An Article by Ed Harris
In light of the upcoming debut of Daniel Craig as James Bond, I thought it would be the perfect time to look over the other five debuts for the actors who have played Bond. We will begin with Sean Connery. In this five part series, I will be looking at various elements of the films, the performance of the actor cast as Bond and the development of the character as well as the evolution of the franchise.
110 minutes, Directed by Terence Young, Starring Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Jack Lord and Joseph Wiseman.
I’ve always enjoyed this film as it’s a great intro to the cinematic Bond and presents a rough template for the series that would be refined and solidified in the next two films with From Russia With Love elaborating on SPECTRE as a major threat and Goldfinger laying out the patented Bond Formula. With that out of the way, let’s start the show.
The first gun barrel is a neat way to set the audience up for something different (as are the first few minutes of the movie in general). The sound effects set up the notion that this won’t be “Hitchcock-lite” but rather something totally new. I also like how this segues into the opening credits, blasting John Barry’s signature theme. The music gradually sets up the primary setting for the movie and to a certain extent, acts as an auditory establishing shot. The “Three Blind Mice” song is pretty neat as well as it sets up the gunmen and also provides a bit of ironic humor (obvious in hindsight but darkly amusing nonetheless) with the seemingly random tracking shot of three blind men leading us into the quick introduction of Strangways and Professor Dent. Oddly enough I just noticed Strangways looks a little like Daniel Craig. Neat.
In another example of setting the audience up for a different type of thriller, the assassination of Strangways comes quickly and almost too suddenly. In a Hitchcock film the scene would be dragged out a bit for suspense but Terence Young almost immediately kills off Strangways and his secretary is what was at the time a fairly brutal fashion. The scene also sets up a few plot elements quite nicely; the hearse and the files on Crab Key and Dr. No.
Bond’s first scene is a classic of cinema in general, probably the most famous introduction scene for an iconic character, ranking with Darth Vader’s first appearance in Star Wars and Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia. Our first view of Bond is great as we are kept from seeing his face until the moment his name is brought up. The atmosphere of the scene is very nice with the smoke passing by Connery as he delivers his line adding a nice mood to him that adds to the performance.
The first M Scene plays out pretty much as it will for the rest of the series with one or two minor differences. Interestingly enough we see Bond getting off an elevator and heading towards the office, something not repeated in the rest of the series. The first scene with Moneypenny is played in a nice, low key manner with the emphasis being on playful flirtation as opposed to the rather odd trend of more obvious sexual humor that the Brosnan Bonds tended to drift into.
As for the scene itself, I always liked Connery’s respectful yet smartassed relationship with Bernard Lee’s M. It’s carried through the entire scene with a nice payoff at the end. I also like the touch of Bond offering his lighter to M only to have his boss go for a match on the other side of the room. The intro of the Walther PPK is another great bit, nicely written and acted. It’s interesting to note the low key manner in which things are played for roughly the first hour of the film. Until we get to Crab Key the story plays out like a standard detective story with some different wrinkles that spice things up.
Back to this scene, I love how Connery plays it. Here we have our hero basically acting like a student who has been caught screwing around in the middle of a lecture by his professor: M chides him about the Beretta, making a nice reference to the novel “From Russia With Love” by bringing up how his gun jammed on him during his last mission. It’s a nice line that works as a reference to Fleming that plays just as well if you have never read the books. If you have, you get it. If you haven’t, it’s just a line of dialogue that doesn’t leave you confused.
We get another glimpse into Bond’s life (the first time we see where he lives) in the scene with Sylvia in Bond’s apartment: One of the things I think works best about the film is how the first hour or so goes into setting up Bond’s character while keeping the main plot in the background for as long as possible. Whereas most heroes at the time would simply just get right on the job, we see that Bond is cut from a different cloth. He takes the time to bed a beautiful girl before going off on his mission, a trend that will continue in some form or another throughout the series.
From there, we begin to get the main plot involved but not at the expense of building Bond as a character.Funnily enough, the shot of the Pan Am jet landing is similar to the one in Live And Let Die (We’ll get to that in the third part of this series though). The airport scene does several things quite well. It gives us an idea of how casually professional Bond is (he handles everything with exceptional calm, something Connery is very good at). It’s almost as if he anticipates trouble from the get-go, not really too much of a stretch as one would have to be blind to not notice Leiter lurking about looking mysterious and the lady with the camera. A neat little bit I noticed just recently (haven’t seen the film in a while) is the shot of the photographer talking to Mr. Jones as Bond is on the phone. A nice touch.
