Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Better In Your Head?--DR. NO

Ian Fleming

"All the greatest men are maniacs."

Recovering from tetrodotoxin poisoning has kept James Bond from doing what he loves most: fighting the Cold War. The sudden disappearance of SIS agent John Strangways and a female companion could be related to his assignment in Jamaica, trying to get the goods on one Doctor No. Or, perhaps the lovers skipped town. M demands Bond get to the hard rock bottom of the mess. As a final reminder of who is the de facto boss, M orders 007 trade in his beloved Beretta for two firearms--a Smith & Wesson and a Walther PPK.

The ultimate destination is Crab Key, a guano island sat between Jamaica and Cuba. The discovery of the super-rare Roseate Spoonbill led to the Audubon Society leasing a corner of the island as a bird sanctuary. Their numbers swelled exponentially, and there was much rejoicing. After the war, guano prices rose, and a man named Julius No expressed interest in purchasing the island. The Audubon Society allowed the transaction, stipulating only that he not violate the sanctuary. They didn't stipulate protection for their two wardens on the island, however. Investigators couldn't prove any foul play, but they did note seeing very few Spoonbills, news that sent the Audubon folk into apoplexy. The mystery of the missing rare birds thus fell into the dignified lap of MI6.

Bond reunites with Quarrel at the airport. A Chinese girl working for some rag called "The Daily Gleaner" snaps his photo, and even calls out his name. She pops up yet again at a restaurant as Bond and Quarrel talk shop. Despite a literal arm-twisting, she refuses to reveal for whom she works, only that, "He'll get you."

007 nearly gets "got" by a poisonous tropical centipede in the middle of the night (gender unknown). With a blend of relief and dread, he joins Quarrel for a solid night's canoeing to Crab Key. The whistles of a near-nude young lady collecting shells along the beach rouse Bond from slumber. Her name is Honeychile Rider, and she is the definition of "unsuspecting third party."

The trio avoid detection and death, walking and wading for what seems like five days before finally settling in to a meal of dead man's beans and wet bread. You know what other animal enjoys beans and bread? You got it--the dragon.

Bond had heard tell of this alleged creature, this beast of Crab Key, which turns out to be a huge marsh buggy fitted with a flamethrower and dressed up for tricks or treats. Quarrel gets barbecued, the other two get captured, and it's lair time!

Bond and Honey are treated like a honeymooning couple. Their room is strikingly luxurious; must've felt a bit like waking up in Maryland after spending a week in Mississippi. Just the prospect of a hot bath has Honey fixin' to ride, but Bond is focused on the mission. He is hungry, mind, just for actual food, and he devours a breakfast that is delicious--and drugged. (If a spy cannot be wary of a meal served in the lair of a man suspected of murdering a fellow spy, what exactly can he be wary of?)

The pair regain their senses in time for dinner with their host. Of all the physically striking villains in Flemingland, No's look hits especially hard. Head like a one ball, eyes artificially darkened, face pulled taut, and he glides like an especially large worm. Also, he has mechanical hands. His ancestry is belied by his attire (kimono) and attitude (stoic yet manic), and his ego is in full flower as he fills his guests in on all the vital moments of his life to that point: orphaned, hardened gangster, thief among thieves.

The doctor covets power and privacy, so the Audubon Society's stated plan to turn build a hotel on the island in hopes of luring ornithophiles understandably upset him. Bond struggles to get one over. No is intelligent, vicious and rich. Those men tend to be troublesome to topple. Particularly when one has no plan whatsoever to combat their scheme. Bond has no offensive strategy, no defensive strategy, he's basically the Cleveland Browns of European secret agents. So he keeps talking, and No lets him on the bigger deal behind all of the guano production and homemade aquariums--No and his men have been helping out the Russians by futzing up rocket launches from Cape Canaveral via an underground facility on Crab Key.

(Always those Red bastards, even when it ain't.)

No has an elaborate means to dispose of Bond--an obstacle course in the ventilation system. 007 doesn't know how he'll avoid death, but he knows the tools he'll use. As No gabs on, the sneaky Brit finagles a knife and a lighter into his kimono. Honey's led off to provide a luscious meal for ravenous black crabs and Bond is directed to a cell with a ventilation grille made of thick wire. This marks the start of the obstacle course that No assured him earlier was unconquerable--and provides further weaponry, to boot.

This segment represents the pinnacle of the novel. The movie wishes it had a single moment so breathtaking. Each stages increases not only in difficulty, but in sheer horror. Although his creator insisted upon Bond's ordinariness, there is nothing bog-standard in his determination and ingenuity. A lesser man would have vomited out his own bloody guts halfway in.

