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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Dr. No (1962) review

DR. NO 1962

Sean Connery (James Bond), Ursula Andress (Honey Ryder), Joseph Wiseman (Dr. Julius No), Jack Lord (Felix Leiter), John Kitzmiller (Quarrel), Anthony Dawson (Professor Dent), Eunice Gayson (Sylvia Trench), Bernard Lee (M), Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny), Zena Marshall (Miss Taro)

Directed by Terence Young 

"It's a Smith & Wesson... and you've had your six." -- James Bond administering last rites to an unlucky assassin.

The Short Version: DR. NO kicks off the lucrative James Bond franchise in low-key fashion with this modest spy thriller that, with its assassins, killer spiders, "fire-spitting metal dragon", and cyanide laced cigarettes, hints at all the garishly colorful villains and outrageous elements the series would soon become known for. The memorable world dominating villain of the title is only seen in the last reel, but a slew of succeeding madmen follow closely in No's megalomaniacal footsteps. A huge box office success, audiences were shaken, but not sufficiently stirred till spy spectacle GOLDFINGER rolled out. Just say YES to DR. NO, and The Man With the Midas Touch, James Bond.

British secret service agent James Bond is assigned to investigate the murder of a colleague and the clues lead to an island stronghold lorded over by the half-Chinese madman, Dr. Julian No. Upon getting close to his quarry, Bond is captured and taken to the lair of the mysterious Dr. No. Over dinner, the good doctor informs Bond his intention to avenge himself on the East and West by first wrecking havoc with the space program at Cape Canaveral with his atomic beam weapon before utilizing his harnessed nuclear power to rule the world.

His name is Bond... James Bond, and this, his first spy mission, is a modest affair from director Terence Young and producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli. Easily one of the most influential movies of all time, DR. NO started a spy craze that lasted for several years on both the big and small screens. Everybody from Italy to Hong Kong were assigning spies to their own brand of secret agent adventures. For a 1 million budgeted picture, the scope and production values look great. Ted Moore's photography and the elaborate sets for No's villainous lair allow the film to appear much bigger than it really is. With its massive, and ensuing popularity, the Bonds, their budgets, and everything about them, would get bigger.

With this expanse, the signature staples of the James Bond film series that began here would likewise become more wild, outrageous, and sexier with each sequel; the following film, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963), established additional Bond conventions that laid the blueprint by which the remaining entries would follow.

One of these establishing Bond elements are those memorable opening credits sequences that either precede the start of the film, or appear after an action scene; which eventually became a series mainstay. Maurice Binders design with animation by Trevor Bond influenced many a Bond rip-off; and particularly countless Italian westerns.

Of course the music by Monty Norman is among the top most recognizable cues in motion picture history. That famous Bond theme is played frequently throughout DR. NO (1962).

One of my favorite series concepts is the cordial, albeit deadly rapport James Bond shares with the villains. Both are very much aware who the other is, and what they're up to; not to mention both surely wish the other dead. It's a game of cat and mouse between the dapper protagonist and arrogant antagonist. Even during the "settling of accounts" sequence wherein the well-mannered villain reveals his diabolical plan to his self-assured nemesis -- usually over a meal and witty banter -- the bad guy still can't bring himself to simply shoot Bond, preferring to make him suffer some horrible fate instead; but not before showing his gracious nature. Despite this, there's a mutual respect found between the two enemies and their 2 hour chess game that concludes in a life-ending checkmate.

When viewed next to other Bond movies, DR. NO is quaint in comparison. It's a fairly simplistic story with no gadgets, fancy cars, or imposing, comic book styled henchmen (unless you count the three assassins, the 'Three Blind Mice'). Dr. No, the half-Chinese, half-German mad scientist is the sort of world dominating villain that the series became famous for, you don't see him till the last 20 minutes. If only he had a goatee he could easily pass for Fu Manchu. Now there's a pairing -- Ian Fleming's famous spy meets Sax Rohmer's criminal sadist! No does have metal hands that can crush objects with ease, however. It's during this last reel that the audience gets a taste of where the series is headed in the ensuing years.

The action sequences are all small-scale (brutal fisticuffs and a couple car chases), but these are exciting none the less. DR. NO focuses more on the mystery and intrigue; which works very well within the bounds of the budget. The film itself is more about building the Bond character -- displaying him as a suave, charismatic, sometimes cold-blooded man who gets the job done without the benefit of quasi-SciFi accouterments of later pictures. 

