24 Weeks of Bond: Thunderball

Art by Frank McCarthy

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.

Having said that, let’s get into it!

THE MOVIE: Thunderball! Directed by Terence Young after taking a break after the first two, the fourth 007 film was released in 1965. Originally intended to be the first film, Thunderball was the focus of extensive legal battles that ran all the way until 2006 between Ian Fleming and his story collaborators. A settlement saw credit being given to a screenplay written by Jack Whittingham in addition to screenplay credits to Richard Maibaum and John Hopkins. It also led to the film being remade in 1983 as Never Say Never Again by an independent production company, although Sean Connery would reprise his role as Bond in that as well.

At the time of rewatching, I remembered very little about the film except that there were some extensive underwater sequences. It turns out that’s because there IS a ton of the film set underwater, especially in the back end, involving sharks that got dangerous close to the actors (they tried to restrict filming those scenes to low tides due to the threat of sharks), and a climactic final battle underwater involving sixty divers. In fact, water motifs permeate the film in spas and on yachts, and even in the elaborate credit sequence.

The plot is fun. The terrorist group SPECTRE enacts an absolutely audacious, complicated plot to infiltrate NATO and abscond with nuclear missiles to hold the world hostage with. They threaten to launch a missile at a major English OR American (keeping the United States box office in mind by keeping them involved) if a ransom isn’t met. Bond, recovering from a previous mission, gets involved largely on accident at first, and then requests to be officially assigned to the case. Both feeding people to sharks and holding the world for ransom would later be aped by Michael Meyers in his Austin Powers spoofs.

This film is also notable as being the first with the Bond actor performing the “turn-and-shoot” down the sight of the barrel at the beginning of the film.

By this point, the 007 franchise had become a veritable juggernaut in terms of cinematic events. Thunderball became the first Bond movie to be released in the United States before the UK.

THE BOND: This is Sean Connery’s fourth outing, and his take on the secret agent this time around skews closer to the version he played in Dr. No. The womanizing is still there (a Bond staple), but not overdone. The cruelty and comfortability with murder is present, as is the charm. Thunderball has a spy thriller tone separate from the romanticism of From Russia With Love and the occasional camp of Goldfinger.

Gambling and drinking, also Bond staples, return here, though Bond swaps out his martinis for Dom Perignon (which he also enjoyed in Goldfinger).

THE GIRLS: There are three women in Thunderball who might be properly considered Bond women. The first, Patricia Fearing (as played by Molly Peters; dubbed by Barbara Jefford, who also dubbed Tatiana Romanova in From Russia With Love), is a physical therapist assigned to help Bond recoup after a harrowing assassination mission. Initially cold and clinical with Bond, she becomes more intrigued and attracted to the special agent after he nearly suffers a fatal occurrence on her rehabilitation machine.

Fiona Volpe (as played by Luciana Paluzzi) isn’t just a Bond girl in Thunderball… she’s a major villain! And in my opinion, the first femme fatale in the 007 movies. Dr. No’s lady leads were mostly love interests or damsels in distress. From Russia With Love’s Tatiana Romanova was technically a double agent, though she was never outright villainous; Rosa Klebb was a villain but not the amorous and alluring type associated with “femme fatales”. Even Goldfinger’s Pussy Galore, while morally ambiguous, seemed more of a flirt to Bond than an actual danger.

In Thunderball, Fiona uses her looks to manipulate targets, colleagues, and James Bond himself, and when they’re right where she wants them, she’s unafraid to resort to cold-blooded murder.

Lastly, Claudine Auger (dubbed by Nikki van der Zyl, who also dubbed Honey Rider and Sylvia Ttench in Dr. No) plays Dominique “Domino” Derval, the sister of SPECTRE’s NATO target and the imprisoned mistress of SPECTRE’S #2 agent and Thunderball’s main villain. She is integral to the film’s resolution.

THE VILLAINS: This film is also jam-packed with villains, including a look inside SPECTRE’S operations, with a number of operatives in their lair giving #1 (Ernst Stavro Blofeld, played in body here again by Anthony Dawson, though there is disagreement on who provided the voice over) reports on their progress, with fatal rewards for failure.

