Friday, October 15, 2010

Review: Dr. No

I think we're more than past due for a James Bond write-up, don't you think?

And what better way to start than with the one that kicked them all off: "Dr. No." Believe it or not, I watched this for the first time tonight, and I really got a kick out of seeing how the franchise all began.

For one thing, as many times as we've heard the line in the myriad Bond films that have been made over the years, I challenge you not to crack a smile when you hear Sean Connery say it for the first time in his first-ever scene of the series -- at a card table, across from the mesmerizing Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson). It's perfectly delivered, with the signature look, cigarette included, and accompanied by the click of the cigarette lighter ... you relish it almost as much as he seems to, and it will never be uttered so well again.

Bond: I admire your courage, Miss ...
Sylvia: Trench. Sylvia Trench. I admire your luck, Mr ...

I leave you to finish this exchange at your pleasure ...

Now, any bit of time we're able to spend with the lovely Ms. Gayson is something to be treasured. During their whole interaction at the card table and their provocative conversation afterward, she simply radiates appeal. You hate to leave her there as Bond makes his exit, and find yourself wondering when you're going to see this girl again.

Well ... again comes just a few scenes later, in one of the most glorious movie entrances you'll ever see. There's Bond, going back to his hotel room to prepare for his departure on assignment. He hears somebody in his room, takes his shoes off to sneak up to the door, draws his gun, flings the door open and ducks to one knee to prepare to fire ...

... and with Bond crouched to one knee in the background, Ms. Gayson's flawless legs frame the shot in the foreground as she misses a golf putt wearing just a nightshirt.

Sylvia: There ... you've gone and made me miss it ...
Bond: You don't miss a thing ...

There's nothing more to say here. Except this:

I'm pretty sure we're all clear on the fact that plot is not a concern with these films. I mean, let's face it, Bond has to save the world from a supervillain hell-bent on ... yep, world domination. "The same old dream," as Bond says. So my favorite parts are the subtleties and nuances of Connery's performance or Bond's style in general.

I like when Bond is on his own. There's a scene here where he's in his hotel room in Jamaica about to leave for the day, and his meticulous preparations are enthralling to watch. He checks the outside door, closes it and locks it; he dusts the latches on his briefcase for easy detection of fingerprints; he walks to the closet, yanks a strand of hair from his head and places it across the crack in the door, so he'll know if someone opened it; he puts his shoulder holster on, slips his jacket on and walks out the door.

And when he comes back, he slips his jacket off, goes to the closet to find the hair is gone, goes to his briefcase and, with a knowing look, finds fingerprints on it; he pours himself a glass of vodka from the open bottle, thinks better of it, sniffs it, and opts for an unopened bottle instead. He goes back to his chair, puts his feet up and relaxes with his drink.

Little does he know that someone left a horrifying surprise for him, which wakes him up in the middle of the night in a paralyzingly intense scene!

Or take the sequence when he sets a trap for an anticipated intruder. He pours two drinks, sets them on the coffee table on opposite sides, strategically arranges the pillows on the couch, takes his jacket off and tosses it there. All the while he's smiling to himself as he crosses the room to the bedroom, flips on the record player and closes the bedroom door. He messes the sheets, slides a pillow under it to resemble someone sleeping, walks to the chair behind the door, loads his gun w/ a silencer and plays solitaire while he waits.

Of course, the trap works perfectly. Guy comes in and fires six shots at the bed, and ultimately meets his demise when he makes a move for his empty gun after Bond made him drop it: "That's a Smith & Wesson, and you've had your six," Bond says, cigarette dangling, before coldly dispatching him.

I also, naturally, admire Mr. Bond's ability to budget his time between saving the world and enjoying the lovely ladies. Shockingly, as he tracks Dr. No to an island called Crab Key, he makes the acquaintance of yet another. Enter the young, the tanned, the blonde, the beautiful Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress).

This girl killed me, because you have no idea what's going to come out of her mouth next. One minute she's young and innocent -- when Bond asks her if she'd ever been to school, she replies: "Didn't need to, we had an encyclopedia. I started at 'A' when I was 8 and now I reached 'T'. I bet I know a lot more things than you do."

And in the next breath, she matter-of-factly, and chillingly, discloses how she once disposed of a man who took advantage of her in the past, and Connery's reaction to this is priceless:

Honey: "I put a black widow spider underneath his mosquito net ... a female, they're the worst. It took him a whole week to die. (Looking pouty) Did I do wrong?
Bond: (Stunned and looks away) Well, it wouldn't do to make a habit of it.

Now what other movie are you going to find these gems in?!

The film then becomes almost science fiction, as they do battle with a flame-spewing tank and find Dr. No's absolutely fantastic lair under the sea, along with his well-financed lab from which he will wreak havoc with the United States' space program. Bond and Honey are taken prisoner -- mind you, it's first-class lodgings -- which, of course, invites some witty repartee between Dr. No and Mr. Bond, especially when they notice Dr. No's spectacular fish tank that magnifies everything on the other side.

Dr. No: You were admiring my aquarium.
Bond: Yes, it's quite impressive.
Dr. No: A unique feat of engineering if I may say so, I designed it myself. The glass is convex, 10 inches thick, which accounts for the magnifying effect.
Bond: Minnows pretending they're whales ... Just like you on this island, Dr. No.
Dr. No: It depends, Mr. Bond, on which side of the glass you are.

From here, we're treated to a fairly standard Bond ending, where he's presented with a very convenient method of escape, takes care of business and gets into a death struggle with the criminal mastermind, who inevitably becomes a victim of his own creation.

And so Bond is triumphantly born ... as is the persistent question we will all ask ourselves in virtually every movie to follow in the franchise:

Why can't these elaborately scheming supervillains ever put their brilliant minds to something useful?

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