Monday, May 08, 2006

DR. NO - The First James Bond film! 

It took a little bit of negiotiating to get everybody - author Ian Fleming, United Artists, producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli - on the same page for a James Bond movie, but the papers were signed in 1961 and filming started in January 1962.

David Picker, of United Artists, said that the 1958 novel Doctor No was chosen to be the first film because it was the easiest to make - but he does not elaborate. (I am a little dubious about this explanation. I was just joking when I said they just wanted to film Honeychile Rider naked on the beach. But for the lack of anything better than Picker's explanation, I think I'll stick to my story.)

The film was released in Britian in the fall of 1962, followed by spring 1963 release in the United States. It was very successful, and it's easy to see why it did well.

The movie does not start with a teaser, the action sequence at the beginning of most Bond films, before the titles, that may or not have anything to do with the plot of the film. No, Dr. No starts off with a very neat little title sequence, with lots of dots and shapes, that eventually gives way to colorful silhouettes of people dancing to Calypso music. It's not at all what we expect from James Bond films. I like it anyway.

The first scene would make a great teaser. Three blind men kill the British intelligence agent and throw him into a hearse. I watched Dr. No a little bit ago, played the first scene, then went back to the beginning and played the credits sequence. Now, that's just like a Bond film!

The movie follows the book pretty closely, minus Mr. Fleming's racist tropes. There is no mention of Chigroes, and no one ever says "Honeychile Rider." She's just Honey Rider.

There is also no talk of guano deposits (which I called a bird-poop mine). Dr. No is mining bauxite instead. There is also no sign of the roseate spoonbills.

But they still go to the island, they meet Honey Rider (not naked, darnit!) and Bond and Honey are captured by the mechanical dragon after Quarrel is killed. Then Bond escapes, rescues Honey (who escaped on her own in the book) and saves the day!

In the book, Dr. No is smothered by a wayward pile of bird poo. But in the movie, he falls in a radio-active pool of water and can't pull himself out because he can't get a decent grip on the railing because of his metallic hands. That's probably better than the book, avoiding all the Beavis and Butt-head type of ridicule that would have characterized the discussions of the film if the bird-poop demise had been retained.

Dr. No is a great movie. Sean Connery did as much for James Bond as Bond ever did for Connery. Ursula Andress as Honey Rider brightens up the screen in one of the most famous scenes of 1960s cinema, and creates an image as the best of the Bond girls that has never really been challenged. Great music, great direction, great screenplays, great supporting cast (including two actors, Bernard Lee as M and Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny, who would be with the series for decades), Dr. No is one of the films that defines 1960s cinema.

For more information on Dr. No, see the wikipedia entry or the imdb entry.

NEXT: Goldfinger


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