Having conquered the maze of doom, 007 scampers to the loading docks, where the doc himself is overseeing the unimpeded flow of guano. Bond takes control of the main crane and--after some understandable difficulty--buries the hand-less madman in the stuff. So nasty. Quite by accident he runs into Honey and together they locate the "dragon."

Dr. No is, in the main, goddamn essential James Bond. An unequivocally bad-ass super sleuth joined by an enthusiastic ally and an allegedly voluptuous female. Juggling two plots of unequal gravity drained Fleming of some cleverness, and Bond's inner reactor is heard from a bit too often but those are sins far more forgivable than the decision to not end the novel with the escape from Crab Key. Everything after is filler. How's the government going to handle the aftermath? Will Honey be yet another lucky victim of acculturation? Will she and Bond ever get their "slave-time"? Check out my Sally Brown-level apathy!

Director-Terence Young
Writers-Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood & Berkely Mather

"World domination. The same old dream."

Ten years after the publication of Casino Royale, Ian Fleming finally saw one of his books hit the big screen. Producers Harry Saltzmann and Albert Broccoli had been wanting to adapt a Bond for years, and through Eon Productions, their shared wish came true.

Broccoli fancied Cary Grant in the lead role, but the actor would only agree to star in one film. Seeking someone willing to go long-term, the producers selected 32-year-old Scot Sean Connery, a busy actor of some renown who would soon come to loathe the role that made him an international superstar.

Dr. No's plot is Cold War as fuck. Strangways had been helping the CIA with the case of the disrupted Cape Canaveral rockets and suddenly went MIA. Bond scoots off to Jamaica and follows the trail to Dr. Julius No, a former thug turned island owner who has been jamming the launches for the benefit of SPECTRE--SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion.

Birds? Fuck birds!

From touchdown, Bond's a popular guy. Bitches takin' pictures, ill-wishing chauffeurs. In Chez Strangways, James spots a photo of John with a boatmen named Quarrel. Bond locates the red-shirted man-child who'd been John's guide 'round Crab Key island as he gathered mineral samples. Which just so happened to be radioactive. A receipt leads Bond to Professor R. J. Dent, who proves far less amenable than Quarrel.

Such inquisitiveness gets Bond kilt, damn near. If you take a swing at the king, best not whiff. Just ask the corpse of R. J. Dent, specifically the second bullet hole.

Quarrel boats Bond onto Crab Key. Nothing spectacular happens until a bikini-clad blonde rises from the ocean waters holding shells. It's Honey Ryder, the very first Bond Girl. She helps lead the men inland, and all the bullshit these three characters had to duck and dodge in the novel followed them onto the screen. Quarrel shares the same bad luck as his counterpart, while Bond and Ryder are taken to be decontaminated (remember, the radiation?) and deposited into a room where the coffee is delicious--and drugged. (Wow, it's like Bond took the Idiot Ball and shoved it up his ass before leaving England.)

Dinner with Dr. No consists of Bond failing to coerce a facial expression out of his nemesis before being tenderized and thrown into a cell. A vent beckons, but there is no obstacle course here, just a way to grab a radiation suit and infiltrate Dr. No's control center, where another signal-jamming is about to commence. Bond overloads a nuclear reactor and knocks Dr. No into a cooling vat, where he promptly boils to death.

You know those greeting cards that play music when you open 'em? I'd love a special pressing of Casino Royale where as soon as you crack the cover, Monty Norman's iconic theme blared.

Dr. No is an extended advertisement for the New Real Man: the suave, globe-scaling lothario, a fist-swinging, gun-slinging soldier on an elusive battlefield. He is the taker of great risks, and the recipient of great rewards. If he's told you his name once, he's told you it thrice.

Face carved from stone, voice molded from marsh, Sean Connery deserves each and every hosanna ever hurled into the air for his performance. But the real star of these early Bond films is editor Peter Hunt. Every script has a beat, and he got it like a Go-Go's roadie. Still, the first 007 movie shouldn't be superior to the sixth 007 novel, and it is indeed not.

The film begins vibrantly, reveling in the fact that no one knows what the hell to expect. The book builds upon an established formula, gradually gathering currency before finally cashing in and damn near breaking the Coinstar.

The best part of any roller coaster ride is the ascent.

For the plot of the first-ever Bond revolve around guano production would have been somewhat of a travesty. The decision to jettison the quirky plot and focus instead on the more serious one took, I hope, less than three seconds. Of course that means we miss out on the awesome obstacle course--which turns the book into a true THRILLER--but again, such an omission makes sense in the context of a debut film. There was no guarantee that the public would take to Bond on the large screen, so producers needed to play it safe. Thus, the protagonist cannot be suffering or struggling (at least not to the extent he was in the source material, skin burnt and blistered, joints on the verge of snapping, body bruised and bloodied, rendered inert for minutes at a time). Nor can he be seen eating beans out of his own hand. The first step must be a strong one, and if Connery projects anything consistently, it's power.

