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On Her Majesty’s Secret Bond Blog: Introduction and Dr. No!

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My relationship with James Bond 007 began young. I can’t remember the very first Bond film at all but it is probably a Sean Connery on television at Christmas or Easter. The first Bond film I went to at the cinema was For Your Eyes Only in 1981. I was nine years old. I read the novels when I was way too young. I read John Gardner’s License Renewed. I bought the toys and the annuals. Roger Moore was my Bond growing up. But then that happened. I grew up. And Bond became my guilty pleasure.

Some people argue there’s no such thing as a guilty pleasure. It smacks of snobbishness and elitism, but we all know secretly that’s Bullseye (starring Roger Moore and directed by Michael Winner). A 2am kebab, adultery, tequila shots, drunken cigarettes and reality TV all have their definite appeal but none of them is genuinely good for us. We all should be guilty from time to time and not try to soothe ourselves with hogwash about how just because Tarantino once liked some shit that there are no standards anymore. And Bond went from my childhood hero to childish guilty pleasure.

As the years went on I lost interest in the Bond franchise, but I never stopped going and seeing the films. I was genuinely pleased when Pierce Brosnan came along and injected some adrenalin into the series. Dalton had mystified me, falling precisely at the moment when I was the least interested. Years on I found Bond drifting onto the desert island of nostalgia. I reread all of the Ian Fleming novels and short stories. Good Christ, but The Spy Who Loved Me novel is bad. I read the Charlie Higson Young Bond series, the Sebastian Faulks crack Devil May Care and caught up with Kingsley Amis’ Colonel Sun. I even read Anthony Horowitz’s pastiche Forever and a Day. I bought the DVDs.

Daniel Craig’s Bond had the effect of once more getting me interested in the series and the here and now. It also had the retroactive effect of showing up many of the other films to be truly awful. Some of them don’t even qualify as films, not in a way that either Martin Scorsese or I would recognise. And yes, Marty and I occasionally chat about such things so I know. Having recently shelled out once more on the BluRays I thought a rewatch was in order in the run-up to the release of No Time to Die in April, which will effectively close Craig’s tenure in the role. I wanted to see how the series had developed, which if any of the films, stood up to critical scrutiny, what were the consistencies and what were the novelties.

Despite a very close relationship to the films and books over the years, I am not by any means a Bond buff. And I’d even be careful to call myself a fan. I find it difficult to dismiss – let alone enjoy – the sexism, homophobia and racism that is rife in the series. Some of the apparently treasured stalwarts, such as Q, I find personally baffling, often coming too early for a pee break and yet too crap to actually enjoy. I am not a huge believer in the ‘so bad it’s good’ school of watching movies. As a slave used to whisper in the Roman general’s ear as he celebrated his triumph: ‘we all die’. So this is going to be a critical reevaluation. It is going to be personal. But hopefully there will be pleasures, albeit guilty ones.


Dr. No

Dr. No is the first cinematic foray into James Bond. A lot is missing. No Q, no pre-titles sequence. Even the gun barrel sequence features some chubby chap who is very obviously not Sean Connery. But for all that it is also setting in place a template which will run for better and for much much worse through twenty-four more films.

The Maurice Binder title sequence is as good a place to start as any. Electronic and abstract, it features ping pong balls of light and a score that goes from the Monty Norman 007 theme – orchestrated by John Barry to the extent that he practically rewrote it – which then segues into some Jamaican pop. The film shifts then to silhouettes of three blind mice – the three assassins – and there’s a sense that even at the very beginning it hasn’t quite worked out its style and wants to go back and forth. The Jamaica setting is established very early on before we’re whisked back to London to be introduced to James Bond.

It’s true that Ian Fleming wanted David Niven and the casting of Sean Connery was a long shot, but from the very first scene, he establishes a lazy insouciance that will mark his entire film career. There’s charisma here in the fact he never really tries to be likeable. Connery plays Bond as an assassin, wryly amused by the opportunities for sex he gets but a quite openly cynical man. He sleeps with a woman he knows is going to betray him – a hate fuck basically – and shoots a man with an empty gun, rubbing it in with the line ‘That’s a Smith and Wesson and you’ve had your six.’ He’s quite narky at times and strangely joyless when not killing people.

The plot of the film involves a mad scientist Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman), a Chinese German half-breed in the easy racism of the film, who is ‘toppling’ American space rockets from his Jamaican island base. Bond discovers the plot quite easily and his spying has a rudimentary careless feel. He plucks a hair from his head to put it across the wardrobe door to make sure he knows if it has been screwed with in his absence. The car chase suffers from ridiculous back projection and like many films from the early sixties, everything is overlit. When Bond meets M in his office in London one evening, it’s like they’re sitting under floodlights. Director Terence Young was responsible for training Connery in the high life, so he acquired an ease, making him sleep in his suit to get him comfortable in the clothes, but he doesn’t do much with the action. The strength of the film comes in using Jamaica as a location, creating some beautiful shots and getting away from the flimsy-looking studio sets of Pinewood. The real-life exotic locations would become a defining attraction of later travelogue Bonds.

Ursula Andress and Eunice Gayson would feature as the first Bond girls. The latter we meet across the casino tables at the very beginning of the film and the first creates perhaps the only real iconic moment of the first film, emerging from the surf like a magnificent goddess. They were both dubbed by Nikki van der Zyl, who would overdub a number of actresses throughout the Bond series. She even partly dubbed Jane Seymour in Live and Let Die and worked on Moonraker. Andress also introduces the ludicrous names that Fleming enjoyed attaching to his fantasy sex girls – Honey Ryder – which Connery quite rightly stifles a guffaw at.

The story is relatively predictable and some of the acting is appalling, especially of the smaller parts, but overall Dr. No holds up as a great introduction to 007. The ending gives the requisite explosions – some very obvious miniature work but who cares – which Bond manages to pull off by just twisting the wrong wheel at the right moment. Dr. No is dispatched with alarming ease. The Americans show up in the form of Kennedyesque Jack Lord too late, while Bond is enjoying a post-explosion canoodle. Again, this will become a comic coda to almost all of the films.

Check out all the films in the Bond BlogCheck out all the films in the KuBLOGCheck out all the films in the SpielBLOG
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