Monday, August 18, 2014

Doctor No (1962) | Story

So Fleming got his wish and James Bond finally made it onto the big screen. I'm not going to talk much about behind-the-scenes stuff with the movies except where it directly influences the finished product, but Fleming spent such a long time trying to get a Bond series made - either on television or film - that it's worth mentioning that Dr. No's producers were equally passionate about it. Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli had both tried separately, but unsuccessfully to get Bond films made, but it was only together that they were able to make it happen. There are plenty of books and online resources to get the whole story, so I won't repeat it here, but I especially recommend the documentary Everything or Nothing, which chronicles the whole film series up to Skyfall.

I'm taking a much different approach to the films than I am with the novels. For the literary Bond, I've been curious to track Bond's growth as a person, but that's foolishness with the movies. The films sometimes care about building their own continuity, but they're mostly uninterested in character development. I'll certainly point it out when they do build on previous films, but I can't make that the focus as I write about them.

Instead, I'm going to take the movies on their own terms, while also acknowledging the debts they owe to Fleming's books. To make it easier, I'll divide each film up into five sections: Story, Bond, Women, Villains, and Music with subcategories under each one. Today is all about Dr. No's overall story, then tomorrow we'll look at how it presents James Bond, and so on through the rest of the week. Cool? Cool.


Ian Fleming's Dr. No
Ian Fleming's From Russia with Love (reference to previous mission where Bond was almost killed)
Ian Fleming's Casino Royale (Bond uses a couple of spy tricks from that novel in his hotel room)
Contemporary issues with US rockets' going astray

Plot Summary

Same as the novel. Bond investigates the disappearance of a couple of British agents and follows up on their final investigation, which leads him to Crab Key and Dr. No.

How Is the Book Different?

To make all the sex and violence palatable to censors and audiences, Saltzman and Broccoli made sure their adaptation had a lot of humor. We'll get into that more tomorrow when we talk specifically about Dr. No's depiction of James Bond, but while the film doesn't go so far as to wink at its audience, there's certainly a twinkle in its eye.

Plotwise, the film makes a much bigger deal out of missile toppling than the novel did. In the book, rocket interference is something that Dr. No seems to be just getting into. The villain is mostly interested in defending his autonomy and sovereignty, but Fleming seemed to realize that that didn't make him threatening enough and sort of tacked on the toppling as an easy way to raise the stakes.

In the film, that's the whole deal. The Jamaica assignment is never the cake assignment that it's supposed to be in the book. M knows from the start that Strangways was investigating stray missiles; he just doesn't know what Strangways' investigation has uncovered. No one believes Strangways ran off with his assistant and there's an ominous feeling around the mystery right from the beginning.

Incidentally, it was Dr. No's missile toppling aspect that made the filmmakers pick it as the source for the first film. They originally had their eye on Thunderball, but the legal dispute around that made them back away. Since there was a real problem in the news at the time with US missiles going astray, the movie Dr. No would have the benefit of tapping into popular interests. That's something that the rest of the series would also be known for.

Making Dr. No the first in the series created some challenges though. For one thing, the novel builds off of Live and Let Die and From Russia with Love in major ways. Strangways and Quarrel were both introduced in Live and Let Die, but the film has to work around that. Bond's never met Strangways as far as we can tell; his loyalty to the dead man is simply as a fellow agent. And Bond has to meet Quarrel for the first time, which is actually pretty great since screenwriters Richard Maibaum, Joanna Harwood, and Berkely Mather give Quarrel reason to distrust Bond at first. That also goes for Felix Leiter, whom Bond too has to meet for the first time.

Finally, there are some other roles that the Dr. No movie either expanded from the novel or completely created, but we can talk about those through the rest of the week.

Moment That’s Most Like Fleming

This is hard to pick, because Dr. No is so faithful to its source material. There are whole scenes right out of the novel. For that reason, I started looking for scenes that didn't directly adapt something Fleming wrote, but managed to capture something important in Fleming's version. There are a couple, but what I settled on was the moment when Bond and Quarrel are setting out to visit Crab Key. Quarrel's nervous, but Bond says, "For me Crab Key's going to be a gentle relaxation."

"From what?" Felix asks. "Dames?" (Felix is kind of grumpy from waiting two hours for Bond to show up.)

"No," says Bond. "From being a clay pigeon."

That's Blunt Instrument talk right there and we see it still in action later when Bond goads Dr. No with insults all through dinner. He's had it with the investigation and just wants to force a confrontation and get this over with.

Moment That’s Least Like Fleming

If you'd asked me before I re-read Fleming what the most Fleming-like moment in Dr. No is, I would've said it's when Bond kills Professor Dent in cold blood. That would have been me reacting against the soft, fluffy Bond that sometimes pops up in Roger Moore movies. I love the cold, hard, "You've had your six" Bond.

But making Bond ruthless doesn't automatically make him faithful to Fleming. Fleming went to great lengths to show that his Bond is uneasy with killing in cold blood. Fleming's Bond has a dark side; it just doesn't include murdering unarmed people. That's not to say that I prefer Fleming's to what we see in Dr. No. I actually don't. But it does mean I'll quit holding up that moment as an example of what the "real" Bond should be like.

The Stinger

Starting with From Russia with Love, I'll use the Story section to talk about and grade the pre-credits stingers on each film. There's not one in Dr. No though.

Movie Series Continuity

I mentioned above that the movie builds on elements of the novel From Russia with Love as well as Live and Let Die. It does that in the briefing scene when M mentions that Bond was just laid up for six months after his Beretta failed him. That's right out of the novel Dr. No and is a reference to From Russia with Love which immediately preceded Dr. No in the book series. In the movie series we'll never learn more about that mission, but the effect is the same and Bond gets a Walther PPK. Because of that, the Walther is Bond's signature gun from the very beginning of the film series.

We also meet Q for the first time, though he's not called that. He's simply the Armorer, which leads some to believe that he's a different character, especially since he's played by a different actor from the most famous Q. But M calls him "Boothroyd" (right from the novel), which - according to the film version of The Spy Who Loved Me - is also Q's name. From that as well as Q's official introduction in From Russia with Love, I think it's clear that the series intends the Armorer and Q to be the same person.

Just before the briefing, Bond enters Moneypenny's office and tosses his hat onto the coat rack from across the room. That becomes a thing through most of the early movies. And speaking of Moneypenny, there's some mild flirtation between her and Bond that before the novel Thunderball I would have said is borrowed from the literary Bond and his secretary Lil. But Thunderball sadly introduces to the books that Moneypenny has a crush on Bond, so this - like "Bond, James Bond" and "shaken not stirred" are right out of Fleming.

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