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Bondage with Baldwin: ‘Dr. No’ (1962)

“Bond. James Bond”. The myth, the legend, the men. The release of the latest 007 adventure, No Time to Die, is only seven weeks away, so what better time than now to begin revisiting the entire franchise? I love the James Bond series to my very core, but have never actually taken the time to spew forth my feelings on each entry in writing. That changes now. Are you ready for Bondage with Baldwin? Does that sound too kinky and weird? Too bad. Just roll with it. Close your eye and everything will be alright. And remember, the safe word is “007”, but you have to say it in a disapproving manner.

Dr. No (1962)

Directed by Terence Young
Produced by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman
Screenplay by Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, and Berkely Mather
Based on the novel by Ian Fleming
Starring Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, John Kitzmiller, Jack Lord, Joseph Wiseman, Anthony Dawson, Zena Marshall, Eunice Gayson, Lois Maxwell, and Bernard Lee

The original EON 007 film is an odd duck. At least 80% of the classic elements are already present from the first frame. Producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman are behind the wheel, with director Terence Young navigating for them. While John Barry is not the film’s composer, he was nonetheless involved. The gunbarrel sequence is in place, followed by a wild ’60s music video during the titles. Peter Hunt’s trademark editing style is already firmly established. Ken Adam’s wondrous production design is on full display. The list goes on.

Yet it is in the missing details that a lot of interesting things are found. We get music over the titles, but do not yet have a title song. Instead a medley of Monty Norman’s “James Bond Theme” and Byron Lee and the Dragonaires’ “Kingston Calypso” played out while vibrant colors flash and dance about the screen. The other thing that is missing is scale. At its core, Dr. No is not a blockbuster, but instead a flashy detective film.

The film opens with the murder of an MI6 head of station in Jamaica (and his secretary) being murdered by three assassins. When communication with the station has broken off and the body of the secretary is found, MI6 chief M (Bernard Lee) sends agent James Bond (Sean Connery) to investigate. The remainder of the film sees James puttering about Jamaica trying to figure out who killed them, why, and if it has anything to do with the radar toppling originating in that area that has been affecting U.S. rocket launches. Along the way, Bond makes three friends in CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jack Lord), a local fisherman named Quarrel (John Kitzmiller), and a local shell diver named Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress).

If it isn’t clear already, the title of the film hails from its villain’s name, Dr. Julius No. Backed by colorful villains like The Three Blind Mice (a trio of “blind” assassins) and the dastardly Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson), No is an important member of S.P.E.C.T.R.E.. What’s that you say? It stands for “Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion“. Which is really just a long way of saying that S.P.E.C.T.R.E. is malevolent independent intelligence organization that hires itself out to highest bidder to carry out schemes for profit, when they aren’t up to their own brand of evil nonsense. The latter is what they are up to here, as yes, Dr. No is indeed responsible for the aforementioned rocket toppling which is interfering with the United States’ space program.

I mentioned earlier that Bond putters around Jamaica and I specifically chose that word. Despite being on a mission that involves investigating the murder of a fellow serviceman, 007 doesn’t seem in much of a hurry to get the job done. He frequently sidesteps more direct methods of solving the problem, instead often opting to come at things casually, especially if a woman is involved. He lazes about enough that even Leiter comments on his lack of punctuality, tapping his watch at one point as James finally strolls up to their meeting spot hours late.

Still, despite a lack of urgency, there is a simmering ruthlessness brewing under the surface of Sean Connery’s first time at bat in the role. He completely inhabits it from his introduction up through the ends credits, immediately commanding the screen with an instantly iconic performance. It’s really no wonder that this film sparked an entire series.

The heightened tone and electric action sequences that punctuate the film further enhance its power, as do the quirky and pulpy performances of the supporting cast members. Jack Lord’s Felix Leiter might be more of a square G-man than Bond, but he doesn’t put up with an ounce of James’ crap. Leiter has not yet become the pseudo-doormat for Bond that he would later in the series.

Dr. No himself is as regal as he is cruel, with Wiseman imbuing his performance with an intriguing air of mystery so palpable that one almost forgets the gimmick of him having powerful metal hands. Ursula Andress and John Kitzmiller, while saddled with less intelligent and more superstitious characters like Honey and Quarrel (respectively), still manage to hold their own against the rest. What they lack in world knowledge, they make up for in street sense and moxie.

All of this and I still haven’t brought up the London-based supporting cast. Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell are fantastic in their short turns here, dishing out fully three-dimensional characters in a matter of minutes. One also mustn’t forget Eunice Gayson as Bond’s would-be girlfriend, Sylvia Trench. Her character sadly only lasted two films, but she nonetheless makes her mark.

I think I have gushed about Dr. No enough at this point. To be fair, it’s an excellent film and probably one of the more underrated entries in the series. I suspect the lack of a blockbuster-sized plot is partially to blame and that’s a shame, because it deserves just as much love as the rest of the Connery era films.

Our Next Mission: 1963’s From Russia with Love

Bondage with Baldwin

Casino Royale (1954) | Dr. No | From Russia with Love | Goldfinger | Thunderball
Casino Royale (1967) | You Only Live Twice | On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Diamonds Are Forever | Live and Let Die | The Man with the Golden Gun
The Spy Who Loved Me | Moonraker | For Your Eyes Only | Octopussy
Never Say Never Again | A View to a Kill | The Living Daylights | Licence to Kill
GoldenEye | Tomorrow Never Dies | The World Is Not Enough | Die Another Day
Casino Royale (2006) | Quantum of Solace | Skyfall | Spectre | No Time to Die

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