Monday, March 28, 2011

Dr. No [1962]

1962's Dr. No is one of the most important James Bond films ever made, and there's a simple reason for that: if it had failed, the series would not exist.

Let's take a look back and see how it measures up.


 
   

(1)  Bond ... James Bond


Sean Connery in Dr. No is not yet quite the force of nature he would be in his next three Bond films, but he comes very, very close.  Some of his best moments: the timeless introduction to the character from which this category takes its title; the effortlessness with which he spots his enemies upon his arrival at the airport in Jamaica; his ruthless dispatching of Professor Dent; and the dinner scene between Bond and Dr. No.  Connery is absolutely one of the reasons why the Bond series became popular enough that it continues to flourish today.



Points awarded: 006/007

(2)  SPECTRE

Main Villain:  Joseph Wiseman's performance is iconic, in a way, but Wiseman is on screen for a shockingly small amount of time, and of all the villains in the top-tier Bond films, I'd have to say Dr. No is one of the least interesting.  He's not bad, though.  Points awarded (Main Villain):  004/007




Henchmen:  The "three blind mice" assassins make for a somewhat striking device during the film's first scene, and I also enjoy Anthony Dawson as Professor Dent.  Dent is a slimy fellow, and he's also a regular-Joe type who has found himself under entirely the wrong employ.  I especially appreciate the revulsion with which he greets that caged tarantula.  Points awarded (Henchmen):  004/007.
  


Overall points awarded (SPECTRE):  004/007

(3)  The Bond Girls

Main Bond Girl:  Somewhere on the excellent commentary track which can be found on the DVD, Ursula Andress, emerging from the surf clad in a bikini and oblivious to the rest of the world, is compared to Botticelli's Venus.  High praise indeed, and perhaps the comparison is even earned.  It certainly made a huge impression on the larger world of popular culture, and decades later was still a vital enough image that it could be aped in both Die Another Day and the modern Casino Royale and the homage still be recognized.  But apart from that, Honey Ryder isn't much of a character.  She's important in that she is, ostensibly, a tough, self-sufficient, and vaguely disinterested woman, but those qualities fly out the window as soon as she and Bond are captured by Dr. No's security force.  Bond fans everywhere will probably think I'm nuts, but Andress's Ryder is nothing terribly special in my eyes.  Points awarded (Main Bond Girl):  004/007.
 



Secondary Bond Girls:  My favorite Bond Girl from Dr. No is actually Eunice Gayson's Sylvia Trench, the stylish woman-of-leisure whom Bond trounces at the card table in his introductory scene.  Sure, maybe she's not entirely to be trusted emotionally: any woman who'll break into your apartment to, um, play with your (golf) balls is exuding crazy at a rapid rate, but you've also got to admire someone who knows what she wants and doesn't wait around for it.
 



I also quite like Zena Marshall as Miss Taro.  Sure, we may as well admit that the Chinese makeup isn't all that great, but as long as Marshall is wearing nothing but a towel, who really cares about the makeup?  The mercenary way with which Bond pursues Taro, almost as an act of revenge, verges on rape, and maybe that's a bit on the troubling side; but, in this film, it adds a slight layer of complexity to the proceedings that makes Bond a fascinatingly dark character, and not a simplistic hero with a vaguely superhuman set of skills.  Points awarded (Secondary Bond Girls):  005/007
  


Overall points awarded (Bond Girls):  004.50/007

(4)  "Oh, James..."

