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007: Best Of Connery – Dr.No

James Bond - Best Of Sean Connery - Dr No

British superspy James Bond has been a mainstay of the movies for more than half a century. During that time we’ve seen six Bond actors, 23 official Bond movies, and are greatly anticipating the 24th – this month’s Sam Mendes directed Spectre. Three years ago, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of 007, myself and fellow Movie Moron contributor Dalmatian Jaws delved into the massive catalogue of movies to bring you joint reviews covering the franchise’s highs and lows. We’re going to re-post these in the lead up to Spectre’s release since they are just as relevant now. We’ll be discussing the most critically acclaimed and the most critically derided movie of each Bond actor. First up is the inaugural Bond film, 1962’s Dr No, starring Sean Connery as Bond. Here’s the original trailer:

And to think we complain about modern trailers giving away too much…on with the review!

DNWilliams: Greetings, good sir!

DalmatianJaws: Howdy.

DNW: I guess this is the moment of truth.

DJ: Haha. Well, you want to start off with Dr No? Did you like it?

DNW: Yes, yes I did. I mean, I already liked it, this viewing did not change that.

DJ: Wrong answer. This is over.

DNW: I was surprised you didn’t enjoy it more this time around.

DJ: I think it’s tough for me cause I was introduced to Bond LONG after it had seeped into pop culture, so there are big expectations. By the time I watch them I’m just going “oh … so that’s where Austin Powers got it.”

DNW: You’re so going to make me look like the good guy here. I was introduced to Bond relatively late too, but I love spy movies and, you know, Dr No is a beloved movie for a reason…it’s a cinematic milestone.

DJ: So is Carpenter’s Halloween … and that movie sucks *ducks under thirteen knives thrown by horror fanboys.* Was it a milestone because that genre was underdeveloped in film? Cause the camerawork and such is very “meat and potatoes.”

DNW: It’s a milestone in the sense that it launched a franchise that is still going 50 years later, that along with its sequels inspired countless films, from Indiana Jones to Inception. The great thing about this movie is that, like you said, while so much of it has been ripped off, parodied and repeated even within its own franchise, I don’t think the movie suffers for that. It only helps cement its iconic status. The raw, original incarnation does hold up in my mind, but like I said, I am a fan of the genre, and of this cinematic era.

DJ: True. The wiki on the legacy of Dr No is a good read. In the same way, Casablanca can’t be faulted for all the folks that ripped it off long after the fact. But…the major difference between Casablanca and Dr No: Casablanca has stunning, meaningful cinematography, brilliant dialogue, a masterful structure, and a heart-wrenching ending. Dr No has a hot girl in a bikini.

DNW: She also has a knife and shells man, don’t undersell my Honey.

DJ: This is true. And I’m half joking… that one shot alone almost balances out the rest of the film’s flaws. I will say this: Connery absolutely POURS charisma off that screen. Even in all the stuffy dialogue scenes.

DNW: Absolutely. Alright, well now we’ve established where we stand let’s get into the movie proper, which of course opens with the now familiar gun barrel sequence and main theme. I’m not a fan of Bond with a hat, which crops up in the early gun barrel sequences in the franchise, but I do really like this opening.

DJ: Yep. It REALLY grabs you. It’s the most inventive aspect of the film I thought. Sexy and vibrant and totally WTF, even though it makes sense on some level. The only thing I hated were the two abrupt musical shifts, the last one leading into the ‘Three Blind Mice’ bit with the assassin trio (a brilliant concept that’s totally underutilized). But it feels like a beautiful, colourful picture frame around a poorly painted beige still life … the two don’t really fit together.

DNW: Right. Well, that’s the thing, the Bond formula has not fully formed yet. We have an opening title sequence, but it’s a fractured one, like you said. Instead of a Dr No song we have THE Bond theme and rather than a sequence built around sexy silhouettes (which do come later) the bulk of it is the colourful circles and flashing colours. They’re just really good looking opening titles. The ‘Three Blind Mice’ thing is very random, but again, that’s looking at it through the eyes of someone who views Bond as a franchise with staples, which wasn’t the case yet. It goes without saying how great the theme is right? I mean, it’s the Bond theme.

DJ: Yeah. That theme is just stunning. I love how fast and brassy it is, then those guitars or whatever … it plays with traditional score elements, and beach party movie music, and weaves them into something new. I used to have the Bond soundtracks on cassette. And I totally understand that the Bond franchise was finding its feet … but that doesn’t mean elements that don’t work get to be called “good” just cause they’re new. Jarring musical changes are still jarring musical changes. You’re just getting into the vibe and all of a sudden “A funky calypso beat and three old blind dudes!!!”

DNW: Epic whiplash the likes of which will never be experienced again. Anyway, the awkward transition sets up this movie’s exotic locale, which is Jamaica, and we get less than five minutes into the movie before the bodies start to pile up. I wasn’t keeping count of the deaths in this movie, but I thought it was noteworthy that the first death was a woman, this being Bond and all.

DJ: And thus began the long history of Bond film misogyny … Yeah, unlike the rest of the ones I’ve watched, this has a pretty straight-forward plot kicked off by a definitive inciting incident. Some of the later ones get VERY muddled. At least Dr No gets the point across clearly. And before we go on, let’s just take a moment and reflect on how awesome a title “Dr No” really is. I love it.

DNW: It is a cool title. Cool is the order of business here, which is why we’re introduced to Bond the way we are, not at work, but at play. He sits across from our first Bond Girl, the oft overlooked but delectable Sylvia Trench, playing cards, smoking and getting his flirt on.

DJ: Yep. It’s a great intro to the character. Simple, but well orchestrated.

