The James Bond Challenge – Dr No (1962)

Dr NoIn which we meet Bond (James Bond, that is) who is summoned to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of Secret Agent Strangways, and eventually locates Dr No’s secret hideaway at Crab Key – and defeats the scoundrel. In my Agatha Christie Challenge blog posts I endeavour not to give the game away as to whodunit; James Bond films are a different kettle of fish and so I recommend that if you haven’t seen the film first – well, let’s just say the blogs will be full of spoilers!

BlogAlso – apologies in advance. This is quite a long blog, gentle reader, so I wish you the best of luck in getting through it all. There’s a lot of introductory material that I thought I should grapple with, that shouldn’t be necessary as the film series continues. So, please, may I crave your indulgence just this once?

Dr No novelDr No was the first of the films to be made, an adaptation of Ian Fleming’s novel of the same name published four years earlier. In 1961, Canadian film producer Harry Saltzman read Fleming’s Goldfinger, and loved it so much he bought the film rights to the novels. Albert R. Broccoli (Cubby, to you and me) also wanted to transfer Bond to the Silver Screen only to find that Saltzman had beaten him to it. Saltzman refused to sell but they went into partnership together and, under the title of Eon productions, they made eight Bond films together between 1962’s Dr No and 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun. Although Thunderball had been the original target for the first Bond movie, there was a long drawn out and ultimately acrimonious legal battle over the work between Fleming and Irish writer Kevin McClory, whom Fleming had originally brought in to write a screenplay for a Bond movie in the late 50s. Broccoli and Saltzman wisely chose Dr No instead.

Ursula Andress on the beachBefore this recent re-watch, I think I’d seen Dr No just once before – on television, probably in the 1980s. I remember enjoying it, but my only memory of it, and probably the memory I share with most people, is the vision of Ursula Andress as Honey Rider, emerging from the sea, clad in not very much at all. So it was great fun to watch it again all these years later, and to discover there’s more to the film than just that scene.

Three Blind MiceHow does it start? The opening credits blend into the first scene as we see three (apparently) blind men, all walking in tandem for safety to the tune of Three Blind Mice, crossing a road, holding out a begging tin, then walking up to the Queen’s Club where John Strangways, the MI6 Station Chief in Jamaica, is playing Bridge with geologist Professor Dent, retired military man General Potter, and Government House Chief Secretary Pleydell-Smith. As Strangways leaves to file his usual secret daily report back to London, he is assassinated by one of the (clearly not) blind men, who then take a getaway car to Strangways’ House. There they surprise and murder his assistant Mary, then steal secret files on Crab Key and Doctor No. As the transmission from Jamaica faltered and broke up, London’s suspicions are aroused. So M summons Bond to deliver him his next task: find out what has happened to Strangways. I’m not going to tell you the rest of the story at this point – you’ll just have to watch the film for yourself!

Portrait of the Duke of WellingtonProduced on a low budget of just $1.1 million, there are many stories about how cheaply certain effects were achieved. Dr No’s aquarium, for example, was represented by some stock footage of goldfish magnified many times over. M’s office features cardboard paintings and the expensive looking upholstered door to his office was made of plastic. Dr No had clearly stolen Goya’s Portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery, as you can see it in one scene in his lair. It’s true; the painting had genuinely been stolen in 1961 and was missing for four years. In reality, Doctor No wasn’t the thief; over the course of a weekend, production designer Ken Adam painted up a copy using a slide from the National Gallery as his source. The UK arm of United Artists put up an extra $100,000 specifically to film the scene where Dr No’s hideaway is blown to smithereens – that’s an extra 10% of the entire budget spent on that one brief scene. However, they needn’t have worried about the financial risk; the film went on to be a huge success, taking $59.5 million at the box office.

Terence YoungTo direct the film, the producers eventually decided on Terence Young, after it had been declined by Guy Green, Guy Hamilton (who went on to direct four later Bond movies), Hammer movie expert Val Guest and Ken Hughes (most famous for directing Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang). Guest and Hughes would also be two of the six credited directors (which tells its own story) of the spoof film Casino Royale. Terence Young ended up directing three of the first four Bond movies, and is credited with moulding the character of Bond from Fleming’s original characterisation into someone more sophisticated, tasteful and with an eye to humour as well as to women.

