Thursday, 9 June 2011

Doctor No (1962)

Dr.No (d. Terence Young, 1962) is an efficient and exciting action movie which is a rather unlikely candidate for immortality. But as the film which introduced James Bond, one of the few film franchises to have lasted forty years with few obvious signs of waning public enthusiasm, it is hugely significant. The "British" character of the series has declined in recent years but is very evident in this first film which delights in snobbery, upper-middle class Savile Row chic and the lingering notion that really only the British can be trusted to sort out the problems of the world.
The film also made a star out of Sean Connery, one of the relatively few British actors to have become a genuine Hollywood player and a resourceful, cunning actor who makes Bond simultaneously brutal and sophisticated, a paid killer whose tailored suits are carefully cut to conceal his gun. Connery exudes a frank sexual charisma, revelling in the new permissiveness of 1960s British cinema and happy to kiss and kill with the same relish.
Having been tutored in style by director Terence Young,Connery uses his rough Edinburgh background as part of the character, providing an edge which a more poised actor - such as the mooted Cary Grant - might have lacked. He put a personal stamp on Bond which subsequent actors have never been able to remove. The casual misogyny of Bond's character, along with his willingness to shoot an unarmed man, isn't excused or softened here but presented as part of the man. Subsequent Bond films softened both these elements.
Terence Young, a director who did little of note outside the Bond series, marshals his resources with great style, using well chosen Jamaican locations to further the plot rather than for picturesque effect. His staging of the key set-pieces was influential on the later Bond films and on the action genre itself. Editor Peter Hunt deserves much credit for the pace of the film. The look of Dr. No was influential too, thanks to Ken Adam's stylised and witty sets. The decision to use the John Barry Seven to record Monty Norman's 'James Bond Theme' was particularly inspired. Everything which is pivotal to the popular success of the Bond series can be found here, from Maurice Binder's opening gun-barrel motif to the explosive action of the climax, although later series entries lacked the dark, sly humour which is found here.


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Volume 29, No.345, October 1962, page 135

DR. NO (1962)

Secret Service operative James Bond is sent to Jamaica by his chief, M, to investigate the murder of a British agent and his secretary. He survives various attempts upon his life made by Dent, a geologist friend of the dead man, and Miss Taro, an Oriental decoy, at the same time discovering that the murders are linked with a certain Dr. No. Though Quarrel, a coloured ally of Bond's, is terrified of Crab Key, Dr. No's closely guarded offshore retreat, he agrees to help Bond investigate. They land on the beach, where they are joined by Honey, a blonde, shell-collecting naturist. Spotted by a patrol-boat, tracked down by a death-ray land-ship, the intruders soon find themselves prisoners and learn that the insane, power-hungry Dr. No is utilising an elaborate nuclear laboratory to divert the course of rockets projected from Cape Canaveral. Bond escapes from his cell through a ventilator shaft, braves radio-active peril and eventually succeeds in tampering with Dr. No's control-board. Honey is rescued, a motor-boat is commandeered, and escape is made good a matter of seconds before Crab Key and its dictator explode.

Once the cluttered preliminaries are out of the way - for instance the film is obviously destined to be the first of a James Bond series, so M must be glimpsed at his London desk - the story proceeds in traditional thick-ear fashion from vamps and violent death to the fitting grandeur of a final holocaust. One by one Bond's enemies are rendered brutally hors-de-combat, while Bond himself survives tarantulas and cliff-side car collisions at the expense of little more than a few bruises and a lot of perspiration. And yet strangely enough excitement, and humour, and the glamour of corruption, are all rather lacking. Just as, say, The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuseseemed to wander anachronistically through the motions of once splendid (and why not still?) devices that Lang no longer retained much apparent faith in, so Dr. No misses the genuine sadistic, sybaritic relish attributed to Fleming's novels, and the narrative invention of even second-rate Hitchcock. Something really new is needed, if not in the incidents then in the telling of them.

Terence Young's direction has pace but little real vigour; the tortures and the killers are comparatively tame, nowhere near bizarre enough; the women, apart from Dr. No's ultra-polite Chinese receptionist, are sexless and dull; and Scan Connery is such a disappointingly wooden and boorish Bond that the script's touches of grim humour go for less than they need. Jack Lord as Bond's American colleague and Joseph Wiseman (though surely a shade too inscrutable) as Dr. No both catch the eye, but their roles are insufficiently developed. The finale, on the other hand, is well contrived, with exactly the right enjoyment in destruction for its own sake and no jarring evidence of model-shots. The producers could well be on to a good thing with these stories: but, before embarking on a sequel, they ought to take a look at Spione orThe Big Sleep or Secret Agent, and then they might feel more encouraged to throw caution to the winds and just let things rip.

The Monthly Film Bulletin was published by the British Film Institute between 1934 and 1991. Initially aimed at distributors and exhibitors as well as filmgoers, it carried reviews and details of all UK film releases. In 1991, the Bulletin was absorbed by Sight and Sound magazine.

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