Hello everyone and welcome to the first in my series of reviews chronicling the James Bond movie franchise. Seeing as this is the first installment of this new project of mine I suppose now would be the opportune time to lay down the general modus operandi for all of you, my general audience. Over the Christmas holidays last year I was able to view most of the films of the aforementioned Bond franchise. Since then I’ve been able to fill in the blanks by seeing the few films I missed at that time. On top of that I’ve also endeavored to give those other films which I saw the first time around another watch to keep them keen in my mind as I write these reviews here. All in all there will be twenty three reviews posted when all is said and done. After that massive feat is accomplished there will be a special column posted to wrap things up and provide a conclusion for this series. In that most special column I will have plenty of hopefully enjoyable tidbits to discuss and dissect that would most likely clutter up the individual movie reviews themselves. I also plan to add on to that a few of my classic ‘Top Five’ lists in which I will rank what is in my opinion the best Bond villains, girls, gadgets, films and finally, I will rank the top five actors to have portrayed James Bond over the last forty seven (49 as of the time of this posting) years; meaning one of them will have to be left out in the cold unfortunately… Who will get the boot so to speak? Will it be Lazenby, Dalton, or perhaps Brosnan? If I told you I would of course then have to kill you. But before I get too far ahead of myself, I had better get down to the business of the day, which is the review of our first Bond feature: from 1962, it is Sean Connery, starring in Ian Fleming’s Dr. No.
You know his name… You know what kind of car he drives, what kind of pistol he carries, and you no doubt are familiar his alcoholic beverage of choice, and the very particular way that he demands it be prepared for him. He is the very epitome of the phrases ‘cool under fire’ and ‘hot under the collar’. He is Agent 007 and he has a license to kill. He is employed by the British Secret Service, and he has saved the world more times than you or I could possibly count and has slept with at least a few thousand or so of the world’s most desirable women. Before 1962 though he was known mainly as a character in a series of novels penned by author Ian Fleming and familiar mostly just to those fortunate enough to have read them at the time of their release. A small handful of people (myself not included) might have caught the obscure 1954 made for TV version of Casino Royale starring Barry Nelson as Agent 007 as well (not to be confused with the Bond spoof made later on in the 60s). After 1962 though and through the subsequent decades he would become one of the most famous fictional characters to have ever been conjured up by the machinations of human imagination. He would transcend the spy genre into which he was conceived and become both a super-hero and a pop culture icon.
The first time we see him he is skillfully playing a hand of Blackjack at a private casino table, smoking a cigarette, and working out a strategy of seduction for one Ms. Trench… Sylvia Trench as she so happens to refer to herself when questioned. When she returns the inquiry back across the table she is met with a response meant to sarcastically mimic her own… “Bond… James Bond” he says. And that’s how it all got started. The single most defining catch phrase for establishing male machismo ever to be uttered in the parlance of cinema, in reality was just another of those “happy accidents”. If that catchphrase was all there was to this character in the first place though, he would’ve probably vanished off the world’s radar not long after the release of this film. Looking back on it now nearly a half century later there are many things about Dr. No which have, shall we say, not aged particularly well. The villains are hokey in an “early days of Star Trek” kind of way. The special effects, while state of the art for their time, are now easily identifiable, such as the classic stationary car apparatus with moving images being projected behind it to simulate an automobile in fluid motion.
All that is easily forgivable though, as the real treat here from beginning to end is Sean Connery. Although there would be a handful of others to follow in his footsteps in the coming decades, no one ever became so synonymous or cast such a large shadow over the commonly accepted depiction of James Bond as did Connery. To play James Bond after he did was somewhat akin to playing a living breathing historical figure in that the people watching you would constantly be taking mental notes to compare what you were doing with what Connery did. Those unable to cope with this fact or those who weren’t able to somehow find their own particular niche or nuance within the scope of the role usually didn’t last more than one or two movies tops. Author Ian Fleming in particular enjoyed Connery’s touches to his character so much that in the later written Bond novels he wove in a back-story to give James Bond a genealogy consisting of half English and half Scottish descent. Simply put, Sean Connery is James Bond and James Bond is Sean Connery. You would find it easier to separate the interlocked molecules of an atom than to dispute or refute this statement in the minds of most movie goers.
