Dr. No (1962)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Dr. No</strong> (1962)

(Second viewing, On Blu Ray, September 2018) I watched all Bond movies as a young teenager (Radio Canada used to play them, one after the other, each Saturday of the summer), so why not do it again as a middle-aged man? Dr. No is where it all begins, with a fully formed character from Ian Fleming’s series of novels. As a first instalment, you can see the general outline of the celebrated Bond formula although it’s not yet in focus nor as finely balanced as later instalments would be. The gadget sequence is a simple gun swap, the action isn’t as fetishized as subsequent movies (fights are over in an instant, although that speaks more to the evolution of the action genre than anything special about this first film) and the plotting is still very much within the realm of the plausible. The film is now fifty-five years old, and it shows in the technology, the cars, the billowing clouds of cigarette smoke, as well as the casual racism and sexism (including Miss Monnepenny’s harassment) built within the fabric of the story. Still, it works because the fundamentals are solid. Sean Connery is splendid as a slightly darker Bond than we’re used to (shooting a guy for no reason, etc.), establishing the character in an instant even as the film feels obliged to play his leitmotif at the slightest occasion. The location shooting is splendid, with plenty of local Bahamian atmosphere and colour. While some editing does feel leisurely, much of the film has the beat-to-beat pacing of modern movies (especially compared to some other early-sixties thrillers). Perhaps Dr. No’s biggest criticism is that, even and perhaps especially for a Bond film, it does feel perfunctory. The formula not having been perfected, the plot is a linear mad-scientist-and-his-lair thing, with a wholly optional Bond Girl (Ursula Andress, looking good in a fairly generic way) along the way. Choosing a non-aligned SPECTRE flunky as an antagonist rather than the more obvious Soviet menace is intriguing, but the film does drop minor characters and subplots like crazy, overplaying some suspense sequences (tarantulas are rather innocuous as venomous threats) while mishandling others such as the Dent face-off. Dr. No, perhaps inevitably, also suffers from uneven pacing—I found the first hour more interesting than the second, but that may have more to do with 1962 anthropology and spending time with Bond in real-world surroundings rather than the more generic infiltrating-the-lair focus of the second half. Still, truth be told, I did have a good time watching Bond’s first outing—it’s fun, the character is strong, and the period feel, almost reaching back in the fifties, is wonderful.

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