James Bond Begins!: Sean Connery as 007 in DR. NO (United Artists 1962)


cracked rear viewer

Ian Fleming’s secret agent 007, James Bond, was introduced in the 1953 novel Casino Royale, and was a smashing success, leading to a long-running series of books starring MI-6’s “licensed to kill” super spy. No less than President John F. Kennedy was a huge fan of Fleming’s books, and since the early 60’s were all about “Camelot”, producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman decided to cash in and bring James Bond to the big screen (the character had appeared in the person of Barry Nelson in an adaptation of CASINO ROYALE for a 1954 episode of TV’s CLIMAX!, with Peter Lorre as the villain Le Chiffre).

DR. NO was the first Bond movie, and the producers wanted Patrick McGoohan, star of the British TV series SECRET AGENT, to play the suave, ruthless Bond. McGoohan declined, and Richard Johnson was considered. He also turned them down, leading Broccoli and Saltzman…

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Book Review: Dr. No by Ian Fleming


Having survived his creator’s attempt to kill him off at the end of From Russia With Love, British secret agent James Bond returned in the 1958 novel Dr. No.

When Dr. No begins, M is concerned that his top agent might no longer have what it takes.  After all, James Bond barely survived his previous mission.  The doctors say that he’s recovered,  Bond has spent months in rehab.  Bond is desperate for a new mission but M still has his doubts.  So, he gives Bond what should be an easy assignment.  He sends 007 to Jamaica, to investigate the strange disappearance of John Strangeways and his secretary.  (Strangeways previously appeared in Live and Let Die.)

It turns out to be anything but simple.  As soon as Bond arrives, it becomes obvious that the mysterious Dr. No was somehow involved in whatever happened to Strangeways.  Dr. No lives on a remote island and has made a fortune through the cultivation of bat guano.  (Eck!)  With the help of the loyal Quarrel and the beautiful Honeychile Ryder, Bond sets out to find out what Dr. No is actually up to.  Of course, the natives say that Dr. No is protected by a dragon.  Bond says that’s foolish but then the dragon shows up…

But it’s not just the dragon that Bond has to look out for!  There’s Dr. No himself.  When we finally meet Dr. No, we discover that he’s basically a cyborg.  Oh, he’s never called that, of course.  I don’t even know if “cyborg” was a word in 1958.  But Fleming delights in telling us about Dr. No’s metal hands and the way that he glides across the floor.  Fleming also delights in telling us all about the ins and outs of bat guano.  Fleming came up with many creative deaths for his Bond novels but Dr. No is the first to feature suffocation by bat shit.

Dr. No is a departure from Fleming’s previous books, all of which may have featured villains with odd names but, at the same time, remained somewhat realistic.  Dr. No, on the other hand, is so fanciful that it almost reads as being satire.  Everything from Dr. No’s megalomania to Honeychile Ryder’s first appearance on the beach suggests that Dr. No is intentionally written to take place in a bigger-than-life fantasy world.  That doesn’t mean that it’s a bad book.  In fact, it’s one of Fleming’s more entertaining novels.  But it’s almost as if, having brought Bond back to life, Fleming was determined to take a break from the real world with his next novel.

Interestingly, Dr. No started life as a non-Bond related screenplay.  Though Fleming ultimately abandoned the script, he used it as the inspiration for his next book.  It’s appropriate that, from such beginnings, Dr. No went on to serve as the basis of the first Bond film.

Christopher Lee, R.I.P.


Jinnah

The picture above is Christopher Lee in the 1998 film Jinnah.  In this epic biopic, Lee played Muhammad Ali Jinniah, the founder of modern Pakistan.  Up until yesterday, I had never heard of Jinnah but, after news of Lee’s death broke, Jinnah was frequently cited as being Lee’s personal favorite of his many roles and films.

Consider that.  Christopher Lee began his film career in the 1940s and he worked steadily up until his death.  He played Dracula.  He played The Man with the Golden Gun.  Christopher Lee appeared, with his future best friend Peter Cushing, in Laurence Olivier’s Oscar-winning Hamlet.  He played Seurat in John Huston’s Moulin Rouge.  He appeared in both The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit trilogies.  He appeared in several films for Tim Burton.  He even had a small role in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.  He appeared in two Star Wars prequels.  He appeared in the original Wicker Man (and reportedly considered it to be his favorite of his many horror films).  He appeared in Oscar winners and box office hits.  And, out of all that, Christopher Lee’s personal favorite was Jinnah, a film that most people have never heard about.

