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Bond as Ian Fleming's created him
Apr 11, 2009 12:41 PM 826 Views

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It's difficult to imagine today, but there was a time that the general public was familiar with the character of James Bond principally through a series of novels written by British author Ian Fleming. All that changed in 1962 with the release of Dr. No, the first of 20 official James Bond movies and the beginning of a motion picture phenomenon that cannot be equaled for longevity or staying power. But at the start there was Dr. No, which was a strong Bond entry, but not quite the pop icon that the latter films would be.


Dr. No opens in Jamaica, where a British secret agent and his assistant are murdered by three assassins posing as blind men. When the main organization, MI6, discovers the situation, M(Bernard Lee), the head of MI6, dispatches agent James Bond(Sean Connery), designation 007, to Jamaica to investigate. Bond quickly discovers that the agent was investigating some irregularities with American space rocket launches being disrupted that were possibly originating from the area. With the assistance of FBI agent Felix Leiter(Jack Lord) and local fisherman Quarel(John Kitzmiller), Bond begins to track the problem to a local island named Crab Key that all locals avoid because of fears of the island. Bond, certain that Crab Key is where he needs to go, sets out to discover the secret of the island, and it's mysterious owner, Dr. No(Joseph Wiseman).


Compared to the later Bond films, Dr. No is very much a proto-James Bond film, putting a few of the key elements in place, but not quite cementing the formula that the series would become famous for. Missing are the flashy gadgets, the elaborate action sequences and the pre-title teaser, making Dr. No look a little underpowered when sized up against its follow-ups. Dr. No is more reliant on investigation and sneaking around than the series would employ eventually, but this also helps ground the film more than much of the Bond canon. Sure, there are some coincidences that are a bit remarkable, the villain is megalomaniacal and comes complete with a private army and elaborate hideout, but Dr. No doesn't quite push the levels of credulity that some of the Bond films do; it is practically restrained when stacked up against such entries as Moonraker and Die Another Day.


This lack of flashiness doesn't make for a bad film, and it comes across as a darker film than its pedigree would suggest, and in fact features at least one scene that has been noted for portraying a harder edge to the character of Bond than most fans believe that Fleming would have been comfortable with. There is intrigue, double-crossing and secrets that unfold with the story that keep you involved with the story all the way through. However, the pacing is a bit sluggish at times, especially in the middle section of the film, as Bond, Quarel and exotic beauty Honey Rider(Ursula Andress), who had been shell collecting at the island, explore crab key with Dr. No's henchmen on their tail. The film does seem to drag a bit at this point, but it is hardly detrimental to the overall enjoyment.


One thing that Dr. No does marvelously is introduce the audience to the man who would become the symbol of James Bond to millions of moviegoers the world over: Sean Connery. Despite not being Fleming's first choice for the role, Connery would prove to be indispensible in the role and he made the character his own. His good looks, ability to mix seriousness with a sly side and his absolute perfect delivery of his lines, especially the double entendres that would become the Bond signature, made Connery a star and no other actor has come close to touching his portrayal of Bond. A significant portion of Dr. No's success can be laid at the foot of Connery, and he delivers the goods. Wiseman provides the first of a long line of Bond villains, and while he doesn't prove to be quite up to some of the later ones, he still manages to create a memorable adversary, with a voice that communicates both menace and calm at the same time. Ursula Andress would be the first of many "Bond girls", and she does a good job, making Honey Rider feisty and sexy at the same time.


Dr. No is not the pinnacle of the Bond experience, but as a first step where the filmmakers were finding their way, it works well and paves the road for future, greater entries. Dr. No was the birth of a cinematic dynasty, and while not the crown jewel, it has earned its place in the display case.


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