Sunday, November 1, 2015

Film Review: Dr. No

"Dr. No"
*** 1\2 (out of ****)

Have no fear, James Bond is here in "Dr. No" (1962).

"Dr. No" was the first theatrical released feature-length film adaptation based on novelist Ian Fleming's British secret service agent, 007 James Bond (there was a made for television adaptation of "Casino Royal" made in 1954). The novels were published between 1953 - 1966 (two years after Mr. Fleming's death). "Dr. No" was actually the sixth novel published in the series. The first was "Casino Royale".

In anticipation of the upcoming James Bond adventure, "Spectre" (2015), starring Daniel Craig, I thought it would be a good idea and go back to the original. Watching "Dr. No" I actually did something I normally don't do watching a James Bond movie. I sat in excitement. There is an intensity to "Dr. No". You wonder who is this mysterious doctor? Will James Bond (Sean Connery) be able to find him? Will Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman) kill him? Nowadays viewers don't think about such things. James Bond is a larger than life figure. Of course James Bond will save the day and live to have his story told in another adventure. But when "Dr. No" was released audiences may not have known 23 more films would follow. That is what sets "Dr. No" apart from the rest of the movies. "Dr. No" is actually a good spy thriller.

A British secret service agent, Strangways (Timothy Moxon), stationed in Jamaica, is murdered. When news reaches London, secret agent James Bond, is informed by his superior, M (Bernard Lee), he must go to Jamaica and investigate.

We learn Strangways was working with the American CIA on a case involving the disruption of rocket launches. Is this why Strangways was killed? What could Strangways have discovered that would be considered a threat? The answer may have to do with an island called Crab Key and a mysterious man known as Dr. No.

Getting to Crab Key though won't be easy. Dr. No does not allow anyone onto the island. In an attempt to keep visitors off there is a local legend a dragon occupies the island.

James Bond learns one of the CIA operatives Strangway was working with was Felix Leiter (Jack Lord, many years before he would star on the television series "Hawaii Five-O") and a local fisherman known as Quarrel (John Kitzmiller), who once took Strangway to Crab Key to collect rocks, sand and water for testing. Bond learns the rocks are radioactive and would like Quarrel to take him to Crab Key. It is one the island of Crab Key viewers are introduced to the first "Bond girl", Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress), who is on the island to collect sea shells and finds herself involved in the game between Dr. No and James Bond.

There may be some younger movie fans that will feel "Dr. No" is too simple. There aren't enough fight scenes or explosions. How sad that this is what people need in order to be entertained. However it would seem the objective of "Dr. No" is to introduce the character of James Bond to the audience and show his style and approach to solving cases. The movie gets the point across that Bond enjoys the company of beautiful women, likes his martini shaken, not stirred, wears tailor-made suits and when the situation calls for it, can be deadly. It is true there are no high-tech gadgets or Aston Martins to drive but "Dr. No" is more about the personality of James Bond than anything else.

"Dr. No" also establishes the way James Bond uses women. I believe audiences largely misinterpret Bonds encounters with women. So many believe the character is sex obsessed and spends the large majority of his time chasing after or sleeping with women. That is not entirely true. Bond manipulates women into believing he is interested in them to extort any and all information he can out of them. Bond uses sex appeal the same way a femme fatale does. Pay attention to the scenes involving Miss Taro (Zena Marshall) she is a secretary at an government building but is actually a spy working for Dr. No. Bond knows this but still makes a pass at her and suggest they go out for dinner. There is a method to his madness. Bond is not distracted by a beautiful woman. Bond only allows the beautiful woman to think he is distracted. Notice, in every Bond movie, James Bond's charm does not work on the male characters only the female characters.

It is interesting to study Sean Connery's approach to the character. Mr. Connery seems to be taking the role rather serious and does not allow the subtle hints of a playful comic nature to dominate his interpretation of the character as some viewers may expect. Especially in the later movies when Roger Moore played the character. Mr. Connery portrays the character as an action star and at the same time makes the character appear to be somewhat believable. There is still time for a wise-crack or two but not many. The James Bond presented here is focused on his mission, with few disturbances.

The movie was directed by Terence Young, who would be brought back to direct two more Bond movies, "From Russia With Love" (1963) and "Thunderball" (1965), both starring Sean Connery. Young set the formula for future Bond movies. He keeps the story moving along at a good pace and allows the movie to have hints of playfulness and sexuality.

I don't know if I would call "Dr. No" the best of all the Bond movies but "Dr. No" certainly ranks among the all-time best. Watching "Dr. No" again, in some respects, I prefer it over the much more popular "Goldfinger" (1964), which is often considered to have set the standard of what a Bond movie should be. "Dr. No" gives it a run for its money.

If all you know is Daniel Craig as James Bond, watch "Dr. No" and see how James Bond is supposed to be played.