DNW: I think across the board the characters have great introductions actually, but yeah. There’s a reason it’s obligatory for Bond to utter his name in this precise fashion every movie. It’s not just that ‘Bond, James Bond’ sounds cool, it’s that if you didn’t sound cool saying it you’d be a complete failure of a Bond. It’s quite literally the high watermark of Bondness.

DJ: Yeah. I have to say, the only one that has ever come close is Daniel Craig. And he’s mostly a great Bond because of the pathos … Connery has him beat with charisma, that’s for sure.

DNW: Someone needs to do a video of just all the Bonds delivering the line if they haven’t already, it’s fun to make comparisons. So, the Three Blind Mice assassinate an MI6 agent (along with his secretary) resulting in Bond being summoned by M to investigate. And the flirtation continues, this time with Moneypenny.

DJ: Who is my absolute favourite thing out of the franchise. Sure, Q is awesome, and the stunts are fun, but every time he enters that room and you see her pining away for him it injects things with an emotional element that I love. Bond seems like a real human when he’s around her.

DNW: Really? Wow. If there was anything I would have bet my money (every penny of it) on, it would have been you not liking this scene or ones like it.

DJ: The opposite, actually. It’s why I think Casino Royale is far and away the best Bond movie ever made: it’s human. Cool sex, fun gadgets, silly one-liners, and bombastic stunts are all well and good, but let me feel something for a character and you’ve achieved something far greater than all of that. Those Moneypenny moments are gold.

DNW: It’s also Bond at its most formulaic, right down to the hat throw (again, not a fan of the hat.) And in my mind it accomplishes very little in the way of humanizing. I prefer character to come out in scenes that are actually contributing to the story to some degree, like Bond’s reluctance to leave his gun behind when M insists he use the Walther PPK.

DJ: Agreed, the gun bit shows you who Bond is a character, but his slightly misleading platonic flirting with Moneypenny, shows you something you don’t get anywhere else, that he’s capable of real human interaction that isn’t based on f*cking or killing for information. Once he’s out of that room, he’s 007. When he’s with her, he’s just James. It’s actually essential to his character arc, to the extent that there is one, because otherwise he’s just a vicious, amoral killing machine. And while the pre-Craig movies never mine this for REAL emotion, at least they understood something was needed to keep their hero from being a sociopath.

DNW: Right. It’s a respite from the actual womanizing and exposition, at least. Very static relationship though. Speaking of static relationships, it feels weird that Bond is handed his new gun by somebody who is not Q. It’s like he’s cheating.

DJ: Yeah … when does Q come in? I’ve only seen the first and last Connery ones, so I’m not sure when he entered the fray.

DNW: Looks like it’s my mistake anyway, it is Q, it’s just not Desmond Llewellyn, and it’s not a big deal the way Q scenes usually are, hence the confusion.

DJ: That’s weird. They probably just threw it in cause it was in the books and weren’t thinking “franchise” at that point.

DNW: The first thing we see Bond brandish his pistol at is the aforementioned overlooked Bond girl Sylvia Trench. Visual metaphor or what?

James Bond - Best Of Sean Connery - Dr No
DJ: Haha, that’s right!

DNW: I also love how he’s ready to blow her brains out, but once he gets going to Jamaica – like he’s supposed to be doing when he’s with her – he’s tailed by three people and seems pretty clueless. The second he lands we have our Jamaican Bond Girl snapping a photo of him (licking her flashbulb, which is a nice creepy touch). Then Felix Leiter is literally following in Bond’s footsteps, and THEN he’s pursued in a car. And the driver has to tell him that.

DJ: Yep. I thought the same thing. Though, he does figure out that the driver is fake. It’s one of the few times Bond sees the trap before it’s sprung and uses his brains to get out of it … other times it’s just blind luck.

DNW: And dude: Bond is a passenger. In a car chase.

James Bond - Best Of Sean Connery - Dr No
DJ: Yep. The middle of the film consists of him talking with people, then getting attacked, surviving by luck, then talking to more people.

DNW: Yeah, I really start to love it about midway through when he finally gets to Crab Key island, but prior to that there is enough to keep me entertained. When he kills the driver he drives the body to his rendezvous with a little ‘make sure he doesn’t get away’ crack – he’s not quite The Man With the Golden Puns yet, but he’s on his way. And then there’s the little brilliant espionage detail of Bond using a strand of hair in his hotel room to check if anyone has been there while he’s gone. I love little espionage techniques like that, and it’s so analogue.

DJ: Hahaha, yeah, the hair is gone and yet he doesn’t check the closet to see if they took something, left something, or are waiting to kill him. I was also taken with how nonchalantly he leaves a corpse in the car, and how later he has no qualms about hurting a woman. All early signs of what’s to come in later instalments.

Part 2 (Of 2) >

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  • Sheridan Passell said
    Sheridan Passell

    – I want to see the return of James Bond in a hat. Maybe also dressed head to foot in light blue.

    – In that barrel sequence he shot high, it would have gone way above the target.

    – The sequence where he playing cards and then goes on to meet Moneypenny for the first time is maybe the suavest thing ever put on screen.

    – I feel really sorry for Dr No when he can’t grip onto the pole with his metal hands and ends up being boiled alive.

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    • dnwilliams said

      No! No hat!

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    • gd smith said

      I agree the real Bond should dresses like he’s at home on the golf course, on a boat, formula One, and on the slopes. He’s not this cool outsider dude, He’s a flashy playboy perfectly in tune with what used to be called the jet set. The modern Bonds miss all the aspirational consumerism and loving detail lavished on expensive stuff. Bond now should be like a cross between Hansel from Zoolander and Donald Trump, except English.

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  • PantShat said

    I like how Moneypenny’s glamorous office now looks like somewhere you sign paperwork before renting a van.

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    • dnwilliams said

      I was thinking it looks WAAAAY too personalized for a government building.

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