24 Weeks of Bond: Dr. No

I’m a big fan of James Bond, have been since I was a kid. Having recently repurchased the complete Criterion collection of all 24 films, I thought I would do a rewatch of them all and break them down a bit, one blog post at a time.

A couple caveats: I have only read a couple of Fleming’s original novels, and so I won’t be doing any direct comparisons of the films to their literary counterparts. I’ll also only be covering the Eon films, so that means no spoofs, spin-offs, and no Never Say Never Again.

With that said, let’s get into it!

The Movie: Dr. No. Released in 1962, this movie sees Agent 007 James Bond traveling to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of a fellow British agent. Upon arrival, he finds that he is not the only government agent with a keen interest in the goings-on in the area, and before long he becomes tangled up with the mysterious Dr. No and his privately-owned island, Crab Key. The film was directed by Terence Young, and was made for just over a million dollars.

The Bond: Sean Connery, who is notoriously very Scottish, leading to Ian Fleming’s initial disapproval of the casting. Connery donned a dark hairpiece and affected a passable English accent for the role. In Dr. No, he is both charming and effectively dangerous. “That’s a Smith & Wesson, and you’ve had your six.” There are a lot of nice little touches throughout the film that show Bond’s spy expertise: a hair across the closet doors to see if they’ve been opened, choosing an unopened bottle of liquor upon returning to his room instead of the opened bottle in case it was poisoned, his investigative work at the home of the missing Strangways.

The Girls: “Bond girls” are as much a staple of the franchise as anything else, ranging from love interests to femme fatales to damsels in distress. There are three women of note in Dr. No that could be suitably considered Bond girls. Eunice Gayson as Sylvia Trench is the first woman we meet, and its through her love of gambling that we also first meet James Bond, as he cleans her out playing baccarat against her. Zena Marshall plays Miss Taro, an eavesdropping secretary with ulterior motives that Bond seduces all the same. But, of course, the star woman of the film and the first recognized “Bond Girl” is Swiss actress Ursula Andress as the shell-collecting blonde bombshell Honey Ryder. At the time of her casting, she spoke almost no English, and so all of her lines (spoken and sung) were dubbed over by Nikki Van der Zyl.

It’s worth noting as well that all three women survived the film, although Strangways’ briefly seen secretary did not.

The Villain: Dr. Julius No, who is Chinese, as played by Joseph Wiseman, who is not Chinese. But! Wiseman does lend a fantastic amount of gravity to No. No is megalomaniacal but is muted about it, reveling in his actual scientific genius and what he perceives to be his superior sophistication. He also has metal hands. This not only makes him immediately memorable, but his ability to crush items (and people) with his prosthetic strength grants him some physical deadliness in addition to his brilliant mind.

The film also includes the “Three Blind Mice”, a trio of Jamaican killers, a corrupt scientist, and the criminal organization SPECTRE gets namedropped, a hint of grander villainy to come.

The Locations: Aside from a brief appearance in England (a casino, MI6 headquarters), the film takes place almost entirely in Jamaica. We see resorts and beaches, jungles and marshes. This was actually the first feature film to be filmed on location in Jamaica, and it was still a British territory at the time, right up until just about when the film released in theaters.

Dr. No’s mountain lair on Crab Key is also a notable location as it’s absolutely ridiculous. Part mine, part nuclear rocket station, and subaquatic, it is utilitarian in look and function with the exception of No’s own apartments and dining arrangements, which look downright luxurious by comparison. It truly set a standard for supervillain bases.

The Cars: There were several different cars in the film, including a Chevrolet Bel Air, an El Camino, an Impala, a Cadillac Eldorado, a Cadillac Fleetwood 60 Special, and plenty more, including a custom-made marsh buggy contraption rigged to look like an armored dragon.

Most notable is Bond’s car. Instead of the Bentley’s book-Bond is fond of and the Aston Martin’s movie-Bond would become known for, Connery’s Bond drives a 1961 Alpine Sunbeam Series II in Dr. No.

The Gadgets: Dr No has his mechanical hands, of course, replacements for the ones he lost working with nuclear power, but Bond is relatively light with gadgets of his own for his first outing. He really only gets a Walther PPK to replace his favored Beretta. There are also Geiger counters, hidden communication devices, and cyanide cigarettes in the film, as well as the multi-tide of high-tech features in No’s lair.

The Music: Dr No is relatively light on music, although we get to hear the first occurrence of the iconic James Bond theme, written by Monty Norman and arranged by John Barry. Also heard are a Calypso version of “Three Blind Mice”, “Jump Up” by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, and “Under the Mango Tree”, which is the first and only song to be sung by James Bond in the films.

The Support: And finally, we come to the remaining players in the film. Bernard Lee plays M, Bond’s no-nonsense handler who gives Bond his assignment and makes sure he leaves with a more reliable weapon “The CIA swears by”. Lois Maxwell plays the ever reliable Miss Moneypenny, and her chemistry with Connelly’s Bond is delightful. Peter Burton makes a one-and-done appearance as Major Boothroyd (effectively Q’s role). Jack Lord plays Felix Leiter, Bond’s CIA equivalent who will eventually become a close friend and ally. And John Kitzmiller plays Quarrel, an islander who works with both the CIA and Bond to uncover the dark secrets of Crab Key.