Ian FlemingI haven’t read any Ian Fleming books, but the synopses are readily available on the Internet, so I can (hopefully) make a reasonable estimate of how faithful each adaptation was. But first a word or two about Ian Fleming himself. Educated at Eton and Sandhurst, he was the naval intelligence Commander in charge of Operation Goldeneye (recognise the name?) which was a plan to monitor and sabotage Spain’s activity during the Second World War if the country had been invaded by the Nazis or indeed had offered their support to Hitler. It was vital that British communication with Gibraltar was unhindered during that sensitive period. As it was, there was never any need to put the plan into full operation; and in later years, Fleming used the name for his home in Jamaica. Of course, it would also become the name of the 19th film in the series.

Bond and SylviaIn real life Fleming was no stranger to the more enjoyable things in life; a serial womaniser from his time at Eton onwards – he left Sandhurst with no commission but with gonorrhoea – and a heavy addiction to cigarettes which no doubt brought about his early death at the age of 56. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Bond has these attributes too. Fleming clearly brought his experience with military intelligence into his prize creation!

Tarantula sceneDr No was published in 1958 and was the sixth in his series of James Bond novels. Many elements of the story are reasonably faithfully portrayed in the film; although there are a few major alterations. In the book, Dr No runs a guano mine; in the film, it’s a bauxite mine, but with a nuclear pool reactor. In the book No dies through being buried alive in guano; in the film, Bond submerges him in the pool so that No boils to death – neither is a nice way to go. In the book No subjects Bond to the ordeals of electric shocks, burns, an encounter with large poisonous spiders and a fight with a giant squid. In the film, Bond is assaulted by guards and has to crawl through a ventilation shaft that fills with water. The book features a scene where Bond’s life is threatened by a deadly centipede, whereas in the film it’s a giant tarantula. In the film, No is working for SPECTRE, that‘s the Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion; in the book he’s operating solo. Much of the rest of the story is true to the book. No’s plans to interrupt the rocket launches from Cape Canaveral; the characters of Honey Rider and Quarrel; the local fear of “dragons” (which turn out to be flame-throwing swamp buggies); even M’s insistence on Bond changing guns, are all to be found in Fleming’s book.

Shoot to killThis was the first of his written works to receive some harsh words from the critics. Famously, Paul Johnson of the New Statesman, under the title, “Sex, Snobbery and Sadism”, wrote: “I have just finished what is, without doubt, the nastiest book I have ever read […] by the time I was a third of the way through, I had to suppress a strong impulse to throw the thing away [..] three basic ingredients in Dr. No, all unhealthy, all thoroughly English: the sadism of a schoolboy bully, the mechanical, two-dimensional sex-longings of a frustrated adolescent, and the crude, snob-cravings of a suburban adult”.

James BondMany of the film reviews were equally grudging. Time Magazine called Bond a “blithering bounder” and “a great big hairy marshmallow” who “almost always manages to seem slightly silly”. The New Republic said that the film “never decides whether it is suspense or suspense-spoof” – but I personally think that’s one of the film’s strengths. The Vatican described it as “a dangerous mixture of violence, vulgarity, sadism and sex”, whilst the Kremlin said that Bond was the personification of capitalist evil; well, they would, wouldn’t they. However, on a positive note, The Daily Express said that “Dr No is fun all the way, and even the sex is harmless”, The Observer said it was “full of submerged self-parody”, and The Guardian‘s critic called Dr. No “crisp and well-tailored” and “a neat and gripping thriller.” Just goes to show that you can’t please all the people all the time.

Iconic title imageThe opening credits always set the scene and the vibe for any film. With the expectation that Dr No would be the first of many movie adaptations of Bond stories, it was important for them to get it right first time round. And that they surely did. We can thank Maurice Binder, an American film title designer, for the idea of having Bond walk across the screen whilst being captured by the barrel of a gun, only for him to turn around, see us, and shoot; and then for the blood to start filling up the screen. Simple, but incredibly effective. For this first film, a stuntman by the name of Bob Simmons played 007 in this sequence (it was also Simmons over whom the tarantula crawls – not Sean Connery).

