Dracula with music by Philip Glass and the Kronos Quartet at Arlene Schnitzer Center, Portland, OR

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Dr. No (1962)

My first encounter with James Bond was in the early 70's when ABC would advertise their upcoming Sunday Movie during the week and I would glimpse a 15 second teaser for FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE or DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. The images were always the same. An explosion, a brief fight, a beautiful Bond girl, and some clever retort by James Bond to the villain of the film. I was hooked.

Author Ian Fleming's character James Bond first appeared on American television in 1954 in CASINO ROYALE but to little fanfare. But Bond was always meant for the big screen. And yet, if DR. NO had not been a success, it may have faded from our memory as quickly as it's brief appearance on television.

Thankfully, DR. NO was an enormous hit (President John F. Kennedy was no less a fan of the books) and so began our relationship with James Bond, his secretary Miss Moneypenney, his boss M, the gadget man Q, the evil crime organization SPECTRE, and the countless Bond villains and girls we've come to love from 1962 to 2008.

DR. NO is a pretty straightforward spy adventure. On the island of Jamaica, a British secret service employee Strangways and his secretary are murdered and their files stolen. Strangways had been working with the CIA trying to locate the source of some interference that had wrecked havoc with a U.S. missile launch. England sends it's best secret agent James Bond (Sean Connery) to investigate.

No sooner has Bond landed on the island then he's being pursued by henchmen and lethal femme fatales. With the assistance of CIA agent Felix Leiter (played by Jack Lord who would eventually play Detective Steve McGarrett on television's HAWAII FIVE-O) and Quarrel (John Kitzmiller), a local fishermen and operative for Leiter, Bond discovers that all clues point to the small island of Crab Key and a mysterious Chinese man known as Dr. No who owns the island.

Bond and Quarrel sneak over to the island where they encounter a beautiful local shell collector Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress). Soon, Dr. No's men capture Bond and Ryder and take them to Dr. No's lair where he reveals his next diabolical plan is to disrupt a U.S moon launch. It's up to Bond to stop the good doctor's plan, blow up his fortress, and kiss the girl which Bond accomplishes in a quickly moving finale.

But why did James Bond's second resurrection succeed? I give you 007 reasons why DR. NO became a bona fide hit and catapulted Ian Fleming's character James Bond into our cinematic consciousness for 21 more films.

001 - Sean Connery. Producers Albert "Cubby" Broccoli and Harry Saltzman got it right when they selected Sean Connery to play James Bond. If Connery doesn't command the screen, there is no sequel. Connery was a risk, a fairly unknown young actor at the time (you remember him in 1959's DARBY O'GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE, right?) but his portrayal of Bond as one part suave and sexy and one part cold, brutal secret agent with a dash of humor wins us over. Whether he's ordering a martini shaken not stirred or shooting the traitorous Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson) in the back, Connery shows us that he was destined to be 007.

002 -- The Bond Girl. She may not have known it at the time but Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder had just as huge a weight on her lovely shoulders as Connery did as Bond. If we don't find Honey appealing, then much of the film's sex appeal is gone. Luckily, when Andress steps out of the surf in that white bikini, the Bond girl is born. I became an Ursula Andress fan at that moment. Unlike many Bond girls, Honey is not as sophisticated, a bit of a wild child, hunting for sea shells on the off-limits Crab Key, willing to thrust a knife into Bond to protect her day's work. But Bond's charm finally wins her over.

003 - The Villain. DR. NO does an excellent job of keeping the villain off camera until near the end of the film making him even more sinister. When Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman) is revealed, he doesn't disappoint. He will be the first of many Bond villains to be both urbane (like Bond) yet psychotic. Another nice touch is Dr. No's metallic hands, the unfortunate result of handling radioactive materials. Jaws and his metal teeth from THE SPY WHO LOVED ME or Oddjob and his lethal bowler hat from GOLDFINGER will follow in future films. We remember the Bond baddies. If Dr. No is not memorable, neither is the film.

004 - The Director. Terence Young sets the tone for all future Bond movies with DR. NO. Exotic locations, beautiful women, spy gadgets, and nicely staged action scenes will become the norm. Young introduces filmgoers to the Bond mythology in DR. NO as we learn double O means Bond is licensed to kill and Bond's first gun , a Baretta, gets replaced by a Walther PBK. This kind of movie trivia will make James Bond an international icon.

005 - The Location. Films were just beginning to go on location in the 50's and 60's. Jamaica plays a role in DR. NO and as the Bond series continues, the filmmakers utilize more and more exotic and distant locales around the world. Jamaica's waterfalls and pristine beaches and islands are as sexy and dangerous in Bond's world as Honey Ryder and Dr. No. If DR. NO takes place on the north side of London, would we be as interested? Location, location, location.

006 - Production Design. Ken Adam, the Production designer for DR. NO and 6 other James Bond films creates two memorable sets on Dr. No's island hideout that again, set the bar for future Bond films: a domed room with spider web like bars and an underground apartment with convex aquarium and priceless stolen art. Adam's brilliant work would be seen in 1964 in Stanley Kubrick's DR. STRANGELOVE. His masterful and bold designs further compliment the Bond villains and stick in our subconscious.

007 - The Music and Titles. Music can sometimes be the strongest component to a film's success and there's no doubt that John Barry's catchy Bond theme with the guitar reverb as Bond faces down an unseen assassin through a gun's barrel is one of a kind and a hook we the audience won't soon forget. Maurice Binder's title design for DR. NO, although not as psychedelic nor sexy as future Bond title sequences will become, introduces us to the montage of silhouettes and color. All that DR. NO is missing is a good theme song but that will be fully realized in the third installment of the Bond series in GOLDFINGER (1964).

If James Bond had never made it past his first film DR. NO, now that would be a scenario that only Dr. No could dream up. But thanks to director Terence Young and actors Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, and Joseph Wiseman, DR. NO sets the stage for a series that has become more famous than author Ian Fleming ever could have imagined. In future essays, I hope to explore the best and worst Bond girls and Bond villains.

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