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James Bond: I admire your courage, Miss…
In the early 1960s, movie producer Albert "Cubby" Broccoli had the desire and the means to launch a film series based on the James Bond spy novels written by Ian Fleming. But he didn't hold the film rights to the novels. Harry Saltzman owned the movie rights, but didn't have the means to get a film production off the ground. After being introduced to one another by screenwriter Wolf Mankowitz, Broccoli and Saltzman formed EON Productions and began work on the first Bond movie. A modest financial success, Dr. No would be the beginning of the longest running franchise in film history.
Facts of the Case
John Strangways, MI6's man in Jamaica, has gone missing. "M" (Bernard Lee, The Third Man) suspects the disappearance is related to the recent toppling of American rocket launches at Cape Canaveral. He sends the British Secret Service's best man to investigate: James Bond, 007 (Sean Connery, The Untouchables). Once in Kingston, Bond teams with a local fisherman named Quarrel (John Kitzmiller, Variety Lights) and a CIA agent also working the case, Felix Leiter (Jack Lord, Hawaii Five-O), to investigate ominous goings-on at Crab Key. The island is controlled by Dr. Julius No (Joseph Wiseman, Viva Zapata!), the agent of Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion (SPECTRE) responsible for the rocket disruptions. Once on the island, Bond meets Honey Rider (Ursula Andress, Clash of the Titans), a beautiful girl who regularly sneaks onto Crab Key to collect sea shells for sale in Florida. When Bond and Dr. No finally meet face to face, witty repartee quickly gives way to a life-and-death confrontation.
Dr. No contains two of the most iconic moments in film history—not bad for a relatively low-budget escapist action picture. The first is our initial introduction to Bond. The super spy is seated at a Chemin de Fur table at Le Cercle Club. With assiduous attention to drama and visual detail, director Terence Young (The Valachi Papers) moves the camera around the table, showing us each of the players' faces except for Bond's. When he finally pushes into close-up on Bond, our hero—in black dinner jacket—elegantly takes a cigarette from a silver case, lights it, and introduces himself to his next sexual conquest (and to us). In that brief moment, Connery so perfectly captured the character's debonair charm and killer cool that most of the now 21 films that followed in the series have repeated the introduction in one way or another. Bond's introduction of himself has become a hallmark of the character, just as memorable as shaken-not-stirred vodka martinis, Aston Martins, and Walther PPKs. The perfection of Connery's look, attitude, and line delivery in that scene alone is one of the many reasons that, while other actors who have played or will play Bond have their advocates, no one will ever seriously challenge Connery for the title of Best James Bond of All Time (an irony in and of itself, considering that, had the internet existed in 1962, it would have been full of the shrill bitching of movie geeks offended by the notion of a Scottish former bodybuilder playing a spy whom Ian Fleming himself thought of as David Niven-esque).
The other scene from Dr. No that inevitably ends up on retrospective most-memorable-film-moments reels at the Oscars and elsewhere involves Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder rising from the frothy surf of Crab Key in a white bikini with a knife belt strapped around her hips, tan, trim, athletic, and hot as hell. Andress set the standard for nearly all Bond girls to follow—beautiful, exotic, independent; sexual and sexually free; tough as nails but, in the end, a damsel in distress. From Pussy Galore to Anya Amazova to Vesper Lynd, we've come to expect Bond to woo and spar with a bevy of beautiful women, but audiences in 1962 weren't prepared for Andress. The Bond girl wasn't old hat back then. Andress' arrival in Dr. No produced a seismic sexual event that rattled across the popular culture and throughout the entire Bond franchise.
Beyond these two memorable scenes, Dr. No offered audiences an entirely new sort of escapist action movie: fast-paced, ruthlessly masculine ("That's a Smith & Wesson, and you've had your six"), wildly implausible, and loads of fun. Young and cinematographer Ted Moore (A Man for All Seasons) shot the movie so that it has an air of casual elegance that tempers its absurd plot and delightfully cartoonish villain. Peter Hunt (who would go on to direct On Her Majesty's Secret Service) edited the picture for maximum visceral impact. The movie's pacing is nearly perfect. Fast-paced action is balanced by scenes of Bond checking into his Kingston hotel and going about the smaller business of spying: checking the room for bugs, setting little traps for his enemies so that he'll know if they enter his room while he's out. At 110 minutes, Dr. No is blessedly taut and brief compared to most of the other entries in the series, which tend to sprawl toward the two-and-a-half-hour mark. The flick kicks off with a cleverly executed assassination and moves rapidly (though not too rapidly) towards its climactic showdown.
Mostly, though, Dr. No remains a blast (and one of the best Bond movies ever made) because it is free of many of the conventions we've come to expect from Bond movies. There is no mini-movie prior to the Saul Bass-designed opening credit sequence; no brassy Shirley Bassey title song; no gadget briefing with "Q." Bond and his world are new and fresh because Young and Connery were still in the process of inventing them for the screen. Dr. No's 007 is smooth and capable, but not as distant and above-the-fray as he would later become. He is more vulnerable, has human limits—one believes he might really be wounded or defeated. There are moments on Crab Key when Bond's victory doesn't seem quite as inevitable as it does in later movies in which the ups and downs of plot correspond to the rigid dictates of formula. The James Bond we find in Dr. No is closer to Ian Fleming's literary creation, which is to say that he's a damned fine professional killer and spy but nothing approaching a superhero. This Bond is a sweating (and maybe puking) bundle of nerves after an attempt on his life involving a big, hairy spider in his bed. Lacking outlandish gadgets that perfectly address the challenges he faces in his mission, he has to make due with wrapping his hands in pieces of his torn shirt to avoid burning himself while crawling through a heating duct to escape from Dr. No's compound. Dr. No's is a James Bond who can be ruffled. Ironically, the added humanity makes him more badass, not less.
Has it really been less than two years since I bought the Ultimate Edition DVDs of the Bond flicks (including Dr. No)? That MGM is going back to the Bond well so soon (and just in time for the release of Quantum of Solace) is sure to vex hardcore fans with Blu-ray players—especially since the 1080p transfer of Dr. No blows the Ultimate Edition DVD out of the water in terms of audio and video quality. Given the age of the film and the extraordinarily high quality of last year's DVD release, I was stunned to see how much better Dr. No looks in high definition. Struck from the same HD master used for the Ultimate Edition DVD, the Blu-ray sports better color reproduction, more depth, and sharper detail. The photographic quality of the image comes across so well that I can't over-emphasize how much more the Blu-ray presentation looks like celluloid than the previous DVD. If, like the Bond movies, all films were financially lucrative enough for studios to invest the money for the sort of meticulous restoration and careful digital transfer that Dr. No has undergone, the merits of high definition over good old 480p would be apparent to everyone. This is what Blu-ray was designed to deliver.
Audio comes in a fine DTS HD 5.1 lossless mix that is beautifully restored, though limited in impact since it was matrixed from the original analog mono track. Purists will be pleases with a Dolby two-channel presentation of the original mono mix. It too, sounds great.
All of the supplements from the two-disc Ultimate Edition DVD of Dr. No are included on the Blu-ray—a piecemeal audio commentary by Terence Young and various members of the cast and crew; a featurette covering the digital restoration of the entire series; a making-of documentary; a documentary about Young and his influence on the Bond franchise; image galleries; trailers, TV and radio spots; and more.
If you're a rabid Bond fan who owns a Blu-ray player, you're screwed. Once you see one of the Bond flicks on Blu-ray, you'll know it's far and away the best way to watch the adventures of everyone's favorite super spy. Upgrading from the Ultimate Edition DVDs will be painful and expensive, but such are the hazards of hardcore fandom. If, like me, you can take some Bonds while leaving others (I'm looking at you, Roger Moore), then it's still worth the money to upgrade your favorite entries in the series. Bond on Blu-ray is stunning.
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