Huh? Wha? Oh, sorry! Guess I didn’t see you standing there in my hallway! Well, now that you’re here, pull up a pew and enjoy yet another disorganized daily examination of the James Bond film series! Hard to believe we’ve made it this far after all. We’re on an all-time high with a license to kill because nobody does it better when we have all the time in the world for your eyes only. Life is tough, not as tough as trying to think of a way to jam the word “goldfinger” into the preceding sentence without drawing undue attention to it, but tough nonetheless. (Good thing Octopussy didn’t use the title in the theme song!)
James Bond by 1962 had quite a life already. He had been in a series of bestselling novels, one collection of short stories, and a not that great American television adaptation that I’m not going to bring up because I am quite glad the night terrors have finally stopped. There had also been an attempt to bring him to the silver screen by creator Ian Fleming and several others. But as the legal tangles were gone over in my previous award-seeking post about Never Say Never Again, I too will never bring it up. (Well, “never” until Thunderball that is, so strap on to get bored again later! I can’t wait!)
Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman had a vision that bringing James Bond to the movies would make for box office success. They received the rights from Fleming and went through the 007 catalog looking for the perfect novel to adapt for the first movie. Talk had drifted to Thunderball as it was the newest Bond book, but the aforementioned ugly legal messes weren’t encouraging. What they wanted was a rousing adventure story that would hook the public interest, hopefully kick start a series of Bond films, eventually ending up with some tall fellow with metal teeth trying to kill Bond on a cable car. (That last part is pure conjecture from me, but if it is what they were planning from the get-go, it came off fairly accurate!)
Dr. No was primarily chosen as the first entry because…well…it wasn’t Thunderball. Also as it was largely set in Jamaica, there wouldn’t be a plethora of expensive globetrotting locations to worry about. The budget for the picture was set at $1 million. Placing that in context, the entire volcano set alone in You Only Live Twice cost $1 million. The budget of 2015’s James Bond movie, Spectre, cost north of $250 million. Why am I bringing this up? I guess because I want to have 250 volcanic lairs available for the public to purchase.
Finding the right novel was just the first major hurdle. There still was the question of who would play Bond. Ian Fleming always described 007 as looking like a young Hoagy Carmichael. For those of you under the age of 95, chances are you have no idea who in the hell Fleming is talking about. That’s okay, I’m one of you. The only Hoagy I’m familiar with is the sandwich and I wouldn’t want Bond to necessarily look like one of those. Cary Grant was approached to play the role, but the producers soon remembered that it wasn’t 1943 and they’d have to wait until 1985 before hiring a grandfather to play Bond. Besides, Grant would only commit to one film, so he was out.
Since Disney’s Darby O’Gill and the Little People had tons of explosions, shootouts, and raw sexual tension (which is odd considering the light Irish fairy tale the movie truly is), the producers went after the leading young man of that film, Sean Connery. Connery was more of a diamond in the rough at the time, but after given some ideas on how to play sophistication from the film’s director, Terence Young, Connery was given a five film contract for James Bond. And as the clichéd saying tritely goes, a legend was born.
Jack Lord came aboard to play CIA agent Felix Leiter and Lord’s hair was hired two days later. In 1964, Lord was asked to return as Leiter in Goldfinger, but apparently was under the misapprehension that people went to Dr. No to see him and not Connery. Lord therefore demanded to be billed as a co-star and demanded “Connery is coming back for Diamonds Are Forever”-type money. No one knows what Jack Lord’s hair demands were as Lord was not brought back to the series. (Of course, Jack Lord went on to star in Hawaii Five-O which lasted for 12 seasons with a theme song that is catchier than any virus. Don’t fight it. It’s science.)
Several stalwarts of the Bond series first appeared in Dr. No. Bernard Lee was cast as M, Bond’s martinet of a boss. Lee repeated the role in the first 11 Bond films until he passed away before his scenes could be filmed for 1981’s For Your Eyes Only. Lois Maxwell was cast as M’s secretary Miss Moneypenny and starred in 14 Bond films herself, finally leaving the series after A View to a Kill in 1985 because she realized that blimp fights are kind of stupid.
For the role of Dr. No himself, Joseph Wiseman was chosen. Dr. No is a prototypical Bond villain in that he has an island lair and breeds incredible fear in his lackeys. He also has metal hands that are shown to be good for crushing statues but not good for climbing out of a nuclear pool reactor. Wiseman was quite chilling in his matter-of-fact approach despite wearing some eye appliqués that somewhat tried to make him reflect more of Dr. No’s Chinese heritage. Don’t worry though. This is five years before we get to watch Sean Connery supposedly be changed into looking like a Japanese native. (Oh, if I only that was something I made up for the sake of a cheap joke. If only…)
Ursula Andress was selected to play the main Bond girl Honey Rider. For some reason her voice was overdubbed with a supposedly milder accent for the entire movie, even though I think her normal speaking voice is just fine. Her iconic scene where she comes out of the ocean in a bikini is a touchstone of the series, despite attempts to homage/ruin it by having both Halle Berry mimic the same scene in Die Another Day and Daniel Craig doing his version in Casino Royale. Of course, the bikini Craig wore was a trifle more risqué and as far as I know, he was not overdubbed.
