007 marathon: Just say yes to DR. NO

tinseltown tuesday meme morpheous

DR. NO is the first 007 movie, the world’s introduction to Sean Connery and an instant classic packed chock full of win — right?

Well, the first two things are true.

The last part isn’t. This film is imperfect.

It’s a rough draft of a rough draft, with big pleasures and big flaws and a lot of cheesy nonsense that you’ll recognize as the first fumbling gestures to what will become glorious 007 movie staples that will change movies FOREVER.

So DR. NO isn’t a perfect film or the amazing classic we all think it is. 

You should watch it anyway.

I just did. As part of a 007 movie marathon — we bought the boxed set of Every 007 Movie Known to Man — I’m watching each movie, in order, with our 11-year-old son who has never seen a Bond movie before.

DR. NO was our first. It will not be our last, nor will it be our favorite Bond movie of all time. Yet there’s something about the first that’s always worthwhile and interesting and magical, even in the bits that are a bit undercooked.

Sean Connery, the Best Bond Ever?

Not in this movie.

Sure, he’s got charm and a sense of menace. He’s instantly credible as Bond and fun to watch.

Best ever? Nope.

Connery in DR. NO beats the pants off Roger Moore any day of the week. Daniel Craig crushes Connery’s first whack at Bond, and I’d even give Remington Steele the win in GOLDENEYE versus Connery in this one.

The later Pierce Brosnan Bonds get a bit cheesy, and he gets massive demerits for all the invisible car nonsense in his last 007 film and singing ABBA songs in that movie with Meryl Streep, so Connery edges Brosnan overall.

Also: Timothy Dalton is under-rated, and gets mondo bonus points for appearing as a glorious bad guy in HOT FUZZ.

Also-also: George Lazenby just doesn’t count.

So here we go, ranking the 007s in order:

Daniel Craig > Sean Connery > Pierce Brosnan > Timothy Dalton > Roger Moore > George Lazenwhatever

The Bad Guy

DR. NO’s villain is a mysterious mad scientist named who lost his hands to radiation experiments or some such thing and belongs to SPECTRE, which he carefully explains to Bond stands for something like Some People Who Are Really Smart and Choose Crime Because It’s Way More Fun to Have Secret Lairs in Volcanos and Such, except he makes it spell SPECTRE.

Dr. No lives on an island with a ton of henchmen, a sweet underground lair and all kinds of fancy prison cells connected by the most awesome airduct system ever.

Basically, Dr. No is a trendsetter for supervillains to come: a rich, disfigured foreigner with some kind of nuclear / doomsday device in his underground lair and all kinds of henchmen who wear matching jumpsuits.

Related post: Out of fairness, I dissect my favorite genre, thrillers

The Bond Girls

There’s a random dark-haired girl in the beginning who Bond meets at a card game. She breaks into Bond’s apartment, which somehow endears him to her instead of making him fill her full of lead as a possible KGB assassin.

There’s a bad girl photographer working for Dr. No and another bad Bond girl at the British consulate who’s a double-agent for Dr. No and flirts with Bond before eavesdropping on him. So naturally he asks her out and winds up going to her place, which is an ambush. Ugh.

At this point, I’m yelling at the screen, “If you see any pretty girl, Sean the Connery, turn around and RUN FAR AWAY.”

Finally, we’ve got a blonde he meets on Dr. No’s mysterious and forbidden island: Honey Rider, the main Bond girl, who’s on the beach hunting for shells. Beautiful girl? Yes. Good actress? Nah. But it works alright.

The Gadgets

None, really. M makes Bond swap out his original gun for a Walther PPK because it has more stopping power.

Bond does have a neat little shoulder holster and displays some tradecraft when he plucks a hair and sticks it over his hotel closet door as a way to check if anybody comes looking around his room.

The Story

The opening sequence is a bit lame compared to later 007 movies. There’s a long bit with British men in a club, talking a lot, before anything really happens. Sean the Connery doesn’t really appear on screen until FOREVER.

What DR. NO does right is set up the basics of a 007 story: a suave secret agent traveling to interesting places around the world to sneak around and uncover plots by intriguing villains.

