Thursday 6 December 2012

Movie Review: Dr. No (1962)

The movie that kicked-off the James Bond franchise is an inventive spy caper full of action, violence, and seduction. On the relatively minuscule budget of $1 million, Dr. No adapts Ian Fleming's 1958 book and packs in all the elements of success that proved essential for the longevity of the series.

In Kingston, Jamaica, British Secret Service Agent John Strangways (Timothy Moxon) and his secretary are murdered by unknown assailants. Agent James Bond (Sean Connery) is dispatched to determine if Strangways' death is related to unexplained rocket-interference beams affecting the United States space program. Teaming up with CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jack Lord) and local recruit Quarrel (John Kitzmiller), Bond survives several assassination attempts before locating suspicious geologist Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson), who is working for the mysterious Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman).

Dr. No is a member of SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion), and has established an elaborate base on Crab Key island to harness radioactive power for nefarious pursuits. Bond and Quarrel meet seashell collector Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) emerging from the waves in a white bikini, one of filmdoms most iconic images. Before long Bond and Ryder are in the bowels of Dr. No's lair as he prepares to launch disruptive radioactive waves at the next US space rocket.

Before even meeting Dr. No, James Bond fends off one abduction, one assassin's bullet, one ugly tarantula, one car chase, and one old-fashioned honey-trap, not to mention a tangle with the CIA before proper allegiances are established. Under the helm of director Terence Young, the franchise immediately defines itself as a none-too-serious playground for non-stop thrills, a place where the next climax is just around the corner, and the plot is nudged forward in the quickest of interludes that barely interrupt the continuous thrill ride.

In addition to the action-dominated pacing, plenty of other features that became hallmarks of the series were established in Dr. No. The pre-credit gun barrel sighting, shot, and draping blood, the sinewy silhouette-dominated credit sequence, the arrogantly brassy James Bond theme, glamorous locations, the evil mastermind and his fortified compound, Bernard Lee as M, Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny and of course the succession of women who instantly fall for Bond's charms. In addition to Honey Ryder, Dr. No features Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson) as an uncompromising casino opponent, and Miss Taro (Zena Marshall) as a nosy secretary at Government House in Jamaica.

But Dr. No's most important introduction is Sean Connery as James Bond. By 1962 the 32 year old relatively unknown Scottish actor already had more than 10 other movie credits to his name, but his life changed forever when he paused, lit a cigarette, and introduced himself as "Bond, James Bond" (with Sylvia Trench the lucky first recipient of the line). Connery eases into the role with a sense of ridiculous comfort that suggests he was born to play the rugged yet smooth agent, equally adept at killing and loving, eager to force the action, never lost for a solution, and always ready with a quip. Bond's cold-hearted ability to dispatch enemies with bullets that may not be totally necessary is also evident, Connery possessing the required steeliness of a killer lurking just below the dinner suits and sex appeal.

The film does lose momentum for about 20 minutes after Bond meets Ryder on Crab Key, the two running around getting aimlessly muddy before being captured by Dr. No's guards, Andress offering a suitably pouty expression while waiting for the real climax. The rest of the supporting cast is adequate, Joseph Wiseman's Dr. No less menacing than many villains to come, while the assassins, British agents and CIA spies back in Kingston do the job with a minimum of lingering animation.

Dr. No is a relatively humble film that launched its own mammoth franchise and the entire modern secret agent movie sub-genre, not to mention introducing the Ian Fleming novels to a mass audience. If there were any doubts whether audiences were ready for the adventures of a suave, lethal, womanizing, and globe-trotting spy, the answer to Dr. No was a resounding yes.

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