Dr. No (1962)

There are two new series of posts I’d like to do starting this week, a bit of an ode to two monumental movie celebrations this year, and luckily  they happen to be able to coincide. First up, starting tomorrow night is the 65th annual Cannes Film Festival. This is the award season I cherish the most, the time when the finest in the film industry from around the world unite to debut their latest offerings to the most hardcore of cinephiles.  Its headed by this year’s presidents, Italian director Nanni Moretti and the great Tim Roth and features new films from Wes Anderson, David Cronenberg, Michael Haneke, Ken Loach, Abbias Kiarostami, Hong Sang-hoo, Leos Carax, Lee Daniels, Andrew Dominik, John Hillcoat, Jeff Nichols, Alain Resnais, Walter Salles, Bernardo Bertolucci, Philip Kaufman, Dario Argento, Takashi Miike, and Michel Gondry all lighting up the prestigious Palais. Between May 16th and May 27th I will highlight some of my favorite Cannes selects and winners from previous festivals.

Cannes recently added a new feature known as Cinema de la plage, or Cinema on the Beach, where classic films are shown for free on the beach next to the Palais. This is were the 2nd big celebration comes in. This year the beach lineup includes a retrospective of James Bond films in honor of the 50th anniversary of the film franchise.

It has been 50 years, 4 decades, 6 Bonds and billions of dollars earned since the debut of the world’s first ever action franchise (and to me the birth of the action film). This year will be filled with Bond retrospectives and promotions. Expect many a marathon on TNT or AMC. Check out the opening ceremony of this summer’s Olympic Games held in London which kicks off with a Danny Boyle-directed 007 short featuring Daniel Craig and The Queen herself, followed by a stuntman parachuting onto the crowd. November 9th marks the US release to the 23rd Bond film Skyfall featuring Daniel Craig returning as Bond in what’s sure to be a loving ode to the 60s classics courtesy of the great Sam Mendes. I’m especially looking forward to the  cross-promotion with Heineken this fall where all bottles will bare a classic Bond image.

Yeah…so obviously I’m a bit of a Bond freak. A lot of guys are. Because Ian Fleming’s literary icon is the epitome of manliness. The high priced suits tailored by the most prestige London designers. The Aston Martins and BMWs. The Walther PPK. Fine dining. Jetting to exotic locations. Bedding a new beautiful bombshell every night. Car chases. We want that. If it wasn’t for things like law and order, morals, fear of dying in a fiery plane crash or being split in half with a high-powered laser, getting slapped in the face, remembering to feed your fish, normal stuff…we’d probably get it. But thanks to the novels of Ian Fleming and the magic of the movies we get to be James Bond for 2 hours and 20 minutes. Oh and its bliss.

The first film adaptation is 1962’s Dr. No, produced by Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli and directed by Terence Young. Though lukewarm with critics upon its release the film was a huge box-office success for the studio who had produced the film on a modest budget. Today its considered among the best of the Bond films and proudly begins the tone, customs and idiosyncrasies of the beloved franchise.

The film jump starts with a colorful title sequences that introduces the earliest form of the notorious “barrel sequence” and blasts the now iconic John Barry Orchestra score. The credits cleverly works in a Belafonte-style rendition of “Three Blind Mice” then opens the film in Jamaica where three black henchmen cross the street disguised as blind beggars and lined up like the Three Blind Mice. This is the first of many pop culture references and delightfully oddball characters to come in the film’s franchise. The henchmen take down British Agent John Strangways and Commander James Bond aka Special Agent 007 is called in to respond. Bond’s investigation of the island leads him to the half German/half Chinese/all mad scientist Dr. No and a diabolical plot to disrupt an American manned space launch using a radio beam weapon. Along the way Bond teams with beautiful beach native Honey Ryder played by Ursula Andress and her famous white bikini, CIA agent Felix Leiter and a local Cayman Islander named Quarrel.

A lot can be said about the greatness of Sean Connery in his first performance as Bond, the beautiful production design of Ken Adams and the craftsmanship of action director Terence Young. I would like to celebrate for a moment just how violent this first offering is. In one of the film’s early moments Bond interrogates a suspicious chauffeur who dodges  the questions by swallowing a cyanide capsule. A female photographer nabs Bond’s picture at a club and Bond sends Quarrell to apprehend her. He violently twists her arm about at the request of an unapologetic Bond and she breaks a bottle and slashes Quarrell across the face who just laughs it off.

There’s certainly a level of brutality that both Connery and Daniel Craig’s Bonds share. Connery may be the coolest and suavest of the Bonds but he also knows how to play dirty. Before Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan got all gadget happy Sean Connery relied on hand-to-hand combat. More over he would smash you over the head with whatever was in arm’s reach, be it a flower vase or chair leg. Connery’s 007 fights are of a Jackie Chan caliber and carry the same kind of blunt humor and earnestness.

Despite its very real world setting there are a great many fantasy elements cleverly worked in including a large poisonous tarantula and a mysterious “dragon” on the island that turns out to be a flame-throwing armored tractor. The climax in which Bond overloads a nuclear reactor and destroys Dr. No’s lair in an exploding ball of flames is perhaps the first ever true action set piece.

Fast cars, sexy girls, big explosions, disfigured henchmen, villainous masterminds, exotic locales, cheesy one-liners…Bond did it first. Bond does it best.

-John

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