The main villain, though, is #2, Emilio Largo. Largo is played by Italian actor Adolfo Celi, and the overlarge hands of the villain in the novel are replaced with a more visually striking eyepatch for his film appearance. Largo is an utterly ruthless fence and black marketeer who came up with the plot to infiltrate NATO with a body double and steal nuclear weapons.

Largo’s lackies also include Fiona Volpe (See Above); the henchmen Vargas (Philip Locke) and Anni (Michael Brennan); Angel Palazzi, the body double who takes over NATO pilot Franç Derval’s assignment (both roles played by Paul Stassino); and the rich and nefarious Count Lippe (played by Guy Doleman and named after Bond creator Ian Fleming’s actual count friend), also ranked #4 in SPECTRE).

While seeing so many SPECTRE operatives and the inner workings of their organization is exciting, it’s hard to understand how they keep working, with so many betrayals and sudden murders.

ALSO, actor Bob Simmons makes a brief but memorable appearance in the beginning of the film as SPECTRE assassin Jacques Bouvar.

THE LOCATIONS: Beside a brief (and always necessary appearance) at MI6 headquarters in England, the first and only time we see all 00 agents in one place, Thunderball is set primarily in two locations:

The first, France, is used only during the opening sequence–a funeral followed by a surprise reveal and a thrilling action sequence.

The bulk of the movie, though, is set in the Bahamas. Former pirate refuge Nassau and New Providence Island, specifically, and the waters around them (though shooting also took place in Florida for some water shots). It’s visually distinctive enough to set it apart from Jamaica (Dr. No) and the resorts of Miami (Goldfinger), although the true spectacle comes from the sequences set beneath the surface of the water: heists, sabotages, and a full blown battle.

THE CARS: There are some absolutely beautiful cars in this film, including a black 1962 Silver Cloud Rolls Royce Silver Cloud II, a white 1960 Peugeot 403, and a black 1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner Retractable Hardtop 51A.

James Bond’s tricked out 1963 Aston Martin DB5 returns, this time showcasing its rising bulletproof plate that covers the back window, and rear water pumps with seemingly firehose level power behind them.

You can find a full list of other cars featured in Thunderball here.

THE GADGETS: In addition to Bond’s excellent car, he uses a jetpack in the opening sequence that was a REAL thing that had been developed by the army. Onlt a few people were qualified to use it, and so one of them acted as a stunt double for that scene.

Bond also utilizes a tape recorder hidden in a dictionary; a watch and an infrared camera, both with Geiger counters meant to help find the missing nuclear weapons; a rebreather for extended time spent underwater; and a homing beacon hidden inside a radioactive pill meant for consumption.

On SPECTRE’s end of things, Largo gains entrance to their headquarters via a remote control hidden in a cigarette case; Blofeld has had the chairs in his lair outfitted with lethal devices and disposal methods to take care of those who have displeased him; and Fiona Volpe’s motorcycle comes outfitted with a torpedo launcher.

THE MUSIC: John Barry returned to score for the 007 series a third time, and included dynamic pieces for the action and underwater sequences. When it came to finding a theme song, however, they ran into some difficulties.

First, a song titled, “Mr. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” was written (by Barry and Leslie Bricusse), record (Shirley Bassey) AND re-recorded (by Dionne Warwick) before being dropped entirely and remaining unreleased for nearly 30 years.

Then, Johnny Cash, of all people, recorded and submitted a song titled, “Thunderball.” It wasn’t chosen.

Finally, John Barry and Don Black then went on to write the version of “Thunderball” that would be used for the film. Tom Jones would record the vocals, becoming the first man to sing a 007 theme song.

THE SUPPORT: A lot of familiar faces return: Bernard Lee as Bond’s superior, M; Desmond Llewelyn as the gadget master, Q; Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny, M’s secretary and Bond’s unattainable goal.

New is Rik van Nutter as CIA agent and Bond’s friend, Felix Leiter, appearing somewhere between the flashy version of Dr. No and the bureaucrat version of Goldfinger.

Marine Beswick has a small but welcome role as Paula Caplan, a secret agent colleague from the CIA. While her role isn’t extensive and doesn’t end well, it’s nice to see women in the field (as heroes and villains), holding their own.

