Friday, 21 January 2011

BlogalongaBond / Dr. No: The Greatest Introduction In Film History

Here we are then. This is the beginning: the daddy that fathered twenty-two sequels; the start of fifty years of holding up a mirror to reflect an entire genre of cinema; the reason why some of us began to take such an interest in film that we're banging on about it on the internet decades later. And in effectively ensuring the continuation of the James Bond series, I can personally thank Dr. No for my perennial unpopularity at social events.
"I only asked him who his favourite Bond is.
That was an hour ago and he's STILL TALKING"

It all begins with two shocking murders. It's hardly Kill Bill, but for 1962 - and for the series as a whole - there's a lot of claret spilled in Dr. No's first minutes. The underlying brutality of the story and its characters are neatly set up here: the violence only sporadically rears its head again but that opening ensures we know it's never far away. When it does reappear - most notably as a laconic Bond kills Professor Dent in ice-cold blood, then thumps another bullet into his dead body just to be sure - it maintains a tone that's satisfyingly faithful to Ian Fleming's books, though not one that would last beyond the next film in the series.

The remarkable efficiency and urgency of Dr. No are largely down to groundbreaking direction and editing: watching an immaculate Sean Connery strut through the first hour following a logical trail of breadcrumbs is hella fun, while the swift finale avoids the enormous armies of boiler-suited Walther-fodder that populate the conclusions of later entries. It's only when Bond starts wading through the film's soggy, boggy mid-section that things slow down; Ursula Andress may get one of cinema's greatest-ever introduction scenes, but her character brings nothing to the plot. Fortunately she brings everything to the notion of The Bond Girl - gorgeous, dangerous and convincing generations of young men that they saw a nipple when in fact they didn't. Still, no harm in repeatedly rewinding and frame-advancing just to be sure, eh?
It speaks volumes about the genius of Dr. No that Andress' iconic first scene isn't even the best character introduction in the film: that distinction belongs to the spy who shagged her. Even if, in 1962, Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman had known what a colossal global phenomenon Bond would become, it's unlikely they could have come up with a more timeless introduction for him than the one they did. I say "one": in fact James Bond is too much for just one intro. That's why he gets two.

Here's the first. FACT ALERT: it doesn't feature Sean Connery.

Stuntman Bob Simmons is the man over-enthusiastically leaping almost out of shot to fire that deafening thundercrack gunshot, and with Maurice Binder's visually arresting gunbarrel design and the cacophonous explosion of Monty Norman's theme (arranged by John Barry, legal fans), James Bond erupted onto cinema screens in unforgettable style.

Six minutes later, once a couple of British civil servants have been viciously offed and a man with an astonishing cardigan / spectacles / hair combo has phoned in some crucial plot exposition, we get our first proper look at one of cinema's most enduring heroes. It's a masterclass of build-up and payoff, emulated many times since (hello, Indy), but never bettered.
It's 2.48am and we're in some kind of opulent and somewhat ostentatiously decorated London club. We've no idea what goes on in there but the sign outside is in French so it must be exciting and out of our league. Ooh, it's a casino! How very cosmopolitan.
A staggeringly beautiful woman in a killer red dress is haemmorhaging money in a card game to a man who we can only see the back and hands of, but he's got an immaculately coiffured barnet, a razor sharp tux and he flings his cards around with all the insouciance of a man who either knows he's going to win or doesn't give a shit if he loses.

Eventually she has to borrow from the house, and the man - now flashing a probably insanely expensive cigarette case - patronisingly admires her courage, safe in the knowledge that he's going to take her, and take her for every penny. She introduces herself, and only in the 1960s would the name "Trench... Sylvia Trench" sound like that of an untouchable sexpot. Finally we're allowed to see the man's face as he lights his cigarette, and there's barely time to register how brutally handsome he is before he pinches Sylvia's catchphrase to introduce himself.
Except he's got something she hasn't: his own theme tune. The first mention of his surname cues the orchestra, allowing him to pause impassively and raise his magnificent eyebrows before announcing his full name over a swaggering musical motif that perfectly captures his arrogance, panache and sheer sex appeal. By this point Miss Trench Sylvia Trench is hooked, and so are we. The rest of the card game is a mere formality and we all know it. We just want to spend the rest of our lives in this man's company because there is literally nobody else like him.

James Bond has arrived.

Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman)
The original Bond villain and one of the best: OK, so he shows up 25 minutes before the end, gets just two scenes and is dead fifteen minutes later, but Dr. No's spectre hangs over the rest of the film like a foreboding, mysterious cloud. With steel hands. And his big dialogue scene is so much more than just monologuing: he genuinely sees 007 as an intellectual equal to show off to, and the script crackles with the exploration of muddy geopolitics and Bond's ballsy needling of the unhinged villain which were Fleming's trademarks. Still not sure exactly what he's a doctor of though.