Unless, of course, you live in Pakistan.  When I did a google search on Christopher Lee, I came across several Pakistani news sources that announced: “Christopher Lee, star of Jinnah, has died.”

And really, that somehow seems appropriate.  Christopher Lee was the epitome of an international film star.  He worked for Hammer in the UK.  He worked with Jess Franco in Spain and Mario Bava in Italy.  He appeared in several movies in the United States.  And, in Pakistan, he played Jinnah.  And I haven’t seen Jinnah but I imagine he was probably as great in that role as he was in every other role that I saw him play.  Over the course of his long career, Christopher Lee appeared in many good films but he also appeared in his share of bad ones.  But Christopher Lee was always great.

It really is hard to know where to begin with Christopher Lee.  Though his death was announced on Thursday, I haven’t gotten around to writing this tribute until Friday.  Admittedly, when I first heard that Lee had passed away, I was on a romantic mini-vacation and had promised myself that I would avoid, as much as possible, getting online for two days.  But, even more than for those personal reasons, I hesitated because I just did not know where to start when it came to talking about Christopher Lee.  He was one of those figures who overwhelmed by his very existence.

We all know that Christopher Lee was a great and iconic actor.  And I imagine that a lot of our readers know that Lee had a wonderfully idiosyncratic musical career, releasing his first heavy metal album when he was in his 80s.  Did you know that Lee also served heroically during World War II and, after the war ended, helped to track down fleeing Nazi war criminals?  Did you know that it has been speculated that Lee may have served as one of the role models for James Bond?  (Ian Fleming was a cousin of Lee’s and even tried to convince Lee to play Dr. No in the first Bond film.)  Christopher Lee lived an amazing life, both on and off the screen.

But, whenever one reads about Christopher Lee and his career or watches an interview with the man, the thing that always comes across is that, for someone who played so many evil characters, Christopher Lee appeared to be one the nicest men that you could ever hope to meet.  Somehow, it was never a shock to learn that his best friend was his frequent screen nemesis, Peter Cushing.

Christopher Lee is one of those great actors who we assumed would always be here.  The world of cinema will be a sadder world without him.

Legends together

Legends together

Here is a list of Christopher Lee films that we’ve reviewed here on the Shattered Lens.  Admittedly, not all of these reviews focus on Lee but they do provide a hint of the man’s versatility:

  1. Airport ’77
  2. Dark Shadows
  3. Dracula A.D. 1972
  4. Dracula Has Risen From The Grave
  5. Dracula, Prince of Darkness
  6. Hercules in the Haunted World
  7. The Hobbit
  8. The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies
  9. Horror Express
  10. The Horror of Dracula
  11. Hugo
  12. Jocks
  13. The Man With The Golden Gun
  14. The Satanic Rites of Dracula
  15. Scars of Dracula
  16. Scream and Scream Again
  17. Season of the Witch
  18. Starship Invasions
  19. Taste The Blood of Dracula
  20. The Wicker Tree

Sir Christopher Lee was 93 years old and he lived those 9 decades in the best way possible.  As long as there are film lovers, he will never be forgotten.

James Bond Film Review: Dr. No (dir. by Terrence Young)


Hi there!  As you may already know, in the days leading up to the release of Skyfall, we’re going to be looking at the previous films in the James Bond franchise.  Today, we take a quick look at the first of the “official” James Bond films — 1962’s Dr. No.

Dr. No is a film of many firsts.  It was the first film to be adapted from one of Ian Fleming’s original novels.  (Though it was not the first adaptation, that honor going to the 1954 made-for-tv version of Casino Royale). It was, of course, the first Bond film to be produced by the legendary team of Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli.  It featured the first true Bond girl, with Ursula Andress playing Honey Rider and spending the entire film in an iconic white bikini.  Dr. No featured the first appearance of both M and Miss Moneypenny (played, respectively, by Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell).  That iconic theme music made its first appearance in Dr. No as well.  However, most importantly, Dr. No featured the first appearance by Sean Connery in the role of James Bond.  Even more than Andress’ white bikini, Connery is the reason why Dr. No proved to be the rather unlikely launching pad for one of the most succesful film franchises in cinematic history.

Dr. No, in fact, is a film that contains so many historic firsts that, often, it seems like reviewers tend to neglect the film itself and, instead, chose to concentrate on the film’s legacy.  And indeed, 50 years after it was first released, it’s difficult to watch Dr. No without viewing everything about it in relation to what the James Bond franchise would eventually become.  Instead of evaluating the film on its own individual merits, the tendency is to watch Dr. No and to spend a lot of time thinking things like: That’s the first time the world ever heard Sean Connery say, “Bond, James Bond.”  We tend to forget that, when Connery and director Terrence Young actually made Dr. No, they had no way of knowing that 22 sequels would follow.  They didn’t know that they were making film history.