Earl Cameron plays Leiter and Bond’s assistant, Binder, while Leonard Sachs plays the liaison to the Royal Air Force, Group Captain Prichard.

Lastly, George Pravda has a somewhat important role as nuclear physicist Ladislav Kuntz, who helps Largo initially but finds a small measure of decency within himself.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Thunderball probably isn’t in my top 5 Bond films, but I do like it quite a bit. I think it’s one of Connery’s finer turns in the role. The villains, though many, are genuinely exciting. The plot is ridiculous but fun. The water sequences do go on a little long but are astounding in their execution. There is a lot to like here, but it as impressive as the final sequences are, they almost wash away the rest of the film.

OTHER BOND BREAKDOWNS:

Dr. No

From Russia With Love

Goldfinger

You Only Live Twice

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Diamonds Are Forever

24 Weeks of Bond: Goldfinger

Art by Dick Bobnick

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.

Having said that, let’s get into it!

THE MOVIE: Goldfinger! I love this movie. Terence Young, who directed the first two 007 movies, moved on to something else, so he was replaced by Guy Hamilton, who actually knew Bond’s creator Ian Fleming from intelligence work in the war.

Goldfinger, released in 1964, sees Bond put on an investigation of gold magnate and suspected smuggler Auric Goldfinger. Bond, unable to help himself, immediately gets more heavily involved and discovers that there is much more to Goldfinger than expected. Namely, that he seeks to infiltrate Fort Knox and destabilize the world’s economy.

This film is considered the first blockbuster Bond film, was adapted to target American audiences specifically, and also introduced a lot of Bond staples, including elaborate gadgets and the Aston Martin as his “official” car of choice.

It would go on to win an Academy Award for Best Effects/Sound Effects.

THE BOND: Sean Connery returns as Bond. This particular venture sees him at his most flirtatious, it feels, and at his corniest, with some baddie-death-related one-liners. It should also be noted, though, that Bond gets thoroughly trounced almost entirely throughout this film, showcasing a vulnerability that was lost at times in the preceding films.

THE GIRLS: Shirley Eaton doesn’t get a lot of screentime as Jill Masterson, and yet is one of the most iconic Bond roles in the entire legacy. Playing Goldfinger’s employee, she went from helping him cheat at cards to cheating herself…with Bond. That would be the factor leading to her untimely demise, but it’s HOW she dies–covered entirely in gold paint and left to suffocate that creates a simultaneously horrifying and fascinating visual impossible to forget.

Tania Mallett has an equally short role as Jill Masterson’s vengeance-seeking sister, Tilly Masterson. Though her luck with Goldfinger goes no better, she does have a memorable time not giving Bond any attention despite his best efforts.

Most famously, perhaps, is Honor Blackman’s performance as Pussy Galore, an expert pilot and the leader of an all-female flying squad called her Flying Circus. Blackman had previously starred as Cathy Gale on the British spy show, The Avengers, and was chosen for her charisma and her judo talents, both of which she utilizes to great effect in this film.

THE VILLAINS: Goldfinger features two of Bond’s most iconic bad guys. Auric Goldfinger, played by German actor Gert Fröbe, has become rich dealing in and smuggling precious stones and minerals. He is greedy, manipulative, destructive, and he will do anything to win, including cheating at every opportunity. He has one of the single greatest exchanges in the Bond series, when he has 007 strapped to a table, a cutting-edge laser slowly working its way toward bisecting him:

Bond: You expect me to talk?

Goldfinger: No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.

Goldfinger’s henchman is Oddjob, a monosyllabic Korean killer played by Olympic silver medalist weightlifter Harold Sakata. Oddjob’s weapon of choice is a bowler hat with a metal brim capable of breaking necks as he flings it like a circlet. Even without it, he’s a formidable foe and spends most of the film absolutely dominating Bond and beating him mercilessly. Sakata was burned badly while filming his death scene, committing to the moment even after the cameras stopped rolling.

Character actor Martin Benson plays Mister Solo, a mobster who disagrees with Goldfinger’s audacious plan; and Burt Kwouk (Cato, in the excellent Pink Panther films) plays the Chinese scientist who supplies Auric with the bomb he needs.

