Monday, August 29, 2011

Dr. No

 The Bond films have been very much a staple of NZ telly over the years. I never fail to watch any one of them if I get the opportunity. No matter how many times I have seen a particular film I will watch it again, whether it is a favorite or not. Last year TVNZ played all the Bond films up to Die Another Day over our winter. But the buggers, for some dumb reason, didn't play them in order! So we started with Goldeneye and finished with From Russia With Love! But it now appears TVNZ is going to play them again late on a Saturday night...and in order. Yah! So last Saturday I sat down and watched Dr. No.

 I have always liked Dr. No. But this time I enjoyed more than ever, simply because I had read the Ian Fleming novel recently. Like the film the novel is my opinion one of the series best. I reviewed it on my fiction blog and called it 'impressive'. If I had to select a best Bond novel I would unhesitatingly say Thunderball, but Dr. No would be either second or third. I have found that the better novels also made the better film adaptations. Dr. No., From Russia With love, and On Her Majesty's Secret Service are all strong novels and so are the films.

 Now Dr. No wasn't actually the novel Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman wanted to adapt first. They looked at Thunderball initially, but due to on going legal disputes between Ian Fleming and Kevin McClory,  Dr. No was picked instead ( the interesting thing with Thunderball is that Fleming wrote it as a screenplay instead of a straight out novel ). Dr. No was not the first Bond novel being the 6th published in 1958. But in being the first film adaptation it uses references to the previous novels. The most obvious is the scene where M makes Bond exchange his puny Beretta for the harder hitting Walther PPK. That particular scene is lifted form the Diamonds Are Forever novel. I suppose even at this early stage it was envisaged that more Bond films were expected to come.

 But initial reactions from American studios was luke warm to say the least. They felt Bond was 'too British' and that the film would be too 'sexual' in nature. Fortunately previous Broccoli collaborator Terence Young got around this by injecting humour the novels notably lacked. By doing so he cunningly dis-armed the censors of the times. Young's self parody worked a treat and the film retained enough of the novel to satisfy all concerned. The film was also on a very tight budget. United Artists only put up US$1 million for it. They were obviously skeptical of the whole thing! When you actually watch Dr. No it isn't actually apparent. I mean even though it is now a 50 year old film it still looks great. As an example of costs M's office cost only 745 pounds ( the pictures on the wall are cardboard, and the 'leather' on the door is red plastic! ). Even the opening credits had a tight budget, and yet the production designers created one of the most iconic openings to a film ever.

 Sean Connery may be regarded as the best Bond but he wasn't first choice for the role. Believe it or not but Cary Grant was wanted because he was such a high profiled actor and crucially, very popular. But he was discarded as he only committed himself to one film. Again the doubts about the film are apparent aren't they? Patrick McGoohan was considered because of his portrayal of John Drake in Danger Man, but he declined the role. Even Roger Moore was looked at, missing out only because he was considered too young. Even David Niven was considered before a 30 year old Sean Connery got the nod. Apparently Ian Fleming wasn't happy with this, stating Connery wasn't his vision of what Bond looked like. But his wife said Connery had the sexual attraction needed, and after his viewing of the film changed his mind.

 Entertainment Weekly regards Ursula Andress as the most iconic of the Bond girls. I tend to agree even though she may not have been the most talented of actresses. Her voice had to be dubbed through out the film due to her heavy Swiss/German accent. I never knew this until recently and never noticed it in the film. And yet if you watch closely enough you can definitely see it! But like Connery Andress wasn't initially looked at for the role as Honeychile Ryder. Julie Christie was initially considered but she was apparently not 'voluptuos' enough! Andress was selected after Broccoli and Saltzman had inadvertently seen a photo of her taken by her then husband.

 One thing about Dr. No is that even though it is a Bond film, I think Ursula Andress as Honeychile Ryder, is the more instantly thought of character. And we all know why don't we! Of course it is that famous ( or infamous ) white bikini. The scene when she walks out of the surf is incredibly iconic, and probably the most famous of the whole franchise. Both Halle Berry and Daniel Craig have done the same thing in Bond films in homage, but don't come near to Andress. In its day the scene caused an uproar, and yet what must be remembered is that in the novel Honeychile is actually completely nude, with only the knife on her hip!! I suppose by putting her in a bikini it was the closet the producers could get to the novel!!

