Monday, October 6, 2008

Film Review--Dr. No

Dr. No
directed by Terence Young
written by Johanna Harwood, Richard Maibaum, Berkely Mather
based on the novel by Ian Fleming
starring Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman, Jack Lord, Bernard Lee, Anthony Dawson, Zena Marshall, John Zitzmiller, Eunice Gayson, Lois Maxwell, Peter Burton, Marguerite LeWars

Employing many familiar tropes that have been injected into the franchise, this initial foray into the Bond mythos places him in a variety of sticky situations that he uses his ingenuity to escape from. In this first installment of the franchise, Bond carries forth all the attributes that have made the character one of the most recognizable and envied of the modern cinematic era. Sean Connery demonstrates a rare cool and energy that propels the character into a realm of danger and erotic necessity. Bond is a glowing testament to potentialities and the urgency of play making and making love.

British Secret Service Agent James Bond (Connery)–007—possesses all the attributes one would expect of such a daring, charming man of mystery. Every woman wants him and every man wants to be him. He’s smart enough to avoid being killed at every turn and he always manages to look exceedingly stylish during his many escapes. In this one he is confronted with a sinister plot to shoot U.S. rockets out of the sky by the infamous Dr. No. (Wiseman). Along the way he discovers an innocent woman named Honey Ryder (Andress) who is quintessentially female in all of the right places. Together they attempt to escape but are captured by No’s henchman and subjected to a series of radiation tests but they look dead sexy doing it.

This super-spy film explores the myriad ways that the hero can be put into danger as well as his ability to extricate himself from various untoward situations. Bond is unnaturally gifted and aware of his surroundings. He knows what is coming and can anticipate any danger before it is brought to bear on his head.

James Bond is known universally as a man’s man who participates in life as the ultimate insider. He’s fully capable of transforming his environment to fit his needs and always manages to escape when he’s faced with a tumultuous storm cloud that would otherwise overtake him. This version of the character is free-wheeling, contained, and exceedingly calm when he encounters dangerous elements. He’s also irresistible to women and it’s clear early on that his allure has mainly to do with his supreme confidence and his immense charm. He’s a character who knows where he is and what is required of him at every turn. He doesn’t falter or stumble and it’s his perfect precision of movement that allows him to react to whatever forces are hellbent on destroying him.

In this film, Bond is hunted by Professor R. J. Dent (Dawson), Dr. No’s key henchman because he knows to much. Naturally Bond is able to escape the clutches of Dr. No until the fateful moment when he is captured and dragged away along with the impossibly delectable Honey Ryder. There are scenes that ably capture the physical attributes of Honey and set the stage for all Bond girls to come.

There is a tremendous energy to this film that is carried through to the end. In the scenes where Bond, Quarrel and Honey are attempting to escape on the beach the film slows down considerably and is transformed into a typical action/adventure tale. It’s fairly pedestrian but quickly evolves int something considerably more dynamic. The film surges and sputters, agonizingly working through its effulgence with a quick eye on the corruption that haunts Bond as he attempts to solve a terrific crime and prevent Dr. No from actualizing his aims.

Dr. No is a classic Bond villain in that he is presented as diabolical, sans a moral center, and hellbent on world domination. His actions lead him to make difficult decisions that are necessary to bring to light those energies that allow him to fulfil his obligations to his craft. He wants to achieve greatness within the context of upsetting the United States’s rights to launch rockets from Cape Canaveral. Dr. No is a member of a terrorist organization called SPECTRE and has determined that messing with the rockets will bring a tremendous fury on the United States. It isn’t exactly clear just how this is supposed to happen or whether or not the U.S. would launch a missile attack on the island thereby removing the good Dr. from the world’s landscape. It doesn’t seem like the smartest thing to do as it would only rile up the U.S. military and perhaps the militaries of ally countries as well.

The style of this film is defined by the sharp angles and lighting. It’s a crisp, clean film and Sean Connery is filmed in such a way that his physicality is enhanced. This also works for Ursula Andress who stalks and purrs quietly as she herself provides an intense physicality that carries portions of the film. Jamaica possesses a magical beauty that is exploited at every possible turn; it’s enticing, strange, and utterly beguiling through to the end of the film. It has a real, definitive energy to it that is subtly alive during the sequences on the beach.

The performances in this film are all quite good. Sean Connery brings the cool and decisiveness to his role that has defined it for the past forty-six years and counting. There are many Bonds but there is only one original. Arguments flair about who is the greatest Bond but that argument is superfluous. In this case, Connery demonstrates all the qualities that are necessary for the character. A rakish charm, perfect posture, and a forthright, almost arrogant manner. He is also able to convince any woman, regardless of whatever resistence she might put up, to sleep with him. This quality alone is perhaps what so many men have most admired about Bond. They are able to live vicariously through the character as he goes about his business killing and screwing chicks. Ursula Andress, although she doesn’t actually speak or sing in this film (there are doubles for each), it doesn’t matter because this is all about how she moves her body and the way she comes out of the ocean. She’s specifically in the film as eye candy and to play the damsel in distress. It’s not a particularly feminist role as she doesn’t do much at all to save her self.
Jack Lord’s character comes off as a capable man who knows how to get things done. He also possesses a self-righteousness that works well in the film. Joseph Wiseman is spookily mysterious as the titular character. He is a quiet villain who is not demonstrative and allows others to do his bidding. Wiseman projects a calmness through the role which is expressed with easy mannerisms that make him decidedly more dangerous.

Overall, this film possesses a legitimate charm that comes through the physical performances of its two leads. Each of them are examples of masculine and feminine ideals that work well throughout the film. Ultimately, the film is a classic spy thriller that entertains and excites the viewer through great action sequences and the dangerous situations it thrusts its essential characters into.

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