With a new Bond film looming on the horizon, I figured it was time to revisit the James Bond catalogue so as to fill up the time between now and Christmas when all the awesomeness will be hitting theatres (I’m looking at you, Into the Woods). I shall attempt one per week.
And so, without further ado, I bring you:
This is a weird one. It’s the first official Bond film (official in that it’s part of the Eon lineup) so it’s obvious there’s going to be some rough edges on this first outing.
The story is pretty standard. After the mysterious disappearance of Commander Strangways, a fellow agent, James Bond, already an established 00 agent (license to kill), is sent to investigate. He travels to Jamaica and learns of a mysterious figure called Dr. Julius No, who seems to have some sort of secret plan afoot that involves world domination via a series of disrupted missle launches. Throw in a succession of beautiful (and sometimes dangerous) women, a plucky Caymen Islander sidekick (who becomes an unfortunate parody at times), and lots of action, and you’ve got yourself a pretty good film.
Kudos should also go to Maurice Binder’s crazy opening titles sequence. Featuring John Barry’s arrangement of Monty Norman’s now classic Bond theme and a calypso version of “Three Blind Mice,” the strange flashing lights, dancing silhouettes, and abstract shapes set a trend that will follow Bond throughout its entire run (which is impressive since so many directors and writers all made the decision to keep the crazy opening titles sequence even though other films began to do away with them). Recent films have lost the opening gunbarrel sequence, but the surreal opening credits have stayed, which makes me happy.
Anyways, moving on to the actual movie.
Oddly enough, the first half of the film is better than the second, even though the final act is full of all the glorious Bond staples we’ve come to know and love (Secret facilities, maniacal bad guys, explosions, etc.). The first half is a tightly plotted spy thriller in which Bond keeps escaping multiple assassination attempts while trying to figure out who’s behind it all. We get the famous introduction to Bond in the casino as he plays Baccarat with Sylvia Trench, a sultry figure who serves no purpose except to be the first Bond girl. She’s promptly forgotten, of course, but while she’s on screen, she’s able to hold her own against Connery, which is no mean feat, because you can practically feel the suaveness washing off of him in every scene he’s in. We also get a car chase, and some more femme fatales, but it manages to remain crisp and engaging.
The second half is where things get a bit looser. Honey Ryder, played by the spectacular Ursula Andress, doesn’t do much except look pretty and give Bond something to look at. She could have had more of a character, but ends up being mostly window dressing. Also, Quarrel, Bond’s sidekick, is written out of the story rather unspectacularly. Then we get the whole, “I’m a villain and I don’t like you, but please make yourself comfortable and listen to me monologue” schtick that all Bond villains can’t help but do. There’s also the secret facility filled with lackeys in radiation suits who look like giant marshmallows. At this point, the story sort of falls apart.
It’s still fun and all, but the writers are clearly trying to find the balance between the goofy Bond stuff and the slick spy stuff. They perfect the formula in later movies. But for a first outing, it’s not bad.
-“Underneath the Mango Tree” is now stuck in my head.
-That damn chirping, trilling bird that’s in the background of EVERY scene
-The photographer lady who yells, “You’ll be sorry! You’ll all be sorry!” I really want her to run away cackling madly after she says that, but alas, it never happens.
-“I’m a member of SPECTRE.”
-Dr. No’s terrible yellow face prosthetics are lamentable. He’s supposed to be German-Chinese, but he looks like a British dude with slight makeup.
I will return with FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE next week. See ya!