Over the years I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve posted tributes to dozens of personalities: directors, actors and actresses, singers, music directors, lyricists, even a writer. This time, therefore, I’m being a little different: I’m posting a tribute to a fictitious character. Ian Fleming’s suave spy, James Bond. Because today is Global James Bond Day, in celebration of fifty years of James Bond, onscreen—because Mr Bond first appeared in Dr No, released in 1962.
Twenty-four Bond films have been made. Bond has been portrayed by seven actors. But this one, starring Sean Connery as the first 007, seemed the appropriate Bond film to watch and review for this occasion.
Dr No begins in sunny Jamaica, at the very colonial Queens Club. Here, a certain Mr Strangways, playing bridge with three other men—they form a regular quartet—takes his leave, saying he has an important meeting to attend. Strangways walks out of the club and to his car, parked under a tree. He’s just opened the door when three men attack him, shoot him (they use a silencer on the gun), and race off in a van with the corpse.
…and, in the very next scene, a woman tunes into a hidden radio [there’s obviously some sort of secret agent work going on here], and makes contact with whoever she’s trying to get in touch with. Before she can say anything worthwhile, however, she’s attacked too, and shot dead.
The scene finally shifts to halfway across the world, and we finally get to meet James Bond. And what an introduction.
The setting is the chic, fashionable Les Ambassadeurs, where a game of chemin de fer is in progress. The camera moves about the table, focussing on two main players: a beautiful woman in a red dress (Eunice Gayson).
And the man opposite. We see his hands as he upturns a series of winning cards. We hear his voice, as he interacts with others (especially the woman in the red dress) during the game. We even see his back—but we aren’t allowed to see his face. Not yet.
Then, when the game finally ends, the woman signs for a further thousand. The man—whose face we still haven’t seen—remarks (sarcastically), “I admire your courage, Miss—?” The woman, looking up from the paper she’s been signing, says “Trench. Sylvia Trench. And I admire your luck, Mr—?”
And the camera shows us the man (Sean Connery, in all his gloriously attractive insouciance) as he lights a cigarette and replies, “Bond. James Bond.”
Bond, being Bond, wastes no time. Before he leaves the Les Ambassadeurs, he’s already made arrangements to play golf with the beautiful Sylvia Trench the next day. It’s already well past midnight, though, and he’s received a summons from his boss, M, of MI6. Bond must report to M immediately.
But before we are introduced to M, we meet another Bond regular, Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) There’s a little bit of flirtation here, as Moneypenny teasingly complains that Bond doesn’t take her to dinner…
…and then Bond goes in to see what his boss has to say. M (Bernard Lee) has bad news: an MI6 operative, Strangways has been killed in Jamaica. His secretary too was killed, says M.
Though they don’t yet know the ins and outs of the affair, there is a whiff of what might lie at the bottom of it. Strangways had been investigating something for the Americans. They’d been complaining of ‘massive interference’ with their Cape Canaveral rocket launches: somebody has been using radio beams to throw the gyroscopic controls of the rockets off. The source of the radio beams seems to be somewhere near Jamaica.
Anyway, Bond is given his instructions: he’s to go out there to Jamaica, meet up with Strangway’s American counterpart Leiter (Jack Lord), and get to the bottom of it. He’s booked on a flight three hours from now. He’s kitted out with a new gun—M is derisive of the Beretta Bond likes to carry in his shoulder holster and has it replaced with a Walther PPK—and Bond sets off on his mission.
[After an unplanned—at least on his part—rendezvous with Sylvia Trench, who has taken the initiative to invite herself over to Bond’s place].
When he lands at Jamaica, things quickly begin to happen. First, a passing stranger tries to take a photo of Bond; then, a chauffeur standing outside the airport tells Bond that he’s come from Government House to collect Mr Bond.
Bond, being Bond, makes an excuse and slips back into the air terminal to make a phone call—to the Principal Secretary at Government House. Yes: of course Mr Bond is expected. And no, they haven’t sent a car for him.
Which allows Bond to get into the car fully prepared to discover why someone is posing as a government chauffeur.
Bond’s method is to force a confrontation soon after, questioning the man once they’re on a deserted stretch of scrub off the road. The man refuses to answer, and hoodwinks Bond by swallowing some poison that kills him off instantly.
At Government House, Bond meets Strangways’s boss, who was also one of the men that formed the bridge quartet at the Queen’s Club. Bond expresses an interest in the other two men who’re part of the quartet, and is assured that he will be introduced to them. Meanwhile, Bond requests that he be taken to Strangways’s house; perhaps a visit to his home may reveal some possible clues.
It does. On his tour around Strangways’s home, Bond finds a photograph of Strangways with a Jamaican. The officer who’s driven Bond to Strangways’s place says that the Jamaican is a boatman whom Strangway used to spend a lot of time with.
Among the other things Bond discovers in Strangways’s house is a receipt for some geological specimens submitted to a certain Professor Dent. The name is familiar, since Bond has already been told that Dent (Anthony Dawson) was one of the bridge quartet.
There’s a brief, but fairly inconclusive, meeting with both Dent and the other man whom Strangways and his boss had been playing with that fateful day. That over, Bond goes off to trace the Jamaican boatman whose photo he had seen in Strangways’s home. This is a man named Quarrel (John Kitzmuller), and he sure lives up to his name—he rather rudely shrugs Bond off.