THE LOCATIONS: The film opens with a brief action sequence largely unrelated to the rest of the film and sees Bond disrupting a drug operation. It’s supposed to be set somewhere exotic (Serbia?), but was shot in England. Likewise the scenes set inside Fort Knox, as filming crews weren’t allowed inside the United States’ most famous depository.

The film also takes Bond to Miami, Florida (where he first encounters Auric Goldfinger), London to get properly outfitted for his assignment, the Alps and resorts of Switzerland, and ultimately to Kentucky and Fort Knox itself. While the Switzerland sequences seemed the most exotic this go-around, the sunny poolside in Florida and the impressiveness of Fort Knox gave the United States a glowing look.

THE CARS: You can find a comprehensive list of the cars in the film here, but the two most notable are Goldfinger’s beautiful (and gold) Rolls Royce Phantom III Sedance de Ville, and James Bond’s tricked-out Aston Martin DB 5. Bond mentions that his beloved Bentley is nowhere to be found, and he is instead given a modified Aston Martin loaded with gadgets. The Aston Martin would go on to be heavily tied into promotional materials and would itself become a staple of the Bond franchise.

THE GADGETS: Goldfinger really turned up the gadget ratio, from the seemingly mundane (an underwater breathing apparatus designed to look like a seagull) to the Aston Martin. The car was fitted with revolving license plates, a GPS tracking device, bulletproof windows, an oil slick and a smoke screen to be released from the rear, machine guns that came from the front, tire slashers that extended from the wheels (Bond inexplicably and irresponsibly uses these to try and pick up a woman), and a passenger ejector seat!

Bond also utilizes a grappling gun, a tracking device that fits in the heel of his shoe, and a larger magnetic tracking device he stashes in Goldfinger’s car.

Oddjob has hit steel-rimmed hat weapon, while Goldfinger has his industrial lab, a private plane with spy holes looking into the different chambers, and even an atomic bomb.

Though Goldfinger doesn’t have a lair like, say, Doctor No, he does have a ranch house that he’s tricked out. In addition to dungeon-like prison cells in the basement, his rumpus room is designed to completely transform. The window panels fold down, a massive map drops from the ceiling, and the floor even slides apart to reveal a massive model of his Fort Knox target.

And while that’s impressive, he also proves that it’s deadly when he uses his controls to seal the room and release a deadly nerve gas.

THE MUSIC: John Barry returns to Bond once again to score this film, including the theme song, “Goldfinger”, with lyrics by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse. While the films have had a stylized credit sequence since the beginning, with Dr. No’s technicolor and feminine introduction, and though From Russia With Love had a bit of the theme song sprinkled in, Goldfinger really kicks off the tradition of having an elaborate credit sequence with the theme song performed over it (in this case, by Shirley Bassey). The soundtrack album would go on to top the Billboard 200, while the Goldfinger single would reach 8th in the Billboard Hot 1000.

I love that song.

THE SUPPORT: Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell return as M and Moneypenny respectively, of course, and serve well their usual roles of giving Bond his orders and flirting with him.

New in the role of CIA agent Felix Leiter is Cec Linder. Jack Lord, who played Leiter in Dr. No, had worried some executives for looking “too cool” and potentially taking attention away from Bond. Lindner, by comparison, is older and stuffier, looking more like a bureaucrat than a slick spy peer.

Desmond Llewelyn returns as the Quartermaster, but instead of being called Major Boothroyd, this films seems a transition into referring to him as Q for short. His inventiveness and surly nature is always a delight.

FINAL THOUGHTS: There is a lot to love about this film. The villain is single-minded and dismissive of Bond, and for large parts of the film, he should be. Bond’s arrogance and recklessness sees him overcome at almost every turn, even rendering him inactive for large parts of the middle and the end, a prisoner biding his time and hoping his peers will put clues enough to rescue him in the nick of time. In that sense, it’s unusual to see Bond do so little, even with the advantage of his new gadgets.

The Aston Martin’s many functions are exciting to see, as something like that was still relatively new to cinema, as was the industrial laser death weapon Goldfinger uses, which didn’t really exist at the time. The music is superb, and the many gold motifs throughout the film give a visual theme to match the title and villain.