 The bikini scene was an instant hit. Apparently bikini sales around the world after the film was released sky rocketed. Not many, if any, films can state they had such an enduring impact on women's fashion can they? The bikini itself was sold at auction in 2001 for a staggering US$61,500!! For me Honeychile Ryder is the most memorable of the novel's girls. I like her immensely as a character even though Fleming plays out his unsavoury rape fantasies with her. In the novel she was raped and received a broken nose in the process. She still considers herself a virgin despite this though. Thanks for that Ian!. Suffice to say Bond is the man who de-flowers her!

 In the novel she is a lovely young 20 year old that has a worldly innocence, and Fleming paints a wonderful picture of her physically and mentally. So how does Andress stack up? Well she doesn't have a broken nose! But to a certain degree she captures Ryder's wide eyed innocence and yet inner strength. She isn't quite the picture I get in my mind from the novel but she does a great job none the less. And again, without question, the bikini scene is one of cinema's most iconic and recognisable.

 Ian Fleming actually wanted his literary friend Noel Coward to play Dr. Julius No, but he famously turned the part down like this.... 'no no no!'. Joseph Wiseman got the nod for his 1951 film Detective Story. The other significant castings were of course Bernard lee and Lois Maxwell. Lee went on to play M in 10 Bond films, and Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny, in 14.

 One of my gripes with novel to film adaptations is the constant deviation from the original source. Granted sometimes it is necessary, but sometimes the film is unrecognisable from the novel. The Bond films are no exception. Fortunately though Dr. No follows the novel fairly well. There are changes, but when you realise the budget constraints, many of the logistics needed for a truly faithful adaptation would have been too prohibitive. Of course Honeychile Ryder's nakedness was covered by a bikini, but the novels giant squid fight is omitted entirely. The poisonous centipede is changed to a tarantula. Crab Key is a bauxite mine and not guano ( hence no burying of Dr. No under bird dung! ) And the end sees Bond and Ryder escape by boat and not in the dragon vehicle. Finally Dr. No lost his hands due to radiation and not to the Tongs he stole from. ( The tarantula scene was performed by Connery's stunt double who considered it the scariest stunt he ever did. A sheet of glass was used when Connery's face is visible ).

 But then some scenes are alluded to. For instance the novel sees Bond challenged to a survival test involving tarantulas, scolding hot pipes and the giant squid. In the film all we get is the hot pipes, and anyone who has read the novel will recognise the significance. So Bond's escape is changed markedly as is Ryder's. In the novel she is pegged down on a hill for some supposedly ferocious crabs to devour. The scene was attempted, but the crabs used had to be frozen for transporting, and then brought onto the site. Unfortunately they were too frozen and lethargic. The scene was abandoned in favour of her being chained down on a ramp to be drowned.

 I think many of the changes from the novel came from necessity. If you have never read the novels then you won't be aware that they were quite bleak. James Bond was a man who suffered depression, melancholy, and periods of self doubt. The films portray a more light hearted Bond which I like as I don't think the dark Bond would have made for an entertaining enjoyable film. If the Bond of the novels had been put onto screen I seriously doubt we'd still have him today as we do. But the necessity also spanned to cutting out Ian Fleming's rampant sexism, rape fetish, xenophobia, racism, homophobia, etc, etc. They wouldn't have been acceptable censor wise in 1962. Thank god, because these unsavoury traits of Fleming's do mar the novels somewhat.

 There is one interesting moment in the film that has lost its significance now, but is still worth a mention. In Dr. No's lair Bond spots Goya's portrait of the Duke of Wellington. I wondered at why Bond reacted the way he did and found out several days ago. Apparently just before filming the real portrait was stolen from the National Gallery by a 60 year old amateur thief. The scene was put in to tie in the theft!! 

 And now I must bring up a goof!! I don't normally make much out of this thing in films, but this one always gets me in Dr. No!! When Bond leaves his hotel room, after putting talcum powder on his briefcase clips, he puts the case down on a side table to the right of a lamp. And yet when he later returns and picks up the case, it has magically moved to the left of the lamp! Goof, and a very obvious one!! I never fail to laugh at it when I watch the film. There are apparently many more, but I don't think they are so obvious, and I don't go out of my way to seek them out.

