For the love of entertainment
Earlier this year, Boo and I found a great deal on the Bond 50 DVD boxed set and picked it up. Both of us had only a casual knowledge of the series, but thought it would be fun to work our way through in chronological order. We’ve got 23 movies to get through (plus one unofficial Bond movie), so let’s get started!
This installment is solidly in Sean Connery’s era from the series’ earliest days. With his debonair style and droll wit, Connery is the person most people conjure when they think of Bond. And for good reason: he had a way of taking cheesy lines and delivering them with enough of a wink to sell them, but enough heft to ground them in reality. Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan would have sent a lot of the early Bonds straight into camp. It helps that Connery is also a seriously suave and handsome man. Definitely top two if the Bonds were ranked by attractiveness (what can I say? I’m a sucker for Daniel Craig). Mainly, it just doesn’t seem like Connery is trying very hard. He’s naturally Bond. At times he even almost seems bored, and that just heightens the ease he has at assuming this role.
As an aside, I have never read any of Ian Fleming’s source novels, but may try one or two out for comparison once I’m caught up on the films. I think that would be fun, actually. Stay tuned!
Perhaps it was exciting at the time, but watching this movie from a modern spy thriller perspective all I can really say is boooooooooring! I’m sure I’m in the minority with that opinion, but there it is. If the cheese stands alone, so be it. When a fellow agent named Strangeways is killed, Bond is sent to Jamaica to investigate, uncovering a nefarious plot by Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman) to disrupt the U.S. space program with a radio beam weapon. All the elements that would become standard are there (gadgets, exotic locations, an elaborate lair for the villain, Bond girl, etc.), but the slow pace is stultifying. As an aside, this was not the first novel in Ian Fleming’s series. Casino Royale was, and it wouldn’t be adapted for film until 2006. Producers originally wanted Thunderball to be the first film, but legal issues prevented that from happening (a sign of troubles to come with the Thunderball property).
Notable Firsts: we meet Lois Maxwell’s Moneypenny for the first time. I adore Lois Maxwell. She barely has any screen time, but over the next twenty years she clearly had a lot of fun with the role. Unlike any of the Ms that cycle through the same time period (Bernard Lee in this film), she makes quite an impression. The Moneypennys in the Dalton and Brosnan films turned the character into something of a sad, comic spinster. Lois Maxwell would have had none of that. We also meet Bond’s American ally, CIA agent Felix Leiter (here played by Jack Lord). He’ll make many appearances in the series, played by several different actors, always in a sort of sidekick role.
Bond Girl: Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder. Even though her voice was dubbed, Andress set the gold standard. Every Bond girl for the next fifty years has been trying to live up to her entrance in that iconic white bikini. None have quite matched her, though (to be fair) a few have come close.
We also have two Supporting Bond Girls, first in Eunice Gayson’s Sylvia Trench. In the novels, Trench is Bond’s girlfriend at home and has a recurring role. Producers toyed with including this theme in the films and brought Gayson back for another small appearance in From Russia with Love before abandoning the concept. Which was wise. Then we have the first femme fatale-ish Bond girl, Miss Taro (Zena Marshall), secretary to the Colonial Secretary in Jamaica and informant to Dr. No. She tries to seduce Bond to lure him into an ambush and ends up getting arrested–a fate much kinder than that of most villainess Bond girls later in the series.
Villain: Like Andress, Joseph Wiseman does a pretty good job setting a standard that the rest of the series will follow pretty closely. However, aside from being Bond’s first cinematic antagonist, there really isn’t much memorable about Dr. No. His successors have a lot more to recommend them. He’s creepy as hell, but that’s about it. Maybe the problem is more that he’s a touch underused. It is amusing to note that Dr. No was intended to be Chinese. Joseph Wiseman, who is decidedly not Asian in the slightest, wore makeup to evoke Chinese ancestry, but thankfully it was pretty subtle.
Theme Song: What else for Bond’s inaugural onscreen appearance? “The James Bond Theme,” composed by Monty Norman. The song most closely associated with Bond, it returns in every single movie. If you’re anything like me, you probably hummed it to yourself every time you played spy. As a kid. Yeah. As a kid.
Iconic Moment: Did I mention Ursula Andress walking onto the beach in a white bikini?
Grades: Movie: 3/5; Bond girl: 5/5; Villain: 3/5; Theme song: 5/5