The plot of this movie revolves around the murder of an operative located in Jamaica who goes by the name of John Strangeways and his female assistant Mary Trueblood. After his death, the British secret service decides to send the best they’ve got down to the scene to continue the ongoing investigation of the deceased operative and his assistant. Then after a debriefing by M, and the customary flirting with Ms. Moneypenney, our hero heads off to the sunny island of Jamaica. Also on the case is American CIA operative Felix Leiter and an assorted cast of colorful friendly and not so friendly characters whom James Bond is determined to glean for information by any means necessary. I won’t go into all the minute details of the investigation rather than to point out that it involves the diabolic plan of half madman half disgruntled genius Dr. No located on a mysterious radio-active island on which some recent people have had the bad habit of appearing on, only never to appear alive anywhere else, ever again. On this island, our villain has set up all kinds of odd looking devices designed with the purpose of interfering with American space shuttle or missile launch programs and whatnot. In the end we find out that this madman is not just a rouge scientist gone berserk, but rather a dedicated member of the Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion or for the purposes of not having to swallow that mouthful every other sentence S.P.E.C.T.R.E., the villainous agency that would provide the foes for the vast majority of the first half dozen or so James Bond movies to follow this one. Dr. No himself has a strange deformity as a result of a radio active mishap on his part that has left him with rubbery black mechanical gloves where his hands used to be. This gives him a slightly more menacing than average touch, but in later years, with the emergence of such baddies as Oddjob and Jaws (the Khali lookalike, not the Shark..) he hardly seems all that threatening anymore.
One watching this film today will have one of two possible reactions to these types of villains. One group will be amused and satisfied to a certain extent at the ludicrous nature of these comic book fiends and the impossible plots that they scheme, in contrast to some of today’s more reality centered Bond villains… Another group will probably find themselves rolling their eyes at the overall hokey-ness of the entire affair. In the end though, I feel Dr. No is one of the weaker early bond villains, when compared to the likes of Goldfinger or Blofeld anyway, and so that probably makes the aforementioned aspects less tolerable than they would be had he been a more intriguing or dynamic character. Dr No’s secret lair for me is the low point of the movie, even though it is intended to be the climax, for some reason watching a horde of henchman running around an underground psychedelic bungalow dressed from head to toe in bubblewrap costumes just doesn’t seem to inspire that much fear in me anymore. It just comes off as very, very wacky. The one thing that keeps this movie grounded though is the aforementioned Sean Connery, who never treats these villains that he repeatedly outwits with anything other than stoic contempt. That’s not to imply that he has no sense of humor though, in a very dry British way of course, as one of Bond’s trademarks throughout the franchise are his well timed one liners and other witticisms that he dispenses with before, during, and after every altercation he has with these bad guys. Also, Connery’s bond seems to take a particular sadistic delight in using his ‘licensed to kill’ capacity as he displays in one classic scene where he sardonically says ‘That’s a Smith & Wesson, and you’ve had your six..” before emptying a few rounds of his Walther PPK into his would be attacker, well after establishing the fact that this man is now by no means a threat to him in any form or fashion. This Bond is one who doesn’t play by the rules governed to him, which gives him an edge that greatly enhances his overall coolness factor.
The one thing this movie is probably most remembered for after all these years though, other than Connery’s performance, and being the first Bond movie, is the first official Bond Girl, Ursula Undress, who plays ‘Honey Ryder’ in the film… A more perfect woman they could not have picked for this role, not just referring to her looks, as even her real name is rife with the suggestiveness of the monikers that would be adorned upon many a leading lady in the coming years, such as Pussy Galore, Plenty O’Toole, Holly Goodhead etcetera etcetera… God bless the sixties is all I can say to that. From the very first moment she enters the scene in her soaking wet white bikini with her seashells and knife attachment, she’s got everyone’s… James Bond’s included, attention, which brings me to my final point of analysis for this review. In one of his recent reviews noted film critic Roger Ebert pointed something out to me that I had not really ever considered before. His words were something to the effect of “James Bond is not an action hero…” which at first drew a curious response from me, as surely in many ways James Bond in fact is an action hero, but what differentiates him from the rest of the pack is that for him, the sight of a beautiful woman, or the smell of a well mixed martini, seem to be imbued with the same or greater overall importance he places on his assignments themselves.
For him, true pleasure is not found in blowing things up, or in rescuing helpless victims, but rather kicking back in his dinner jacket for a good game of high stakes poker, a lit cigarette in his mouth, a shaken vodka martini in his hand, with a well dressed female on his arm. As Mr. Ebert said, Bond is an attitude more than he is a person. He is the base wit and determination of the common working man mixed with the refinement, style, sophistication and elegance of the elite aristocratic playboy and he also just happens to be able to kill you in about five hundred different ways in five seconds flat. With all the above considered, I still give this movie a mere three and a half star rating due to the way it has poorly aged compared to some of the stronger films from this time period. All in all though, for the pure unbridled entertainment value that is found while watching Sean Connery at his most lascivious and bad assed best, you can by no means go wrong by popping this DVD into your player on any rainy Saturday afternoon.
Thanks for reading, and James Bond will return next time in my review of ‘From Russia With Love’…