Opening creditsThe rest of the title sequence consists of coloured flashing discs and squares against a black background with white lettering, representing nightlife signs, traffic lights, casino chips, computer on/off lights – it could be any or all of these; it’s however you want to interpret them, really. This then breaks and becomes a sequence of coloured silhouettes of intertwining people dancing to Latin American rhythms, before another break, revealing the black silhouettes of the Three Blind Mice assassins, hobbling along to a calypso version of the famous nursery rhyme tune.

Le CercleAnd the locations? The action of the story takes place in London and Jamaica, and those are the two locations where the film was shot. Pinewood Studios was used for M’s office, Dr No’s lair and the ventilation duct that Bond has to crawl through. Le Cercle club, where we first meet Bond, was based on Les Ambassadeurs Club in Mayfair, but was another indoor set created by Ken Adam. The external views of MI6 were shot at Queensborough House in London. In Jamaica, the Queens Club scene was shot at the Courtleigh Manor Hotel in Kingston, and Strangways’ House actually belonged to Dolores Keator, the actress who played Strangway’s assistant Mary. Most of the other locations used in Jamaica were very close to Ian Fleming’s home and he frequently popped round whilst they were shooting.

Young Sean ConneryBond, James Bond. Apart from George Lazenby’s one-off portrayal of 007, Sean Connery was the only Bond I’d seen until I saw Daniel Craig in Skyfall. Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan are mere names to me at the moment (until I get around to seeing their films), so, for me, Connery is the one and only truly original. Prior to landing this role, he’d had a few parts, both major and minor, in some obscure films. He’d earned a reputation of being something of a hard man as, on a couple of occasions, he’d shown how handy he was with his fists, both on and off set; and it was director Terence Young who introduced him to the fashionable London scene, with glamorous women and decadent casinos, that knocked some of his rough edges off. But they wanted an actor who had strong, masculine charisma, and he truly fitted the part. Producer Cubby Broccoli had been slightly less than complimentary about some of the names in the frame for the role before they chose Connery.

Bond's first appearanceHe was 32 years old when the film was released; in the books Bond is meant to be in his mid-thirties, so that was a perfect match. Our first impression of him, seated at the casino table, gaining from Sylvia Trench’s losing streak, is of a suave, immaculately dressed, arrogant and maybe dangerous gentleman. He’s introduced to us gradually in that first scene; Sylvia Trench is centre stage, gambling extensively against her invisible opponent. At first, we just see his hands with the cards; then, on side profile, his face is masked by one of the others at the card table; then we see him from behind. We don’t see that iconic first look until he says the magic words “Bond, James Bond”. But it’s not only his words that express his thoughts. His eyes are firmly rooted on Miss Trench, and flirt outrageously with her when he observes, with something of a double meaning, “it looks like you’re out to get me”. When he gets up to attend to business, once again his eyes are more eloquent than any of his words; see you upstairs later, they say, rather than just goodbye. And indeed, by the end of the scene, he has already sorted out a golfing date with her the next afternoon with the prospect of dinner afterwards too. In the words of Sade, no need to ask, he’s a smooth operator.

Fixing a dateFilm editor Peter Hunt realised that the key to success in this film was to keep everything moving as quickly as possible, so that the audience doesn’t start to analyse it. As a result, this vital, iconic opening scene contains a terrible continuity gaffe. On uttering the immortal “Bond, James Bond” line, his cigarette is posed decadently between his lips. As Sylvia speaks her next line, “Mr Bond, I suppose you wouldn’t care to raise the limit”, he removes the cigarette from his mouth and we see it, from behind, held between the fingers of his left hand. However, when the camera pans back up to his face for his next line “I have no objections”, the cigarette is already, magically, back up there in his mouth. Pan back for Sylvia’s next line and the cigarette is back in his hand. There’s a lot of this kind of thing in Dr No. By all accounts, Peter Hunt’s very idiosyncratic style frequently sacrificed continuity for pace and impact. The film is riddled with continuity and factual errors and inconsistencies; no wonder Peter Hunt didn’t want to give the audience time to think. I particularly like the way Bernard Lee as M accidentally says he works for MI7 rather than MI6 – they kept it in, but dubbed “6” over “7”. Watch it back and you realise his mouth is all over the place.

