As we start counting down to “Quantum of Solace,” I’ve decided to do a series of reviews looking back at all the previous Bond movies, starting from the very beginning and culminating in my opinion of the new film when it is released in November. I’ll be doing these at least once a week, probably more often given that “Quantum” is roughly 12 weeks away and I have 21 movies to cover. (22 if I decide to include “Never Say Never Again.”)
“Dr. No” is an odd experience now, because it is really almost two movies in one. The first hour is a pretty well told hard-boiled detective story with moments of suspense, interesting characters and dry humor that works well. Then, not long after the glorious introduction of Ursula Andress rising from the sea like a Greek or Roman goddess, the whole thing turns into a cheesy sci-fi movie with corny plot developments and silly melodrama.
This is a movie that would be lost on today’s younger audiences, which are accustomed to explosions and car chases every seven or so minutes. It’s clearly not a film for those with shorter attention spans. And the special effects are clearly not up to par with what we expect from movies today — a criticism that can be directed at many of the older Bond films, even up to and including the more recent Pierce Brosnan outings.
In fact, this one really does play like a rough draft, because it lacks so many of the more polished touches that came with later films. There is no pre-credits action sequence, no title theme song, no real gadgets to speak of and only two explosions that I can remember. One comes when a car goes over a cliff in the movie’s only car chase scene, and the other is when the villain’s fortress goes up in flames at the very end.
Yet there are iconic moments, such as the introduction of Bond himself, when Sean Connery becomes the first actor to utter the immortal words, “Bond … James Bond.” In fact, Connery is really the glue that holds this one together, which you could say about most of his Bond movies. As things become increasingly cheesy and silly, Bond himself is always a believable hero.
This is one of Connery’s better performances in the role, because he plays it really straight and is more or less a hardass from start to finish. Bond here is seen as a no-nonsense detective who has to rely on his wits to survive and will do whatever is necessary to carry out his mission. That’s how the character should be portrayed. Unfortunately, in later years, some actors (including, at times, Connery himself) would deviate from that standard.
I have some criticisms — and yes, there are things about which I can find fault with practically all of these movies. For one thing, I had mentioned that the film turns into sci-fi corn after the one-hour mark. There is a sequence where our heroes are being pursued by what Bond’s sidekick and Ursula Andress both believe to be a “dragon” — and turns out to be a motorized tank that has flamethrowers as weapons. This is truly one of the sillier moments in the film.
There are also some moments that now play as racist. Just moments before the dragon sequence comes a scene where Bond orders the sidekick, Quarrel, to “fetch my shoes.” (Quarrel is a black man.) Also, after Quarrel is initially presented as a smart, tough and very competent character, he then is made into a buffoon with the superstitious belief in dragons, being treated as Bond’s lackey, whipping the rum flask out every five minutes, etc.
There also is an uncomfortable aspect toward the end of the film that is not often talked about, and which initially had never occurred to me, even after multiple viewings, until I read about it in Deborah Lipp’s excellent work, “The Ultimate James Bond Fan Book” (which I highly recommend).
In the book, Lipp says an argument could be made that the movie eroticizes the act of rape. At one point, the Ursula Andress character tells Bond about how she was raped by her landlord after she was living alone following the mysterious disappearance of her father. Later, after she and Bond are captured, she is dragged away by the villain’s guards during the scene where they are having dinner with Dr. No.
At this point, she is fully dressed. When Bond comes to her rescue later on, she is not wearing pants. Clearly, it can be inferred that the guards raped her, although since the movie is moving at such a fast pace by this point, it’s one of those details that can be missed. She then starts to get it on with Bond in the boat after the island has been blown to smithereens, and it’s an uncomfortable moment — almost, Lipp says, as if the character’s having been victimized is intended to add to her attractiveness.
The Bond theme itself is played over and over, to the most mundane of actions. Bond lights a cigarette, the theme starts playing. He comes back into his hotel room and checks for any intruders while he was gone, the theme starts playing. It gets silly after a while.
Finally, one of the biggest problems is that the villain himself is lame. Dr. No is not even seen until well past the first hour, and they build up to his introduction in ways that really do make him seem sinister and frightening, but it’s all sizzle and no steak. Once you actually see Joseph Wiseman, it’s anticlimactic. He just does not deliver as the big badass we were being set up for, and his mechanical hands don’t really seem like anything more than a plot gimmick.
My rating overall: 7 out of 10.
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