This is the golden anniversary of “Dr. No,” the film that introduced moviegoers to the most famous spy of them all: James Bond of her majesty’s secret service. To mark the anniversary, we’ll be running edited excerpts from Bill Desowitz’s just-released ”James Bond Unmasked,” which features interviews with all six Bond actors.
“There are moments of great luxury in the life of a secret agent.” That’s the opening line in Ian Fleming’s second novel, “Live and Let Die” (1954), and one of the hallmarks of the Bond franchise has been taking us vicariously to the most exotic places in the world. Jamaica was the first with its tropical eye candy, easy fishing, calypso music, plentiful beer and rum, and Caribbean cuisine. No wonder Fleming adored it (Goldeneye, his retreat, inspired the title of [Pierce] Brosnan’s first film in 1995). Bond does too: It’s the ideal place for “having all his senses satisfied” and cinematographer [Ted] Moore obliges with supersaturated colors.
Sean] Connery appears impatient while sitting during expositional scenes or edgy during tense moments, not yet comfortable in Bond’s skin. He’s always much better on the move. [director Terence] Young faulted himself for allowing Connery to go “over the top.”
And Bond needs help, so he’s introduced to CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jack Lord), who briefs him about the mysterious Dr. No; he would become a semi-regular and trusted ally. They establish a friendly rapport and Lord, who dons sunglasses and also carries a Walther PPK, gives off his own cool vibe through body language. Too bad this was his lone appearance as Leiter (he has been succeeded by six other actors, the most recent being Jeffrey Wright’s even cooler turn in the Craig films). Apparently Lord couldn’t come to financial and creative terms with the Bond producers, later starring in the popular “Hawaii Five-O” TV series (1968-80).
Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson) turns out to be the franchise’s first henchman, a nervous geologist who tips his hand too easily about the radioactive evidence, which inevitably leads Bond to Dr. No. But not before Dent pays an uninvited visit to No’s reclusive island, Crab Key, to warn him. The weird, Expressionistic-looking waiting room he enters is the first of many imaginative set designs by [production designer Ken] Adam (who later created the War Room in Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove,” 1964).
It’s simple yet sinister with a circular inclined ceiling that casts a web-like shadow across the back wall, ensnaring Dent in its grasp. Adam was forced to improvise at the last minute with no money left for anything elaborate. But less is definitely more in this case. Meanwhile, the disembodied voice of Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman) displays a quiet menace, instructing Dent to pick up the tarantula in the wooden cage on a nearby table. The tarantula is the embodiment of No’s cunning evil and the perfect complement to the room.
Bond returns to his hotel room that night and realizes he’s had a visitor. He sniffs a bottle of Smirnoff (the first of the Bond series with many product placements) and opens a new one just to be safe. He sits down, props his legs up on the table and tries to relax with his drink. It’s a rare moment of contemplation for Bond — and the only one during Connery’s tenure. In fact, Brosnan, who was frustrated by a resistance to navel gaze, wondered: “What is his relationship with M? What is his relationship with the women that he will encounter? How far can you push those relationships in a Bond film to the point where he just closes the door and sits and reflects?”
The respite is all too brief: Bond wakes up in the middle of the night with the tarantula creeping up his body. After sweating it out, he coaxes the spider off his arm and onto the headboard, flicks it onto the floor, and violently beats it to death with his shoe. Then Bond rushes into the bathroom to throw up off-screen. It’s a singular instance of terror straight out of the novel (with a spider instead of a centipede), which Young insisted on retaining, and Connery’s most frightened moment as Bond.
Bond then pursues, seduces and double-crosses an enemy agent, Miss Taro (Zena Marshall) — the second sexual conquest– who tries to lure Bond to his death on the way to her house in the mountains. But he cleverly runs the Three Blind Mice assassins off a cliff in a scene that very likely influenced the “Quantum of Solace” pre-credit car chase, with [Daniel] Craig’s Bond throwing off his pursuers with a submachine gun during the tense drive with Mr. White to Siena, Italy.
It’s not surprising that Bond displays such anger with Taro at her house, squeezing a towel as though he wants to strangle her before they kiss. He treats her cruelly, particularly after sex, and takes pleasure in seeing her escorted by the police. It’s a harbinger of greater, more notorious misogyny yet to come.
But that’s just a prelude to the trap Bond sets for Dent in her house. Bond sits in a chair and appropriately plays solitaire; Dent finally enters and empties his gun into the bed. But before Bond can learn anything significant, Dent slowly reaches for his weapon on the floor: “That’s a Smith & Wesson, and you’ve had your six,” Bond reminds Dent before calmly shooting him twice and blowing on the silencer with snobbish satisfaction.
It’s Bond’s defining moment and nothing else compares with the shocking way he sadistically murders Dent (not even when it’s replayed with Stromberg in “The Spy Who Loved Me,” 1977), and Connery plays it very convincingly, particularly as a counterpoint to the tarantula scene. “Bond is dealing with rather sadistic adversaries, who dream up pretty wild schemes to destroy, maim or mutilate him; he must retaliate in kind,” Connery told Playboy.
That was Young’s defense in fighting to keep the brutality when censors and execs at UA pressured him to cut it, though the number of shots Bond fires was trimmed by a third, somewhat dulling the impact of the extra bullet in Dent’s back after he’s dead.
“You know, people wouldn’t let their kids go see James Bond when they first came out … they were restricted if you were under 16,” noted [Bond actor Timothy] Dalton. “He was a bit of a sensation. He killed people. Good guys didn’t do that. And he didn’t kill them fair and square.”
Originally published on latimes.com.