes how the Dr No title-sequence is steeped in colour – “from the Pop-Art title-sequence” – and indeed, this only contextualizes this ‘very-sixties’ film.

Racism

One thing that is apparent in the vast majority of these films are the inaccurate racist-stereotype depictions of characters. Other than Professer Dent (Anthony Dawson), the characters which are seen as inferior to Bond and the ‘good guys’ are, ultimately, not caucasian. Dr No (Joseph Wiseman) and Miss Taro (Zena Marshall) are characters of Asian descent whilst Quarrell (John Kitzmiller) - though initially introduced as dangerous and violent, when we find out he is ‘one of the good guys’ he is clearly used as the ‘henchman’ for James Bond – we see the animalism as he holds actress Marguerite LeWars, Dr No’s ‘oriental’ photographer, even hurting her. Chapman additionally notes how James Bond himself orders Quarrell to get his shoes – hardly on the same ’level’ as Bond and Felix Leiter (Jack Lord).

The very-British film reaffirms a certain ‘dominance’ which Britain used to hold through the relationship Bond has with the characters in the film. In addition to this, throughout the series, we also see James Bond as an exceptionally cold-killer. In Dr No his execution of Professer Dent is cruel and heartless – though, in fairness, Dent clearly had no problem in killing Bond. Prior to shooting Dent, as Dent clicks-empty his gun:

“That’s a Smith and Weston – and you’ve had your six”.

Positive Press… and not a fan of Connery

Critics were well aware that this was the first of many James Bond films (though established series and franchises were rarer in ’62) and this, to some extent, divided critics. Some praising the accepted norm of Bonds characterisation – “all in the day’s work, now for the next please” noted Dilys Powell, but ironically, on the first outing, Connery was not accepted across the board. Film Monthly Bulletin noted how “Sean Connery is such a disappointingly wooden and boorish Bond”. Derek Hill claimed Connery was a “telly-commercial salesman”

Interesting Reference Points

As Chapman observed, the colour – and some film posters – were clearly influnenced by Pop-Art and the work of Andy Warhol and Lichtenstein whilst the sets, designed by Ken Adam, had an almost German Expressionistic style to them – especially in Dent’s phone-box ‘room’ to Dr No. I personally felt that the sleek curves and simplicity evoked work from the Bauhaus. At the time, the film was released two years after Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom and even drew comparisons with the “sado-masochistic” aspects prevalent in both films – the casual sex and cold-blooded violence inevitably playing a part to this. Ironically, Chapman notes additionally how Bond is a voyeur at multiple points – think of the iconic Ursula Andress emerging from the ocean in bikini, knife on her side, shell in hand… Bond spies her, without her realising, only emerging to flirt and seduce her.

In Closing…

Despite some negative press, the film was ultimately a success. The films were edited so that the sex and volence was limited – so no blood squirting from wounds when characters are shot. Additionally, the sex is hinted at and we never see excessive nudity. It aims for a broad audience and manages to achieve this. Ian Fleming seemed to appreciate the film – noting how “those who’ve read the book are likely to be disappointed, but those who haven’t will find it a wonderful movie”.

Fact is, Dr No was successful in England and in parts of Europe, but it did not break the world yet. The film was perfect to begin the Bond franchise with – small in scale, simple in execution; limited in location – but necessary to the film. Happy days that production could commence immediately for From Russia With Love, released in 1963 – only one year after Dr No. It truly is fascinating to reflect back on this film – especially when it is still so accessible after 50 years. Sequences that still excite and interest whilst Connery establised what it means to be a man, albeit a ’60′s’ man in a fantasy world, in the role of 007

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