Pussy Galore is a compelling anti-hero, a Catwoman-esque character, though I wish we had seen more of her Flying Circus. And Oddjob is perfect all around. All in all, one of my favorites.

OTHER BOND BREAKDOWNS:

Dr. No

From Russia With Love

Thunderball

You Only Live Twice

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Diamonds Are Forever

24 Weeks of Bond: From Russia With Love

Art by Dick Bobnick

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.

Having said that, let’s get into it!

The Movie: From Russia With Love, directed by Terence Young (who also did Dr. No), adapted by Richard Maibaum, Berkley Mather, and Johanna Harwood, and with cinematography by Ted Moore (A Man For All Seasons, 1981’s Clash of the Titans, several Bond movies), the film was released in 1963. While reviews were initially mixed, retrospectives have proven this to be critically enjoyed and one of the more beloved films of the franchise.

The story centers around James Bond being sent to secure the defection of SMERSH (Bond’s fictional Soviet counterintelligence group) agent Tatiana Romanova and to secure a cryptographic device.

Romanova believes she is a double-agent for the Soviet Union, but does not realize that her handler belongs to the terrorist organization SPECTRE. Likewise, Bond does not realize that SPECTRE is seeking revenge for the death of their agent in the previous film, the titular Dr. No.

The Bond: Sean Connery revises his role as 007 and brings with his second adventure a newer sense of confidence. This film sees Bond move with surety, mingling with locals in foreign countries, engaging in spontaneous gunfights, even transitioning from his manipulations of Romanova to outright anger when he feels she’s betrayed him. This is a secret agent comfortable in his own skin and in working in enemy territory. It is also reportedly the performance that finally won Ian Fleming, Bond’s creator, over on Sean Connery.

The Girls: Eunice Grayson briefly reprises her role from Dr. No as Sylvia Trench, intended to be a recurring love interest but ultimately left by the wayside. Instead, Bond spends most of the film with double-agent Tatiana Romanova, played by stunning Italian actress Daniela Bianchi. Due to her thick accent, she was dubbed over by Barbara Jefford. Tatiana, ostensibly a Russian spy, is neither particularly dangerous nor exactly a damsel in distress. Instead, she plays more a genuine love interest for the better part of the film, also assisting in the procuring of the cryptographic device. At the age of only 21, she is also the youngest “leading” Bond girl.

The Villains: This film has a few bad guys, playing up the mention of Spectre from the first film by giving us a look behind the scenes. This is the first appearance of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, played physically here by Anthony Dawson (who played the late Professor Dent in Dr. No). You don’t see Blofeld’s face here, but you see his hands, stroking his white cat, a move that would spawn imitation after imitation from Inspector Gadget’s villainous Dr. Claw to Michael Meyers’ buffoonish Dr. Evil. We also hear Blofeld’s voice (Eric Pohlmann), one that lets us know he is in command and that he does not tolerate failure.

We also see two of his commanders. There is Chief Planner Kronsteen, a master chess player portrayed by actor Vladek Sheybal. Vladek did not originally want to be in a Bond film, fearing that a spy/action film might hurt his career, but Sean Connery, a friend, convinced him to take the role. More interesting about Vladek Sheybal is that he lived through the occupation of Warsaw and actively fought in the Polish resistance, twice escaping concentration camps, and only deciding after the war to pursue a career in acting.

Lotte Lenya was a Tony-award winning (The Threepenny Opera) and Academy-Award nominated (The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone) actress who here plays Rosa Klebb, SMERSH commander-turned-SPECTRE operative.

And finally, the hitman Donald “Red” Grant, a highly trained spy and killer spent to tail and eventually eradicate Bond in order to retrieve the Lektor cryptographic device while also eliminating the threat from England that Bond poses. He’s played by Academy-Award nominated (A Man For All Seasons) actor Robert Shaw, who you may know better as the shark hunter Quint in Jaws.

The Locations: While there are a few scenes shot in England involving MI6’s involvement and Bond’s vacation, and a couple scenes (notably part of the boat chase scene near the end) are shot in Scotland to get the scenes they wanted, the bulk of the film takes place in Turkey and was shot on location in and around Istanbul.

