Skip to main content

Unfortunately I misjudged you, you are just a stupid policeman... Whose luck has run out.


Dr. No
(1962)

The early Connery films tended to be viewed as something of a sacred benchmark for what the series should aspire to, existing in a purified state before complete formula set in. But the first film, based on the sixth Bond novel, is very much finding its feet. Whilst the plot mechanics of the first half wouldn’t look out of place in any classic spy movie of the era (and, as such, relate quite fluidly to the content of the next Bond movie), the later stages establish the series’ template of a larger-than-life, crippled villain and grandiose set pieces.


I’ll readily admit that I find the earlier sections of the film much more engrossing than anything we see once the titular character is introduced. It may have provided a firm foundation for the likes of the Flint series, and later Austin Powers, but in context we see a pronounced shift from relatively localised, down-to-earth interactions to cartoonish, world domination antics. The Bond films can take in many different styles approaches to narrative but attempting them within the same film can be jarring.

The premise finds Bond called upon to investigate Jamaicans (it seems) interfering with Cape Canaveral rockets, but the larger canvas is almost incidental to the personal interactions of Bond. We first see him, iconically, at a game of baccarat. Except we don’t, initially. He’s introduced from behind, as the victor, and the announcement of his identity sets the standard for later films. Other examples of this in the early scenes include his flirtation with Moneypenny, throwing his hat onto a hat stand, his use of a Beretta versus a Walther PPK, his slightly insubordinate relationship with M. It all looks so easy and well-established, with the benefit of 50 years hindsight.


Once he’s in Jamaica (and a hallmark of the early films is a lack of frenzied location-hopping, something that allows the characters and story beats to breathe more easily) we see other soon-to-be standards. The local sidekick (Quarrel, played by John Kitzmiller) and Felix Leiter (Hawaii Five-O’s Jack Lord) appear, but the main thrust is identifying Bond’s character.


Much has been noted of the influence of Terence Young on young Connery’s more unrefined physicality, and the result is charismatic mixture of the urbane and brutish. Bond’s happy to stroll (or ride) into danger, getting into a car he knows wasn’t sent for him (there are two car sequences in the first half of the film, the second a more traditional chase). But the strongest character beat is his cold amorality, shooting his unarmed, would-be assassin Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson) without a second thought.

Bond: That’s a Smith and Wesson. And you’ve had your six.

If Dirty Harry became famous for a speech based on similar logic, it’s no coincidence that both characters have embedded themselves in the mass psyche as anti-heroes with no sympathy for liberal morality.

Other points to note from this section include the allying of US and British forces to oppose a fantasy threat (“You mean we’re fighting the same war?”) and the allusions to this threat as something as terrible as Hitler (“Dr. No runs the place like a concentration camp”). There is an over highlighting of Bond’s superiority to other nations and cultures throughout, and this is underlined once the plot’s more fantastical elements take hold. As the guiding rationalist, he mocks the belief of both Quarrel and Honey Rider in a dragon patrolling Crab Quay (the investigative elements of plot don’t hold up to much scrutiny; it seems unlikely that there would be any question of what was going on, who was doing it and what needed to be done to take him down). He also tells Quarrel, “Fetch my shoes”, ever the unreconstituted colonialist.


The playful first encounter with Honey (Ursula Andress) is justifiably famous. The scenery is lush and idyllic (as is Andress herself) and we’ve been primed for “Under the Mango Trees” twice already by this point. The series’ suspect attitude towards women is present and correct; not only was Honey molested when she was younger (“I scratched his face – but he was stronger than I was”) but the villain plans to allows his guards “to amuse her”). Bond’s sexism is allowed because in contrast he has a veneer of refinement. And, he doesn’t need to take what he wants because he is irresistible.

Honey: What are you doing here? Looking for shells?
Bond: I’m just looking.

Joseph Wiseman is fine as Dr. No, but the character just isn’t very interesting. Nor is his big plan. And his science, despite some  decontamination window-dressing, is highly unstable.

Bond: It was a good idea to use atomic power. I’m glad to see you can handle it properly.

It’s an amusing quip (possibly the best in the film), but somehow Bond returns to fight another day despite exposure to probably lethal doses of radiation.  No introduces a long line of crippled villains (his hands were damaged in the course of his radiation experiments) who announce their entire plan just before they have the tables turned on them.

