Dr. No: a style unique to itself

Dr. No: Style (continued)

Our analysis has already elaborated on those ingredients that would be become hallmarks of the franchise, but there are a number of moments and qualities about Dr. No that make it stand apart from most of the other 007 cinematic adventures. Some are fairly obvious, while others may go unnoticed by an untrained eye.

First and foremost is the lack of gadgets. Until recently, when a new Bond film arrives, many fans eagerly await the comic value and creativity of the Q scene. What will that brilliant quartermaster provide Bond on this mission? What strange and needlessly elaborate gadgetry will be on display in the background in the sequence? What back and forth, tongue and cheek banter shall 007 and Q engage in this time around? The Q scenes of the Bond films are fan favourites, which is why the producers and writers kept cramming them in for so many years. But for Dr. No, there was no precedent that established the character of Q, and the Fleming novels never paid too much attention to him. Suffice to say that the notion of a Bond/Q comical rivalry was but a twinkle in the eyes of the producers.

With the intention to stay as true as possible to the spirit of the novel (a valiant idea that would not last terribly long in the years to come), the quartermaster scene in Dr. No is remarkably simple and effective. In one of the very, very few Bond films not to feature Desmond Llewelyn, the quartermaster at MI6, although referred to Major Boothroyd in the credits, is portrayed rather coldly by Peter Burton. He’s professional, if somewhat stiff. Still, he does use his brief appearance in M’s office to throw a verbal jab at the reckless 007, calling his Beretta handgun nice and light…’for a lady’s handbag.’ Oompf! At M’s orders, Major Boothroyd awards Bond his new weapon, the Walther PPK, offering superior firepower to the smaller Beretta. In a nutshell, the Walther is Bond’s gadget for the Dr. No assignment. The quartermaster walks out of M’s office and the briefing resumes. The scene is over and done with in a matter of moments and honestly doesn’t stand out, unless of course you’re a Bond nut such as myself who analyzes these things with a fine toothed comb.

Some newcomers to the film may also notice the definite lack of a rousing, spy-themed score. Monty Norman is officially credited as having invented the ‘James Bond Theme’ we are all familiar with, and it does play out in all its glory during the title sequence, but for the most part, Norman’s score is Jamaican flavoured rock or island beats. As music, it sounds great. In fact, it’s a score I listen to myself every now and then just for the pleasure of hearing those catchy little cues, but solid Bond music it is not. Even what many refer to as the movie’s main song, ‘Underneath the Mango Tree’, has very little of a Bond quality to it.

Again, like the rest of the score, it’s cute and catchy, but this isn’t the 007 material we’re all accustomed to. In fact, there was a brief moment when the producers toyed with the idea of making ‘Underneath the Mango Tree’ the official Bond song, but director Terence Young warned them that they wouldn’t always make films in which Bond went to places with mango trees, so the idea was quickly dropped. Rather silly, I know. John Barry would be hired for the task of creating music in the next film, From Russia With Love, and the difference in, in terms of sweep, style and pace, is like comparing night and day. Needless to say, Barry would continue to score the Bond films for many years.

Bond, as I briefly mentioned in the previous post, is a bit rough around the edges in at certain times. There are simply a few small ticks and behaviours that we wouldn’t associate with Bond in later adventures. One of the more subtle characteristics is his relationship with Quarrel, the Jamaican local who assists Bond and Leiter in their investigation. When both Bond and Quarrel have set foot on Dr. No’s island, 007 barks, in a rather derogative tone, for Quarrel to fetch his shoes. Hmm, white British man telling a somewhat dopey Black Jamaican man to do his bidding? Not good. In another scene that has Bond, Leiter and Quarrel discussing at a table at a night club, a photographer working for Dr. No attempts to take 007’s picture (for the second time in the film). Bond immediately orders Quarrel to capture and bring the girl to their table. A slight superiority complex from our Caucasian hero? Perhaps.

In one of the film’s most controversial scenes, Professor Dent, who is in fact in league with the nefarious Dr. No, arrives at Mrs. Taro’s place (another enemy agent which Bond has had arrested earlier that evening), expecting to quietly murder Bond with his silenced pistol. Bond, always one step ahead of his enemies, has been expecting the dear Professor Dent and catches him after the latter has already unloaded his six bullet Smith and Wesson on 007’s decoy. The spy has Dent where he wants him, although the professor doesn’t know it. While Bond isn’t looking, the professor quickly retrieves his pistol and tries to fire at Bond. Clearly unfamiliar with the weapon, Dent was unaware that he had already unloaded the Wesson when he shot at the decoy. Bond coolly tells him so and then kills him. Although Professor Dent was an enemy, at the time of the kill he was completely defenceless against Bond. He clearly wasn’t much of a fighter either, so for all intents and purposes, he no longer posed any threat. Bond thought otherwise and coldly murders him. It’s far and away one of the darkest moments in the franchise’s history, displaying a cruel side of Bond that we would see again, but only so rarely.

Virtually all of the Bond films have thrilling opening sequences that either provide a hint as to what direction the story will go, or simply show off Bond completely laying enemies to waste, sometimes with a jaw-dropping stunt. Not so with Dr. No, which cuts immediately to the title sequence once the gun barrel scene is complete. More unique still is how the title sequence itself is not accompanied by any original song per say. ‘The James Bond theme’ plays in the background while multicoloured circles and squares dance across the scene, revealing the cast and crew. The ‘Bond theme’ eventually fades away to a Jamaican dance number, which then fades away into a catchy cover of ‘Three Blind Mice’, introducing the three enemy agents who are on their way to murder Strangways at the Queens Club.

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~ by edgarchaput on September 7, 2009.

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