DR. NO (1958)
Written by: Ian Fleming
“Whatever happened to dead people, there was surely one place for the warm and another for the cold. And which, when the time came, would he, Bond, go to?”
Bond is just recovering from his adventure in Russia (link to From Russia With Love) and is itching to get back to work. M, though, wants him to “take a vacation.” He sends him to Jamaica for a supposedly easy task of finding out what happened to an agent and his assistant. Everyone thinks that they ran off together but, as the opening scene shows, they were actually killed by some “Chigros.” (These are half-Chinese, half-black folk in a less PC term.)
Bond grudgingly gives up his beloved Barreta, takes a Walther PPK and a Smith & Wesson and runs off to Jamiaca to take care of business.
His first thought, of course, is that the two people were killed. He gets to Jamaica and makes contact with his old friend from Live And Let Die, Quarrel. The two men make plans to visit the island of the mysterious Dr. No. After hearing about a controversy about some birds on Crab Key Island, Bond just knows that Dr. No has something to do with it. After a few attempts on his own life (involving poisoned fruit and, in one of the best scenes in the book, a centipede), he absolutely knows it.
Bond and Quarrel head off under cover of night to check out the scene on the dirty little island. Bond meets a beautiful young creation called Honeychile Rider. She has a broken nose, but there’s something under that nose that makes Bond fall for her…and I think it’s probably her childlike behavior. Honey grew up all alone and has had to take care of herself all her short life. But she’s still a child in many ways, including her social awkwardness.
Eventually, Quarrel is killed by Dr. No’s “dragon” (a tank-like machine with a flame-thrower that is painted to look like a dragon) and he and Honey are taken prisoner by Dr. No’s men.
When we finally meet the good doctor, he is quite possibly the most decadent villain yet in the Bond books. (And, remember, there was a guy who was building missiles!) He has his men chase them around for a day, then they finally get them with the dragon.
They bring the two of them back for rest and food. They wear kimonos to finally meet the man and he proceeds to tell them is entire life story in front of an underwater window. He doesn’t walk so much as glide. He tells them, “Excuse me for not shaking hands. You see…I can’t.” He pulls his hands out of his kimono to reveal two mechanical claws. He tells them that “these will keep an eye on you,” as he touches his claws to his eyeballs, each one making a “tink” sound.
This guy is a fucking weirdo.
Of course, it’s just contact lenses. He just wants to scare the natives (and the birds–ornithologists are a crazy man’s worst enemy) into leaving him alone. After telling Bond and Honey his story, he tells them that they have no escape route (Bond basically gives up at this point!) and sends them to their horribly convoluted deaths. Honey is going to be tied to the ground naked while hundreds of crabs feast on her fair skin. Bond, however, has to go through a gauntlet of a tiny air shaft that is armed with distance, heat, tarantulas and, finally, a giant squid. Will the squid kill him?!
Of course not. This is James Fucking Bond. He has to save the girl! And, really, that’s the only thing that keeps him alive through all of this. As I said, he had all but given up hope while he and Honey were eating with Dr. No.
Actually, Bond came pretty close to dying in this one. His body (and, to an extent, Honey’s) is pretty much turned into hamburger by the end. But he eventually gets the better of the squid AND Dr. No, burying him under a pile of bird shit. (Killed by his own cover story!)
The book is pretty good, but I do have a couple of problems with it. First off, there is a LOT of time spent with Bond, Honey and Quarrel just walking around the island. It’s just not particularly interesting. Things don’t get good until they start being chased. It just seems like they’re not finding anything out until then.
Then, when they finally are caught and are talking to Dr. No…all he does is talk! It’s probably the beginning of the “Amazing Talking Villain” syndrome that Austin Powers parodied so well. It’s where we finally learn what his plan is and why he’s doing what he’s doing, instead of from his actions. We find out that he’s been diverting American missiles and working with the Russians on a system that will divert ALL missiles. Why not SHOW us one of these missiles being diverted and crashing into the ocean instead of just having Dr. No tell us that it happened at some point in the past?
Not only that, but the convoluted deaths that the doctor plans for them are just stupid. Crabs? Really? Making Bond crawl through a tube and fall into the water with a giant squid? Come on! Lame. Just shoot ‘em! BANG! DONE!
It kind of makes sense, though, that this was the first book to be turned into a movie. The villain is super-colorful (although, they would dilute him in the film quite a bit) and there’s plenty of room for action…although the squid wouldn’t work in 1962. The book pretty much set the standard for all Bond movies: the strangely deformed and intelligent villain, the nearly useless sex interest (Honey is among the most sexist creations in Fleming’s career…she’s self-reliant, but so childlike as to be insulting) and the big action sequences that are almost sci-fi in nature. When they made movies of the earlier books, they had to change things to meet these standards.
It’s also the coldest and most pathological that Bond has ever been. He’s physically excited by his gun and incredibly angry (to the point of wanting to kill) when M takes it away from him at the beginning of the book. It’s the first time that Bond actually hates M a little bit. And, later, when he puts a gun into his waistband, Fleming talks about how good it felt against his skin.
Bond is a scary, scary guy.
But, honestly, he’s pretty weak in this book. Quarrel does most of the leg work early on. He doesn’t seem to still be debilitated by his near death experience at the end of From Russia With Love, but he sure does play it up a lot.
There’s a lot of racism going on, too. “Chigro”? Really? Dr. No is definitely a parody of a Chinese villain, with his perfectly shaved head and nearly unmoving kimono. I almost expected him to have a long, thin mustache, Fu-man Chu style.
Overall, not a bad entry in the series, but certainly not the best. From what I hear, they get sillier from here. I guess we’ll see.
