Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Dr. No (1962)

Director: Terence Young
Producers: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman
Writers: Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, Berkely Mather
Cinematographer: Ted Moore
Editor: Peter R. Hunt
Composer: Monty Norman
Theme Song: "The James Bond Theme" by Monty Norman
James Bond (Sean Connery) is sent to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of MI6 agent John Strangways, which M (Bernard Lee) believes is connected to Strangways’ association with the CIA’s investigation into disruptions of rocket launches off of Cape Canaveral.
Working with CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jack Lord) and islander Quarrel (John Kitzmiller), Bond dodges assassins Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson) and the Three Blind Mice and romances conk shell diver Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) on his way to Crab Key, where Dr. Julius No (Joseph Wiseman), a member of SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion), is plotting to sabotage the U.S. Project Mercury space program.
In sharp contrast to future Bond outings, Dr. No downplays the action in favor of mystery; this would be all fine and dandy, were it not for how pedestrian and uninteresting this mystery plot is. By not knowing No's plot until the end of the movie, the film lacks any suspense. Even when No's plot is revealed, it doesn't make much sense nor is it ever explained what he would achieve by doing this. Furthermore, though Joseph Wiseman's quiet, sinister presence is effective, the script gives No far too little to do for him to make any real impression.
As bad as Dr. No is written, the character this film really fails with is Honey Ryder. By having no connection to either Bond or No, Honey is literally just there to give Bond someone to rescue and 
screw at the end. It doesn't help that Honey comes off as a bimbo, given ridiculous dialogue about self-educating herself and selling conk shells. Add in Ursula Andress' dazed performance and an obviously dubbed over voice (provided by Nikki Van Der Zyl) and you've got a pretty pathetic excuse for a Bond girl.
But while Dr. No lacks in substance, it has plenty of style. The Jamaican locations and sets are gorgeous, particularly Dr. No's lair, and Terence Young gives the film a classy, slick look that would suggest a much larger budget than what he really had to work with. The colorful supporting cast are engaging and fun to watch, particularly Jack Lord and John Kitzmiller. In addition, a lot of the classic Bond trademarks can be found here, such as the iconic Monty Norman theme, the Walther PPK and Bond's rapport with M and Miss Moneypenny. 
But the real ace card here is Sean Connery. As written, James Bond is a split personality; on one side, he's a suave, charming gentleman with a devil-may-care attitude and an insatiable appetite for women. But on the other side, he's a cold-blooded, ruthless killer who will do whatever is necessary to accomplish his mission. While his successors tend to favor one side over the other, Connery hits that balance perfectly, effortlessly switching between lustful socialite and lethal killer. Though he's yet to develop Bond's signature quips and humor, Connery proves even in this first film why he is still considered the definitive Bond to this day.
Dr. No is certainly an exception to the "part one is the best" rule for film franchises. With its dated action scenes, underdeveloped mystery and non-threatening villains, the film lacks the thrills, sex appeal and humor that have come to define Bond films. But what it does have is impressive visuals, a fun, campy tone and Sean Connery leading a stellar cast, which is enough to make this first outing an enjoyable introduction to the world of James Bond.

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