The confrontation with Jones is a well done bit of action with Bond very casually asking a few questions, then proceeding to beat the hell out of the driver. Connery plays Bond’s tough side quite well, showing the quick, efficient way he gets things done as well as the self-control that keeps Bond from coming off as a Dirty Harry clone. I also enjoy the line as Bond pulls up to Government House. It’s a funny throwaway line made even better by the reaction of the man he delivers it to.
I like how the film shows Bond doing a more standard type of investigation than we usually get. Rather than the usual road the films tend to go down, the first film has Bond going about things as one would in a standard police procedural, talking to the last people who saw Strangways alive, investigating crime scenes,
etc. it gives the first hour of the film a nice, laid back feel that is maintained throughout the film (not to the best effect, however).
The scene in the hotel room is an interesting one in that while Bond’s signature drink is introduced, we never hear him order it. In fact, Bond never gives his drink order in the entire film. It is always recited to him. Just an odd little detail that I find amusing. I like the low tech room prep Bond does, it’s always been one of the scenes that stands out in my mind whenever I think of the film.
Quarrel’s first scene is a very good introduction to the character. John Kitzmiller gives a warm, likable performance that transcends the somewhat stereotypical way the character is written (the superstitious aspect of the man is played for laughs but the actors seem to downplay element to the film’s benefit). The subsequent scenes in Puss-Feller’s club work nicely to introduce Leiter, give a little background information on Dr. No and also pay off the photographer character. We also see a little bit of Bond’s nasty side as he coldly questions her while Quarrel twists her arm.
The set design for Dr. No’s base is great, as is the norm for a film that Ken Adam is the production designer for. I’ve always admired how intricate the sets are, yet also how sparsely decorated they are for the most part. With the exception of the cell Bond and Honey are held in at the end of the film, all of the sets in the base are designed to be purely functional, nothing more. Another notable element found at this point is the wonderfully creepy voice of Joseph Wiseman who would later provide the voice for Blofeld in the fourth and fifth films. His toneless, menacing voice gives us a splendidly vivid idea of who this man might be and when we finally see him in the flesh, the voice is enhanced even more by the performance of the actor.
The tarantula scene is probably the most famous scene in the movie. The tension generated by it is incredible with Connery’s face covered in sweat occupying several close-ups and the spider itself made to look menacing simply by being on top of our hero. The shot selection is terrific, as is the payoff. There’s just something remarkably humanizing about having a hero do something to save his life… and then heading to the bathroom to puke.
The next ten minutes or so: Miss Taro setting up Bond to his execution of Dent, are very interesting because while they have very little to do with the main plot but have everything to do with cementing the character of Bond for the audience. It is here that Connery, for me at least, truly becomes James Bond. While we have seen him as primarily a simple detective, the next ten minutes truly establish the link between Fleming’s character and the cinematic creation that has entertained for all these years. Connery plays the toughness and sly cunning of the character perfectly, all with the light, only semi-serious touch that he has more often than not always brought to the role.
The car chase starts us off, well shot considering the period in which it was filmed and while the rear projection at times is a little too obvious, it’s important to remember we are talking about a film made in 1962 on a fairly low budget. The one liner at the end is another good one. Well timed and delivered with just the right tone by Connery.
Connery shows us even more of his ruthless side with the seduction of Miss Taro. He really just does it for the hell of it, it’s merely a way to pass the time and stay alive. Casually calling the cops before going back to having sex is a wonderfully callous way to get rid of the film’s femme fatale.
The cementing of Bond’s character is driven home with the assassination of Dent. Bond prepares casually and methodically, setting it up perfectly and creatively, even putting on some music and calmly setting out some cards to keep himself occupied while he waits for his target. The ensuing scene with Dent is very well acted, Connery plays the cold ruthlessness wonderfully and his final line to Dent is just perfect. The second bullet to the back of the man is a perfectly nasty touch that reinforces the reality that while Bond is the hero, he is still essentially a killer. He may not enjoy it, as his reaction before the perfectly timed fade out shows, but he is what he is.
