28 January 2011

BlogalongaBond- DR. NO Review

If you're unfamiliar with the idea of BlogalongaBond, and thought it was actually the name of some Bizarro villain from the Bond series like my frequent collaborator Rob Simpson, head over The Incredible Suit for his explanation of the rather clever idea. Essentially, there are 22 months from now until the release of the 23rd James Bond film, so I'm joining in with reviewing the other 22 films, one per month, between now and then.

First up is Dr. No, in which we meet our hero, James Bond, as played by Sean Connery. He works for MI6, he shags a lot of women, and if you're quite earnestly following this obligatory explanation of who the character is, then it's probable that you have never heard of the cinema before now. In his first adventure, a fellow agent has been murdered while working abroad. Bond goes to Jamaica to puzzle it out and ends up locking horns with the titular doctor on his island base.

Full disclosure- I'm not the world's biggest James Bond fan. Although I've enjoyed Charlie Higson's Young Bond spin-off novels, my participation in BlogalongaBond will mark the first time I've watched most of these films since an ITV marathon when I was 10. And even then, I missed Octopussy entirely. I've always kind of preferred Michael Caine's Harry Palmer, even though I refuse to watch any of the myriad sequels to The Ipcress File. Put it this way- at present, I still count Connery's greatest role to be Henry Jones Sr, and my favourite Bond is Timothy Dalton, so we'll see how that changes in the next two years or so.

What interested me most about Dr. No was how different it is to the following instalments. It doesn't end with the traditional "James Bond Will Return" title card, suggesting to me that perhaps it was never intended to become a huge continuing series as it did.* Don't get me wrong, it sets up many of the hallmarks that would define the series, including M, Moneypenny, the gunbarrel opening, the theme tune, the sexy lady silhouettes in the title sequence, the deformed villain, the deformed villain's numerous arbitrary henchmen and the deformed villain's underground lair when every bit of evil equipment is helpfully annotated with its function.

It seems like a lot on the surface of it, but it still feels different to subsequent instalments. As I remember it, the films get bawdier and more like family adventures even before Connery vacated the role, but this feels much darker than I had remembered. Take the classic scene in which Bond kills Professor Dent, for instance. "That's a Smith and Wesson, and you've had your six" is clearly one of the best putdowns the character has ever had, and he shoots his unarmed would-be assassin dead right after. Imagine if George Lucas got his hands on that? Dent would probably manage to fire an empty gun and miss before Bond killed him, just to take the edge off.

And it's got to be that edge that makes Connery so great in this role. His Bond is practically unstoppable- determined, stubborn and always able to get out of those "You're going to die anyway, so I might as well tell you my plan" situations as easily as he got into them. And the man just oozes cool. Sexual politics may become prickly for me later on, but the three implicit shags he gets in this one seem completely natural. Bond is cool, women sleep with him. Cause, effect.

The most memorable of those three ladies is always going to be Honey Ryder, played by Ursula Andress, whose exit from the sea and arrival on the beach at Crab Key is the single most iconic moment in the entire history of the series. However, of her actual character, there's little to be said. There are vague hints of Pygmalion in there, but as far as I can remember, there's only one woman in these films who Bond doesn't seem to want to fuck, and it's certainly not Honey.

The most memorable villains in this series seem to get their respective films named after them (The Man With The Golden Gun totally doesn't count) and Dr. No is no exception. The trouble is, that while his menacing aura and his fearsome reputation and his nasty prosthetic hands make him memorable, I still can't exactly pinpoint why his evil plan was so... well, evil. Disrupting a space program just seems like a minor inconvenience. I fully expect more histrionic plans for world domination in the following 21 films, but the plan, which does more to set up the looming SPECTRE than add to the character, disappoints when attached to such an interesting villain.

Although much of the series furniture is present, Dr. No's deviation from what I remembered of it makes the start of BlogalongaBond feel like an adventure. Come back as I experience all of these films, at least up to the 1990s, for pretty much the first time. Like most beginnings, the lack of focus on the villain is compensated for by a thorough introduction to James Bond on the screen, with Connery giving a strong performance and prematurely playing the defining role of his career.

* Pure conjecture there- I'm reviewing without doing a lot of research, simply because critiques of this film outdate this review by almost 50 years, so the less influenced I am by other sources, the better.

And now for the first instalment of a regular feature I'm going to call Things I Learned From BlogalongaBond...

#1- There is a man who everybody always calls Pussfeller. It remains to be seen whether or not he actually likes that name.

For a full list of everyone's work on BlogalongaBond so far, click here.

The Mad Prophet Will Return, With From Russia With Love... in February.

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