Directed by: Terence Young
Written by: Richard Maibaum/Johanna Harwood/Berkely Mather/Terence Young (uncredited)
Based on book by: Ian Fleming
I actually read this book a few months ago and have, unfortunately, put off watching the movie for a review FAR too long. As much as I love an respect this movie, it’s the least interesting for me to revisit because it’s the most dated of the Connery movies. They hadn’t quite figured out what to do with the character for the first film, so it’s almost not as James Bondy as the rest of the films.
You can tell this from the opening sequence. It’s all colored dots and flashing lights. It isn’t until the Bond theme ends (which is the theme song to the movie, no pop stars singing a song in this one) that a red female form is animated over a black background.
The blind chaps who kill Strangeways and his assistant aren’t as thorough as they are in the book. There’s no question here that they were killed.
Bond’s intro right after this scene is pretty badass. Where is he? Which one of these guys is he? Oh! He’s the guy winning the shit out of baccarat, of course. And, naturally, he picks up a chick on the way.
Bond still gives up his Barreta for a Walther and it’s still Major Boothroyd who gives it to him…but it’s not Desmond Llewelyn! Peter Burton had the job before Desmond came around. He didn’t do much with it, though, and most people don’t even realize that he’s the same character. (Bond has to give the gun up for the same reason that he does in the book…because of his misadventure in Russia…but that story happens next. ACK! Time loop!)
Once Bond gets to Jamaica, things are pretty different from the book. Of course, Quarrel (John Kitzmiller) doesn’t know Bond at all here, even though they’re old friends in the book. (Apparently, Live And Let Die hasn’t happened yet. Timelines mean nothing to Broccoli and Saltzman.) Quarrel, of course, is working for Felix Leiter (Jack Lord and his girly sunglasses), CIA agent. They decide to pay a visit to Dr. No on Crabkey Island. (If you’ll remember, Leiter doesn’t show up in the book at all. I’m not particularly sure why he was added here as he’s kind of useless.)
Before they leave, though, Bond is visited by his first animal villain, a tarantula. To me, not quite a creepy as a centipede, but it still works. Connery hates spiders, so this was filmed with stuntman Bob Simmons’ arm under the offending spider. (That’s also Simmons playing Bond in the gun barrel opening sequence. Connery didn’t appear in the opening until Thunderball a few years later.)
Bond is incredibly cold in this movie…colder than he would be again until Casino Royale over four decades later. When Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson) tries to kill him, he doesn’t even wait for him to answer any questions. Although Dent’s gun is empty, Bond shoots him once in the front and once in the back. (Originally, it was shot with Bond emptying his gun into Dent’s back.)
Finally, Bond and Quarrel make it to Crabkey. This, of course, is where James meets Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress in the only role anyone truly remembers her for…except for her voice which was, like all Bond girls at the time, dubbed over).
There really isn’t a lot special about Honey Ryder except that she comes out of the ocean in a bikini. Other than that, she’s just a dumb girl who ends up following Bond around a bit…just like in the book. After they’re caught by Dr. No’s men, she bounces from room to room being scared and hot. Total window dressing. Silly 60s.
When Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman who is the only early Bond villain to not be dubbed) is finally introduced (less than half an hour from the end of the movie), he’s not nearly as weird or imposing as he is in the book. He still has false hands, but they aren’t hooks, just metal hands. He also doesn’t have metal contacts nor a long, drawn-out back story. Here, he’s just a German-Chinese guy who now works for SPECTRE, diverting missiles from his tiny island.
Really, as different as the book and the movie are, its mostly cosmetic differences. There’s no bird sanctuary here. The natives are really only scared off by the “dragon.” Bond tube of escape isn’t as convoluted and he really only has to endure about six feet of hot metal and a couple of gushes of water. There certainly isn’t a squid at the end of his escape. (MAN, that would’ve been bad.) No’s operation is all indoors, too. There’s no opportunity to cover him in bird shit, so they just have to dip him in radioactive water and blow his lair up. Really, that’s good enough.
The movie really is great. It’s really only compared to the later films that it suffers. You can see the budget constraints that they were dealing with and the fact that the studio just wasn’t sure about this “James Bond” guy. Luckily, they were able to stretch that budget out and make a great spy film. (Check out Ken Adam’s sets. They were so good that Kubrick hired him for Dr. Strangelove.)
Not as action packed as later installments, this is pretty much a straight spy film until the last 20 minutes or so. It’s probably the most pure translation from book to screen of any of the Bond stories along with From Russia With Love. This also makes it, as I said earlier, one of the more dated of the Connery films. It almost could be a movie about any 60s spy. As 60s spy films go, though, it is one of the best.
Note that they were so unsure of going on with the series that there is no “James Bond will return” tagline at the end. Just plain ol’ “THE END”.
Overall, this is a great introduction to one of the world’s best known characters. It wasn’t until the next year with From Russia With Love, though (and, even more so, the year after that with Goldfinger), that Bond became the man we all know and want to be. It sets up the entire series with a larger than life villain, a debonair hero who can kill at the drop of a hat and beautiful women who are ready to drop their towels for our hero. Even with its faults, it’s a great film.
GLOBE HOPPING: Jamaica
CONQUESTS: Sylivia Trench (surprised they even gave her a name), Miss Taro, Honey Ryder
The special features on the disc include a 45 minute documentary about the making of the film and how much director Terence Young really had a hand in creating the James Bond that filmgoers know. He molded Connery into the refined man that Bond was written as and the two of them added the little off-the-cuff on-liners that Bond would become famous for. There’s also a short doc about the premieres of all of the films that interesting, but not all that enlightening.