Saturday 5 January 2013

Dr. No


Dr. No
1962 UK
Directed by Terence Young
EON Blu Ray Region A/B/C

Right. I apologise in advance if, in the next few months, you see a load of Bond reviews on this site. Normal service will be continued as soon as possible but, you see, I got given the 50th Anniversary Bond Box on blu-ray as a Christmas present... so this may take me a while to get through.

I’ve been a casual and sometimes not-so-casual observer of the James Bond character since I was five years old and saw Live And Let Die, followed by the majority of the Connery films, in the cinema around 1973/74. For further information about my relationship with the Bond movies, see my Skyfall review here. 

I’ve seen most of the Bond films at the actual cinema, with the exception of two... A View To A Kill is something I passed on (having gotten so fed up with what the Bond films had turned into by the time they got to Octopussy) and this one, Dr. No. My first viewing of Dr. No came when I was about 6 years old and we went around to my uncles house to watch it on television because, unlike us, his television set was a “colour” set. This was one of two such trips I remember that year going to see a movie on his colour TV, the other being Hammer’s Taste The Blood Of Dracula... which has a sure influence on th mind of this six year old.

Dr. No is one of those films which, from our perspective now, can be seen as being a “not-quite-Bond-film”. That is to say, it’s half in the sixties, carrying an edge to it which was a little unusual for the time, but at the same time is immensely “fifties glamorous and charming”... you can easily see why Cary Grant was originally considered for the role. Many people say that the full-on Bond style didn’t completely emerge until Goldfinger and, while I concur that the “Bond vehicle” which isn’t always a highlight in the series, and the “vocal backed” title sequence weren’t there until Goldfinger... I would humbly disagree with all the “experts” out there and say that From Russia With Love is really the one that defined and polished the formula which came to be instantly recognisable as “the Bond formula”. However, I’ll leave that elaboration for the From Russia With Love review I’ll need to do soonest.

When you look at Dr. No now, and place it in the context of the time of the films original release, it’s very easy to see why this was such a hit. It may, indeed, look a little rooted in the fifties now but from the vantage point of an audience back then the similarities to other films around them would probably not have been that apparent and it must have seemed so different to anything else on offer at their local fleapit cinemas. This film had a very hard edge to it which is one thing, and then it wraps it all up with bright colours (almost Bava-esque when Connery and Bond-girl Ursula Andress step out of decontamination near the end), clean shot set ups and a pop-culture casualness which would have been an amazingly seductive cocktail for anyone back in 1962... and let’s face it, it still is today.

The influence of Bond was huge and one of the things which it changed for a while was in the editing. Future On Her Majesty’s Secret Service director Peter Hunt edited the first five movies and he did so in a style which must have shocked a lot of his fellow professionals at the time. Bond dared to break one of the unbreakable rules of editing, you see... “Thou Shalt Not Cut A Shot On Movement”. Yep, this one does this all over the place... it doesn’t wait for the camera to stop moving before cutting away if it doesn’t want to and Hunt was smart in this respect... he knew this would ramp up the action shots to an unbelievable degree and, although the sound hits weren’t up to their abstract best on this movie (that would cement in From Russia With Love), the editing was enough to give the audience of the time an absolutely amazing juxtaposition of potential to kinetic energy in the action, whizzed along at 24 frames per second on to their retinas.

I’m not knocking the sound design on this movie though. Oh no. It’s brilliant. The familiar gun barrel opening starts up with weird trills and hums which I don’t think were kept for any of the other movies in the series... but instead of going into the traditional pre-credits sequence, it goes straight into the titles, designed so smartly (with the aid of little sticky, coloured dots bought from Woolworths... no CGI then, folks) by Maurice Binder. The sound throughout the movie continues to be fantastic. There’s a sequence where Bond is trying to escape through a bizarre (and in the book, deliberately deadly) ventilation system and the sounds you hear on the soundtrack during this sequence are amazing.

I say the ventilation system was in the book... it was in a much different form and it would be true to say that Dr. No is not the most accurate in terms of adaptation of the source novel (but closer than many of the movies that followed it over the decades). The original novel, Casino Royale, was already a TV play in the fifties and that version was decidedly closer to that book than any of the versions of it that came after. Dr. No was an unusual book to start the franchise off on because it comes somewhere near halfway through the run of books.

