DM Haight

The first Bond film came in the form of Dr. No in 1962. Ever since then, the iconic score at the opening of the film, the strumming of that guitar, the orchestra behind it gave the film that layered sophistication and vigor the character of Bond has become known for. The film opens up in the Caribbean, following three blind men walking across a street. We then cut to a card game with Strangeways, or 006, an intelligence officer. He leaves the table, goes to his car, and is promptly killed. The same is done to his secretary. Why? So they can get the file on Dr. No. We first find our hero in a casino, playing cards. He wins a hand against a woman, then loses a hand once the stakes are raised. He’s taken away shortly after by a man who has an assignment for him, but not before making a date with the woman that bested him. This is James Bond. The slick, handsome, crafty, often lucky (pun intended), intelligent secret agent the world has come to adore. And this is the first we’ve seen of him. The film balances its quite well, relying on action, drama, and whatever over-the-topness the time period called for. And because of this, the character and score have become nothing less than legend.

And the legend began with a bang (or several) the killings at the beginning of the film, the blood splatter on the ground when the “Three Blind Mice” overturn her body is graphic for the time. It’s also quite effective. In our current culture, we have become desensitized to gore in almost all its forms. We can watch a horror film and forget to flinch when we see an arm torn off. Dr. No finds the ability to make us cringe with simple blood spots on a blouse. It’s effective because we know just how brutal the attack was, how unwarranted. The lack of concern on the faces of the “Three Blind Mice” makes the scene, essentially making the movie worth watching. A good villain is what we need in cinema, and we are given Dr. No right off the bat. Throughout the film we see bond in fights with men holding him hostage, and we are genuinely concerned for his safety, while at the same time awaiting his imminent escape. We see car chases over cliffs with great explosions as Bond narrows down his enemy list, getting closer and closer to the villainous No. The action, however, isn’t like the action we see today. It isn’t a gas canister bursting into a fireball, nor is it a gun fight with one man killing twenty. It’s a flaming car rolling down a hill, Bond crawling through a vent while water threatens to wash him away, a woman being shot and turned over. These are the elements that construct the Dr. No action sequences. There may be some over-the-top spots at times, but the overall distribution of action versus drama is what appeals to the contemporary cinephile.

The drama/action relationship is actually what holds any film together, but it is something Dr. No does incredibly well. The action may grab your attention, but the drama has that power to inveigle anyone to keep with the story. We want to watch the interplay between Bond and Miss Taro (played by Zena Marshal). Who doesn’t want to watch a villainess stammer she is seduced by the rugged Bond? We can’t simply turn away while Bond rigs his room for intruders with pieces of hair and dusting powder. But why is it so difficult to turn away from this drama? It is simply the Bond character. We watch as he stares at his gun. We watch as he waits for Professor Dent to kill him. It’s these moments of tension that build the character of Bond, and it is Connery’s ability to stay cool under pressure that lifts the character up another notch from the rest of the secret agents. He has the swagger of his generation. He ensures that Bond is the womanizing agent with few weaknesses. The Bond girls of the film swoon over the way he handles himself, the way he maintains his composure, how he handles them, saves them, sends them away toward their murky fate. Connery works well in his role because he isn’t the typical British secret agent, but he does influence the way secret agents are played for the rest of film history. His portrayal isn’t great because it stuck with the Ian Flemming version of Bond. It is iconic because it speaks to audiences everywhere, typically male, who want to be that tactful with women, be that handsome, have that coolness, maintain that mystery about themselves like James Bond does. He is an icon of masculinity in film culture.

 Part of that masculinity comes from the over-the-top nature of the film. There is one scene in particular that can’t seem to shake the shadows of a thirty-year old movement. The German Expressionistic tendencies of Bond are overwhelming at times, to the point where they take one out of the film and remind them when it was made. It seems out of place; especially when the scene shows Professor Dent sitting in a room with a barred skylight, giving the room have a claustrophobic air, while Dr. No talks down on Dent. What is almost comical about the scene is the shadowing, the expressionistic shadowing that gives the wall a web-like look, which it only exacerbated by the spider in the box on the desk on the far side of the room. The scene screams of older films from Germany, and even the Universal horror films of the 30’s and 40’s. It’s nice to have the homage to that era, but it made the introduction to the slowly materializing character of Dr. No a bit heavy handed and humorous. The theme was not rampant throughout the film, but that one scene does stand out among the rest as playful Hollywood, if not goofish for modern audiences. It is a scene like that that gives films like Austin Powers the ability to parody. That, of course, is far from being bad, but in term of the motions of the film, the scene slows the momentum and acts as a comedic devise, rather than a foreboding one.

The film is an historic one. Not only did it breed the character that would become the masculinity of a generation, it spawned 21 other films, making it the most successful film franchise in history. And it deserves all the credit it gets for the influences it bestows upon actors, writers, and directors today. Where would we be without James Bond? There would be no Jason Bourne, Austin Powers, Mission Impossible. These films and characters all take from Bond, as do most action films in contemporary cinema. Dr. No works because it was the first of its kind to find a balance that kept audiences interested and wanting more. Connery created the character of Bond and it has rarely been used as effectively since. The longevity of the Bond series can be summed up by Dr. No himself: “I never fail, Mr. Bond.” Well, Dr. No, neither does Mr. Bond.

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