Ken Adam's sets
One day I hope to have a house with a room just like this so I've got somewhere to store that one chair that doesn't go anywhere else.

That scene
Inaugural Bond girl Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) serves no purpose other than to look absolutely stunning in one of cinema's greatest bikinis, but sweet zombie Jesus she does it well. Halle who?

BlogalongaBond will return with From Russia With Love

What the hell is BlogalongaBond? I'll tell you.
Further BlogalongaBondareading here


  1. Great details of those who contribute to the opening of the title sequence, awesome. It occurs to me that the kick-in of the music is as pyrotechnic as the opening to Star Wars, a recording famously featuring LSO trumpet legend Maurice Murphy on his first day at work. Do we know who Monty Norman's session band was, and who was using their trumpet as a WMD on that occasion?

  2. Brilliant blog, BlogalongaBond! Love the title montage on your previous post!

    To augment your fantastic work...

    1 The electronic sounds that proceed the gunbarrel were extremely avant garde at the time and were sourced by sound designer, Norman Wanstall (a sonic pioneer who would win the first Bond Oscar for 1964's Goldfinger, laying the groundwork for Lucasfilm some 15 years later).

    2 The gunbarrel itself was a last minute inspiration from legendary title designer Maurice Binder who, on the way to the meeting to discuss his titles and with nothing planned, looked in his folder and found a selection of round, coloured stickers for price labels...

    3 The James Bond Theme is actually culled from a sitar-driven, Indian-themed showtune from an aborted musical of V. S. Naipal's The House Of Mr Biswas. The producer of the doomed stage show was on Albert R Broccoli... Vic Flick is the guitarist and the trumpet was played by Derek Watkins.

    4 The introduction to Bond at a casino is based on the introduction to him from the first novel, Casino Royale, 1953. In the 1958 Dr No novel, Bond is recovering from near fatal injuries sustained at the cliffhanger ending of the previous novel, From Russia With Love, 1957.

    5 There is a plummy British agent seeking Bond at Le Cercle. This deliberately over-posh accent was deployed so that we are somewhat relieved when we hear Bond's softened Scottish burr - an outrage at the time for Fleming fans (Bond was literary phenomenon on which the films built - Fleming being the J K Rowling, John Grisham, Dan Brown of his day, getting top billing over Sean).

    6 Sylvia Trench was meant to remain throughout the series as the girl who never quite beds Bond. When director Terence Young departed the series after the second film, this continuity-joke function was taken over by Miss Moneypenny (a character who barely registers in the novels).

    ["That'sh a Shmith & Wesson - and you've had your shix"]

    7 Connery's debut as Bond is based on the 1939 film, Juarez, where Paul Muni is seen from behind, raising the expectation of the title character's entrance. Notice the lighting of the cigarette for Bond. The timing is such that the reveal of Connery as 007 happens as he exhales: Bond literally appears in a puff of smoke.

    8 Connery wore a hairpiece in Dr No. His suit is by Anthony Sinclair. The double cuffed shirts Turnbull & Asser. The Bond look came from director Young, who made Connery sleep in his suits to get used to them.

    9 Dr No in the novel was well over 6 ft tall, bald, has hooks for hands, dresses in a flowing kimono and is the one in a million who has his heart on the right hand side... In the book, he is killed by being buried in bird guano.

    10 The spider chamber set was the last one built and funded from the contingency budget of the film. This German-Expressionist minimal masterpiece caused the Ken Adam, the gun-metal genius Bond designer, to hide on set when the completion bond team visited on the day the scene was being shot.

    11 Honeychile Rider emerges naked "like Botticcelli's Venus" from the ocean in the novel. When aware of Bond's presence, she covers her lower region and her broken nose, leaving her breasts pendulously dripping wet with the lucky Caribbean water. Andress was dubbed by Monica van der Zyl and Fleming (who, ahem, happened to be visiting the set with Noel Coward the day this famous scene was filmed) put her in the Bond novel he was then writing, On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

  3. Terrific Blog. Very detailed. Dr. No was always among my favorite's of the early Connery 007. Ursula Andress may not have much to do with the overall plot, but boy does she add to many of the reasons why plenty of guys have seen multiple viewing's of the film.

  4. Reviewed half the Bond movies this year (, GUTTED to have missed out on BlogalongaBond! I'm enjoying catching up though, good stuff. A repository of awesome. Sylvia Trench isn't the most alluring name in the world, is it?

  5. But is it a double entendre?

  6. I might add as a fourth amazing thing about Dr. No is the wonderful turn that Jack Lord made as Felix Leiter. I do believe that he was unequalled in his portrayal of Commander Bond's CIA counterpart and his role in this film was a definite strength.