Action/Stunts:  There isn't a huge amount of action in Dr. No, but then again, the action movie as we think of it now did not at that time exist.  Nevertheless, for an audience in 1962, Dr. No must have been a fairly thrilling experience, with numerous scenes that would have gotten the blood pumping: the surprising murder of Strangways at the top of the film, and the subsequent murder of his female associate; the fight between Bond and the "chauffeur" who picks him up from the airport; the horrifying (if admittedly fake-looking) scene in which Bond is menaced by a black tarantula; the car chase on the way to Miss Taro's house; the fight between Bond and Quarrel; and the climactic fistfight between Bond and No, followed by the escape from No's lair.  None of these scenes amount to much if you judge them by the standards of The Bourne Supremacy, or of Raiders of the Lost Ark, or even of You Only Live Twice, but the pace of these scenes had a huge impact on film, and as such ought not be devalued.  Points awarded (Action/Stunts):  004/007



  
EditingDr. No was edited by Peter Hunt, who would prove to be as important a contributor to the Bond series as virtually any other.  He does very solid work here, too, creating a sense of urgency, but never sacrificing clarity.  Points awarded:  006/007

Costumes:  The wardrobe is effective in Dr. No, though simplistic.  The most memorable piece of costuming is undoubtedly Ursula Andress's bikini, which remains iconic.  So do Bond's suits, for that matter, and No's getup.  Points awarded (Costumes):  005/007




Locations:  Set almost entirely in Jamaica, and largely filmed there, as well, Dr. No worked from Ian Fleming's blueprint to help establish the Bond series as a travelogue, as much as it is anything else.  There isn't as much time spent dwelling on the setting as there would be in later Bond films, but 1962 Jamaica still looks pretty damn good, even today.  Points awarded:  005/007



Overall points awarded ("Oh, James..."):  005/007

(5)  Q Branch

Bond's Allies:  Important to remember, this: Dr. No introduced the world to both Lois Maxwell's Miss Moneypenny and to Bernard Lee's M.  That's two --count 'em! -- of the more important supporting players in the series, and sure, they're more wallpaper than actual characters ... but Maxwell and Lee are good in the roles, and deserve credit for it.  I also somewhat enjoy John Kitzmiller as Quarrel, but I'm less impressed (possibly due to having never watched Hawaii Five-O) with Jack Lord as Felix Leiter.  Leiter is largely irrelevant to the plot, although he's interestingly mysterious in his first scene, in the airport, when we have no idea who he is and why he's paying so much attention to 007.  Overall, it's a decent supporting cast of allies for old 007; nothing special, apart from Lee and Maxwell, but give the film major points for nailing those two roles so thoroughly, because what would the rest of the series have been without them?  Points awarded (Bond's Allies):  006/007








DirectionDr. No was directed by Terence Young, who, it is frequently pointed out in the DVD's special features, was a Bond-like figure himself in that he loved women, exotic locations, fine food, and fine drink ... and had the panache to actually be able to indulge in all of them.  An enviable quality, to be sure, and Young seems to have somehow translated that quality -- which, admittedly, was already present in Fleming -- to the screen, mostly by investing Sean Connery with the same quality.  But the film overall carries an air of style, humor, and confidence that makes it memorable.  There isn't much in the way of fancy camera-angles or any of the other antics that we tend to think of today as being the hallmarks of a good director; instead, there is visual clarity and a consistency of tone, and Young gets a lot of credit for that.  And, again, it's worth pointing out that if the work here hadn't been so good, the series as we know it might not be what it is today.  Points awarded (Direction):  006/007

CinematographyDr. No still looks beautiful, and we're rapidly approaching its fiftieth anniversary.  The director of photography was Ted Moore, who would shoot a total of seven Bond films over the years; Moore, clearly, was a highly important member of the Bond family.  Largely, the cinematography here is straightforward and unflashy, but it works extremely well.  One of my favorite scenes is the one if which Dent is given the tarantula: the big metal grid in the ceiling casts a vaguely weblike shadow on the wall of the room, making it evident that Dent himself is little more than a fly caught in a spider's web.  Points awarded (Cinematography):  005/007



  
Art Direction:  The production design is by Ken Adam, a hugely influential part of the behind-the-scenes crew of the Bond series through the years.  He would do more spectacular work as the years went on and the budgets increased, but his sets are quite solid in Dr. No.  The "normal" spaces, like hotel rooms and offices, all feel genuine, and once we get to Dr. No's lair, there is an appropriate and effective sense of surreality and ominousness.  Points awarded (Art Direction):  005/007

Special Effects:  The most notable special effect is that of Dr. No's fortress, as seen from above.  It still looks pretty good, too; the explosion at the end remains effective to this day.  Less impressive: that pane of glass the tarantula is crawling on when it's supposedly crawling over Bond is obvious; not helping is the fact that Connery, who is visibly distressed, actually squirms a bit during the scene, understandably.  Points awarded (Special Effects):  004/007

Gadgets:  Properly speaking, there are none.  However, I suppose you could count Dr. No's metal hands.  I'm not going to, though; no score will be assessed for this subcategory.
 
