Bond Evolution – Dr No (#1)

There is a new James Bond movie coming out in November this year, and because we like a challenge, Husband and I have decided to watch all the Bond movies (including the ring-ins) in chronological order. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen all of these movies at least once, but it’s always interesting to go back and watch again perhaps with a more critical eye than I had when watching them for the first time.

We start at the beginning with Dr. No. It was released in 1962 so it’s nearly 60 years old now. And some of the attitudes I saw in it also seem quite dated. But let’s look at the different elements one by one.

The theme tune and opening credits are a key part of a Bond film. This was the first outing of the famous tune that is instantly recognisable as the Bond theme (dum da-da-da dum, dum, dum, dum da-da-da dum, doodle-oo, na-na-na). But apart from that, there is no “Dr. No” song. And no nearly-naked dancing girls behind the opening credits giving a preview of what the film will be about.

Bond films are known for their exotic locations. After some establishing shots in London, all the action in this film takes place in Jamaica. (An interesting side note, 1962 was also the year the Jamaican Independence Act was published.) (So perhaps that white man in shorts who was Police Commission was soon going to be out of a job.) But the Jamaica we see isn’t the “beautiful beaches” Jamaica of tourist brochures – “Make a turn at the cement factory” the embassy secretary tells Bond, giving him instructions on how to get to her house. Who hears the word Jamaica and pictures a cement factory? And Crab Key (key to the plot – no spoilers!) seems to be a mining operation of some kind, not pretty or glamourous by any means.

James Bond is at his simplest a spy who kills people. So one of the things I am going to look for is whether a film delivers in terms of “spycraft“. Dr. No does show good standard spycraft practice – using a hair to monitor whether the door had been opened, putting talc on the briefcase to see if it had been opened. Several times in the film Bond is scoffed at by the bad guys for being simply a “policeman” or a “detective”. And there is a strong element of police procedural to the film, up to the point where they go to Crab Key and things get weird.

Out of date attitudes: What on earth were they thinking when they cast European actors in the roles of Chinese people? The use of eye makeup to make the Europeans look more Chinese failed badly. Was it so hard to find actors of Asian appearance in 1962?

Bond girls, of course, are another key part of the franchise. They call them Bond girls. I think I’ll call them Women because girls is really demeaning; after all most of these characters have quite established careers in their own rights. Honey Rider, played by Ursula Andress, is the significant Bond Woman from Dr No and I’ve thought about her a great deal since watching the movie. She makes a great entrance, coming out of the water in her bikini with a knife strapped to her leg, singing. She’s walking with confidence because believes she’s alone in the island. See how her body language changes when she realises someone is watching her. This is unsurprising since she admits to Bond she was raped by her landlord. There is a scene where she is taken out of a meeting between Bond and Dr No. “My guards will take care of her,” Dr No says. Bond is restrained from stopping them. When we next see her, she is not wearing the trousers she was wearing at dinner, so I cringe inside at the idea she was possibly raped again. But despite this tragic back story, she still falls into Bond’s arms at the end of the film? I don’t think so.

Ursula Andress in Dr. No.jpg

The villain and his evil plot because what does Bond do if not battle against a bad guy (or woman?) Dr. No introduces SPECTRE – the Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion. The character of Dr. No works for SPECTRE and so he works outside of the Cold War East vs. West dichotomy, working instead to destroy both sides. As a villain he didn’t seem particularly convincing and his destructive plot was… well to my mind kind of pointless.

Overall, the film was lacking in some of the ‘standard’ Bond paraphernalia we’ve come to expect, but in a way this stands to reason as it was the first film, and the production company was probably finding its feet in terms of what audiences want (and continue to want, 60 years on). Dr. No is still more a spy film than later Bond films that fall more into the action category.

My film epilogue: I like to picture Honey Rider living out her life in Jamaica, maybe running a business teaching tourists how to swim and dive in the open water. She marries in later life, a European widower who was looking to retire to the island perhaps, someone who reminds her of her father, and together they run a shelter for stray dogs.

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