Sunday, January 1, 2012

Film Review: Dr. No

Dr. No
  • Publisher: United Artists
  • Production Studio: EON Productions
  • Release: 6 October 1962 (UK), 8 May 1963 (USA)
  • Genre: Action
  • Director: Terence Young
  • Producers: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Salzman
  • Writers: Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, Berkley Mather

The Girl: Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress, dubbed by Nikki van der Zyl). A civilian shell scavenger not intentionally involved in Dr. No's affairs. Most famous for her entrance, rising up from the sea in a white bikini. Frankly, she doesn't add much to the story apart from fanservice (very much so in the book, see below). Their chemistry can be summed up as thus: she wants to tag along while Bond wants her to stay safe and out of the way. All things considered, how they end up together is a mystery (funny what trauma can do to a couple). And even though same-language dubbing was more acceptable back in 1962, in order to mask the accents of foreign actors like Andress, the performance we get just seems out of it. 2 out of 5.

Other Allies: Felix Leiter (Jack Lord), a CIA agent investigating Dr. No's actions; and Quarrel (John Kitzmiller), a black Cayman Islander working with Leiter. They're both streetwise and competent, useful assets for an ally to have. Oh, and don't be suprised if you keep expecting Leiter to say "Book 'em, Danno" at some point. Quarrel is killed by No's dragon tank3 out of 5.

The Villain: Dr. Julius No (Joseph Wiseman). This titular half-Chinese scientist has an artificial metal hand, not that it matters much since he wears gloves all the time. In the film, he is an agent of SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terror, Revenge, and Extortion). The since-deceased Wiseman plays his role on the cold-blooded side. He doesn't get much of a chance to break loose in terms of acting, but he does invoke a sense of fear in nearly everyone he interacts with, especially Professor Dent. No is killed by being boiled alive in radioactive water. 4 out of 5.

Other Henchmen: Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson), a geologist; and Miss Taro (Zena Marshall), secretary to a Jamaican official. Dent is shot by Bond, and Taro is sent to jail by same.

The Gadgets: Not much to speak of, but this is only the first movie; give it some time. A henchman does use a cyanide-laced cigarette to kill himself before Bond can interrogate him.

The Locations: Set and filmed in England and Jamaica. Crab Key is a fictional location, filmed in Jamaica, where Dr. No has set up his base.

The Theme Song: Dr. No simply uses the iconic instrumental James Bond theme. What do I need to say; it's omnipresent in the series, and for a good reason - it's that awesome. The version in the opening credits segues into a calypso version of "Three Blind Mice", representing the three blind assassins who kill Strangways. 5 out of 5.

The Opening Credits: The credits sequence in Dr. No is divided into three parts: 1) The famous gun-barrel walk segues directly into an animation of coloured dots, 2) coloured silhouettes of people dancing to the aforementioned calypso music, and 3) the "three blind mice" walking the streets of Jamaica en route to execute the hit on Strangways. All in all, a rather simple if cute affair. 4 out of 5.

The Novel: The novel Dr. No, by Ian Fleming, was first published in 1958, and was rather faithfully adapted by the film. Among the differences in the book, Dr. No was working for the Soviet Union instead of SPECTRE, and Bond killed him by burying him in guano. Oh, and Honey is naked on arrival.

The Plot: Mr. Strangways, a British agent in Jamaica, is killed, and some of his files stolen. The files pertain to Doctor No, suspected of "toppling" American rocket launches via radio signals, sending them off course. M (Bernard Lee), of the Special Intelligence Service, dispatches James Bond, code number 007, to investigate. In Kingston, Bond's taxi driver turns out to be an enemy agent, but he commits suicide before Bond can learn anything from him. He then goes on to meet Quarrel, a fisherman, and Felix Leiter, a CIA agent. Quarrel knows about Crab Key, Dr. No's supposed base of operations, but refuses to take him there out of fear of a "dragon". However, he does give Bond some rock samples taken from Crab Key. Bond has them checked by Professor Dent and learns nothing, but Dent is secretly an agent of No, who tries to kill Bond with a tarantula that night. It fails. Bond sets up a date with Miss Taro, secretary at the Government House, only to survive a trap. Strangway's assassins die in a car chase, Miss Taro is arrested, and Dent is shot.

Now Quarrel is finally ready to take Bond to Crab Key. Once landing, they meet Honey Ryder and hide from a patrol boat. The three venture deeper into the island, evading further patrols and getting to know one another. In the night, they encounter the "dragon", in actuality a fire-breathing tank. Quarrel is killed by the tank, and Bond and Ryder captured. They are held together in a luxurious prison and invited to dinner, where they meet Dr. No. After the meal, Bond lashes out but is locked in another cell for his efforts. He escapes through the air ducts, ends up in the control room of No's operation, sabotages it by overloading the nuclear reactor, and kills No by dunking him in the boiling, radioactive water. The base starts to self-destruct; in the chaos, Bond rescues Ryder and they escape by boat.  You are now free to turn off your TV.

Being the first big-screen Bond adventure, Dr. No wisely takes it easy. The plot isn't overly complicated; the first half is Bond doing detective work and the second half is his raid on Crab Key. I can understand this being the norm in the pre-Schwarzenegger film era, and while I wouldn't call it boring, I should at least warn the more younger-minded of my readers about these trends. In terms of the production design, it's doesn't stand up to the grand scale sets we expect of the Bond series these days, but again, these customs were not yet developed, so give them time. All in all, it works, but it's hard to appreciate this movie as anything but the beginning of a saga. 3 out of 5.

The Call: 75% (B-)

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From Russia With Love

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