When released in 1962 Dr. No was a financial success, and yet received a mixed critical reception. But over the years it has gained in reputation, and is now regarded as one of the franchises finest outings. After having recently read the novel I was surprised at just how differently I viewed the film. I have always liked it, but because it follows a very good novel so well, I appreciated it even more. It was interesting to compare it against the recently watched and reviewed OHMSS. I commented on the dated feel of the special effects in that film, and even though Dr. No has dated to, it is still the better film visually.

  What I love about Dr. No is it's definite 1960's feel. Nothing in cinema to me can ever compare to a film made in Technicolour. Sure the special effects are dated but they aren't overly cringe worthy. Many of Dr. No's mine shots are obvious models but they have retained a certain charm that hasn't diminished over the last 50 years. And possibly what sets this Bond film out, as well as its successor From Russia With love, is the lack of the famous Bond gadgets. In the novel there are no gadgets at all. They are purely a film fabrication, and they are obvious for their absence in this film. ( In FRWL Bond is issued a briefcase, but I don't really call that a 'gadget' in terms of what was too come ).

Well that is about it folks!! This was a real pleasure to re-visit. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed it! ( Suffice to say it took the edge of watching the Wallabies down the All Blacks 25-20 immediately afterwards! ). But the reason I enjoyed it so much was because of the novel. I rate the novel as one of the top three Fleming wrote and hence think it rolled over into the film. But what I love most about it  the film is the 1960's technicolour and feel to whole thing. Some films as they age go past dated, and for me Dr. No, even though visually dated special effects wise, will forever look great. I mean just the fact of Dr. No's lair was superb in the 1960's,  must have made it a fantastic cinema going experience for that alone.

 Without question one of the very best of the Bond films. In itself it provided the cinematic world with one the most iconic scenes ever filmed with 'that' bikini. Something the film is known for more than Bond himself is! And when you consider the budget it was made under, and the skepticism it initially attracted, this first up effort is nothing short of praiseworthy.

 ( I believe some of the filming was done virtually on Ian Fleming's doorstep in Jamaica, his residence of Goldeneye. He came out and actually watched the filming! ).

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THAT bikini!! Iconic shot isn't it??! Absolutely recognisable, totally unforgettable.
Cover of the edition I read.


  1. Patrick McGoohan certainly missed a trick turning the role down, didn't he? It's interesting to wonder what he'd have done with the character. The intensity's there and he'd definitely have captured Bond's ruthless edge.

    I know what you mean about the look of the film belying the budget. You'd never guess they spent so little on it, or that the studio was so sceptical.

    Good review, Brent, and a nice comparison between book and film.

  2. It is interesting isn't it to look at how many actors etc have turned down roles that they should have taken. I never saw Danger Man so can't really picture McGoohan even as you say he would have captured Bond's ruthless edge.
    I liked the book immensely and it made me look at the film in a new way. I didn't realise just how good it was and how much I liked it.
    It is amazing too that it was such a visually appealing film considering the budget. I think it one of best Bond films asthetically.

  3. Excellent review of a classic film.

    In my experience I've always found a very deep rooted love for Bond in general from Kiwis and Aussies, I've had friend from there, sorry just a general musing.

  4. I think it is because of UK heritage. I mean we obviously have more in common than we do with the US. And as in the review US studios were reluctant to make the film soley because of the Britishness of it.
    This is something the UK film industry has battled for nearly 100 years in trying to get their films into the US market. Many studios won't play them because they feel US audiences won't take to or accept UK accents. Of course they conversely forget that American's have accents and we outside of the US have no problem with them!

  5. good pick. Connery is Bond to me, and this is no doubt my favorite Bond movie. Great write up, you covered it well. I hadn't read the novel so the comparison was interesting.

  6. Thanks Brent. I've always considered FRWL my absolute favorite Bond film. But after watching this again Dr. No is pushing that opinion very hard!

  7. LOL, that's funny Brent, think that kind of thinking is exactly what leads to pointless remakes of foreign films in the US.

  8. Yeah I read about it in a recent Alfred Hitchcock bio I read. But your right I do think that that thinking is why films like [REC] get re-made. I'm trying to be diplomatic in what I say as I find the situation in the US absurd. Here's another example. Bond film License to Kill was intially called License Revoked but it was changed because it was felt American audiences wouldn't understand the word 'revoked'!!!. Fact..I read it in the Sinclair Mckay book I reviewed recently ( and elsewhere ).