Sylvia TrenchThe Bond Girl. Whilst Sylvia Trench is the first “girl” we meet in connection with Bond, and with whom there is definitely a romantic connection – that’s quite a warm kiss whilst she’s practising golf in his hotel room; and whilst Miss Taro is the first girl with whom he (almost certainly) has some kind of sexual congress, I wouldn’t classify either of them as the first Bond Girl. That accolade surely has to go to Honey Rider, played by the 26-year-old Ursula Andress. Apparently, at first the role was to be given to Julie Christie, but the producers didn’t think she was sufficiently voluptuous.

Miss TaroMs Andress had arrived in Hollywood in the mid-50s but made no films because she couldn’t learn English lines. For Honey Rider, her Swiss-Germanic accent had to be dubbed, in speech by Monika van der Zyl, and in singing by Diana Coupland (Bond theme composer Monty Norman’s wife). But it was definitely the breakthrough moment in her career – she said later that “she owed her career to that white bikini” which was sold at auction in 2001 for £41,125.

Honey and shellsOver the years the “Bond Girl” has developed into its own phenomenon, and of course the books, which by 1962 were extremely popular, substantially feature these glamorous female sidekicks. But it was with this first film that the idea of the Bond Girl really took off; and Ursula Andress’ performance obviously set the tone for future portrayals. Let’s take her performance as Honey Rider as a starting point for What Bond Girls Are Like. Sexy, obviously. With an exotic background? Unpredictable. As equally likely to attack Bond as to support him. Strong and self-reliant up to the point when they just have to collapse into his arms and allow him to rescue them. Tragic? Sometimes. Honey Rider tells Bond how a local landowner took advantage of her against her will; and how she got her revenge by putting a female black widow spider inside his mosquito net – he took a week to die.

Honey getting decontaminatedJust as Sylvia Trench had introduced herself as Trench, Sylvia Trench, and Bond was of course, Bond, James Bond, it’s strangely satisfying that Honey also introduces herself to Bond as Rider, Honey Rider, subtly suggesting a level of equality between the two. This continues with the way that they face their foe together, throughout the majority of the movie.

Bond, Honey and somethingAnother cinematographical anomaly; whilst Bond and Honey are talking seashells on the beach at their first meeting you can distinctly see a grey figure bobbing up and down at the foot of the screen, which disappears when you see them at a greater distance. It must be some kind of film equipment, or even a person trying (and failing) to keep out of shot. Click on the picture to take a closer look!

Dressing for dinnerIt’s a full hour before Honey Rider appears in the film. Well they say good things come to him who waits. Mind you, we don’t get sight of Doctor No himself until there’s just 21 minutes left to go.

Dr No himselfThe Villain. For every Bond Girl, there’s also a Bond Villain. In this case, it’s the eponymous Dr Julius No, a fiendish creation that Fleming based on the evil scientist made famous in the works of Sax Rohmer, Dr Fu Manchu. More recently, he is unquestionably the inspiration for Austin Powers’ Dr Evil. Dr No is half Chinese, half German; he has hands made of metal, which can crush with a vice-like pincer grip; but are also useless for delicate work, for obvious reasons, and are the reason why he cannot escape his fate from the boiling nuclear reactor pool. Displeased at the many failed attempts by his henchmen to kill Bond before his arrival at No’s lair, No even considers welcoming Bond into working for SPECTRE, which of course the latter refuses, although No changes his mind anyway believing Bond is too stupid. However, I can’t help but think that No is remarkably unobservant that things are going wrong in his reactor room, and that Bond has escaped and is slowly but surely punching all his assistants up the throat to sabotage No’s ambitions. I suppose that’s the typical conceit of the arch-evil enemy. Synchronise radio beam for toppling is a great masterplan. I’d have loved to recreate that in the playground. Too young, sigh.

Joseph WisemanDr No was played by the Canadian actor Joseph Wiseman, who was mainly known for his extensive stage work on Broadway. It was his appearance in the 1951 film Detective Story that convinced Harry Saltzman that he was the right man to play No. Apparently, in later years, Wiseman treated the film with disdain and preferred to be remembered for his theatre career. He died in 2009, aged 91.