…and when Bond follows Quarrel to a local eatery and bar, Quarrel and an accomplice attack Bond—only to have it emerge that they’re all on the same side, after all. Quarrel is part of the team, along with Leiter, the American agent whom Strangways had been working with. Leiter introduces himself to Bond, too, and they get to discussing the problem at hand.
That evening, still at the eatery, Quarrel and Bond again run into the girl who’d tried to photograph Bond at the airport. She tries it again, but our two heroes overpower her [she seems pretty dim-witted, and tries to bluster her way through]. They let her go after tearing up the photographic film from her camera, but Bond’s already beginning to wonder who is behind all this.
Over the next day, Bond’s investigations start showing up results. First, he finds that while he’s been away from his room at Government House, someone’s searched his cupboard and briefcase. At Government House, too—so who’s the mole?
Then, a visit to Professor Dent’s lab, with the receipt obtained from Strangways’s home, reveals that Strangways had submitted some rocks to Dent (who’s a geologist) to check for radioactivity. Negative, says Dent. The rocks aren’t around any more, either: Dent says he threw them away.
But it’s made Bond start thinking. Quarrel, when Bond questions him, says that Strangways and he had been using Quarrel’s boat to explore the islands around. They’d checked out just about every place in the vicinity, including the sinister island of Crab Key. Crab Key is home to a bauxite mine and is owned by the reclusive and very wealthy Dr No.
Quarrel’s affirmation that Strangways had gathered some rock samples from Crab Key makes Bond suspicious enough to send for a Geiger counter. Sure enough, that part of Quarrel’s boat where the rocks had been kept, still shows high radioactivity. What is going on at Crab Key—what is the mysterious Dr No up to? [Of course, since we already know about that interference with the Cape Canaveral rockets, it’s not much of a mystery]
What follows is standard Bond procedure: he literally leaps into the heart of danger, battling everything Dr No (Joseph Wiseman) has to throw at him, whether it’s a beautiful spy who’s out to seduce—and kill—Bond…
…or a crazy tank-like vehicle which patrols Crab Key at night, equipped with what seems like a flame thrower:
There is the Bond girl. In this case, Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress), who dives for seashells, is all alone in the world, and whose knowledge is literally encyclopaedic (she says she’s learnt everything from an encyclopaedia—she began as a child, and has reached T). Bond [being Bond!] is less interested in her mind than in her body.
And so we go on. It’s typical Bond fare. Lots of action, lots of display of beautiful figure (Andress) and evil mind (Dr No, who—did I mention?—has no hands, just a pair of lethal artificial ‘hands’ made of some sort of very strong, black material). There’s Bond, fighting all of Dr No’s minions all by himself, and fighting against time, too—because the US is launching another rocket, this time to orbit the moon, and Dr No is getting ready to send that careening off its trajectory too.
Oddly, though I’ve watched most of the Bond films over the years, I’d never seen this one. When it finally ended, what stayed with me was not so much the fact that I’d just finished watching the very first Bond film, but how much this film influenced Hindi cinema. The plot devices, the gadgets, the villainy of the villains: everything I’ve seen in Hindi spy films (and other crime films, not necessarily spy ones) seems to have stemmed from Dr No.
There is, of course, the use of dangerous animals to attempt to kill the hero. In Dr No, a tarantula is unleashed on the hero.
In Aankhen (1968), Ramanand Sagar (possibly figuring a spider wasn’t scary enough) picked a tiger.
Then, there’s the flashing green/red light outside the office of a big cheese, to indicate whether he’s ready for company or not. In Dr No, the light is outside M’s office; in Hindi cinema, it seems to be just about everywhere you have a villain.
There are banks of screens, bright buttons, flashing lights, and [always] signs that light up and super-sensitive alarms. There are odd, rather clumsy costumes which look straight out of a spaceship, though not quite so streamlined…
… and yes, do Dr No’s ‘artificial hands’ remind you of someone in Hindi cinema?
What I liked about this film:
The James Bond theme. What a great piece of music, and so brilliantly reflecting the persona of Bond. It was composed by Monty Norman, with the arrangement by John Barry.
Sean Connery. Connery is, for me, the very best Bond there is. He’s smooth, elegant—and yet very believably big and tough. Perfect Bond.
What I didn’t like:
The sexism. Yes, I know that’s what Bond films are all about, but the mere reduction of the women in the film to pretty, rather brainless twits, really irritated me. Sylvia Trench, Miss Taro, the photographer and Honey Ryder herself are all very attractive, but singularly lacking in much else. For example, Honey Ryder, even though she’s supposed to be so well-travelled [not to mention very knowledgeable] doesn’t have the brains to realise that the fire-spewing tank on Crab Key is not a dragon.
The ineptness of the villain and his men, when it came down to brasstacks. Really, how reliable is a tarantula, left in a not-enclosed space, as a means of killing an enemy? And if you’re building a prison cell with an electrified wire mesh, shouldn’t you solder that wire mesh really tight and not make it so flimsy that it can be knocked right out of its mooring? Also, if I were a villain, I’d make sure that wire mesh or no wire mesh, no openings in a prison cell would be large enough to allow a fairly big man to climb out.
And what’s the point of that flame-throwing ‘dragon’ vehicle, anyway?
But, perhaps that’s just me, grown up on a diet of more sophisticated Bonds, faced with more ingenious villains. Perhaps these were really just the teething troubles one could expect of a first film.
Whatever; it’s Bond that matters, and Mr Connery was Bond to a T. See it just for him.