Sunday, April 10, 2011

"Dr. No" (1962)

Starring Sean Connery, Joseph Wiseman and Ursula Andress
Written by Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood and Berkely Mather
Directed by Terence Young
Rated: PG - violence, sexual themes
Running Time: 110 minutes

Dr. No (James Bond) [Blu-ray]"Bond.  James Bond."  In 1962, EON Productions brought Ian Fleming's suave secret agent to the big screen, the start of a series of thrillers and action pictures that would dominate the box office for the next fifty years. 

After a British agent named Strangways is murdered in Jamaica, MI6 sends its best agent, James Bond (Sean Connery) to investigate.  He arrives in Jamaica and immediately finds himself in a place more dangerous than he first thought.  Bond is followed by a mysterious stranger in sunglasses, as well as a female photographer.  As he digs into the facts surrounding Strangways murder, attempts are made on his own life before he makes contact with CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jack Lord) and a local fisherman named Quarrel (John Kitzmiller) who tell him about a local island owned by a Chinese scientist called Doctor Julius No (Joseph Wiseman).

Bond travels to Dr. No's island with Quarrel, who warns him that the island is protected by an evil dragon.  There, the two find a young woman named Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress), before they are captured by No's security forces.  Bond discovers that No intends on sabotaging the American space program using an atomic-powered radio beam, and must find a way to stop him and escape the island with Honey.

The first James Bond film is a fairly small affair, featuring almost none of the elements of bizarre excess that the future films would become known for.  Bond has simply his handgun and his wits to work his way through the mystery of Strangways' murder, and then to thwart Dr. No's evil plans.  There's very little jetsetting to multiple exotic locations, and even the action sequences in the film are quick and efficient. 

But "Dr. No" succeeds because of its efficiency.  It's a film without a lot of fat on its bones, a lean thriller that does also set up a lot of the staples of the Bond franchise that would become very familiar to fans. 

Bond himself is established as an effective agent, a bit of a ruthless killer and a total ladies man.  He's introduced to us in a casino, playing a game of Baccarat, where he successfully hits on a young woman and scores a date for the next day.  He takes a meeting at work, and goes home to find the young woman undressed in his apartment.  Later, he beds an enemy agent just to waste time until an assassin arrives.  The man's a total pimp, to be sure.  But for all his apparent misogyny, Bond has a conscience and is generally a good person; he may be annoyed by Honey's naivete later on, but he cares for her and takes the time to rescue her when he could simply have left her to her fate.  Connery plays Bond with an excellent attitude.  He's cold when employing violence, and easily flirtatious with the women, impatient with anyone who gets in his way. 

"Dr. No" is a fine beginning for the franchise, if a little rough around the edges.  Taken along with the films that would come later, it seems almost quaint, but it is well written and the cast is game.  The story is punctuated by some great dialogue and a few chases and fights before the explosive finale.  The assassination attempts on Bond's life are fun to watch, especially a great scene involving a spider in his bedsheets. 

This film is well worth your time.  James Bond starts here, and with a bang.  It's a smaller, more constrained story than what would follow, but it's still of high quality.  Check it out.

On Blu-Ray, the 4k film restoration is pretty excellent.  Color and detail are great for a film of this age.  Check out all the fine textures like dirt on the ground, clothing and skin.  The colors are bright and bold; the red of Quarrel's shirt really pops, and the Jamaican sky is a gorgeous blue.  Great work has been done making this film look as good as can be, and it was well worth the effort.