Sylvia's handicapOther memorable characters? I felt rather sorry for Sylvia Trench, who loses loads of money at the Baccarat table just to get Bond’s attention, only to have him stand her up for their golf date with a difference and she never reappears throughout the rest of the film. She will, however, be back for the next film, From Russia With Love. She’s played by Eunice Gayson – again with her voice dubbed by Monika van der Zyl – who was originally due to play Miss Moneypenny, and Lois Maxwell was to play Sylvia; but Ms Maxwell didn’t like the part of Sylvia, so their roles were swapped. Originally Sylvia was expected to be in the first six films – yes, they were thinking that far ahead – but it wasn’t to be.

No such things as dragonsI also feel sorry for Quarrel, the Cayman Islander, who worked for Strangways and then accompanied Bond on his trip to Crab Key, and who dies at the hands (or should that be breath?) of the dragon that he and Honey insisted roamed the island. The dragon was of course a flame-throwing swamp buggy that wipes out Quarrel with one roar. Bond and Honey, with no room for sentimentality towards others, simply never mention him again. He was played by John Kitzmiller, who had appeared in dozens of European (mainly Italian) films in the 1950s, and who died in 1965 at the age of just 51.

Miss Taro againMiss Taro, who is ostensibly Mr Pleydell-Smith’s secretary at Government House, but in reality a spy working for No, is a very engaging character. Ruthless in her desire to kill, she is expert at using her womanly wiles to entrap any unsuspecting man into her clutches. Bond can see through her like a window pane, but he’s perfectly happy to fill his boots up before ensuring her arrest, even if he has to suffer the indignation of being spat at as a result. She was played by Zena Marshall, who appeared in dozens of films from 1945 on but retired from the film industry in 1967 – she died in 2009, aged 83.

Jack Lord as LeiterJack Lord – of Hawaii 5-0 fame – plays Felix Leiter, the CIA man with whom Bond has to work whilst he’s in Jamaica, and, in all honesty, it’s quite a dull role. He appears a few times, mainly to give factual support and advice, and he’s head of the Royal Navy launch to rescue Bond and Honey; but there’s nothing particularly memorable about him. Interestingly, the character, though frequently recurring throughout the books and films, doesn’t appear in the novel version of Dr No, and was, I guess, written in simply to provide a useful reference for future films. Leiter would be played by many different actors throughout the series, with a particularly uncompromising lack of continuity.

Bernard Lee as MThe other interesting characters are the regular favourites M, Miss Moneypenny, and Major Boothroyd, otherwise known as Q. They only have a brief appearance in Dr No, but they would come back again and again in future films. Bernard Lee played M, as he would on ten other occasions, Moonraker being his last appearance. Major Boothroyd was played by Peter Burton, a jobbing actor who appeared in minor roles in endless films and TV programmes up till his death in 1989. He would return to the world of Bond in Thunderball, although not as Q. For devotion to duty, Lois Maxwell outshines them all, appearing as Miss Moneypenny in all the films (bar the parody Casino Royale) from Dr No till 1985’s A View To A Kill. She discussed with director Terence Young what Moneypenny and Bond’s backstory might have been; and they concluded that the two had probably spent an idyllic dirty weekend away when they were very junior officers but they realised that if they carried on together, she’d have her heart broken and he’d never make a spy. So they just settled for various levels of flirtation. She’s also the first person to call him 007, as she announces his arrival to M on the phone. A security necessity no doubt, but you get the feeling she thinks of it as a rather affectionate nickname. M confirms it’s real significance: if you carry a 00 number it means you’re licensed to kill.

Byron Lee and the DragonairesAnd what about the music? Over the years we’ve got used to associating the James Bond films with some remarkable theme songs – as well as the main James Bond Theme, written by Monty Norman. Whilst there is plenty of incidental music, Dr No doesn’t have any big song; just the arresting original theme, arranged by John Barry, who would later go on to compose the music for eleven Bond films. The incidental music features a few numbers performed by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, the Jamaican calypso and ska band. The only other recurring song is Under the Mango Tree, also written by Monty Norman.

Monty NormanFew pieces of music so compellingly and arrestingly attract your attention as Norman’s Main Bond theme. You cannot hear it without associating it with 007. It’s as iconic a sound as the opening titles are visually, and another great example of the production team getting it right the first time.

First car chaseCar chases. I don’t know about you, but one of the things I always associate with a James Bond film is a good car chase. So I thought I’d take a look at all the car chases in all the films and see how satisfying each of them is. Dr No benefits from two such chases. The first – of moderate interest – is after he has been met at Kingston Airport by “Mr Jones”, allegedly a chauffeur sent by Government House, but in fact he’s in the pay of the nasty Dr No. Bond gets in the car, a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air 2434, knowing full well that Jones is not a bona fide chauffeur, but nevertheless Bond instructs him to “take him for a ride” as he’s in no hurry to get to Government House. Playing into the hands of the enemy, one might think? But he is pursued by Felix Leiter and Quarrel in a 1959 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider 101-03. As it becomes clear to Mr Jones that they are being followed, Bond suggests he tries to lose the pursuers. Bond tells him to swerve off the main road and, careering through the dust, they come to a panicky halt, whilst Leiter sails past. Jones is just collecting his thoughts when he feels a gun in the small of his back, and Bond interrogates him as to who he is working for. Despite Jones’ insistence he was hired by Government House Bond forces him out of the car, and some fisticuffs ensue. Jones knows he is no match for Bond so says he will talk, but first he wants a cigarette. Just as you think he’s going to spill the beans, he bites into the cigarette which proves to be laced with cyanide. Result: one dead chauffeur, and Bond has to do his own driving. By the way, I know nothing about vintage cars; I’ve gleaned the information about the vehicle models from someone on the Internet whom I hope knows what he’s talking about.

Second car chaseThe second – and more exciting – car chase follows Miss Taro’s invitation to Bond to join her at her house on Magenta Drive. He follows her instructions – now driving a 1961 Sunbeam Alpine Series II – and at first it’s an enjoyable, relaxing, sporty drive down some hairpin roads. But then he’s suddenly pursued by a 1939 LaSalle Funeral Coach Miller Combination Series 50 hearse. It’s all hammy studio stuff, you can virtually see the joins, but nevertheless the thrill starts to kick in. Bond, despite an initial sense of alarm, is clearly loving the chase, trying to outwit his opponents and force them off the road. Suddenly Bond sees the road is blocked by a crane with its boom down but there is a gap underneath that he can just squeeze through. Unfortunately the gap is too small for the hearse, which also can’t stop in time, so swerves left and plummets down a cliff subsequently bursting into flames. Some bright spark has observed that the hearse that gets destroyed is a different vehicle from the one in the chase – a 1949 Humber Super Snipe Mk II Hearse, apparently. I expect it was less valuable than the LaSalle. Budgets mattered enormously.

BaccaratCocktails and Casinos. One always thinks of Bond in the glamorous environment of a casino, discreetly pocketing thousands of pounds worth of gambling wins, whilst always stipulating to an obsessive degree how his cocktail should be prepared. So I thought I’d take a regular look at his gambling habits and alcoholic beverage choices throughout the series. We’ve already taken a look at the casino scene that introduces Bond to the world. He’s playing the Chemin-de-Fer variant of Baccarat, neither of which mean a thing to me, and he’s fleecing poor Miss Trench. I hope she gets a chance to win some back in the next film.

Vodka MartiniAs far as drinks are concerned, he starts off with a medium dry vodka martini – mixed not stirred, prepared by a waiter as he is getting ready to meet Pleydell-Smith, Dent and Potter at the club; later in the hotel room he just drinks neat vodka, from the bottle in his case, not the one that’s been left out, which I presume he suspects may have been poisoned. He pours out two glasses of neat vodka for Miss Taro and himself from a very fine looking Imperial Vodka bottle, even though she’s already been arrested and taken away – it’s a ploy to convince Dent that he and Taro are in bed together. Later, in Dr No’s lair, he’s served another medium dry vodka martini, with lemon peel; this time specified as shaken not stirred – whilst Honey appears to have a red wine.

Geiger CounterGadgets. This is another area of Bondlife with a high reputation – Bond always had the best and most up-to-date gadgets, issued by Q. Well, it looks like it was a soft launch for gadgetry in Dr No, as there isn’t very much to take our attention. A Geiger counter arrives from London; and for day to day assistance, Bond wears a Rolex Submariner watch; perfect for underwater use, as the name suggests, and a stylish addition to his wardrobe. The only other extra offered by M in this film is a self-destructor bag for the case notes, which Bond has to study during the flight.

In MemoriamIn Memoriam. I assumed before I started watching Dr No – and all the subsequent films – that there would be a not inconsiderable death count. So let’s briefly remember those who gave their lives so that Bond and Honey can go off in that boat in the final scene for some nookie:

1) Strangways. Shot by the Three Blind Men.

