October 27, 2011

Dr. No

Watching Dr. No (1962), the first James Bond movie, on DVD this week, I was struck by the plot which didn't make any sense, and the cliches which make taking the movie seriously in 2011 impossible.
We begin in Jamaica. Professor Strangways, the man we later learn is the British Intelligence agent in the Kingston office, is killed. While walking to his car at the gentlemen's club, he's caught off guard by three Jamaican thugs posing as blind beggars. They shoot him in the back with pistols equipped with silencers. Suddenly, their getaway car roars around the bend to whisk the body away. Their getaway car is a hearse (get it?) but it makes so much noise, with tires squealing and the engine roaring, that the hearse negates the stealthy silencers? This is only the first example of terrible "foley" sound effects. This is one of those 1960s movies where you can clearly hear every footstep CLIP clop CLIP clop...
Moments later, at Strangways' office, his secretary dials in the shortwave radio for the daily bulletin to London when the thugs arrive. Weirdly, one of the thugs, standing outside French doors, breaks a pane of glass with the barrel of his silencer-equipped pistol, then shoots her? Why pre-break the glass?
  • Breaking the glass makes noise, so why are you using a silencer?
  • There's no need to pre-break the glass; the bullet will do that on its way through!
We learn later that these attacks were ordered by genius megalomaniac Dr. No, in order to prevent Strangways from learning more about his nuclear-powered stronghold on Crab Key. However, the manner of the deaths looks very suspicious to M, so he sends Bond to Kingston to investigate.
Even before he leaves the airport, he's lured into a trap- another thug poses as a chauffeur. Bond immediately discovers the ruse, and, for the first of many times in the Bond franchise, he lets himself be trapped in order to hunt the hunter and get some answers.
As Bond rides in the convertible (with another car following) across Jamaica, we are treated to some nice location shooting, including footage of Sean Connery shot from a car-mounted camera rig. Remember this for later.
The next attempt on his life is death by tarantula, a rightfully memorably scary scene...but how exactly do you murder someone with a tarantula? Bond is sleeping in his hotel suite. The advantage of a tarantula is that you don't have to physically enter the suite- the spider can slip in through a window. BUT tarantulas aren't predatory carnivores who crave hot blood! If you drop a spider in a hotel suite, are they inclined to seek out bodies in beds and bite them to death? OR you could place the tarantula in the bed with Bond BUT if you're able to break into his suite and get close enough to Bond's bed, why bother with the spider? As Scott Evil said in Austin Powers, just shoot him!
In the course of Bond's investigation, he determines that there's a leak between the Intelligence office in Kingston and Dr. No. Bond immediately suspects foxy secretary Miss Taro. Did James Bond invent the "He knows she's a spy, and she knows he knows, but neither admits it" dynamic? Bond gets himself invited to Miss Taro's bungalow, basically inviting her to try to kill him.
As Bond drives his convertible up into the hills of Jamaica to pick her up, Miss Taro phones the hearse-driving thug to run him off the road. Bond is chased around the twisty dirt mountain roads by the hearse. All of the footage of Bond being pursued by the hearse feature Connery fake-driving against a rear-projection of the hearse following, intercut with location footage of stunt drivers. How come they used a car-mounted camera rig to shoot Connery on location earlier, but this chase is filmed in a studio? To make it worse, the foley sound effects are of cars skidding on asphalt, not dirt or gravel.
Once Connery arrives at the bungalow-- Miss Taro never expected him to make it-- he seduces her, and they have sex. She consents in order to delay Bond long enough to give another of Dr. No's agents a chance to arrive and kill Bond. Bond sleeps with her to give the local office time to arrive and arrest her. He could have just arrested her personally, and held her at gunpoint until the cops arrived, but no, he basically slept with her out of spite. She spits in his face as she's taken away.
Eventually Bond lands secretly on Dr. No's Crab Key, site of his nuclear-powered NASA-sabotaging SPECTRE Evil Lair. He is captured along with local beauty and simpleton Honey Rider (Ursula Andress; voice looped by Nikki Van der Zyl) I don't think I am being racist or sexist to say her character is written as an ignorant savage.
Bond and Honey are escorted into the bunker, scrubbed clean of decontamination in a lengthy "watch our movie stars shower" sequence, then locked in a deluxe suite of cells. The set design for the underground lair is terrific. Very authentic 1960s brutalist design on a large scale, with sleek modern furniture. They're served coffee in their suite, which is spiked with knockout drops. Poisoned drinks are a common trope in mystery stories, but why Dr. No chose to knock them out after they've been captured and neutralized is the real mystery. Is this just a dirty trick? They wake up in their feather beds, so unless Dr. No was taking embarrassing photos of them while they slept, there seems to be no logic to it.

Next is the "dinner with the megalomaniac" scene. Dr. No is a Chinese expat, played by a Canadian actor Joseph Wiseman, with latex hoods over his eyelids, a plain grey Dr Evil tunic, and glossy black robot hands. It's really hard to take him seriously in this post-Austin Powers era. As part of SPECTRE, he is assigned to jam radio signals for the latest NASA rocket in order to crash it into the Atlantic. Bond continually baits Dr. No in an attempt to rattle him, but it doesn't work. Dr. No eventually sends Honey off with the security thugs, hinting that he'll permit some old fashioned gang-raping before they kill her.
Instead of killing Bond, as he had tried to do throughout the movie, he locks him in a cell. The cell has a air vent measuring at least 2 feet by 3 feet. The grate blocking the vent is electrified, but Bond only has to take one zap before he can jostle the grate free and escape.
If your workplace has a sign like this, maybe it's time to refresh your resume.
Maybe something less "radiation-y" would suit you better?
Bond survives several drenchings of water, one of which might be red hot nuclear coolant? I am not sure why Bond didn't mutate into Radioactive Bond? And why is the ventilation system and drain system the same set of pipes? Bond manages to disable a nuclear engineer, steal his coverall radiation suit (which nicely obscures his identity) then makes his way to the nuclear reactor just in time to force a core meltdown and foil Dr. No's plot. In the following pandemonium, Dr. No drowns in the coolant tank, Bond saves Honey from drowning in the rising tides, and they escape the island before the reactor blows up.