Thursday, 5 August 2010

Dr No (1962)

It might be a bit of a stretch to consider a James Bond movie as a cult movie. But while the Bond movies were mainstream hits they did have an enormous influence on cult movies. You could argue that they spawned an entire genre of cult movies. And the Sean Connery Bond films have built up a cult following in the years since their release. And it was years since I’d seen the first of the Bond movies, Dr No.

The other reason that impelled me to sit down and watch this movie is that I seem to have been drawn into a surprising number of online discussions recently on the subject of Bond, both the movies and Ian Fleming’s original novels. I recently read one of the novel and was quite surprised by it - darker than I’d anticipated, and Bond is a more complex character than I’d expected as well.

I can’t imagine there are too many people who are unfamiliar with this movie so I’ll keep the plot synopsis as brief as possible. The US space program is under threat because someone is knocking their rocket launches of-course with a powerful radio beam, originating somewhere in the Caribbean. And at the same time a British secret agent in Jamaica has vanished. So the British send their top agent, this Bond chap, to investigate the disappearance and to help the Americans find the source of the troublesome radio interference.

There’s a mad scientist/diabolical criminal mastermind, there’s lots of action, and there are lots of attractive women. Most of whom seem to end up in Bond’s bed.

Dr No was in fact a fairly low budget movie. Although Fleming’s novels had been big sellers no-one really knew if they’d translate into box-office hits. And the two stars, Sean Connery and Ursula Andress, were more or less unknown. So United Artists decided to err on the side of caution and keep a tight rein on the budget.

Given these constraints the achievements of director Terence Young and his crew are even more impressive. Dr No was a dramatic departure from any previous spy movie - faster moving, with more action, and more sexiness, and a definite 60s vibe. Right from the start the superb opening titles sequence signals that this is going to be and exciting up-to-the-minute film. The editing is much faster and more adventurous than was the norm in 1962. There’s plenty of location shooting and there are exotic locations and (in spite of the small budget) spectacular sets.

And almost 50 years later it still delivers the goods. In fact it seems considerably fresher and more dynamic than the 2006 Casino Royale. And of course it has Connery. He’s not quite the Bond of the books but who cares? Connery is Bond. Accept no substitutes.

There’s also Ursula Andress emerging from the ocean like Botticeli’s Venus, one of the great iconic scenes in cult movie history. As Honeychile Ryder she actually has very little to do and all her dialogue was redubbed by another actress. It doesn’t matter. If walking out of the sea had been the only thing she did in the whole movie it would still have made her a star.

There’s also Jack Lord (later of Hawaii Five-O fame) as CIA Agent Felix Leiter. Joseph Wiseman is a good villain, maybe not as good as some of the great Bond villains like Telly Savalas but still pretty good.

And Dr No has calypso music! What more could you want? The Bond series really hit the ground running with this movie. It’s all great stylish fun.

The DVD includes a pretty good commentary track featuring most of the surviving cast and crew.


Emily said...

I've never actually watched any of the James Bond movies and for that I feel absolutely bloody ashamed!
Maybe I should actually make an effort to watch them?

dfordoom said...

Emily: The more recent Bond movies haven't impressed me at all, but any of the1960s examples are well worth seeing. They're great fun.

Shaun Anderson said...

In many ways the Bond series is the ultimate cult in cinema history, so I dont think its a stretch at all too include DR.NO in your blog. I really like the generic hybridity of this one - it deftly combines the spy thriller with science-fiction/fantasy elements, and when watched in comparison to later entries seems very strange in tone and style.