2) Mary, his assistant. Ditto.

3) Mr Jones, the bogus chauffeur, who chomps on a cyanide cigarette rather than tell Bond who he’s working for.

4) Whoever was driving the hearse when it hurtled down the ravine. I think received wisdom suggests it’s the Three Blind Men again.

5) Professor Dent. Clinically despatched by Bond with deft expertise (and a pistol) – a scene that the censor didn’t like because it was unsporting; he took a lot of convincing by Terence Young to get it passed.

6) The guard on Crab Key who wades through the water, who gets his knifed in the back in one swift movement by Bond, much to Honey’s horror.

7) Quarrel; incinerated by the dragon.

8) The guard whose clothes Bond nicks so that he can steal inside the Big Reactor Room – neck broken from behind, or possibly knifed – hard to tell behind the screen.

9) Doctor No; whilst at first he has the upper hand in his final fight with Bond, balance, gravity and slippery hands are not his friend as he is not so gently poached in a vat of boiling nuclear reactor liquid.

10) There are two guards/scientists treated to a couple of Bond’s sucker punches which up-end them over a barrier landing heavily on a hard floor. So they may have died, or they may just be feeling pretty ropey. However, it’s all rather irrelevant as the death count continues with:

11) Everyone else left in Doctor No’s lair when the whole place erupts.

One dead chauffeurHumour to off-set the death count. It became something of a tradition (or maybe it didn’t! We will see!) for Bond to make some kind of jokey remark whenever someone died. Here are the throwaway lines that marked some of the deaths in this film:

As Bond delivers the dead body of Jones back to Government House, he tells the Sergeant on duty outside “Make sure he doesn’t get away”.

When the operator of the truck that blocked the route to Magenta Drive asks about the hearse the plummeted down the ravine, Bond quips “they were on their way to a funeral.”

Dent creeps into Taro’s bedroom and delivers six bullets into what he believes is the outline of Bond’s body in bed – whereas it’s just some pillows he’d cleverly arranged in advance. Just before Bond shoots Dent, he says “it was a Smith and Wesson, and you’ve had your six”. A good card player always counts the tricks that have already been won.

Oxford-DictionaryAny less frothy elements? Before wrapping up this look back at Dr No, let’s just consider if there are any outstanding themes or elements that don’t sit well with today’s audience. I couldn’t perceive any obvious homophobic or racist elements, which in itself is quite interesting, given the racial mix of people in the Jamaica half of the story. But what about sexism? I think this might be a recurring issue in Bond films, so let’s first of all consult my OED and get a definitive definition, if that’s not a tautological tautology. Sexism is: “(Behaviour, language, etc, reflecting) the assumption that one sex, esp. the female, is inferior to the other; prejudice or discrimination, esp. against women, on the grounds of sex; insistence on (esp. a woman’s) conformity to a sexually stereotyped social role.”

MoneypennyI interpret that as revealing that the sexism in Dr No stems from all the women having subordinate roles – Moneypenny, Mary (Strangways’ assistant), Miss Taro (Pleydell-Smith’s secretary), various hotel receptionists, airline cabin crew, and so on. 15-love. Merely playing up the sexually attractive nature of the women, like Honey in her bikini, or Miss Taro lying on the bed sensuously waving her foot in the air, is not sexist in itself, unless you view it as conforming to the sexually stereotyped social role of looking great for guys to ogle. Even so, Honey wasn’t expecting company and Miss Taro was on her own when she was on the bed, so I think in those moments they’re doing it for themselves and not for others. 15-all.

Bond getting decontaminatedThere is the scene where Honey is taking a decontamination shower (every home should have one), which clearly has sexual connotations. But then Bond is also lathering up, so there’s no assumption that the female is inferior to the male; the decontamination shower treats everyone equally. 15-30.

