Danger is Death, Sex is Life
It is quite often said that the third James Bond film Goldfinger, was the first to have all the Bond elements and essentials firmly set in place, Goldfinger is after all “the Bond film that has it all”. Personally I don’t think this is true, Bond films had it all right from the beginning, from the very first film, Doctor No. Sure, Doctor No may lack the gadgets and the special effects, but they are merely window dressing when it comes down to it. It is danger, sex, and humour that are the key elements of Bond, and this is made clear from the very beginning. Doctor No wasn’t for James Bond to find his feet, it was for James Bond to establish himself, and Doctor No gets it right first time. The danger, sex, and humour of the Bond world, and indeed Bond himself, is evident as much in this film as in any other.
Danger is the prospect of death, and death in Doctor No comes in many different shapes and forms. Perhaps the most dangerous form is the one that doesn’t suggest a threatening presence, the one that fades into the surroundings, the one that is forgotten after a quick glance. In Doctor No this would have to be the Three Blind Killers, unlikely assassins, but ruthless professionals. Chinese Negroes, disguised as blind beggars, The first beggar holding a stick in front to feel his way, the second beggar holding his stick to the first, and the third to the second. They don’t suggest a deadly presence; they are introduced to us with a silly, catchy song. They don’t hide in the shadows of a dark alley or dress in black; they shuffle along the dusty roads under the hot sun of Jamaica, wearing baseball caps and light clothes. But within two minutes they have causes complete and utter chaos, killing Stranways and his secretary, and stealing the files on “Crab Key” and “Doctor No” without any trace or clue to reveal they were ever there.
But in Doctor No, danger also appears in its more conventional assortments, like the spider that Professor Dent sneaks into Bonds hotel room. It’s all been fun and games up until this point, the chauffeur at the airport and the photographer never posed any threat to Bond, but since then Bond has been snooping around, and he’s getting a little too close for comfort to Doctor No. We know the spider is deadly without being told. Yeah, most spiders are, but Dent’s reluctance to pick it up, even though it is caged further enforces the point. All Dr No has to say is “Tonight”, nothing more. Now things are serious, and the closer that Bond gets to Doctor No the more large and apparent the signs of danger and death become. Look at the last form that danger takes before Bond meets Doctor No, that of a dragon. And we know that this dragon is a force to be reckoned with by the way Quarrel speaks of it. Infact the dragon kills Quarrel, making danger and death real rather than just a prospect, an illusion.
But the most dangerous obstacle in Bonds path is Doctor No himself, portrayed exceptionally well by Joseph Wiseman. Without looking to deeply, some may consider the Doctor to be a bland and uninspiring character; this is far from the case. One gets good insight into the type of man that Doctor No is, a man with talents who considers himself unappreciated, an intellectual who feels that he is surrounded by fools. He needs appreciation; he needs glory: to sustain his ego, his arrogance, if nothing else. He doesn’t care where he gets it from; he offered his services to both the West and the East, who are, for rejecting him, merely “fools” and “points on a compass”. Dr No is a superior brain, and thus a criminal brain because “Criminal brains are superior, they have to be”.
He is at first interested in Bond, intrigued by him, after all Bond a dangerous and clever man in his own right, we witness his execution of Professor Dent in clod blood, and see him step up is room so any trespassing can be detected. Look at the treatment Bond initially gets from the Doctor; nice room, new clothes, and treated to a first class dinner. Doctor No thinks that maybe he has found another like him. But he is to be disappointed, because Bond turns out not to his standards. “I prefer the 53 myself” Bond comments, a classic display of wit in the audiences’ minds, but not in Doctor No’s, he concludes that Bond is little more than “a stupid policeman whose luck has run out”.
Had Doctor No not been the first villain in the series he may very well be considered the best, the most sinister, the most diabolical. Unfortunately he stands behind Gert Frobe’s Goldfinger and a few others in those stakes, but when it comes to the title ‘Most dangerous’, Doctor No wins. Notice how Doctor No has no real henchman, no strong man to stand behind, to be protected by. Instead of an unbeatable strong man with an abnormality like the metal teeth of Jaws in he Spy who Loved Me, or the hook of Tee Hee in Live and Let Die, Doctor No himself is the one with the abnormality, his metal hands. And it’s worth noting that Doctor No and Bond fight one on one, man to man, how many over major Bond villains have done the same. Certainly Stromberg, Drax, or even Goldfinger couldn’t take Bond on single-handed. Doctor No loses, ofcourse, but he fights, to the death, and is a menacing and dangerous presence all the way. The danger of the Bond films was an element they got right first time.
If danger is death, then sex is life, since its result is the creation of. Look at the first four scenes of the film, the first scene with the Three Blind Killers involves danger, the second scene with Bond and Sylvia Trench is the promise of sex, the third scene with M is the promise of more danger, and the third scene at Bonds apartment with Sylvia involves sex. Danger and Sex are the two fundamental elements. Why? Because Bond is fantasy and it is fantasy to kill the villain (danger/death) and win the heart of the damsel in distress (sex/life).
