Nick’s dissection of the James Bond movies continues.
Doctor No in one word? Lush. It’s a fantastic film to look at, visually. The richness of the colour photography is a sight to behold and we’re essentially talking about a low budget British thriller made in 1962 here. It helps that it was shot in Jamaica as well but if you want to know why James Bond movies are still being made and why there’s a continuity of production that stretches 50 years you don’t start with Sean Connery or even with James Bond the character; you start with a crucial decision to make the movie in glorious colour in 1962.
Think about it for a minute: What if Dr No was made in black and white, would we still have this series so many years later? Or at some point would the studios have dusted off the title and hand it over to a trendy director to re-boot it? People can look at Dr No as the start of a movie phenomenon but with the knowledge of all that followed from it because we can easily recognise the style of a Bond film. However, this is the movie that had to establish that style and all the little decisions, such as whether to film in colour or black and white back in 1962, become crucial to the series success.
The Bond movies are probably the greatest example of Anglo-American co-operation since hitting the beaches of Normandy. The Americans brought the pizazz and showmanship, the British brought the edginess and make no mistake, Dr No is an edgy film for 1962. Bond shoots a man in the back, he has sex with 3 different women (and one of them he has sex with merely to keep her distracted before she gets arrested by the police), he’s casual and flippant at people’s death and it’s a mix of tropical paradise travelogue and space age futurism. Ursula Andress is also quite unlike any leading lady gone before: With an Amazonian physique and casual references to extreme vengeance on rapists, a purely Hollywood movie would have cast someone with the fashionable hourglass figure, welded hairdo and bright lipstick that 50s actresses had.
The movie changes tone at the ¾ mark as well. Up until then we’ve centred on a suave detective/secret agent investigating strange goings on in Jamaica but once Bond and Honey are captured, we enter the space age futuristic world with Dr No’s base. Not as elaborate as what came later in the series, but an early marker of what the James Bond movies would become. The scenes set at the base with Dr No have the effect of dragging mainstream movies out of the 50s and into the 60s and beyond. The early scenes of Dr No have the hallmarks of the transitional time between the two decades: A lot of Brylcreem and elaborately coiffed hairdos on show but then we’re taken away from that and given Atlas missile launches, underground bases, nuclear reactors, shiny and clean surfaces, reels of computer tape and countdowns. Dr No was released in the same month as the Cuban Missile Crisis and the first Beatles single, Love Me Do. Goodbye 1950s, it was nice knowing you.
It all fell into place: Two North American producers, a British product, the colour cinematography, the futuristic set designs, a new type of leading actress, sex, violence and ruthlessness launched into a decade that was right at the point of defining itself apart from the one that went before, even if it didn’t know where it would end up. But what a lush world it would be.