After this, to be honest, the film falters somewhat in my opinion. While it’s still great in parts, the low key tone doesn’t work quite as well in the Crab Key sequences as it dies for the rest of the movie. Since Bond is pretty much set up at this point, the character takes a back seat to the story to a small extent but again, it’s not too detrimental to the overall effectiveness of the film.
There’s really very little I can say about Ursula Andress’s entrance into the movie that hasn’t already been said. It’s iconic and effective and she does fairly well acting wise. I’ll never forget how surprised I was the first time I heard an interview with her and rather than the voice in the movie, a rather thick Swiss accent came out. One of the few times where dubbing has worked the way it should (honestly, I find it to be dodgy at best in most films from this era and simply ridiculous at worst).
The boat scene and ensuing pursuit with dogs is interesting in that the filmmakers decided to keep it low key like the rest of the film, emphasizing suspense over action. This technique would be used to even better effect in the next film, fitting better with the more realistic storyline and overall serious tone.
Not every film is perfect and I don’t want to dwell on it but the “fetch my shoes” line is easily the low point of the series. It’s totally unnecessary, out of the blue in terms of how Bond and Quarrel have related to each other thus far, insulting to the way the characters played out in the novel and totally out of character for the cinematic Bond in general. If the producers were to do a special edition of the film along the lines of the first Star Wars trilogy, this bit could be cut very easily.
Now, with that little bit of unpleasantness out of the way…
I’ve always enjoyed Connery’s subtle reaction to Honey’s back-story. One gets the sense he’s saying to himself “Alright, maybe I won’t try to get in the sack with her. At the very least I’ll have to buy her dinner first.”
The “dragon” tank is a pretty neat prop. The design is cool and I really wish the light had been a little better so we could have seen just a bit more detail. There are one or two shots where you can’t really see anything at all. I also like Bond’s reaction to Quarrel’s death. Like his beach scene with Domino in Thunderball, it is underplayed and the emotions Bond is feeling are left primarily to the imagination.
The scenes in Dr. No’s lair are pretty great with some moments standing out more than others. I’ve always liked the decontamination scene. It’s just a neat little concept that works very well. I also love the little scene where No goes through Bond’s room while he sleeps. It’s very eerie and more than a little creepy.
Dr. No’s first full blown scene is one of the best written “villain confrontation” scenes in the entire series. Wiseman gives a great, low key, menacing performance, showing the intelligence and insanity of the man quite well. He also has some very amusing moments, the casually fluid way he defuses Bond’s escape attempt with the kitchen knife is especially amusing. The dialogue is also quite well done. Connery plays Bond’s taunts quite well and the introduction of SPECTRE works like a charm, setting up the next film nicely.
I like the film’s version of the obstacle course slightly more than the one in the novel, though both work very well. I’ve always enjoyed the shock generated by Bond touching the grating for the first time, a great surprise. The film version works well because it, like the rest of the film is lean and scaled down, one of the few Crab Key scenes where the low key tone works just fine.
The climax where Bond foils No’s plan is really the only time when the pace falters and slows down too much.It’s mainly due to the lack of any music until Bond knocks the guard off the railing, after which the scene moves long just fine. Before that, there are a few too many static shots where not much is happening. Some music would have solved the problem just fine. That aside, the climax is a satisfying one with a nice death for Dr. No. The huge explosion at the end has always been one of my favorites. I love how it just keeps going on, and on, and on. The last scene on the boat is a nicely amusing coda to the film. Not too long and a perfect template for codas in future entries. I especially like the instrumental that leads into the Bond Theme over the end credits. Very memorable.
Past what I’ve already noted, Connery presents us with a very strong picture of who James Bond is: a cool professional who occasionally bends the rule but for the most part plays by them. He kills without pleasure but also without mercy, an element that would gradually go away by the third film, resurfacing from time to time. As good as he is, he would get even better in the next two films until his best turn in Thunderball.
In the end, Dr. No is a great introduction to the character of James bond. Sean Connery gave a very strong debut performance that would only get better in subsequent films and he was helped immensely by a very good cast, screenplay and production team. It’s not the best Bond film but it does serve to give a solid introduction to the many facets of the character.