Friday, June 1, 2012

Dr. No - Cut to the Bikini

Dr. No - 1962

Bond: Sean Connery
Directed by: Terence Young
Produced by: Harry Saltzman & 
Albert R. Broccoli

The first thing to note about Dr. No is that it is the first James Bond movie. Goldfinger would put Bond on the map and forever cement him into the popular consciousness, but that movie is the third in the series. Dr. No also wasn't the first of Ian Flemming's James Bond novels. That was Casino Royale. Why didn't they start with Casino Royale? Because in 1954 Flemming sold the rights to that book to CBS television which made a TV movie out of it that aired live on October 21, 1954. So he didn't own the rights to it anymore. Why did they start with sixth novel in the series? I have no idea. Flemming published a new Bond novel every year from 1953 until his death in 1964. Then two more were published posthumously in 1965 and 1966. I guess they just chose one they liked.

All the elements of a Bond film are there: exotic locations (Jamaica, not coincidentally where Flemming wrote every Bond novel), Moneypenny, M, Felix Leiter, the hat thrown on the hat rack, gadgets, pretty girls, sex, funny quips, super-villains, impenetrable fortresses blowing up, etc. Bond's first moments on screen are even him saying "Bond, James Bond". What's missing? Q, naked dancing girls in the opening title sequence, an action sequence pre-title.

The most striking thing about the beginning of the film is what's there that didn't make its way into the formula: Bond's personal life. When we first meet him, he's gambling. That's not unusual, but he's gambling on his own time. He's off the clock, flirting with the exotically foreign Silvia Trench (played by Eunice Gayson) at a fancy club when he's interrupted by work. After a quick meeting with M, he returns home. That's right, we see Bond at home! It's a rather posh place, as you can imagine. When he returns home, he finds Miss Trench has broken in, is half naked, and hoping to play some "golf" with him before he has to leave for Jamaica.

The villain is the title character, Dr. No. He's half Chinese, half German, has no hands due to a nuclear accident, and works for SPECTRE, an international crime organization that sides neither with the East or West. Thus we can have a British secret agent saving the world during the Cold War without having to be too close to reality and the frightening real-life threats of nuclear war. The U.S. is about to launch a space mission to the moon, and he intends to crash the rocket with radio waves or some such. I didn't really understand it, but it was typically sinister and Bond has to stop it.

By today's action movie standards, Dr. No moves incredibly slowly. Parts of it are downright tedious and boring, including a protracted sequence where Bond is crawling through ventilation ducts that I gather is supposed to be exciting based the context. It's worth noting however, that action movies before Dr. No were even slower and more boring. The film's director Terrence Young and editor Peter Hunt revolutionized action movies with Dr. No and the Bond films with their "cut to the chase" editing technique:
For example, in the pre-Bond film days, movies were usually edited by having the characters leave an office, go out the front door, down the sidewalk, and into a car. In the Bond films, Hunt would cut from the office to the car, removing all the redundant shots and condensing the drama to a commercial feel that is almost taken for granted today. ("Cutting to the Chase: A Technical Look at Peter Hunt's Editing Style")
 There's a story I heard somewhere and can find no backup for now, that David Lean was across the hall working on the editing for Lawrence of Arabia, but all he wanted to do was pop in on Hunt and Young editing Dr. No because what they were doing was so revolutionary.

Dr. No is also famous for Ursula Andress in this bikini:
If you doubt that it's famous, it has its own Wikipedia page. It's "cited as the best known bikini of all time and an iconic moment in cinematic and fashion history" and was voted number one in "the 100 Greatest Sexy Moments" of cinema by a UK survey. Here's her and her bikini's initial sequence:

She doesn't even show up until over an hour into the film. Incidentally, she's the third woman Bond sleeps with in the film, after Miss Trench and one of Dr. No's henchwomen whom Bond sleeps with twice the whole time knowing that she's trying to kill him. That's Bond for you. He never did let a woman's allegiances get in the way of a good screw.

Andress's character also introduces us to several other Bond staples: She has a sexually suggestive name: Honey Ryder. She's also a bad-ass who can handle herself. These things must have come from Flemming himself as she's a character in the Dr. No novel too. Thus Andress paved the way for Pussy Galore (also coined by Flemming) and Holly Goodhead (not coined by Flemming).

I'm not sure where I would rank this on a list of all Bond films. It probably lands in the top-half if for no other reason than the aforementioned bikini.

1962 Context:
President: John F. Kennedy
Queen: Elizabeth II

The Mercury Project launched three missions sending astronauts John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, and Wally Schirra into space. Schirra launched two days before Dr. No's release.

Johnny Carson took over as full-time host of the Tonight Show.

Best Picture Nominees:

Lawrence of Arabia
The Longest Day
The Music Man
Mutiny on the Bounty
To Kill a Mockingbird

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