Opening-Title Sequence:  The through-the-gunbarrel shot (with Bob Simmons, not Sean Connery, playing James Bond) is fantastic, although the way Simmons jumps into the firing position is a little cheesy.  The title sequence itself hasn't aged particularly well, consisting mainly of dots and of dancing silhouettes, the latter obviously meant to play up the Jamaican aspect of the story, and the former ... well, I don't really know what all those dots are meant to represent.  Points awarded (Opening-TitleSequence):  003/007





Overall points awarded (Q Branch):  004.83/007

(6)  Mission Briefing

Overall, I think this is a fairly good screenplay, with numerous bits of witty dialogue ("...and you've had your six"; "Make sure he doesn't get away"; "...unfortunately, you are merely a stupid policeman"; "No; I'm just looking").  Unfortunately, I feel like the story loses steam once Bond arrives at Crab Key.  Really, it's all downhill as soon as Bond, Quarrel, and Ryder run into the jungle.  There is no sense of urgency to the supposed threat Dr. No is posing to the American rocket program, and that's a problem throughout the film, but it's even worse during the third act.  That is a flaw the Bond films would often be guilty of possessing throughout the years.  Points awarded:  004/007

(7)  The Music

Title Song:  There isn't a title song for Dr. No (that wouldn't happen for another couple of movies), although the opening credits do include a rendition of "Three Blind Mice" that is edited together with some Monty Norman score and John Barry's performance of the Bond theme.  I could, theoretically, base the grade on that audio Frankenstein's-monster, but it seems like the wrong thing to do.  So, I'm going to assess no score in this particular subcategory.




Secondary Songs:  The film doesn't have a proper title song as we think of it, but it does have a couple of notable original songs elsewhere in the movie.  One is "Jump Up," which is performed by Byron Lee & The Dragonaires; it is an exuberant little number that I've always enjoyed.  The other is "Under the Mango Tree," which really ought to be titled "Underneath the Mango Tree," but isn't.  It's a decent song; not at all Bondian, per se, but that should not be held against it.  Points awarded:  004/007
  
  
The Score:  The score by Monty Norman is not one of the high points of the series ... but it must, must, must be remembered that, as performed by the John Barry Orchestra, the James Bond Theme -- one of the most iconic, most recognizeable, and best-known pieces of music created during the whole of the twentieth century -- was made for this film.  For that alone, highest possible marks.  (And for the record, I like Norman's score okay; it has a few unfortunate moments, such as the one in which Quarrel nervously drinks from a jug while on Crab Key, but it's mostly serviceable.  On its own, I'd probably give it a 003/007.)  Points awarded: 006/007

Overall points awarded (The Music):  005/007



Double-0 Rating For Dr. No:  004.76/007

Overall, I don't think this is one of the best films in the series, but it's still pretty good, all these years later.

004.76 -- Dr. No
002.55 -- Climax!: Casino Royale

You Only Blog Twice will return in ... From Russia With Love.

17 comments:

  1. How did I not comment on this one?

    Although Moonraker was the first Bond I remember seeing, this is the one I watched the most during those VHS-saturated days of 1983. As such, my memories of it are through the same-tinted glasses as my memory of Star Trek "Miri" or "The Menagerie" or something like that... Underneath the man-go tree, me honey and me... (Incidentally, there was a Zydeco band that played down the street from me when I lived in Dayton, OH in the 90s and they broke into that during the middle of one of their songs. I remember virtually nothing else about this concert, nor even the name of the band, but that memory is crystal-clear.)

