Thursday, July 11, 2013
DR. NO is where it all began.
31-year-old Scotsman Sean Connery was a virtual unknown when producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman cast him as Ian Fleming’s Agent 007. The confidence he oozes while playing the coolest man in the world is matched by director Terence Young (who made two more Bonds); credited screenwriters Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, and Berkeley Mather; composers Monty Norman and John Barry (whose orchestra plays Norman’s iconic 007 theme); and everyone else before and behind Ted Moore’s camera.
Almost everything you know about the Bond movies—the psychedelic main titles, Bond’s flirtation with secretary Moneypenny, exotic locations, “shaken, not stirred,” the gunbarrel opening, wry one-liners mixed with shocking violence—started here and continued right up until Daniel Craig took over the 007 role in 2008’s CASINO ROYALE.
The screenplay sticks fairly closely to Fleming’s 1958 novel, which would turn out to be the exception, rather than the rule. Bond, first seen playing chemin de fer in a London casino (where he identifies himself as “Bond. James Bond.” for the first time), is sent to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of a fellow British agent named Strangways.
Teaming up with CIA man Felix Leiter (the pre-FIVE-0 Jack Lord) and boatman Quarrel (John Kitzmiller), Bond follows the clues to the Caribbean island of Crab Key, where he discovers a gorgeous bikini-clad beachcomber, Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress), and the fortress of Chinese supercriminal Doctor No (Joseph Wiseman, who “wisely” underplays megalomania), who plots to use radio beams to sabotage the United States’ space program.
Marked by Ken Adam’s gloriously futuristic set design and Peter Hunt’s taut editing (he would later direct some Bonds), DR. NO is splendid pulp that set the standard for Bonds to come. James isn’t yet an indestructible superhero (one wonders if he vomited in stress after a nocturnal run-in with a tarantula), and future films would grow bloat with little interest in plot cohesiveness. Due to budget limitations, Bond’s travails in No’s obstacle course are scaled down from the novel (no fight with a giant squid!), and, of course, Honey isn’t stripped nude and left to killer crabs (this level of luridness was unusual for Fleming).
United Artists released DR. NO in the U.S. in 1962, seven months after its London premiere.