We start our journey through the landscape of 007 with his cinematic debut in Dr. No. Released in Britain in 1962 (the US release was in 1963), Dr. No captures a lot of what I have to imagine were the combined Cold War tensions of NUCLEAR EXPLOSIONS! THE CHINESE! and SEXY LADIES IN BIKINIS MADE OF NON-WICKING MATERIAL!
About fifteen minutes into the film, we’ve already glimpsed the genetic code for all subsequent Bond movies: awesome theme music, someone dying right away, an exotic locale, a vaguely-defined plot that is probably pretty simple in which you can safely assume it involves baddies of non-British origin and some generalized terrorist plot, REALLY COOL CARS, cringe-inducing attitudes towards women and people of color, and coy ladies who indulge Bond’s penchant for a marathon of cool flirtation.
Plot in twenty words or less: 007 hangs out in Jamaica to stop an evil Chinese dude from taking down America’s upcoming rocket launch.
How it’s aged: One of the things that’s difficult for a modern viewer to appreciate is how completely extraordinary Dr. No must have been when it came out. Blog, James Blog notes that given the other films that came out that year, and the swinging, sexy Sixties (as we now think of them) a few years away, the release of Dr. No was a big deal. From Bond’s pleated-front pants to the number of sexy encounters 007 racks up, this is a movie that ushered in the 1960s with a bang. On the other hand, as my friend Sasha Holiday* noted, “Remind me again when people were able to begin suing for workplace sexual harassment?” There are parts of the movie that are quite campy (see: every aspect of Dr. No’s laboratory) though it’s hard to say whether the camp comes from the time it was made, or whether it was just as silly when it was released. And there are parts that make you go, “yeah, this definitely doesn’t happen much anymore” (being offered three geographic varieties of cigarettes, for example).
Something that was just weird and/or WTF y’all: Something that Sasha Holiday noted was the use of white actors for Asian characters, i.e. yellowface. Actors of Asian ethnicity were in the film as extras or minor role actors, but not in any of the major title roles which involved Asian characters (Dr. No and the slightly more ambiguous but no less problematic Miss Taro).
Obligatory feminist commentary: We got a glimpse of potential revenge narrative when Honey Ryder talked to Bond about how she killed her rapist (and with a female black widow spider, no less!) after her father disappeared on Dr. No’s island. But alas, this potential character development was not taken any further. Honey Ryder generally assumed the damsel in distress role once she drank Dr. No’s drugged coffee, which was disappointing because I thought she had some serious bad-ass potential.
Completely hypothetical cultural reference points: Maybe it’s because I finally finished Moby-Dick on the same day I watched this movie (and it only took me 10 months to get through it!), but I think we can make a clear connection between the extremely-delayed appearance of Dr. No (everyone talks about him but nobody has seen him for a long time, plus, he is apparently a total asshole who can completely mess things up with a swipe of his limbs) and the fact that in Moby-Dick, it takes about 500 pages until we even get a glimpse of the damn White Wale. I’m not gonna try to think of who Ahab would be in Dr. No.
Also, looking more towards the future – the tarantula scene definitely reminded me of the horse’s head in bed scene from the Godfather. Perhaps “icky things stuck in bed with you while strains of eerie music play” is just a more common movie trope than I’ve realized.
Superficial Thing that did not Amuse Me: As someone who works in Special Collections library-land, I was scandalized that Dr. No had a rare book sitting beneath some drippy-looking pillar candles.
Superficial Thing that highly Amused Me: I loved that dragon vehicle, y’all, and would gleefully ride one around in a radioactive swamp. But without inflicting bodily harm on anyone.
Interesting and possibly dubious thing I learned from Wikipedia: Dr. No was originally supposed to be a monkey. WHAT.
Administrative information concerning this viewing:
Drinks consumed: Abita Strawberry
Food eaten: Beet salad, roasted Brussels sprouts, chips and guacamole
Viewed on: March 17, 2013
Viewing Partner: Sasha Holiday*
*Not her real name. All my viewing buddies are getting Bond-girl aliases.