While he's not quite on the level of the vengeance seeking operative Bond became in LICENCE TO KILL (1989), he's neither the comical, one-liner spouting womanizer of the 70s and early 80s; but somewhere in between. The scene where Bond outsmarts, and executes hitman Professor Dent shows a merciless side to the secret agent, if necessarily so. His witty response prior to forever silencing Dent isn't the sort of one-liner you'd hear throughout the Roger Moore years; although he does spout off a Mooreism when he sends the 'Three Blind Mice' to an early grave. His swift sentencing of Dent is darkly humorous, if callous in Connery's intonement. 

As Bond, Connery is effortless in the role, with nearly every move he makes the personification of perfection. Like Sherlock Holmes, he has a confidence about him wherein he's frequently one step ahead of those who want him dead; and a roguish charm in the way Bond beds down women he clearly knows are his enemies. From here, James Bond would morph into a secret agent of a comic book stature, possessing an uncanny ability to stay alive -- surviving scenarios that defy logic.

His affinity for women is glaringly apparent, but this too would be exaggerated in later pictures where Bond becomes a veritable Don Juan with every woman he comes into contact with; and occasionally these women want him not just in bed, but dead, too.

SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion), the insidious worldwide terrorist organization makes their debut here. The global terror group encores in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963), returns for the fourth film THUNDERBALL (1965), and again attempts to rule the world in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967), ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE (1969), and DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971). The non-Eon Production (the company that produced all the Bond movies) NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983) brought back SPECTRE one last time. 

In these appearances, the face of SPECTRE is represented famously by that of Ernst Stavlo Blofeld. Anthony Dawson (Professor Dent in DR. NO) plays a faceless Blofeld in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963) and THUNDERBALL (1965); Donald Pleasence in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967); Telly Savalas in ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE (1969); Charles Gray in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971); John Hollis, like the second and third films with Dawson as the bald, white cat stroking character, never shows his face as Blofeld (unnamed and uncredited for legal reasons) during the opening sequence in FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981); and Max Von Sydow in the unofficial Bond adventure NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983).

Other performers that make DR. NO work very well are Jack Lord as Felix Leiter and Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder. Lord of course, went on to enormous fame as McGarrett on the original HAWAII FIVE-O; a series that ran from 1968-1980. Prior to that, his monetary demands caused him to lose  out on portraying Leiter in subsequent roles, and also the Captain seat on the Enterprise before William Shatner was awarded with it. It's likely for the best, as both FIVE-O and STAR TREK became iconic because of the actors that played them; and it's difficult to imagine anybody else playing McGarrett and Kirk respectively.

Andress's career skyrocketed because of her Bond affiliations with roles in virtually every genre style of varying taste and quality. Her emergence from the ocean in DR. NO has been homaged by Halle Berry in DIE ANOTHER DAY (2002), and repeated in other films outside the Bond spectrum. She was the benchmark for later Bond women, and especially those that survive the end credit crawl. 

There's little else to say about DR. NO aside from praising every aspect of the production. It's a bit silly in places (the section with the metal dragon is hard to swallow that a big tank with a mounted flamethrower would be mistaken for a real dragon), dated in some others, but it still holds up incredibly well, if being a bit on the talky side. Connery's debonaire, if deadly portrayal keeps things interesting, although some less patient viewers might find their mind wandering from time to time. Still, it's essential viewing for fans, and those even remotely curious about Bond's big screen beginnings.

This review is representative of the MGM DVD.


Gialloman and DontIgnoreMe said...

Very good review. What's your favorite James bond movies and best and least favorite actors as Bond?

venoms5 said...

Thanks. My favorites at this time are THUNDERBALL, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, MOONRAKER, OCTOPUSSY, and LICENSE TO KILL. I've not seen all the Connery ones, but I am beginning to warm up to him more now as I grew up on the Moore years. I have all of them up to CASINO ROYALE, but not seen any of the post Dalton films yet. At the moment, my favorite Bond would still be Moore, followed by Dalton and Connery. I need to revisit ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE as I haven't seen it in years, but remember enjoying it quite a bit, even if Lazenby--at the time--didn't do much for me. The ending definitely threw me for a loop, though.

Even though Moore is my favorite, I would have to say he headlined some of the least, maybe even worst entries in the series with the likes of THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN and A VIEW TO A KILL. I still like those films, but they're much weaker than most, imo.

Gialloman and DontIgnoreMe said...

Very interesting choices. The post Dalton years are a mixed bag. Casino Royale and Skyfall are surprisingly good after the badness of world is not enough and Die Another Day. I'm not the biggest fan of Moonraker. I feel it's a cheap star wars version of spy who loved me, but then again I like it the "unofficial" Bond movie Never Say Never Again as it was my first. On Her Majesty s secret service is really good. Have you seen the Flint or Matt Helm movies? I find it interesting how many spoofs were made after the Connery years

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