{‘Audit Season’ is a segment where I break down my personal experiences and the world building details of a property. Each entry contains my musing on the world building nature of the segments as well as how these stories affected my life.}

Looks like I’m running two audits concurrently this time. M*A*S*H will continue on its own accords, and I’ll be adding Bond movies as we go.

As with all my audits, one of my objectives is ‘completion’. In this case I don’t just watch the films, I also scour the extra features on the Blu-Rays, watch with the commentaries and listen to podcasts to say up to date. ( James Bond Radio is one of the best ) I also try to view the property in its entirety, which can sometimes create a few issues.

In regards to Bond, I’ve tried to start as early as I can, but I’m not able to find the 1954 CBS ‘Casino Royale’ with Barry Nelson as Bond, so I will be starting with Dr. No, and proceeding in production order. I plan to include David Niven’s Casino Royale and Taliafilm’s Never Say Never Again after the full run of the EON Bond films.

Now no more talk, let’s explore…

dr no

DR. NO – released Oct 1962

Director – Terence Young

Screenplay – Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, Berkley Mather

Runtime: 110min

Okay so I will admit that until I watched for this audit, I probably hadn’t seen Dr. No in 20 years. (half the reason to do an audit in the first place!) Not since it was part of that VHS set they released in the early ’90’s, the ones where my brothers and I all got copies of different Bond movies but I insisted they all be kept in MY room, for the sake of completion, you see. In many ways I was coming to this film fresh from that perspective, since all I really remembered was the ‘dragon’ tank, Dr. No’s collapsing island base and of course Ursula Andress. (full disclosure: the whole ‘Ursula Andress emerges from the sea’ thing didn’t have anywhere near the kind of affect on me twenty years ago as it would now – I recall it because I’ve been conditioned to remember this iconic image by 55 years of media)

andress

Would you believe Sean Connery isn’t my favourite Bond? I mean he was, until Casino Royale was released. Being a child of the 80’s I was born into an age when Bond movies had lost their way (wait until we get to the later Moore and the Dalton films, I have a whole essay prepared on the perceived soullessness of Bond films in the 1980’s.) What I’m saying is I never had an exceptional association between media culture, sex, and Connery. Until Craig, he simply was the best representation of what Bond was meant to be. I have no hate for any Bond actor, but I often use Roger Moore as a yardstick for making fun of other actors (I consider David Tennant the ‘Roger Moore’ of Doctor Who’s) Lazenby was a forgettable Bond in one of the best films. Dalton was a gritty alternate universe Bond reboot displaced by a quantum fluctuation into our metasphere for two movies. Brosnan was the perfect distillation of Bond’s characteristics for effective marketing, but never seemed to bring ‘himself’ to the role. Craig is my Bond, if only because he runs counter to so many normalized Bond expectations (at least in Casino Royale – by the time we reach Spectre he’s become a charicature of himself all over again, something that happens the longer a Bond stays around) but we won’t go deep into the other Bond’s until it’s time. So today we settle in with my second favourite Bond for his six (out of seven) movies.

connery

In terms of the world Dr. No builds for Bond, most all of the classic elements are here (there’s even a few elements that never get carried forward.) This is definitely the SLOWEST of the Bond films, but that’s a reflection more on the time the movie was made rather than the quality of the movie itself. It can’t be forgotten that the ‘action movie’ was a reasonably recent innovation at this time, it’s first real incarnation agruably being traced to Hitchcock’s North By Northwest three years prior. Dr. No plays more at a classic ‘suspense/thriller’ pace than the more modern breakneck ‘action’ pace. It lacks the quintessential ‘opening stunt’ that becomes the hallmark of later films, but this is a time when the film is still more concerned about ‘story’ rather than spectacle. What it DOES have is remarkable; Bond and Moneypenny’s delightful flirting is on full display, the epic Bernard Lee as M is as British as they come, Felix Lighter is here, even Q is here (if not played by Desmond Llewellyn) so we’re not stepping into un-built world. Bond has a history in his job as well as with other characters. M refers to Bond’s beretta pistol failing him on his last assignment and leaving him laid up in hospital for several days. Rather than being ‘introduced’ to a character and their world, the audience is ‘dropped into’ the action here, and Bond becomes the arrow we follow through the plot.

dr no driving

Bond himelf is introduced during a game of baccarat, tying the casino/gambling/risk taking nature of our protagonist into the audiences first impression of him. One thing that can be said about Bond, especially in the early films, is that one should not look too hard for a ‘character arc’. Bond starts out as Bond, and ends as Bond. In between he is threatened by a tarantula, chased in his car, murders a hitman, sleeps with at least three women, kills some more people, has dinner with Dr. No and orders his captors henchmen around. The point of Bond here is that he’s the very best at what he does. There isn’t anything for Bond to ‘learn’, no place for him to ‘grow’ because the story isn’t about Bond becoming a more complete character, it’s about how Bond stops the bad guys. At this point in the franchise villains who challenge Bond as a character haven’t yet appeared. Dr. No may appeal to Bond’s sense of grandeur and luxury, but he doesn’t posit a real conflict or choice.

plastic suit

Wait, what’s Dr. No’s plan again really? He’s using a nuclear powered magnetic beam (?) to interfere with American rockets, whether they be space launches or missile tests. Interfere to what end? That’s never entirely made clear either. Dr. No feels rejected by both the Soviet’s and the American’s because neither of them wanted him in their rocket programs, so he decides to… damage the reputation of those who rejected him? I mean Dr. No sets the standard for Bond villains with his mechanical hands, ridiculously secret/super base, army of henchmen and attractive women, but he has the weakest plan of them all, or maybe his plan is much more sophisticated, we just never get to find out what the end game is.