Indeed, the events of the previous novel, From Russia With Love, produce an interesting cinematic anomaly in the series as this became the second movie. Bond dies in the original novel From Russia With Love, you see. Killed by a deadly, poisoned kick from Rosa Klebb’s knife-shoe thingamajig. It was, if my memory is serving me as I would hope, only due to the influence of Philip Marlow writer Raymond Chandler, who persuaded Ian Fleming to carry on writing the character, that the Bond character was taken up by Fleming again and resurrected at the beginning of Dr. No... where he is rushed to a hospital at the start of the book and cured of the poison which flooded his system and “done him in” in the previous novel. All very interesting but, considering that From Russia With Love became the second movie, it’s interesting that there is a reference in the movie version of Dr. No about those events in From Russia With Love. When Bond is being given his Walther PPK in M’s office by Major Boothroyd (who is Q, but not yet played by Desmond Llewellyn, who made the role famous), where Bond’s is reminded that his Beretta jammed on him and he ended up spending six months in hospital as a result... those six months were the time it took to recover from Rosa Klebb’s neatly timed kick after his gun jammed. So it’s an interesting little thing to note in the movie and it’s one of many unusual anomalies thrown up in the Bond series.

There are other major changes from the source novel... such as the book being about the plot revolving around guana (droppings) for their rich soil enhancing properties and being replaced with something more palatable to cinema audiences... the “toppling” of American rockets. But there’s also another little “long term” jam the producers got themselves into because of the sequence in which they chose to film the series, and this time it was because they did follow the events of the book...

The character of Quarrel, the guide who takes Bond to Crab Quay, was already a recurring character in the book, having played a big part in an earlier book, Live And Let Die. Dr. No is Bond’s second encounter with the character and in both the book and the film versions he is burnt to death by the bad guys. However... this obviously left the filmmakers with a slight (it’s a question of taste and respect) problem when it came time to shoot Live And Let Die a decade later. How did they solve that little problem? Well, wait until I review Live And Let Die and I’ll tell you.

Felix Leiter is another big change... missing an arm and half a leg from the second book on, due to a nasty encounter with some sharks in the novel Live And Let Die (this particular encounter finally turned up on film as part of the movie License To Kill), here he has miraculously got all his limbs, and doesn’t wear a fake leg and hook in place of his gun hand either. Felix has never been done quite right on film, I believe.

What else is there to say about this movie then, without giving too much of the action away? All of the performances are solid with series regulars Sean Connery (personally groomed for the role by the director to lose the rough diamond quality... although I think it would be fair to say that the Bond character has always been a bit of a government hired thug), Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Eunice Gayson (who only stayed for the first two films), are all great and it also has the “iconic” turn from a dubbed out Ursula Andress, which epitomised the Bond films in the sixties and for years to come.

Then there’s the music, which is by Monty Norman... and it really is by Monty Norman people. I love John Barry as much as the next person and his arrangement of the Bond theme (featuring Vic Flick on guitar) is one of the most powerful and recognisable pieces of music in film history. But the basic melody is Norman’s and I’m sick of people saying it isn’t... so let’s look at the facts.

Norman had finished his score. It was done. Barry was brought on to do a theme tune and he arranged Norman’s melody line from his opera A House For Mr. Biswas. How can I be so sure that it was Norman’s melody line which was taken? Well just listen to the film... the Bond theme is all over it... admittedly because the sound guys kept slotting in Barry’s excellent arrangement of it all over the movie when it was needed... but this isn’t the only occurrence of “the Bond theme” in the movie, there are several instances where Norman has also used his theme throughout the soundtrack and, like I said, he’d already done his bits. There was even a cue where Norman utilised his own theme in this movie which was tracked into Barry’s score for From Russia With Love (when the helicopter crashes, if memory serves) and so I really am sick of people levelling accusations of “Norman didn’t write it” at the composer. Seriously, John Barry is easily one of the greatest composers (and arrangers, for that matter) in English music... but he didn’t write the Bond theme... just added to it.

And that’s about all I’ve got to say about this particular movie, methinks. It’s a real blast and has a certain 1950s charm to it while still having the hard edge (and the hard edge of old school male chauvinism which is also a defining part of Bond’s basic character... although I don’t believe the character is particularly misogynistic, as some people believe) and sense of danger to it. It was also a huge influence on almost every technical aspect you can think of... and I haven’t mentioned Ken Adams’ amazing sets for these movies but, seriously, they are works of great cinematic art in the series (especially the simple room with just a chair, a grate and a shadow... you’ll know it when you see it but I also put a picture at the top of this page). If you’ve not seen a Bond movie before then this first one in the regular EON series is definitely worth more than a casual glance... it’s quite groundbreaking in many ways and certainly a lot of fun. Ignore it at your peril.

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