A Sequential Cinema Series
1953 saw the release of a new spy thriller by Ian Fleming. Spy books were nothing new at the time but became more popular due to Fleming’s new character of James Bond. The cold, calculated MI6 agent came into the world with Casino Royale. Fleming continued the series in novels and short stories yearly until his death in 1964. He also wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a children’s book for his son. Now you have someone to blame for the Child Catcher being a thing. Two years before his passing, his Bond character would come to the silver screen with Dr. No.
The late Sean Connery would bring the character to life. His portrayal would be the standard for years surpassing that of his contemporaries. In recent years, his portrayal would be seen as sexist and archaic. No Time to Die director Cary Joji Fukanaga even called him a rapist. All valid criticism as I do share many of those sentiments. I only knew of Connery being the first theatrical take on the role thanks to pop-cultural osmosis.
As a child of the 90s, I was not familiar with his take. Pierce Brosnan was the bond I grew up seeing in both live-action and video game form. The character outside of GoldenEye 007 (and the underrated 007 Nightfire for you real ones out there) was not someone I gravitated toward. It wasn’t until I was 20 that I decided to watch them all and make a blog series about them. 007 in 23: 23 Days of Bond was a series I did as a young spry idiot trying to write about film. The reviews themselves range from decent to “Yikes, what the heck was I thinking?” Seeing every Bond film daily is not something I would recommend to anyone as it can be a very mixed bag. Yet, it’s magnificent to see how things change from one Bond to the next.
Think of this take the more mature version. This time, we are only doing the 60s in the span of three months. I’ll cover the rest in later batches. No amateur mistakes here. As Kelli in Insecure would say, “You know what that is? Growth.” Let’s begin that growth with Bond: The 60s Six.
Based in part on the sixth novel of the series, Dr. No serves as the introduction to the character rather than diving into the origins of Casino Royale. James Bond heads over to Jamaica due to the disappearance of an agent named Strangways working as station chief for MI6. Once there, Bond begins to investigate until coming across CIA Agent Felix Leiter (Jack Lord). Leiter informs him that the disappearance may be tied to an investigation of his own surrounding a scientist named Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman). With that information, Bond heads on out to Crab Key with island resident Quarrel (John Kitzmiller) where No resides. They both meet a shell hunting beauty named Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) who helps the duo further investigate the island. The group comes face to face with Dr. No with his nefarious plans and now must escape his sinister clutches.
Dr. No is a slow burn of an introduction to the series. It’s not quite the bombast one would expect from later franchise entries. The pace is much slower and methodical than the others. It feels more akin to a procedural drama with hints of thriller thrown in. It is a calmer approach and shows how clever Bond can be. He is skillful at the investigation as he follows his intuition as well as clues. He is also cold and calculated. One moment that shows this is an encounter with geologist R.J. Dent (Anthony Dawson). Dent tried to kill Bond with a tarantula, but Bond is alive and waiting for him. As Dent shoots off and sees Bond, Bond questions him and notices his gun. He says “That’s a Smith and Wesson and you’ve had your six” then kills him. It’s the coldest moment in a Bond film that wouldn’t be replicated until Daniel Craig in Casino Royale (and arguably Dalton’s duology). Connery is marvelous in handling that characteristic of Bond, one of which starts to seem lost. Connery was a great actor as the character, but in retrospect, his personal thoughts and beliefs in life do overshadow his portrayal. The character is already problematic enough as is, let alone an actor adding to the pile.
When it comes to women, it is so archaic to see how he swoons them. It’s hard to be a feminist and love these films because this Bond dude is sketch as hell. It only gets worse later on. Here he is a sexist we all know. It’s most prominent in his flirtation with Miss Moneypenny played by Lois Maxwell. He drops the line that he would take her out, but he’d “be court-martialed for misuse of government property.” That was not even subtle. It’s supposed to be playful between the two, but it does not work today. Don’t hit on your co-workers during work. This isn’t The Office. Outside of that flirtation, his brushes with women are only to bed them down and seduce them. It plays to the male fantasy of being desired by women, but the women are seen as objects and nothing more.
Dr. No does bring about some of the series’ mainstays. There’s the title sequence with the familiar theme that is simplistic but begins Maurice Binder’s lengthy career as the title designer. The theme is unmistakable with John Barry’s arrangement of Monty Norman’s original score hitting the jazz and ooze of the sixties. This theme is only rivaled by the themes to follow. This theme is forever eternal.
Another mainstay is the Bond girl with the introduction of Honey Ryder. Andress’s presence made the mold for everyone after break. She’s a damsel and is someone for Bond to fawn over. Once again, she has one dimension and that’s to be nothing more than someone for Bond to woo and swoon over. It is all very sudden and fast in the connection that does not take time to build. This gets resolved a bit in From Russia With Love with Tatiana.
The cliche of the world-threatening villain also begins here with Dr. No. Does he have a world domination plot afoot? Check. Does he have a disfigurement of sorts? Check. Is he played by a white dude? Double yes. He is not that prominent and his screen appearance is limited to talking and dining with Mr. Bond. He is half-German and half-Chinese. Yet, instead of a mixed-race actor, they went with the whitest dude possible in Joseph Wiseman. Wiseman does a fine job, but Dr. No makes for a memorable title more than a memorable character. In the grand scheme of Bond villains, he ranks in the middle due to nostalgia value, less so for being a threat.
The action is okay for the most part if you love rear projection-filled car chases. There are no gadgets quite yet, so it remains grounded. Most of the action comes from hand-to-hand combat scenes, but even though they are seldom and far from being the best of the series. The scene with the flame-throwing tank disguised as a dragon provides a cool visual, but not much in the way of delivering a stellar action sequence. The action like everything will be more stellar over time. None of the fights would even be in the top ten.
Dr. No is a solid foundation with room to grow even as it’s becoming an artifact of another time. It’s one of the weaker entries in the series that gets by on mere nostalgia from an aging fanbase. Connery’s Bond performance captures his coldness while also being the embodiment of toxic masculinity. It meanders until it picks up the pace. It has its moments, but this is only the beginning of a series that ebbs and flows between great to god awful.
Dr. No: 3 out of 5
James Bond: The 60s Six ⅙ Complete
In two weeks, James Bond heads out to meet the threats of SPECTRE face to face in From Russia With Love, my all-time favorite James Bond outing.