Bond’s end game is pretty clear though – and if there’s any question it’s made cystal when he cuts the boat he & Honey Rider are in free from their rescuers. I know I made a huge deal about sexism when I talked about the feature film M*A*S*H and you would think I’d need to do the same thing here, but I’m choosing not to for a very specific reason: Bond’s sexist, womanzing ways are a hallmark of this franchise. M*A*S*H is a hilarious, gritty look at the horrors of war through the eyes of people who live it. It’s about real people dealing with harsh realities, and addressing the sexism used in the humour lets us discuss and understand how attitudes have changed in five decades about what is acceptable and what is not. Bond and Dr. No do not have these concerns or objectives. Bond as a franchise perpetuates itself on Bond’s attitude, his appeal as a womanizer and an alpha male. Being critical of sexism in Bond is like being critical of bad acting in the WWE. It doesn’t make the fanchise untouchable, I just won’t come after it for anything more than the most egregious offenses, and surprisingly Dr. No doesn’t carry an example of Bond’s sexism in any greater proportion than other upcoming films. Sure, he’s pretty heavy handed with the Photographer character, and it’s difficult to escape the ‘woman as subordinate’ approach that was prevalent in the 1960’s’ but I know there will be far more… effective examples to cite as they come up.

dr no lair

The collapsing super-lair. Probably the most emblamatic climax in any Bond film. This movie establishes that trope solidly and permanently. Part of just how mythic all of this appears is due to the amazing production design by Ken Adam. Let’s forget Bond for a minute. Let’s forget the cars and the women and focus on the one element that REALLY stands out as purely ‘Bond’ – the set design.

dent

I mean just look at the lighting in that iconic scene. So much of what ‘Bond’ is to us in the modern age is due to the eye of Ken Adam. In the same way ‘Trek TOS will five years from Dr. No, the choice of bright, solid colours, and diagonal lines creates a distinct visual ‘language’ for what Bond will look like. Though the film approaches itself as if it were a straightlaced spy thriller, the production design speaks to something larger, campier, more ostentatious than a simple game of cold war cat-and-mouse. It LOOKS like a Bond movie before a ‘Bond’ movie had established exactly what that meant.

Essentially Dr. No doesn’t know just what it is going to become, what it’s main character is going to mean to the cultural zeitgiest. We look at it now as a slow, somewhat “A to B” direct story compared to what came later, where as the movie stands on its own in the 1962 frame as an excellent choice for action and suspense. What would become the Bond tradition of visiting numerous picturesque international locations isn’t quite realized here. Jamaica is beautiful in the Blu-ray restoration, but its the ONLY locale in the film. It fits the theme, but not the ‘proportion’ we see in later installments.

What matters is that everything Bond needs is already here. There isn’t any portion of what we consider to be ‘Bond’ that is missing. (Okay the gadgets, he doesn’t really have any gadgets here, but that can be the ONLY missing element) He even starts out with something that would’ve made a huge difference to the early Bond plots: A girlfriend!

sylvia t

Most people forget about Sylvia Trench, Bond’s extremely understanding ‘partner’ outside of work. She’ll show up again in From Russian With Love but that’ll be it. Once upon a time the producers tapped her to appear in the first six Bond films, but I suppose watching your double-O boyfriend head out everyday can get a little trying: “Goodbye dear, I’ll be home tomorrow. I have to sleep with two women between now and then. One will be duplicitous and eventually end up dead, while the other will think she’s coming home with me until after the credits roll.” “Have a good day at the office dear!” It feels like there was a desire to build a bigger ‘home’ for Bond outside his adventures, a place for his character to show; a home, a girlfriend, an easier life to come back to when all the super-spying and lady-boning becomes too much. This is of course abandoned in later films, and even in the most ‘back to basic’s reboot’ they could manage with Craig, they never return to this idea of Bond as a ‘regular’ person, with a regular life.

So Dr. No is actually a more entertaining watch than I expected. Everything about Bond is here and ready to go, and even though the film itself is *painfully* slow in some places, so much of Bond-fun is there that you kinda forget. I am grateful that I’ve decided to take on this Bond audit, because otherwise I’m not sure WHEN I would’ve sat down to watch Dr. No. If it’s been a while since you’ve seen it, sit down and take a watch. It’s better than you remember, believe me.

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