Sex comes in three main forms in Doctor No, that of Sylvia Trench, Miss Taro, and Honey Rider. These three women are the formula of women that is evident in most of the 007 films. Sylvia Trench is the easy sex, the sex at the beginning that establishes the element of sex that will exist throughout the film. She implies that sex is a hobby, not unlike baccarat or golf, two hobbies of which Bond is also quite capable; we are given the impression that she has sex with quite a few men, and I don’t mean that in a demeaning way, rather in the way that Bond has sex with quite a few women. They merely crossed paths here. Many times this would be used again in Bond films. Ling in You Only Live Twice, Kimberley Jones in A View to a Kill, the Danish teacher in Tomorrow Never Dies and Dr Molly Warmflash in The World is Not Enough being prime examples.
Miss Taro is the evil sex, and although Bond is aware of the score, he is a willing participant. But although Bond is walking into a trap, he will never allow us to think that he is completely being fool. Bond always makes comments, drops hints, that he knows what’s really going on. “You did invite me ?” Bond askes Miss Taro when she is suprised to see him. Bond likes to watch the woman squirm and justify her actions, weave the web of lies. A similar attitude is also present in Diamonds Are Forever with Tiffany Case, “It’s lucky for me I ran into you” Bond says, but he doesn’t mean it. Bond will not let the woman feel that she has completed fooled him, out smarted him. Another point worth noting here is how Bond can separate this kind of sex from the other two, and in this can, makes the act of love making merely part of the job, no different than any other. Bond even glances at his watch, as if having sex with Miss Taro is merely to pass the time, as if it is no more significant than ringing for the car, or playing solitaire. If the easy sex is nothing but a hobby, then the evil sex is nothing but part of the mission, and sex that he takes little pleasure in it, and says as much in Thunderball after the scene with Fiona Volpe.
The third form of sex is evident in Honey Ryder, the “Bond girl”, an ally, friendly sex, but with her knife she also represents dangerous sex. This girl can handle herself don’t worry about that. She draws her knife quickly when Bond approaches her, without fumble or hesitation, like she has done many times before. “I promise I wont steal your shells” Bond assures her, “I promise you wont either” Honey replies. We don’t doubt that see may try and kill him, or that she may in fact succeed. She mentions to us that she has killed before, in a rather brutal manner, putting a black widow spider, “A female, they are the worst” under her landlords mosquito net, letting him die over a week. She was justified in her actions, but as Bond says, “Not something one should make a habit of”.
Ofcourse, we do see her vulnerable, scared and unsure also, in the scenes before and during the dinner with Doctor No, this is perhaps to fulfil her role of the “damsel in distress” in the fantasy. But she does display strength too, not wanting to leave Bond when he askes Doctor No to let her go. Honey Ryder is surely the prototype Bond girl, setting the standard for the leading ladys in the Bond films that have followed. The sex in Doctor No was an element that the producers got right first time.
Danger and Sex are the two natural elements; Humour is the artificial element, manufactured perhaps to make the story telling more appealing, but was so successful that it became an element in itself. Notice how the majority of the humour involves either danger/death or sex/life? “Make sure he doesn’t get away” Bond says to the guard at Government house, referring to Mr Jones, the dead chauffeur in the back seat. “I think they were on their way to a funeral” he remarks after the car that was chasing him goes up in flames. Both times enemies have died, and both times Bond himself has avoided a potentially dangerous situation. A witty comment breaks the tension, restores some normality, and perhaps softens the situation.
As for the humour in love scenes, this is perhaps purely for fun, comments that many of us would love to say ourselves but know we wouldn’t be able to get away with. “Look, no hand” he remarks when bedding Miss Taro. “No, I’m just looking” Bond replied with no hint of anything over than assuring Honey that he is not after her shells. Far more outrageous and humorous oneliners about villains demises and sexual encountered were quipped in the films that have followed, but the humour element in Doctor No is most enjoyable in it’s own right.
A Final Note
Perhaps the greatest example of the three elements (Danger, Sex, and Humour) at work is with the three endearing regular characters; M, Moneypenny, and Q. M is danger, the prospect of death, because when Bond is called to see M it’s because M has a mission for him, and a dangerous one no doubt. We know that Bond will never die, but the opportunity is there. The same goes for Bond and Moneypennys flirtatious bantering. Just as we know Bond will never die from a mission given to him by M, we know that Bond and Moneypenny will never have sex, she even says so herself, “flattery will get you nowhere, but don’t stop trying”, but the prospect, the possibility, is always implied.
The relationship between Bond and the third of the regulars, gadget master Q is also most interesting. Q is the hoity toity, old fashioned, school tie type, and Bond is the immature adolescent. Q is a genius with the revolutionary high tech gadgets he comes up with, gadgets that have saved Bond on many occasions, but Bond doesn’t care. He shows Q and his work no respect. Bond gets at Q with his humorous quips, making light Q and his gadgets, but Q holds his own, and quite often has the last word. It’s no wonder Q is loved by all. With M and Moneypenny in fine form from the beginning, it’s a pity Desmond Llewelyn wasn’t in Doctor No. But I consider him as an exceptional bonus in the other films, rather than a notable absence from Doctor No, because even without the endearing Q, Doctor No was the perfect beginning to what would soon prove to be the greatest film series of the all.