Dr. No: I only gratify your curiosity because you’re the one man I’ve met capable of appreciating what I have done. And keeping it to himself.

It also fans the idea of Bond as an exemplar of cultured manliness; even geniuses respect him. The desire of the producers not to fan less savoury prospects (of power bloc antagonism) results in the series latching onto an interesting identifier.

Dr. No: East, West, just points of the compass. Each as stupid as each other.

The Doctor is a member of SPECTRE (the bizarrely named Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge (!), Extortion) but his philosophy could mark him out as your average multi-national.

The dinner with the No is mildly enjoyable, but it doesn’t really have much bite to it. After which we have what will become par for the course; Bond escaping and blowing up Ken Adam’s expensive set (which requires him to overload the reactor).
The final scene is also de rigueur Bond; he’s in flagrante with Honey. While Bond is clearly finding its feet with the humour elsewhere, the ending could have been placed in any of the series.



Dr. No scores highly in many respects, most especially in Terence Young’s direction, Peter Hunt’s dynamic editing (he would cut on action, not generally a “done thing” at that point) and John Barry’s score, as a script it is less satisfying once it finds its absolute rotter. It would only take one more film to firmly for the series to firmly finding its footing.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I added sixty on, and now you’re a genius.

The Avengers 4.3: The Master Minds
The Master Minds hitches its wagon to the not uncommon Avengers trope of dark deeds done under the veil of night. We previously encountered it in The Town of No Return, but Robert Banks Stewart (best known for Bergerac, but best known genre-wise for his two Tom Baker Doctor Who stories; likewise, he also penned only two teleplays for The Avengers) makes this episode more distinctive, with its mind control and spycraft, while Peter Graham Scott, in his third contribution to the show on the trot, pulls out all the stops, particularly with a highly creative climactic fight sequence that avoids the usual issue of overly-evident stunt doubles.

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Where is the voice that said altered carbon would free us from the cells of our flesh?

Altered Carbon Season One
(SPOILERS) Well, it looks good, even if the visuals are absurdly indebted to Blade Runner. Ultimately, though, Altered Carbon is a disappointment. The adaption of Richard Morgan’s novel comes armed with a string of well-packaged concepts and futuristic vernacular (sleeves, stacks, cross-sleeves, slagged stacks, Neo-Cs), but there’s a void at its core. It singularly fails use the dependable detective story framework to explore the philosophical ramifications of its universe – except in lip service – a future where death is impermanent, and even botches the essential goal of creating interesting lead characters (the peripheral ones, however, are at least more fortunate).

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…

Like an antelope in the headlights.

Black Panther (2018)
(SPOILERS) Like last year’s Wonder Woman, the hype for what it represents has quickly become conflated with Black Panther’s perceived quality. Can 92% and 97% of critics respectively really not be wrong, per Rotten Tomatoes, or are they – Armond White aside – afraid that finding fault in either will make open them to charges of being politically regressive, insufficiently woke or all-round, ever-so-slightly objectionable? As with Wonder Woman, Black Panther’s very existence means something special, but little about the movie itself actually is. Not the acting, not the directing, and definitely not the over-emphatic, laboured screenplay. As such, the picture is a passable two-plus hours’ entertainment, but under-finessed enough that one could easily mistake it for an early entry in the Marvel cycle, rather than arriving when they’re hard-pressed to put a serious foot wrong.

You think I contaminated myself, you think I did that?

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

We’re going to find that creature they call the Yeti.

The Abominable Snowman (1957)
The Abominable Snowman follows the first two Quatermass serials as the third Hammer adaptation of a Nigel Kneale BBC work. As with those films, Val Guest takes the directorial reins, to mixed results. Hammer staple Peter Cushing repeats his role from The Creature (the title of the original teleplay). The result is worthy in sentiment but unexceptional in dramatic heft. Guest fails to balance Kneale’s idea of essentially sympathetic creatures with the disintegration of the group bent on finding them.

Nevertheless, Kneale’s premise still stands out. The idea that the Yeti is an essentially shy, peaceful, cryptozoological beastie is now commonplace, but Kneale adds a further twist by suggesting that they are a distinct and in some respects more advance parallel branch in the evolution of hominids (the more extravagant notion that they are in some way extra-dimensional is absent, but with the powers thy sport here wouldn’t be such a leap). Cushing’s Rollason is…