Friday, January 10, 2014

Dr. No (1962)

The first James Bond film is quite the debut for 007.  A more or less direct adaptation of Ian Fleming's 1958 novel, it pits the world's greatest secret agent against the mysterious Dr. No who is attempting to compromise America's space program.  Not much more background is needed really (plus, others have done it better elsewhere on the net) so let's get moving.
  • The great thing about watching this movie in hindsight is seeing how it lays the groundwork for what is yet to come.  Over the first three films, the franchise is gradually developed and the process is just a blast to see.  Here, the foundation is laid with Connery as 007 and a rough template for the series formula is put together.
  • The first gunbarrel logo is a cool bit of business that serves as a great segue into the main title theme  which is just wonderfully bombastic the first time out.  The other music playing over the main titles sets up the Jamaica location nicely as well as the three  assassins who quickly kill a British agent named Strangways and his secretary.
  •  The pace of the first half of the movie is great, letting the audience know this won't be "Hitchcock-lite".  The first two murders are abrupt and for the time, pretty brutal.  They happen about two or three beats before they ordinarily would.
  • Connery's first scene is a masterfully shot and edited sequence with a great build to the reveal of Bond and some nice mood provided by the smoke passing by as he delivers his intro line.
  • The first scene with M goes roughly the same way it will for the next nineteen films and I have to say I always got a kick out of Bond's relationship with the Bernard Lee version of M.  It's respectful yet smart-assed and both actors played well off of each other.
  • I also get a chuckle out of the little moment where M goes to light his pipe and declines Bond offer to use his lighter in favor of a match.  It's a small touch but it tells you pretty much all you need to know about how Bond's boss feels about him.
  • Bond being issued his new gun is taken right from the novel and has a nice little reference to the book version of From Russia with Love.  It's the best sort of inside reference in that if you have read the book, you get it.  If you didn't, it's just a simple line of dialogue telling you that Bond's gun jammed on him his last mission so he's getting a new one.
  • After a scene at Bond's apartment where he beds the woman he met in the casino (another nice bit that shows 007 isn't going to be your standard business first hero), it's off to Jamaica where for the next 45 minutes or so we get a blend of procedural investigative work and establishing our hero.  Connery plays Bond as outwardly casual but utterly aware of all his surroundings.
  • His interrogation of the driver who turns out to be in with the bad guys is nice in that it shows Bond in complete control, even when it looks like he's about to get into trouble.  I also like that the obligatory ass-kicking the random baddie gets comes after the questioning.
  • Just showing how thorough the film is with the little details I love in this series is the amount of background characters we see in just the first airport scene.  The driver is seen talking with a photographer who shows up later and we get our first look at Bond's CIA contact Felix Leiter (Jack Lord).
  • Speaking of small details, I've always liked the low-tech way Bond sets his room up to ensure he's not taken by surprise by anybody.   It's neat.
  • The procedural stuff with Bond questioning the last few people to see Strangways alive works quite well and it's really the only time we'll see Bond doing this sort of investigation for the most part.  Overall, I really like the relaxed pace the first hour has.  The relaxed pace continues throughout the film, though not entirely to the film's benefit.
  • John Kitzmiller is quite good as Quarrel, Bond's eventual ally on the island.  He delivers a warm, likable performance that works well to combat the rather stereotypical way the role is written.  He's superstitious, yes, but it's played well enough that it doesn't come off as too cringe worthy today.
  • Jack Lord is pretty good as Leiter though in watching the films repeatedly, it does make one see how the character is sort of redundant (though in a fun way for the most part).
  • On a production note, I always dug the Ken Adam set designs for the series.  His work is always outlandishly cool and here it's no different.
  • Equally cool is the way Dr. No is set up with just his eerily calm, booming voice as he instructs Dent (Anthony Dawson).  It's a nice way to intro the villain.  Bit overused in the last fifty years but still!
  • The tarantula scene is still a great moment in the series.  Maybe the best bit of tension in the film, it's quite well done and I also love the little touch of Bond killing the thing... And then going to the bathroom to puke.  It's a wonderfully humanizing moment.
  • The following ten minutes: Bond setting up a date with an enemy agent posing as a secretary, getting her arrested and then killing Dent when he shows up is the final bit of character development for Bond in the film.
  • We get a nice little car chase with the three gunmen from the opening which culminates in the first real Bone one-liner.  Bond's subsequent seduction and setting up of the secretary is a nice bit of cold ruthlessness from the character which Connery plays well.  The fact that he sleeps with her just for the hell with it and calls the cops more or less between orgasms is a nicely callous bit of humor.
  • All that is merely the build to the ultimate bit of character building in the film as Bond coldly questions Dent after foiling his assassination attempt and then shooting him dead.  The second bullet after Dent is dead is a wonderfully nasty addition that cements that while Bond is the hero, he is still essentially a killer.  I've always enjoyed that while Bond is portrayed as a good man, he isn't necessarily a nice one.  The quiet fade-out at the end of the scene is perfect as it shows that he doesn't exactly enjoy the killing aspect of the job.
  • As much as I love the film, it does sort of falter as the film gets to Crab Key and Dr. No's base of operations.  There is good stuff throughout but the film maintains the laid back tone of the first half and it doesn't quite work as well as it could.
  • Not much to say about the entrance of Honey (Ursula Andress) into the film as it's so iconic that you just have to think of it to get all you need from it.  I can't really say a hell of a lot about her acting either as her voice was dubbed.  I'm sure I'm not the only one who got the special edition DVD back in 2000 and was rather surprised by her rather thick Swiss accent in the supplemental material.
  • Regardless, Connery and Andress have pretty good chemistry together.  I especially like the hesitant reaction Connery gives upon learning Honey's back story.  It's nicely amusing, especially coming on the heels of a rather nice bit of suspense via a foot chase across the island.
  • The dragon tank is a pretty cool bit of production design and with slightly better lighting it would be even cooler.  I like Bond's reaction after it kills Quarrel.  Connery has always been rather underrated as an actor and he plays the scene quite nicely.
  • Joseph Wiseman is really great as Dr. No.  In addition to the creepy voice, he also has one of the better obligatory speeches in the series.  He and Connery play off of each other well and the introduction of SPECTRE into the series is nicely done as well.  The script, whatever faults it might have, is very well thought out.
  • I like to see a smart bad guy and Dr. No certainly is one.  It's actually quite satisfyingly amusing when he casually defuses Bond's escape attempt with a knife.
  • Bond escaping from his cell is quite good, though I would have loved to have seen the obstacle course from the novel.  Granted it fits in with the mellow tone of the rest of the film, but still.  Bond vs. an octopus?  Sometimes a gain means a loss.
  • The finale where Bond foils No's scheme is pretty good, though the pacing is a little to slack for me.  Once the actual action begins it's okay but the build to it doesn't quite track.  Still, the base blowing up at the end is suitably bombastic.
  • The last scene on the boat is a nicely iconic coda to the film.
The first James Bond adventure is a tightly put together, well-acted piece of action/spy cinema.  While it does have one or two small flaws, it still stands as a great intro to one of the best action franchises of all time.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.