Ken Adam, production designer extraordinaire, was brought in to design the movie. His sets have become as much a part of the Bond series as Aston Martins and Walther PPKs. Adam, a German, flew as a pilot during WWII…for the British Royal Air Force! No, it is true! In the air, he was quite the James Bond type himself, even supporting troops from the air in the days following D-Day. His sets were in seven Bond movies and Stanley Kubrick used Adam to great effect as well, especially for a different doctor movie: Dr. Strangelove. (That Dr. Strangelove never was a Bond villain is a missed opportunity crossover that was a terrific loss to the cinema world. Screw Batman V Superman in the light of this idea. In fact, just screw Batman V Superman in general.)
It is amazing how many elements in the series that have continued to this day started back with this little movie. The gun barrel opening, M, Moneypenny, the megalomaniacal villain, the exotic locations, the rather sexy ladies, and the James Bond Theme all had their first appearances in this movie. But that is not to say this movie is a perfect Bond movie even with all the eventual templates it started. As the producers were just beginning this venture, they didn’t know what their formula was yet.
For instance, they hired Monty Norman to do the music. Now having “The James Bond Theme Composed By Monty Norman” will be etched on Norman’s tombstone, but the score beyond that is not that remarkable. In fact, it is kind of cartoony in spots. The movie is also peppered with other songs, which is rather odd considering how limiting the rest of the series usually is with ancillary tunes. None are that remarkable, but seeing Sean sing “Under the Mango Tree” for a line makes me think he could never really shake Darby O’Gill from his system.
Thankfully, John Barry was hired to orchestrate the Bond theme, one of the most recognizable pieces of music in the world. Barry would become a series regular, being musically involved in a grand total of 12 James Bond films. His scores set the series standard and when other composers were sought out because Barry was unavailable, they had to be as close to Barry’s style as much as possible. (Well, at least until GoldenEye that is…)
In these early Bonds, it is incredible how they use the Bond theme in odd areas and not just in action scenes. Bond just has to walk around a room or go get his hotel keys or walk down the street and all of a sudden that electric guitar twangs up, playing the theme. You expect action but all Bond does is anticlimactically get his messages at the hotel’s front desk. Actually, I recommend this idea if your normal day is a bit too mundane: Play or sing or think about the James Bond Theme when you have to take the trash out or you need to buy butter or you’re matching socks. It makes your day just as interesting as James Bond when he’s ordering mundane room service for the next morning’s breakfast.
Some of the effects are dodgy, like the shot of a tarantula crawling up Bond’s arm. I know that they didn’t want to put a live tarantula on Connery, but I would’ve changed the lighting so the spider’s shadow didn’t bleed through the protective glass. Also, about that tank on Dr. No’s island that the locals think is a dragon: uh, no, it doesn’t look anything like a dragon. It does look like the Deathmobile from National Lampoon’s Animal House if they had the time to install a flamethrower before the Homecoming parade. (Now that I think about it and knowing how the character of D-Day in that movie operated, there is no worthwhile excuse for that vehicle existing without a flamethrower.)
Still, things blow up and we get the first EON Production of the James Bond film series. In this movie we get the now-iconic “Bond, James Bond” being said for the first time, but we also get a shot of Dr. No seemingly wanting to tuck the drugged out Bond in his bed in a weird scene. The series was finding its voice and it would take the first four movies to finally establish what we nowadays think of when we think of A James Bond Movie. Who knew that this film would someday result in the character operating a mechanical alligator, spinning in a slide whistled car, or driving a tank through a truck load of Perrier?
Connery does fit into the role comfortably and he will only get better in the next pictures. He is still a little rough in places, but he is believable, which is something not all Bonds can say. The posters at the time proudly state “The First James Bond Film Adventure!” as Connery is pictured among a bevy of scantily clad ladies. Who knew that over 50 years later this series would keep plugging along, despite Daniel Craig’s Bond movies not having scantily clad ladies in the posters? (I’m just saying that some traditions are worth keeping.)
I also want a return of the Bond theme being played at the most random, non-action scenes in future Bond movies. For instance, if there’s a scene of Bond sleeping, I want the theme to come blaring in like “Reveille”. Like a wise man once said in the above paragraph, “Some traditions are worth keeping.”