Dr. No begins with a shooting in Jamaica.  John Strangeways, the British Intelligence station chief, is ambushed and gunned down by three assassins.  Shortly afterward, in a surprisingly brutal scene, his secretary is also assassinated.  In response, James Bond is summoned to the offices of MI6.  When he receives the summons, Bond is busy gambling and seducing Sylvia Trench (Eunice Grayson).  Sylvia, incidentally, was originally meant to be a character who would pop up in all of the subsequent Bond films.  Basically, she would have functioned as Bond’s girlfriend, the loyal woman who waited at home while Bond went to exotic countries and slept with every other woman in the world.  Perhaps wisely, this idea was abandoned after just two movies but still, Bond’s initial meeting with Sylvia (and the audience) is such an iconic moment that words simply won’t do it justice.  Here it is, for your viewing pleasure:

This scene has to rank as one of the best intro scenes in film history.  In just a few brief minutes, this scene tells us everything that we need to know about both James Bond and, even more importantly, Sean Connery’s interpretation of the character.  In this scene, Connery’s Bond is the epitome of narcissistic charm, giving just a hint of the determined cruelty lurking right underneath the surface.  It’s especially interesting to compare Connery’s Bond here to Daniel Craig’s interpretation of the character.  Whereas Craig’s Bond often seems to be on the verge of having a nervous breakdown, Connery is established in his first scene as being a cool and calm professional.  Craig may be the ideal Bond for our troubled reality but Connery will always be the Bond of our dreams and fantasies.

Bond is sent to Jamaica, where he teams up with CIA agent Felix Leiter (played by Jack Lord).  Again, it’s interesting to compare this version of Felix Leiter with Jeffrey Wright’s more-recent interpretation of Felix.  Whereas Jack Lord’s Felix Leiter is a cool, calm professional (a bit like an asexual version of Connery’s Bond, to be honest), Jeffrey Wright’s Felix often seems to be mired in self-loathing.  Both interpretations are perfectly legitimate (and Felix is usually such a superfluous character that just about any interpretation will do).  Instead, they’re interesting largely because of the way that each one of them epitomizes the decade in which each film was made.

With the help of Leiter, Bond quickly figures out that Strangeways’ death is linked to the mysterious, Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman), who has his own private island near Jamaica.  The natives claim that a dragon guards the island but Bond, never one to let something like that stop him (especially when it’s always his allies — like the unfortunate Quarrel — who get killed in these films, as opposed to him) sneaks onto the island.  It’s here that he first spies Honey Rider (Ursula Andress) walking along the beach.  Again, Honey’s introduction is such an iconic scene that, rather than try to describe it, it’s better just to show it:

For all the talk of how the Bond girls were often sexist stereotypes, I would have loved to have been an old school Bond girl.  Seriously, they got to be all sexy, they got to make love to James Bond, and occasionally, they got to help save the world.  Seriously, what fun!

I’ve spent so much time talking about James Bond and Honey Rider that I haven’t left much room for Dr. No.  But that’s okay because, to be honest, Dr. No is not really that interesting of a villain.  As opposed to future Bond villains, Dr. No is something of a bland character.  Joseph Wiseman plays him with a lot of menace and he has a few over the top moments but it doesn’t matter because there’s really nothing to distinguish Dr. No from any other megalomaniac that’s ever shown up in a low budget spy movie.  He’s a perfectly acceptable villain but he’s not an extremely memorable one.  (Perhaps if Christopher Lee had accepted the role when it was offered to him, Dr. No would have been a bit more of an effective character.)  Rest assured that Dr. No does have an impressive secret headquarters and, that once he does capture Bond and Honey, he takes his time to explain all of his evil plans as opposed to doing something sensible like killing them.

So, how does Dr. No hold up 50 years after first being released?

Surprisingly well.

Despite having a weak villain, Dr. No is still a lot of fun.  As opposed to future Bond films, Dr. No was a low-budget affair and, at it’s best, it comes across as an appealing B-movie.  Ultimately, the film is best known for introducing audiences to Sean Connery in the role of James Bond and perhaps that is for the best because Connery truly is the best thing in Dr. No.  Five decades later, you can still see why the world was so intrigued with both the actor and the character.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at one of my personal favorite films of all time — From Russia With Love!