While not necessarily as vibrant as the Jamaican scenery of Dr. No, Turkey is exotic in it’s own right, and we get to experience the culture through gypsy parties, markets, old and crumbling architecture, and sweeping hills and background scenery as Bond and Tatiana try to escape to Bulgaria.

By filming in Turkey and having Spectre as the guiding force behind the conflict, it was also a way to capitalize on the tensions of the Cold War without making the Russians the outright villains.

There is also a brief, beautiful moment set in Venice, Italy toward the end of the film.

The Cars: While there are several cars used in the film (you can find an entire list here), including a 1958 Rolls Royce Silver Wraith, this film is notable for, to my recollection, being the only Bond film where he drives a Bentley (his preferred car in the novels; a 1935 Drophead Coupe here) instead of the Aston Martins he would become famous for. Additionally, while not a car, a massive chunk of the back end of the film is set aboard a gorgeous train.

The Gadgets: From Russia With Love still stays pretty grounded with the gadgets, although they did notably have a pager-like device to contact agents in the field before the pager was actually developed.

Bond is given an attaché case that remains one of my favorite multi-purpose tools in the 007 series. Through its many secret compartments and latches, it contains two tubes of spare ammunition, a collapsible Armalite AR-7 rifle, a hidden knife, an exploding tear gas cartridge, and 50 gold sovereigns attached to the interior straps.

Bond also uses a tape recorder disguised as a camera, and a small bug detector to find that his room has been compromised.

SPECTRE has a remarkable mask-making technology that they’ve used to create Bond-lookalike masks for the sake of Red Grant practicing the kill (this predates Mission Impossible by decades and yet they never use it again, I don’t believe). Red Grant makes his kills with his own gadget: a wristwatch with a garrote wire.

Rosa Klebb has her own gadget of sorts, a shoe with a poisoned blade hidden in the toe, an assassination weapon based in reality.

And, of course, the Lektor decoding machine is the McGuffin that the whole plot centers around, as Russia, England, and Spectre all try to gain and keep possession of it.

The Music: This is actually the first Bond film to feature a theme song beside the James Bond theme. “From Russia With Love” was composed by “Oliver!” composer Lionel Bart and sung by Matt Monro during the film and over the end credits. John Barry took the reigns for the rest of the film’s soundtrack composition with music pieces matching many of the major moments throughout the film.

The Support: Bernard Lee returns as M., Bond’s superior. He’ll be a common name in this section. Likewise Lois Maxwell as M’s secretary and Bond’s target of doomed affection, Moneypenny. Desmond Llewelyn, meanwhile, makes his first appearance as Boothroyd/Q., replacing Peter Bothroyd as Bond’s quartermaster. Llewelyn would return to the role over the course of sever Bond actor transitions.

Bond’ major ally in From Russia With Love is the Turkish-born head of MI6’s Turkish intelligence branch Kerim Bey. He is a charismatic man with 15 children and a gypsy lifestyle and is brought to life here by the late Pedro Armendáriz. In a sad twist, Armendáriz took this role while he was terminally ill with cancer so that his family would be left financially secure. When his illness grew too severe, he shot and killed himself in the hospital. He was one of the most well-known Latin American stars in the 40s and 50s and, years later, his son Pedro Jr. would star in a Bond film of his own.

Final Thoughts: While I remembered the opening murder scene, Rosa Klebb, and much of the train sequence,I found that I had forgotten much of what made this film great. Connery really feels like he fits in the Bond role here where it felt a little stuffy in Dr. No. Bianci and Armendáriz are pure charisma as Romanova and Bey respectively, and Robert Shaw’s Red Grant cuts an intimidating figure, opening with an act of shocking violence before hovering around like a looming threat of death.

The film takes its time, enjoying its setting and earning its relationships, while brief moments of frantic action punch through periodically: a gunfight here, an explosion there, a sudden murder. And while the film ends with not just one, but two exciting action sequences (a helicopter chase AND a boat chase), it’s the extended, brutal close quarters fight on the train that really sticks in your mind. This movie has some romanticism flavored of its time, and plenty of thrills. This was a pleasant surprise to come back to, and I can see why so many people place it among their favorites.

Other Bond Breakdowns:

Dr. No

Goldfinger

Thunderball

You Only Live Twice

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Diamonds Are Forever

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