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Dr. No

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Dr. No

Starring: Sean Connery, Ursula Andress
Director: Terence Young
Rated: PG
RunTime: 111 Minutes
Release Date: May 1963
Genres: 007, Action, Suspense

*Also starring: Joseph Wiseman, Jack Lord, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell

Review by Dragan Antulov
2 stars out of 4

Endless trailers for THE PHANTOM MENACE were telling us that every saga had a beginning. So was the case with the most enduring and probably the longest-running movie franchise in history - James Bond films. That series, that had spawned eighteen (or nineteen, depending on the count) films through almost four decades of its existence, was famous for its successful and almost always winning formula - spectacular action, exotic locations, plenty of beautiful (and promiscuous) women and impressive villains with megalomaniac ambitions. The formula didn't change through the years, but almost everything else did, including the actors playing the lead character. There were five of them, but almost everyone agrees that the original one, Sean Connery, represents the best incarnation of James Bond. The reputation of the lead actor followed the movies that introduced him - first five James Bond films are regarded as classics. On the other hand, the first among those classics, DR. NO, directed by Terrence Young in 1962, has relatively obscure reputation, being either ignored or not favourably compared with the other films of the series.

Relatively bad reputation of the film shouldn't be much of a surprise, although DR. NO happened to be a huge commercial hit in its time, big enough to launch both the series and the stellar career of Sean Connery. It was made on relatively low budget, with producers very doubtful of its future potential. Ian Fleming, the creator of the character, wasn't too thrilled about the producers' choice for the lead role, preferring more established actors like David Niven, Cary Grant or his own cousin Christopher Lee to relatively unknown Scot like Connery. The movie wasn't even supposed to be based on the novel DR. NO; producers had been forced to abandon their original choice THUNDERBALL because of the legal entanglements (that novel was later adapted twice). The insecurity of its creators and the lack of budget (at least relative to all the latter films) mirrored itself in the film, although Young, as a capable director, managed to hide most of it.

The plot begins in Jamaica, when British secret agent Strangways and his secretary get killed by some mysterious assassins. Chief of Secret Service, mysterious and grumpy M (played by Bernard Lee) summons one of his best men, agent James Bond (played by Connery), who is the perfect man for this job, equipped not only with the superior training, but also with the code name "007" with "00" that indicates the license to kill enemy agents without any legal procedures. As soon as Bond comes to Jamaica, he becomes the target of various assassins. He survives all attempts on his life and begins discovering the reasons why Strangways was killed. They all have something to do with the radio signals that sabotage American space program, and the source of this signals is most likely Crab Key, isolated island owned by mysterious Chinese character named Dr. No. After initial suspicions, he is joining forces with CIA agent Felix Leiter (played by Jack Lord), Bond and Leiter's assistant Quarrel (played by John Kitzmiller) travel to the island to investigate. There they stumble on Honey Ryder (played by Ursulla Andress), voluptuous shell hunter that would help them evade Dr. No's guards.

DR. NO has the every obligatory element of the Bond formula (action, exotic women, locations, villains) and it is as entertaining as an average Bond film, but something is missing. First of all, film lacks spectacle usually associated with the Bond classics. Jamaican locations and characters seem somewhat too real, too ordinary and many viewers, unaccustomed to Bond, would mistake this film for a conventional spy thriller. Realistic tone of the movie is also underlined with the use of local calypso music (which is also a nice opportunity to hear Jamaican sounds before that island became famous for its reggae.) Realism is here partly due to a limited budget (legendary Pinewood studios were used only for the last scenes of the film, with the sets rather lame compared to the latter Bond adventures), and partly due to Fleming being able to influence the film more than in all latter films. As a result, even the Bond character is closer to original Fleming's vision - he is cynical and scruples when it comes to achieving his goals. Contemporary moralists (including Vatican, which issued official communique condemning the film) were outraged with the scenes like Bond shooting helpless enemy in cold blood or Bond having sex with a female enemy agents before turning her to authorities. On the other hand, DR. NO is more realistic than other Bond films because here 007 lacks his usual spy gadgets and must rely solely on his wits in order to survive. And the realism also works the other way around - Bond is perhaps meaner than in other films, but he also gets his comeuppance by having been tortured, beaten and humiliated more than usual.

Sean Connery was, of course, splendid in the role that clinched his career. His Bond is a classic Bond - stone-cold deadly killer, intelligent yet witty and loveable, able to bring every woman to his bed. First time we hear those immortal words "Bond, James Bond" we hear the very same confident voice that would be a trademark of this character for decades to come. Connery's charm is unstoppable; because of it, we are able to enjoy his presence and take for granted lines that would otherwise sound ridiculous and trashy. And the script by Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood and Berkley Maher was very suitable for Connery to show his acting abilities; non-Superman Bond in DR.NO even has some opportunity to express fear, panic and repulsion, something we don't see very often in the latter incarnations of his characters.

The other two obligatory characters - Bond's partner and Bond's chief opponent - weren't that lucky. Many say that Ursulla Andress, Swiss actress who had the honour of being the very first Bond girl, actually happens to be the best from the bunch. It is truth that the scene of bikini-clad Honey Ryder coming out of sea really belongs among classic Bond scenes. It is also truth that Ursulla Andress one of the shinier careers among all the Bond girls. But her character is ruined by the weak script and the writers not able to decide whether to treat her as a tough woman and equal partner to Bond, or just an ordinary damsel in distress. Joseph Wiseman as enigmatic Dr. No is also very good, but the script left too many plot holes concerning his intentions and didn't really explain some of his actions. The other characterisations are even worse - for example, Quarrel as Bond's sidekick has a role that borders parody and even some racial stereotyping. PC police of today probably wouldn't appreciate the fact that the all the villains, except one, happen to be dark-skinned or Asians.

DR. NO, seen by itself, is a still entertaining, but rather inferior Bond film. However, since it was the first in the series, it established the character of Bond, his trademarks, recognisable musical theme by John Barry and Monty Norman, and even some of the regular side characters (M, Miss Moneypenny). All that makes it essential for all those who want to be introduced to the series and all those who are already fans of Bond films.

Copyright 1999 Dragan Antulov

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