A British hero, an icon, and the driving force behind one of the longest running franchises in film, James Bond has a rich cinematic history. He’s seen a lot, too. Ten Prime Ministers, a moon landing, the end of the cold war and the beginning of countless others, it’s not a stretch to say the times have changed. Bond has countered this with constant reinvention, and now in his seventh incarnation he’s enjoying more popularity than ever. His continuing presence on celluloid is one which carries with it it’s own set of controversies; from the inherent racism and misogyny the material has become infamous for, to his embodiment of an outdated colonial ideology, he is in many ways an objectionable relic.
Recognising and challenging his more unpleasant elements can be depressing when you’re, like us, fans of the series: but he always remains a fascinating subject of debate nevertheless. With the 24th film in the series Spectre set to be released in November, we’re revisiting Bond’s previous adventures to see how he has changed over the years, and to ask what he can still offer us. We’ll have some fun a long the way, too. To start us off, Joe takes a look at Bond’s first cinematic appearance, Dr. No.
Bond, James Bond.
Funny how a three word sentence with only two words in it has come to be so iconic. Yet after fifty-three years, twenty-three movies, six actors and over six billion dollars in ticket sales, MI6 agent 007 is a pop-culture phenomenon. According to some estimates around 20% of the world’s population has seen at least one Bond film. When one out of every five people on Earth is familiar with your work perhaps all that’s needed is an introduction.
It wasn’t always this way though. In 1962 few would have thought that a modestly budgeted spy thriller starring an unknown Scottish actor would go on to spawn over twenty sequels. Fewer still could have envisioned the cultural impact the central character would go on to have. Bond’s first cinematic adventure Dr. No is fairly low-key, there are a couple of car chases (one pretty good and one that’s amusingly inept) and a whole lot of fist fights, but the big stunts and spectacular sets that the series is known for are largely absent. Still, as the saying goes: from tiny acorns do mighty oak trees grow.
When a British spy in Jamaica is killed by a trio of assassins posing as blind men, double oh agent James Bond is sent in to investigate. Immediately under scrutiny from other agents on the island, Bond realises that there’s something far bigger than the death of an agent at work in the Caribbean. As his inquiry progresses Bond hears more and more about a mysterious Chinese scientist named Doctor No who has secluded himself on a small island patrolled by armed guards.
While the template for Bond films hadn’t been fully established – there’s no Q Branch or big opening title sequence – there are certain elements of Dr. No that have continued over the course of the series. Largely set in Jamaica (and with a fair amount of footage shot on location) Dr. No gave 60s audiences a look at a far-flung, exotic location that they’d possibly never seen before, something that’s continued in a series constantly on the lookout for new countries and locations to capture on film. Likewise the main baddie – Chinese scientist Dr No – has a weird, borderline sci-fi, disfigurement (in this case plastic hands capable of crushing steel) that immediately set the tone for the series’ outlandish, larger than life villains. However what’s most familiar about Dr. No for fans of the franchise isn’t its travelogue qualities or outré villain; it’s James Bond himself. The producers may have tinkered with the series formula over the years but Bond largely retains his character traits throughout.
In Connery’s hands Bond is elegantly charming and brutally ruthless in equal measure. With a grace and poise during scenes of Bond swanning around fancy casinos that’s matched with his vicious efficiency during fight scenes it’s hard to dispute his widely held status as the best of the Bonds. More so than any of the other actors who have followed in his footsteps, Connery is just as convincing as a well-tailored sophisticate as he is as a trained killer and government operative. Resourceful, capable and acting with confidence and panache, it’s easy to see why audiences in 1962 went wild for the character. It also doesn’t hurt that Connery exudes a primal sexual energy not seen onscreen since Brando in his 50s heyday. Clearly in the intervening years Bond has moved with the times a bit (he hasn’t smoked since the 80s and he’s less prone to smacking women on the arse as well) but at his core he still remains the dangerous, sexy, and dangerously sexy spy that Connery brought us all those years ago.
While Dr. No may not be as spectacular as later Bond films, it retains an old fashioned glamour and features a star making performance in the central role. Many have tried to emulate 007 but nobody does it better.
Glamorous Locations: Apart from quickly establishing the character of Bond in London, much of Dr. No takes place in Jamaica and the surrounding Caribbean Islands. While not as globe-spanning as later adventures, the film-makers make good use of the tropical vegetation and crystal blue waters of its setting.
Gadgets: None to speak of really, at one point Bond uses a Geiger counter and that’s about it. Dr. No actually hews closer to a John Le Carre novel with it’s low-tech spycraft. Rather than gadgets Bond sticks one of his heavily Brylcreemed hairs between the crack of a door to see if anyone has poked around his closet while he’s out.
Girls: The main Bond Girl is Honey Rider, memorably played by statuesque Swiss actress Ursula Andress. However, this being James Bond there’s also the seduction of Sylvia Trench, a high stakes gambler Bond meets in London, as well as an enemy spy he shags some information out of in Kingston.
Classic Moment: Bond is given a classic hero’s introduction in Dr. No, shown first in close-ups of his hands and the back of his head before he finally reveals himself to the audience with his signature ‘Bond, James Bond.’ Having just lost three consecutive hands of Chemin de fer to this mystery man, Miss Trench states ‘I admire your luck Mister….’ which is all the opportunity that’s needed for Bond to introduce himself in his now customary manner.
TELSTAR’S BIG BOND COUNTDOWN WILL RETURN WITH… FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE