“I admire your luck, Mr…?”
“Bond, James Bond”
I have not written an analysis of a film for months – trying to kick off the A-Z features, the Incredible Soundtracks is something I have wanted to do for many years and , to top it off, I am trying to catalogue my notes on a huge book titled A Critical Introduction to Film. The idea of analysing a film seemed so time-consuming. But, one thing I seem to have consumed greatly in the last few weeks is the James Bond franchise. I am reading Licence to Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Franchise by James Chapman as I re-watch the franchise – beginning with Dr No. Whilst at the same time re-listening to The Hollywood Saloon podcasts, titled Bond Never Dies. Inevitably, I would highly recommend these books and podcasts as the vast majority of ideas and research would be credited to both these sources.
Dr No was the first James Bond feature-film at the cinema. The first Ian Fleming 007 book, Casino Royale, was made into a TV-film for a TV-series whereby they adapted classic books. The TV-film of Casino Royale had been adapted with an American ‘Jimmy’ Bond and was completely different to what soon became James Bond under Eon Productions. Harry Saltzman and Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli nabbed the rights and the first James Bond feature-film was in production.
Introducing the Icon
Introducing James Bond, even in Dr No was a moment that would never be forgotton. Sylvia Trench introduces herself – “Trench, Sylvia Trench … and you are?”, cure the Bond theme and Connery’s impeccable delivery “Bond, James Bond.”. It is worth noting that this beginning is actually incredibly fast-paced – finding out what he is expected to do, Bond (Connery) has 3-hours to get prepared and be on his flight to Jamaica – but not before Sylvia Trench lays herself at Bond’s feet. In his shirt and playing golf. Women fall for James Bond but, though over the years the way this happens is changed and adapted, for the vast majority of the 60’s and 70’s, James Bond’s charm and animalism ultimately wins over women and they give him what he wants. Dr No is no different in how women are subordinate to James Bond and, ultimately, men. This is iconic in James Bond – women are drawn to him and, though this seems quite possible with a young Sean Connery in role, the fifty-something Roger Moore in A View To A Kill requires a little bit more convincing and, to some extent fails.
Though iconic moments are constantly introduced in films following Dr No, the basic set-up is established including the gun-barrell. Goodfellas ends with an explicit reference to The Great Train Robbery (1903) and, to some extent you can see the similarity between this gunbarrel sequence and what became the only way to start a James Bond film … until Casino Royale (2006). Chapman notes how Dr No is equally steeped in colour – “from the Pop-Art title-sequence”.
One thing that is apparent in the vast majority of these films is the exceptionally racist elements in casting. Other than Professer Dent, the characters which are seen as inferior to Bond and the ‘good guys’ are, ultimately, not caucasian. Dr No and Miss Taro are of Asian descent whilst Quarrell – though initially introduced as dangerous and violent, when we find out he is ‘one of the good guys’ he is clearly used as the ‘henchman’ for James Bond – the animalism as he holds Marguerite LeWars, Dr No’s ‘oriental’ photographer, and even hurts her. Chapman additionally notes how James Bond himself even orders Quarrell to get his shoes – hardly on the same ‘level’ as Bond and Felix Leiter.
Bond as a Cold Killer
Throughout the series, we see James Bond as an exceptionally cold-killer. In Dr No his execution of Professer Dent (Anthony Dawson) is cruel and heartless – though, in fairness, Dent clearly had no problem in killing Bond. Prior to shooting Dent, as Dent clicks-empty his gun: “That’s a Smith and Weston – and you’ve had your six”.
Positive Press… and not a fan of Connery
Critics were well aware that this was the first of many James Bond films and this, to some extent, divided critics. Some praising the accepted norm of Bonds characterisation – “all in the day’s work, now for the next please” noted Dilys Powell, but ironically, on the first outing Connery was not accepted whole-heartedly as the Film Monthly Bulletin notedhow “Sean Connery is such a disappointingly wooden and boorish Bond”. Derek Hill claimed Connery was a “telly-commercial salesman”
As Chapman observed, the colour – and some film posters – were clearly influnenced by Pop-Art and the work Andy Warhol and Lichtenstein whilst the sets, designed by Ken Adam, had an almost German Expressionistic style to them – especially in Dent’s phone-box room to Dr No. I personally felt that the sleek curves and simplicity evoked work from the Bauhaus too. At the time, the film was released two years after Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom and even drew comparisons with the “sado-masochistic” aspects prevalent in both films – the casual sex and cold-blooded violence inevitably playing a part to this. Ironically, Chapman notes additionally how Bond is a voyeur at multiple points – think of the iconic Ursula Andress emerging from the ocean in bikini, knife on her side, shell in hand… Bond spies her, without her realising, only emerging to flirt and seduce her.
Despite some negative press, the film was ultimately a success. The films were edited so that the sex and volence was limited – no blood squirting from wounds when characters are shot. In many cases, there is no blood. Additionally, the sex is hinted out and we never see excessive nudity. It aims for a broad audience and manages to achieve this. Ian Fleming seemed to appreciate the film – noting how “those who’ve read the book are likely to be disappointed, but those who haven’t will find it a wonderful movie”.
Fact is, Dr No was successful in England and in parts of Europe, but it did not break the world yet. The film was perfect to begin the Bond franchise with – small scale, simple in execution,. limited – but visually tourist-like location. The next film needed to improve upon what had been established… and it did so …