This blog shall be re-visiting (periodically), pre-Brosnan Bond movies probably in chronological order. The first of this series starts today with a look at Dr.No, the first ever James Bond flick.
Dr.No (1962) Rating: *** / *****
As the first movie on what has become a money spinning franchise, the Terrence Young-helmed Dr.No had the envious task of setting a platform and introduce a number of concepts and ideas that were to become a staple of part of every single Bond movie (not to mention countless other take-offs) ever since - the martini, the Walther PPK etc. It also had the dubious distinction of setting the framework for numerous parodies ever since not to mention the caricature of a villain and the one-moment-clever-another-moment-stupid-sidekicks.
Plot-wise, it was pretty basic. A sinister half-Chinese decamps with a million dollars worth of gold from the Chinese Triad. He also is a brilliant scientist. He just commandeers an un-inhabited island close to Kingston, Jamaica and proceeds to mine bauxite in a sweatshop like atmosphere while secretly developing a beam to disrupt missile and moon rocket tests in Cape Canaveral.
Bond is asked to investigate, by M, when the MI-6's station head in Jamaica and his secretary get bumped off by three supposedly blind men (with the Kingston Calypso, a song about 3 blind mice, an obvious reference to the fairy tale, playing in the background). Bond gets to Jamaica, but his reputation precedes him and he has to bump off a fake chauffer who gives up with surprising ease. He also encounters a half Chinese secretary in the Government House who tries to lure him to his death with her sultry charms, but fails, not to mention a crooked scientist who runs a lab in Kingston in league with Dr.No.
Bond finds that the killed station head suspected foul play at Crabtree island and decides to investigate with his sidekick Quarrel (who he inherits from the dead station head) and CIA agent Felix Leiter (who gets to do nothing in the whole movie btw). They encounter a un-imaginatively named (aren’t Bond girls named that way,always? Pussy Galore indeed!) half naked woman (Ursula Andress, at her best undressed self as Honey) searching for seashells in the island who joins them and come face to face with a mechanical fire-breathing contraption that Dr.No passes off as a dragon to scare away intruders from the island. Quarrel dies as a result of his quarrel with the dragon and Bond lets himself be taken captive and is lead with Honey to Dr. No's "underground lair".He comes face to face with Dr.No who has a metallic claw for a hand and when Dr.No goes to launch his "beam". Bond foils it and kills him while blowing the place to smithereens.
From a quizzer’s point of view, this movie presents an interesting sequence leading to the forced change of Bond's weapon of choice from his 10-year-old Beretta to the Walther PPK. Bond resists the change, but is reminded (by M) of the fact that the Beretta had jammed at a critical point in Bond's previous mission. Bond is forced to make the change and he even unsucessfully attempts to flick the Beretta right from under M's eyes. And Halle Barry's entry in the “Die Another Day” is a direct reference to Ursula Andress's entry in this movie when she walks out from the waves in a white (and obviously wet bikini). If you have seen the Austin Powers series, the Dr.Evil character is obviously based on Ernst Stavro Blofield (who was named after the father of Henry Blofield who had been Ian Fleming’s school-mate), but the scene in one of the movies when Dr.Evil and Scott Evil go to a group therapy session and Dr.Evil talks about his childhood etc. is obviously based on Dr.No’s similar description to Bond when they discuss things over dinner.
The movie marked the debut of the John Barry - Monty Normal created theme that has been Bond's signature ever since. But it's another single, "Underneath the Mango Tree", that has been going around my mind for the last two days now.
As for the gadgets, the novelty stops with the perfunctory appearance of Q’s predecessor Major Boothroyd in the early scenes - albeit at M's orders to give him his new Walther. The gadget level stayed at abysmally low levels, with one failing to understand how the obviously mechanical dragon could raise hell or was Quarrel plain stupid and did Honey Ryder's knowledge was limited to just sea shells!
It is interesting to note that the moment I saw a Oriental looking man sing at the bar when Bond meets with Quarrel and Felix Leiter, the first person that came into my mind was that famous half Chinese in cricket and the eponymous creator of the Chinaman - Ellis Achong. This first gave me doubts as to the significance of the convenient presence of Oriental looking individuals (including a sexy woman working at Government House) half way around the world in the Caribbean, but then I realized Dr.No's supposed to be Chinese.
Overall, a sloppy movie when you compare it to the later movies. But then, as it often happens, stupidity like this seems to grow on you and you start liking it. This is perhaps true of Dr.No too and one movie gave way to two and then more. James Bond has never looked back since.
As for the actor playing Bond, Sean Connery seems to be angry at someone all the time, regardless of his role, be it in a Bond movie or Entrapment, Indiana Jones or even Finding Foresster. It is also interesting to see where the uppity-all-knowing-better-than-thou potrayal started from. It is not surprising that Connery's potrayal of the executive of unknown rank from Universal Exports, has been ranked by "experts" (source. V.Gangadhar in The Hindu) in the top 5 all time dramatic lead roles (the all time number one being Brando's Don Corleone from Godfather). Frankly speaking, it now seems to me that Sean Connery never stopped playing Bond ever since.