    Anyway! Tough for me to evaluate fairly, as all of these early-childhood Bonds are, for me. But this is a commendable dissection/ post-mortem.

    Zena Marshall... Eunice Gayson... Ursula Andress... I'll stop there.

    Ever see "Mountain of the Cannibal God" with Ursula? It's not a good movie (and aspects of it are downright problematic/ awful/ offensive/ criminal, even) but it was a natural follow-up rental for an adolescent Bryan, given her, ahem, costuming for it.

    Damn it, I didn't mean to make my comment so heavy on the Beavis-and-Butthead-voice/drool "Hot chicks...." vibe, but there it is.

    One last missive from memory lane. During those Dayton days of yore, I worked at a coffe shop and one of our regulars was a guy named "Peter Know." He was an architect of some kind, I didn't know him very well. Everytime I said him I'd break into my bad-Sean-Connery impersonation and call him "Doctor No." What's weird is: no one ever did this to him, before me. What? How is that possible?

    Weirder: he kind of LOOKED like Joseph Wiseman... could it be...? No... I suppose if a guy named "Goldfinger" could grow up to be a gold-obsessed gold-smuggler, Dr. No could choose his post-Bond in-hiding pseuodnym as "Dr. Know." Makes Bond-logic.

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    1. * Everytime I SAW him, not "said" him. I really need to proofread my damn comments.

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    2. Typos, lol -- they WILL happen.

      Dr. Know is maybe the most perfect name I've ever heard. Because, like, you can't become a doctor of any type without really knowing your stuff. It does indeed beggar belief that nobody prior to you had made the James Bond connection.

      The only other movie I've ever seen Andress in is "Casino Royale." I like the sound of "Mountain of the Cannibal God," though. And frankly, if you're a straight man and you DON'T lapse into Beavis/Butt-head objectification while thinking about Bond movies -- if only mentally, and if only briefly - then you are doing straight wrong. Because look, here's the deal: women are HOT. Hot women are even hotter, and super-duper-scorchingly hot women like the ones who typically end up playing Bond girls are seemingly custom-designed by The Lord Above to drop jaws and interrupt rational thought. That can't be helped, and shouldn't be helped.

      The trick is to not allow that reaction to turn you into a jerk, or a jackass; the trick is to be Butt-head on the inside as much as necessary, but be a gentleman on the outside.

      Somehow, I think you've got that trick managed.

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  2. (Homer voice) WOOHOO!

    Carry on, then.

    "Discipline, double-O-seven... discipline..."

    "Cannibal God" is by no means a good movie. Naturally, therefore, I listened to the commentary track after I finished watching it. The amount of times the director refers to Ursula as "athletic" was cracking me up.

    I think that was the director... come to think of it, it might have been the behind-the-scenes featurette on the disc. Unfortunately, the same featurette revealed a lot of the animal cruelty in the film, and that really pissed me off. For this reason, I can't really recommend the film/ support it in any way.

    (But Google Image Search it, by all means! NSFW, kids.)

    Anyway, I agree, and well-put, if you ARE above B&B when it comes to Bond women, you're doing straight wrong. And non-straight, too, I imagine. Spectacle and ba-BLAOW-ness provoke similar gasps regardless of what gender with whom one wants to snog, I imagine.

    (Just wanted to type a sentence with the word "snog" in it. Annnnnd done.)

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    1. "Athletic" would be an apt description. One might also use "sporty," I'd imagine.

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  3. Sean is the best thing in this film. Before the gadgets & spectacle in the series got too big, the script really gave him a chance to do strong character work here. In every scene, he portrays Bond with as many emotions & characteristics as the script will allow. Charming & confident with the ladies, respectful but with some attempted covert impertinence in the meeting with M, polite cheerfulness when he's talking to Strangways' bridge partners, unforgiving toughness in dealing with his would be killers, etc.