Dr. No himself gets a great build-up. You don’t see his face for a long time. The first scene with Dr. No, you only hear his voice. The second scene, his body and metal hands. Great stuff. My only quibble is when you finally do see his face when Dr. No dines with Bond and Honey Rider, it’s a let-down. The actor is pretty wooden. I wanted to be even more impressed, to keep up the momentum and menace.

Some of the sidekicks are simply bad story. There’s a boat captain who’s almost — not quite, but close enough — the Jar Jar Binks of Dr. No. The ominous man following Bond from the airport isn’t a bad guy, but a friendly CIA agent, which was a little too cute.

Overall, though, the first Bond story sets up a nice template for all the other movies. Big hero, big villain, big stakes.

The Verdict

This movie won’t blow you away. You’re not going to see the credits roll and shout “Again again!” like a crazed Teletubby.

Despite the rough edges, for any real fan of 007, this is required viewing. You’ll see the seeds of future bits, the origin of characters and tropes that will show up in film after film.

Grade: B+. There’s tension, action and excitement, and at the time, this was ground-breaking stuff.

What made SKYFALL so insanely great?

Yes, the cinematography was beautiful. Just watch the trailer, which is packed with great shot after great shot.

But that’s not why.

Also: cinematography is just a fancy word for “hiring the right dude to actually work the camera and stage amazing shots, because the director is really the Big Boss of the film and not the guy behind the camera, though papers of news will confuse you about this by talking about the man behind the camera when they talk about directors.”

Also-also: the dialogue and writing was much, much better than your typical Bond film. But that’s not what made SKYFALL so excellent that it may be the first Bond film in the history of modern civilization to get nominated for Oscars.

So what truly made SKYFALL so good?


Story is the reason that Michael Bay can waste $250 million apiece on movie after movie about robots that change into cars or whatever, movies that only 12-year-old boys really enjoy watching.

Story is the reason THE KING’S SPEECH — made for about $20 million — crushes any Michael Bay explosion-fest known to man.

As a big fan of cheesy action movies, I appreciate ones that embrace their cheesiness. They make it more fun. When you start taking a movie about robots from outer space too seriously, it shows on the screen and stops being fun.

SKYFALL rocks so hard because it takes something else seriously: story.

Just for comparison, I watched a typical 007 movie from the Roger Moore era: THE SPY WHO LOVED ME.

Here’s the trailer for that piece of cinematic trash:

SKYFALL and this Roger Moore thing have the same ingredients: (a) suave spy for the British Secret Service who (b) can’t walk down the street without tripping over 27 beautiful women, half of whom are (c) trying to kill him because they work for (e) some insane villain with pet sharks and a secret lair inside a volcano. There will be (f) glorious gadgets and (g) amazing chase scenes and (h) witty one-liners.

That formula means nothing if you — the audience and the director and the actors — don’t care about the characters.

Bond has typically been made of cardboard. Oh, he’s got the tuxedo and the charm and the gadgets. He gets the girls. But what makes him tick? Does he ever suffer and sacrifice and change?

Roger Moore never really suffered or sacrificed or changed.

Daniel the Craig definitely suffered and sacrificed in CASINO ROYALE. And he bumped that way, way up in SKYFALL.

Sidenote: A big reason that A QUANTUM OF SOLACE stank up the joint was the Hollywood writer’s strike meant the writing and story was thrown together by the director and Craig, on set. Not a recipe for success. 

The more brilliant move by Sam Mendes and his writers was to give serious character arcs not just to Bond, but to the traditional supporting cast at MI-6, the characters who are usually just pieces of scenery.

In the old Bond movies, M was just a boss behind the desk and Moneypenny was a pretty secretary that flirted with Bond as he hung up his coat and went in for his next assignment.

In SKYFALL, Moneypenny is an amazing driver who shoots somebody you don’t expect. She’s actually important to the plot.

Even a minor character played by Ralph Fiennes goes from bureaucrat and enemy to courageous ally. He gets a story arc.

And this time, M is absolutely crucial to the plot.

Crucial to Bond, who suffers quite a lot because of a decision she made: “Take the bloody shot.” Crucial to the villain, Silva, who suffered just as much, if not more, because of M.

Finally, M is crucial to the film’s story itself. You could argue that it’s her film.

Sam Mendes gives us a movie that’s not just chase scenes and gadgets and Bond girls — he makes us care about the characters. He takes us on a journey with them, with each of them forever changed.

And that’s the power of story.