Thursday, August 21, 2014
Doctor No (1962) | Villains
Dr No tones down its main villain from Fleming's version in understandable, but somewhat disappointing ways. It leaves the character Chinese, which is great (No was inspired by Fu Manchu, but isn't himself a true example of Yellow Peril fears in action), but loses the pulpier details. The literary No glides when he walks. With his bald head, he reminds Bond of a giant worm with claws for arms. The movie No replaces the claws with metal hands that are still odd, but - for better or for worse - not as visually striking. The result is an unusual, but believable villain. It's unfortunate that they cast a white actor instead of a Chinese one (as they also did with Miss Taro), but race aside, Joseph Wiseman does an excellent job creating a creepy, memorable antagonist for Bond's first film.
No's tactics are also de-pulped somewhat from the book, but less successfully. Book No has created a labyrinthine obstacle course for the express purpose of testing enemies like Bond. That's too silly for Movie No (and would require an expensive squid battle at the end), so the film loses the obstacle course angle and just has Bond navigate a weird series of air ducts to escape his cell. Stripped of their original purpose, the ducts make no sense with their hot sections and being randomly used to transport water for some reason. (No's plan for Honey is also modified from the novel, but at least it's rational.)
Another change from the novel is No's political allegiance. In the book, he's dabbling in rocket toppling with an eye on offering his services to the Soviets. That's almost an afterthought though and No's real motivation is simply to be left alone with his illusion of sovereignty. In the film, toppling is the focus of his operations and he's working for SPECTRE. It's how Movie Bond learns about that group and one of the things I love most about the Connery (and Lazenby) movies is how they form a saga of Bond's uncovering and fighting that organization. In Dr No, SPECTRE is nothing but a name and that's very cool.
Another thing I like about Dr No is its creation of Professor Dent. He's a lousy liar and a worse assassin, but as ineffectual as he may be, he's wonderful in his slimy patheticness and he's a memorable henchman.
Dent also represents one final thing I want to point out about Doctor No. I'm stealing this idea from the James Bonding podcast, but even though they came up with it, they rarely carry it out so I feel it's fair game. In just about every Bond movie, there's a moment when the villain could easily get rid of Bond and win the day. So as we go through the series, I'm going to point that out and talk about how the bad guy might have succeeded in his plans.
Doctor No tries to kill Bond a few times long distance on Jamaica, but his assassins are mostly ridiculous. A gang of hitmen try to shoot Bond once and are so frightened by some passing headlights that they never try again. Then there's No's own plan to murder Bond with a poisonous spider, which has the benefit of looking like a natural death, but is super unpredictable. At least No is trying though and he almost succeeds a couple of times first by trying to run Bond over a cliff and then by sending Dent to murder Bond in person. Bond gets out of those by his own wits and skill, which is awesome.
Where No fails is on Crab Key. He's already seen that Bond is talented and resourceful, so he offers Bond a place in SPECTRE and when Bond refuses... he locks Bond up? In a cell with giant air ducts. And then totally ignores him. Doctor No gets great marks in style and creepiness, but loses points for being ineffective and kind of dumb. As a henchman, Professor Dent has the same issues as his master.
Top Ten Villains
1. Doctor No
Top Ten Henchmen
1. Miss Taro
2. Professor Dent