Rescuing HoneyHowever, the whole notion of the Bond Girl is surely steeped in sexism. The Bond Girl is, by her very nature, an add-on to Bond; a sidekick, an assistant, someone to look up to him heroically, someone to be fluffy in comparison to his hard man image. It’s clear that a woman like that is seen as inferior to Bond, and therefore would come under the definition of sexist. Indeed, a purely vacuous Bond Girl would be both bland and sexist at the same time. But if you imagine or interpret the Bond Girl as Bond’s equal; if they work together in partnership, each bringing different skills to the table; then, perhaps, not. There are a couple of times when Honey fights back at the armed guards who capture her and Bond in Crab Key. However, his instruction to Honey before they dine with No is “leave all the talking to me” – so that’s not equality in the face of the enemy. In Dr No, I think it’s fair to say that Honey needs a lot of rescuing; she’s more eye-candy than partner in crime-fighting. 30-all.

Dismissing HoneyAnd there’s a vital moment, in Doctor No’s lair, over their posh dinner, when Bond insists that any argument he has with No, has nothing to do with “the girl”, and he wants her safely removed from harm’s way. Despite Honey’s protestations that she wants to be involved, she is taken from the dining table and – as far as Bond is concerned – is out of the picture (literally). Gentlemanly or sexist? A mixture of both, of course. But overall, at 40-30, I’m going to call this a relatively sexist film, but with the rider (no pun intended) that it could be a lot worse than it is.

MaoDr No’s joint Chinese and German heritage is significant from a political point of view; at the time, China was a closed country, led by Mao Tse Tung, of whom the West was extremely suspicious. West Germany, whilst having reinvented itself after the war under Adenauer, was still an emotional hurdle for many who had sustained personal loss during the Second World War. And of course there was also Walter Ulbricht’s East Germany to fear.

Get TopplingDr No’s stated aim, to interfere with the rocket launches from Cape Canaveral, sets him firmly in an anti-American, but he claims to be working neither for the East nor the West; SPECTRE are a class apart. Nevertheless, it’s pure Cold War material, which one guesses will continue simply from the title of the next film, From Russia with Love. Whilst Bond is clearly working for the British Government, it’s a given that the American and British security policies are broadly the same, and that Britain will therefore work to support America. Plus ça change…

A pressing needBizarre other stuff that occurred to me. I don’t know whether it’s deliberate or not, but the radio operator who reports that the Jamaica link has broken has the most appallingly un-ironed shirt. That could be a way of showing how long and hard they all worked; or it could be that the wardrobe department had an off day.

Dolores KeatorDolores Keator, who played Strangway’s assistant Mary, was apparently married to Sandford Ziff, who founded Sunglass Hut.

PhotographerMargaret LeWars, who played the unnamed photographer who constantly tries to take snaps of Bond, was the reigning Miss Jamaica at the time. The story goes that she was employed at Kingston Airport, which is where the production crew discovered her, and offered her the job there and then, on the spot.

A singing BondWhen James Bond sings Under the Mango Tree back to Honey, when she first walks in from the sea – apparently that’s the one and only time Bond sings in a film. I’ll make a mental note to Golden Globe Statuecheck that’s correct!

Awards and Nominations: Just the one – the Golden Globe for most promising newcomer – female went to Ursula Andress.

RIchard MaibaumTo sum up. Considering this was the film that launched a hugely successful series – the 25th Bond film is expected to start filming later this year – you would think that Dr No would have had high impact and be considered largely successful; and so it was, and still is. Richard Maibaum (who would go on to write 13 of the Bond films), Johanna Harwood (script editor) and Berkely Mather’s screenplay is tight and compact, witty, with no unnecessary dialogue, smart, but not too smart. It treads a delicate, and I think successful, line between being a genuine spy thriller and a slightly tongue-in-cheek affair, which raises its entertainment status without having a detrimental effect on the suspense. Strong characterisation, a memorable theme tune, and some iconic acting make it extremely watchable. My only criticism would be that the story gets a little bogged down between the time that Bond, Honey and Quarrel are hiding in the Crab Key waters and finally getting to challenge Dr No in person. However, that’s just my small quibble. I’d be fascinated to hear your opinions of Dr No – and whether or not you agree with me! Please leave a comment below. Next up – From Russia with Love!

My rating: 4 Sparkles

4 Sparkles4 Sparkles4 Sparkles4 Sparkles

 

 

 

All photos from the film of course belong to their various copyright holders.

2 thoughts on “The James Bond Challenge – Dr No (1962)

  1. I remember seeing the film at 16 years old with someone I quite fancied, so I think it was a great film Chris, every minute of it warts and all!

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