The first of many inamoratas for our boy, Honey Ryder is almost always placed among the very best/hottest Bond Girls in the entire series. She's okay in the novel--"ash blonde" hair to her shoulders, boy-butt, whistling a calypso tune that Bond can't help but mimic. She's okay in the film--blonde hair to her shoulders, girl-butt, singing a calypso tune that Bond can't help but mimic. She doesn't turn over my bowl or send my plate airborne, in fact I can sit and enjoy a meal without any interference. That's not even Ursula Andress's real voice we hear! Does that matter? Absolutely that matters. You sign for the whole package, baby. Decent face, benign body, lukewarm ass...and she's the Bond Girl? Stop it...five, maybe six out of ten.

Hearing Dr. No (well) before actually seeing him? If this part of the script were a doggie I'd never stop rubbing its belly.

When we do finally set sights on No, he's quite different compared to Fleming's vision--donning a white mandarin-collared jacket rather than a dark kimono, two inches shorter than Bond instead of six inches taller. The chilling forthrightness remains.

Movie Bond snatches a knife from the dinner table and conceals it in his clothing. Dr. No tells him some time later to put it back. Great nod to the book.

No matter the medium, James Bond just does not suspect food or beverages ever! The book makes delirium a possibility/excuse, but Movie Bond allows a rival to commit suicide through sheer negligence. Not very impressive, old man.

The old gangsters No double-crossed didn't just chop off his dick beaters, they shot him in the heart. Or so they thought. They didn't know his heart was located in the right side of his body, an actual medical condition known as "dextrocardia." Would have been right at home in a Roger Moore film, but a bit too out there in 1963.

"Suffocated by bird shit" would've been perfect for a Moore film too, come to think.

No Felix Leiter in the book, but like anybody was gonna say "nah" to Jack Lord's hair.

Bond's straight-up execution of Dent was added to hammer home to audiences that Double-0 agents have a license to kill, not injure or maim.

Just like Live and Let Die, Bond asks Quarrel to get him in shape for the strenuous journey ahead. If only training montages had been a thing then!

The noctivagant trek to Crab Key is a perfect example of a sacrifice that makes for a good movie while assuring the book will remain better.

Spiders are more cinematic than centipedes but man, Fleming wrote his ass off for that scene. I shivered more than twice.

"Eaten by black crabs" is a pretty ironic death for an avowed animal lover.

Giant. Fucking. Squid. Was the boss of the obstacle course. I'd rather get high off the effluvium of bird droppings than read about curious tentacles ever again.

Before M speaks with Bond in the novel, he dials a well-respected neurologist who's wary of tossing Bond into the fray too quickly. M bristles at the other chap's nerve; such namby-pamby talk will be the death of masculinity yet! What the hell did they even fight a war for! The conversation proves fairly illuminating, as we learn two important things re: the conclusion of From Russia With Love. First, Bond owes his life to Rene Mathis and second, Rosa Klebb is dead. The reveal of which made me snort.

"The Jamaican is a kindly, lazy man with the virtues and vices of a child." 

Were those musical stabs during the Great Spider Smash uproariously funny in 1963 as well?

Wait, Ursula Andress with dry hair? This changes everything!

Julie Christie was considered for the Honey Ryder role, until producers deemed her insufficiently sexy. My mind reels with sarcastic replies. Have you seen a picture of Julie Christie back then? Have you seen a picture of Julie Christie now? I'd still hit it. With all the lights on.

Max von Sydow turned down the role of the villain, the worst guy. Lucky us, since we know remember the character as "Dr. No" instead of "Max von Sydow as Dr. No."

Julius No is not his given name, can you believe it. What is? Never says. The inspiration behind his new handle's pretty cool, though.

Book Bond, without fail, always shows more tenderness to the plight of his broads, however facile. He basically drags Honeychile Rider into the crap, shattering the placidity of her world, he should feel bad. Paying for the surgery to fix her busted beak is a start, mate.

The Three Blind Mice aren't in the book, but 007 does shoot three dudes in a tunnel as he makes his escape from Crab Key.

Of all SPECTRE-ites, which one says "SPECTRE" best? The No one.

"Honey, there just aren't such things as dragons in the world." Correct, and that is why the world blows.

The book gave us twenty times the tarantulas the film did. No big deal, since spinnen sind meistens harmlos. Including tarantulas. Really, Dent would have done better to smash Bond with the sheet of glass the spider was crawling across.

"Sex and machete fights," goddamnit, there's another "Potential Autobiography Title" I have to cross off the list!


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