    The look on his face as he talks on the phone in the airport booth, not taking his eyes off the driver that's come to greet him as he figures out he's working for the opposition. The angry impatience he shows in the nighttime discussion with Leiter & Quarrel at Pussfeller's club is almost too intense. Jack Lord looks asleep in comparison!

    Bond's introduction is classic, & still so cool. My wife saw this for the first time recently. She wasn't too impressed with the movie overall (she prefers to see more fun gadgets & machines), but she had me rewind Bond's introduction a couple times to appreciate the awesomeness.

    I cringed a bit when Bond tells Quarrel to fetch his shoes as they get ready to run inland. I guess I'll forgive him for that. He does walk over solemnly to Quarrel's burned dead body as Dr. No's thugs capture them.

    I like how this film ends up on the top half of your list so far. Nice!

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  4. I meant on the top half of your list in the January 2015 post!

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    1. Gotcha!

      Yeah, and I think it's likely to stay relatively near that spot. This is a very solid movie through and through.

      This post needs big-time reworking, though. I sort of cringe looking at it now.

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  5. Can I make a request to have you add a picture of Felix's glasses? I've always thought them a little weird, kinda feminine, Audrey Hepburn-like. Entirely up to you though :)

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    1. I wrote this post before I'd figured out how to screencap the movies. In other words, the photos here were all found elsewhere on the Internet.

      However, I do eventually want to go back and properly take my own screencaps of the movies I didn't yet do that for. When I do so, I'll do my best to remember your request!

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  6. This movie hasn't aged as well as some of the others, but it has a certain charm that still makes me think of it fondly, don't quite know what it is..

    I always liked Jack Lord's portrayal of Leiter, in my mind he fits the role extremely well, just a shame that the movie doesn't really give him much to do (which unfortunately becomes a recurring theme for poor Felix).
    John Kitzmiller is excellent as well, although some of the scenes with Quarrel can get a little uncomfortable ("Fetch my shoes!").

    I agree with you on Honey Ryder, she looks amazing, but there never was much of a character there and compared to Sean's later leading ladies, she isn't really that memorable, the IMAGE of her certainly is, but the character isn't.

    I was never a fan of Monty Normans music, credit to him for coming up with the Bond theme, but the rest seems really dated now.
    Some of his music and cues sound a little to "1950's Hollywood" for me, with the LOUD and really dramatic brass, my best example would be the scene where Bond subdues the guards in the swamp (The slightly overacted reaction of Honey Ryder doesn't help).

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    1. Oh and PS: I always get a chuckle out of the scene where James Bond sings!! The combination of the odd choice of song and Sean Connery's booming voice just makes it really funny to me.

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    2. I've got a co-worker who is in his early twenties who decided he wanted to see all the Bond movies. So he bought the Blu-ray box-set and has been slowly working his way through them and giving me (a known Bond-o-phile) updates. the first thing he said about "Dr. No" was that it really showed its age for him. And since he flat-out loved "From Russia With Love," I can't -- and wouldn't even if I could -- accuse of him of recency bias.

      All of which is a long-winded way of saying that yeah, I agree: "Dr. No" hasn't aged all that well comparatively. But that's okay by me; I think that makes it stand out all the better, in some ways. In other ways -- Norman's score, as you point out -- not so much.

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  7. That screencap of Anthony Dawson got me thinking. I love Bernard Lee as M, especially in these early movies where you never forget he's Bond's boss. But wouldn't Dawson - who's also one of the villains in the Italian spoof "OK, Connery" - have made a great M? A former Double-0 who doesn't like sending Bond out to die, but will do it anyway if he thinks its necessary?

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    1. Oh, absolutely. He'd probably have been a very good Q, as well. A different one, but good.

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  8. Oh, yeah, he'd have been great as Q - I can just imagine the sarcasm.

    But given how many villains he played over the years, I can imagine Bond dreading going into the Quartermaster's office!

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    1. He already kind of does, just for somewhat different reasons. Fascinating to consider how a change like that might have impacted the series!

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