28 April 2018

Yo, Dr No

So, which Bond to watch, after having revisited the four Daniel Craig movies?

Yesterday evening I watched Dr No.  (Oh, yes—I did.)

Obviously, this was made for peanuts compared to any later Bond production;  and they made it, focusing on the task, without any (or, much) thought to it being The First Item in The Franchise.

Like [the tone recaptured in] the Craig—and first, IMO, in the Dalton—era, the tone is borderline dangerous, there is an edge which custom, and the winks at the audience, have not yet dulled.  Many feel that Connery has played the role best;  and here he plays it more nearly stripped-down than later.  The observation will not change anyone’s opinion, but in his (thoroughly respectable) tenure, Connery (and director Terry Young, here) defined the character as a blend of the steely-nerved killer on Ian Fleming’s pages, and the suave playboy whom Terry Young modeled.  I’m not writing in reproof of anyone;  but it was a choice.  I am not saying that he would not have had any quarrel if they kept the character to Fleming’s text, but recall that Patrick McGoohan declined to play the role because Bond was a loose libertine, “morally flexible,” as Martin Blank might put it . . . although arguably, that aspect is part of why Bond became a cultural icon in the ’60s.

On balance, I am a little surprised to report, I enjoy Dr No quite a great deal—probably better than any Connery Bond other than From Russia With Love.  I wonder if it is worth delving into any correlation between this, and the fact that gadgetry, and the grand exploding set-piece, would soon assume signature prominence in the brand.  Sure, they blow up the evil Doctor’s bauxite mine, but they did not yet have the budget to linger over it.  Maybe in 1962 they could not have done otherwise, but I do find myself deducting points for casting an actress whose lines had to be looped.  Sure, Ursula Andress is (the jury has long since been out) easy on the eyes—although her swimming outfit’s bottom has lines suggestive of Tatiana’s of Novosibirsk.  But I see it not so much as an exigency of the immediate production, as the start of a franchise tic . . . both the casting of foreign actors who cannot deliver their lines in English (I know Gert Frobe is a general favorite, but now, I can hardly bear to watch his face on screen) and the casting of female actors, of any nationality other than Russian, as Russian spies. (To be clear:  I understand that Honey Ryder is not a Russian spy . . . .)

Of course, Quarrel had to perish, and Honey to survive, otherwise that final shot of the boat would have had less appeal.

We learn something, I suppose, about Bond’s character, though it is nothing to admire, when he guns down Prof. Dent.  Maybe I am coming too fresh from Judi Dench’s M, who found frequent irritation in Bond’s killing targets whom she would have preferred to interrogate, but I cannot help finding Dent’s execution gratuitous and vindictive.  Of course, Bond’s coolly expert observation—That's a Smith & Wesson, and youve had your six—is one of the dramatic highlights of the screenplay (and Bond would not have known that for a certainty, perhaps, until he switched the light on).  But whether this is perhaps a 21st-c. retrofit, I consider that this means that Dent was a pretty safe capture at this point, and not just meat to be cut down.

And perhaps it is a little goofy that Bond asks that Felix Leiter give him a tow, only to let the rope slip for the final camera shot. Wasnt that pretty much (so to speak) the boat they were in, before Leiter’s craft hove to?

Again, perhaps a bit of a retrofit, but I am a bit disappointed that the catalyst for the villain’s demise, was his deformity.  When the evil Doctor (and, he is the evil Doctor, so, sure, he deserves to snuff it) dies in the radioactive pool, because his metal hands cannot grasp and pull him back to safety—whatever else we may say, it is not a “clean kill.”

I’m going to go ahead and make a clean breast of this:  while it is not the sole reason, I suppose, I am happiest about Dr No when I reflect that its (and Connery’s) success was the seed of Mel Brooks’ Get Smart.

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