Final Thoughts: I had remembered Dr. No feeling overlong (it’s actually among the shortest three), and wasn’t looking forward to kicking off this project with what I expected to be a dull affair. I was pleased to find that it’s a much more charming film than I remembered. I did find that I wished Joseph Wiseman had more screen time as Dr. No, but all in all it was a strong first outing, and Connery really carried the charisma and danger of Bond. Jamaica is beautiful, No’s lair is stunning in its scale, and Bond managed to switch from stealthy spy to man of action effectively. All in all, a good movie, and I’m excited to be doing this.

Other Bond Breakdowns:

From Russia With Love

Goldfinger

Thunderball

You Only Live Twice

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Diamonds Are Forever

Story Time With Grampa Jered

I haven’t been sleeping well lately. I’ve been getting to bed late and waking up early. I’ve been having a lot of nightmares, too, because if I’m only going to get three or four hours of sleep, those hours better be filled with distressing thoughts and images.

I’ve dreamed separately of my mother and my father and both have involved arguments. Terrible, horrible arguments that had me waking anxious and nauseous. I don’t know where those dreams came from but they can go back to whatever hell they pulled themself out of.

Anyway, between exhaustion and general dismay I haven’t had anything worth writing about. Until today! Today, a friend’s Facebook status asked: “What are the stories that you are going to tell your grandchildren?”

That is one hell of a question. My knee-jerk reaction is that I want to be the grandfather who waits until his grandchild/grandchildren reach that age where they just know me as the nice, old, unassuming guy who gave the best Christmas gifts and then reveal stories of my youth that would blow their fucking mind.

Stories about the first time I got really drunk and vomited into an entire party’s shoes. Or the time I was tripping balls on mushrooms and saw a poster of an elegant looking woman while lilting music played in the background so it felt like she was singing to me and – naturally – I fell in love. Or about the time I had to beat the shit out of a guy behind a bar because he sucker-punched me, and only the next morning did I find out he did it because I winked and finger-gunned him and if any action deserved a sucker-punch, it’s that.

I just remember learning about my dad’s stories from his youth and some of the stories of my grandfather when he was in the army and I remembered how it blew my mind. That these vanilla people in my life, the authority, The Man had these stories of derring-do and debauchery. I wanted to hear about their adventures. The times they cheated death. The places they got kicked out of. The bones they broke and the liquors they liked. That kind of thing turns a boring old codger into a man of legend and mystery.

I would tell my grandkids these stories and tell them it was our little secret, and they’d run and tell their friends how awesome their Pappy was or whatever.

And you know, those stories are fun and they come with lessons all their own. That being said, I started thinking more about the kinds of stories that make you think. The stories I really wanted to leave behind. The stories I wanted to hear from my grandparents.

So what stories would I tell my grandkids?

I’d tell them about every woman I ever fell in love with. The ones I loved for years, who built me up and broke me down and taught me more about myself than anything else could. I would talk about our inside jokes and the little quirks that made them unique. I would talk about the women I loved quietly, the ones who slipped through my fingers like air, the ones whose backs I smiled at as they found happiness elsewhere in the world. I would talk about the women I loved for a night and the sparks that danced across the cocktails we stared at each other over, or the women whose backs I traced novels on with my finger tips while the golden rays of dawn played with their hair.

I would talk about love and I would talk about heartbreak, and the projects I threw myself into to avoid seeing their ghosts in every corner, and hearing their voice in every song.

I would talk about struggle and pain and loss and desperation. When twenty dollars was two weeks worth of food and 2-for-1 cans of pork and beans was a deal only in a liberal sense but certainly not in any culinary kind of way. How a Canadian roadie named Pat the Pirate would spot me a few bucks for Jack in the Box “tacos” because I couldn’t even afford that. How suicide and car wrecks and old age and adorable animals can take you from
the highest high to a shivering and sobbing wreck effortlessly, because it is a delightful thing to hear about love and kindness but without consciousness of tragedy and that fairness is a myth and that things never quite work out exactly right, you never truly appreciate everything and everyone you have.

I would tell them about the letters I never wrote, the plot ideas I would pass on, the places I missed, the spots I scribbled my name around the world. I would tell them that my favorite kiss is always the first one: if it’s great, it’s everything you hoped for and the greatest feeling; if it’s bad, it was either never meant to be or it could only get better. There’s a thrill in the unknown.

I would tell them my favorite kiss is the last kiss. Last kisses are a painful, hopeful, desperate ocean of art. There are a thousand words in goodbyes and none shouted more loudly than in a last kiss.

I would tell them the closest I ever came to God was in every dawn and dusk I witnessed and impress upon them the importance of reflection, even on this little rock floating in circles in the vastness of space. I would tell them whatever stories made me realize that in the grand scheme of things, we might be insignificant, but to each other, we are the grand scheme of things.

I would tell my grandchildren stories of life and death, of love and loss, of art and absence, of how the slightest success can vanquish the hardest failure.

And then…after all of that…I would tell them about the three (3) times I greeted a pizza guy in the middle of a party wearing nothing but a gauntlet over my genitals because I’m fucking awesome.