I’ve seen the Daniel Craig movies – I’m not a complete philistine – but I’ve never seen any of the other James Bond films.
Raised on the diet of ‘modern’ Bond, I’m accustomed to somewhat three-dimensional female characters, Craig’s 007, his emotional evolution and chivalry and, of course, a general sense of the franchise’s maturation as it moves on from the less savoury choices of its youth.
Naturally, Bond being the behemoth it is, even if you haven’t seen it all, you know the deal; warnings of rampant sexism, cautions about clangers and pained mentions of ambiguity (at best) around consent ring in your ears at the mere mention of the Sean Connery days.
As a perpetually Angry Feminist, it doesn’t bode well – unless you’re an editor looking to be tickled by the reactions of shellshocked writer delving into Dr. No for the first time.
Ahead of my assignment, a colleague pings me a YouTube link to the Goldfinger (1964) clip in which Connery dismisses his masseuse, Dink (Margaret Nolan), upon the arrival of Felix Leiter (Cec Linden) with a sharp smack on the bottom and the command: "Dink, say goodbye to Felix – man talk."
"Man talk"! My jaw drops and I laugh – stunned. It’s like a parody of its own legacy, even as its reputation precedes it.
Nonetheless, I settle in to watch the very first Bond film for the very first time, braced but excited.
Of course, it’s impossible to approach without any prejudice because James Bond, his swagger and modus operandi are as ubiquitous in British pop culture as it’s possible to be. I can but try.
What strikes me almost instantly, as someone who has never been able to summon the slightest bit of attraction towards Connery, is the feeling of something clicking into place. Ah, I get it now. In context, the strong nose and brows, the slick demeanour and liquid-centre eyes finally make sense – still not fanciable but at least it tracks.
Unfortunately, it’s only a matter of minutes before 007 has literally referred to Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) as “property”. The women in this spectacularly stylish world are quickly and efficiently established as things of beauty, impeccably dressed and made up, but void of much actual character they begin to blend into one generic Woman.
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And without exception they all throw themselves at our leading man – more than willingly. I shoot my boyfriend (also watching for the first time) a laboured eye roll.
Double agent Miss Taro (Zena Marshall) falls victim to some of our supposed hero’s most unpalatable behaviours, which include (but are certainly not limited to) him forcing her into a kiss by grabbing a towel slung around her neck and pulling her towards him.
And then there’s Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress), enjoying her untroubled routine of searching for shells on the beach (private, off-limits and guarded by the main villain’s henchmen, but whatever) only to have her day entirely derailed and her life risked by the intrusion of Bond.
Even though she tries to go her own way, asserting her own autonomy, 007 brushes off her attempt, taking her by the arm and off towards yet more danger. Of course, she falls for him.
But putting the women to one side (as if they aren’t already), I find myself surprised. It’s undeniable: Dr. No is enormously entertaining. Better than that – it’s really, really good.
Brush off the sexism, breathe through it as Bond leers completely uninvited at Honey – the first film in the franchise is objectively great.
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The locations in Jamaica are spectacular, the cinematography also doing them justice, the performances are engaging, and the set dressing! The furniture is to die for – sophisticated and glamorous, painting a rich world that proves a playground for our smooth protagonist.
Much as Knives Out had us all tenderly whispering “Sweater”, I lose count of the number of times I lust out loud over a mid-century armchair, a table with angled, tapered legs or a low, floating platform bed.
The furniture may be the star of the show here, but 007 himself, Honey and best of all our titular villain are thoroughly enjoyable accoutrements. Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman) makes for a delectable baddie, eclipsing the only Bond antagonists I’ve ever known – those from the post-2006 era.
Probably naively, I couldn’t be more shocked than me to discover that Wiseman’s Dr. No thrills me more than even Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre.
I’m introduced to the title character just as Bond is: via enigmatic references, oblique, deferential and overwhelmingly fearful. That’ll pique your interest in any bad guy.
We hear Dr. No before we see him, a threatening presence over an intercom and a man of select few words. A scintillating villain with a impeccably stylish lair? Yes, please.
Above all else, as someone who has only ever watched the serious action of Craig’s 007, as the end credits roll I’m struck by the revelation that Bond is, in fact, supposed to be a caper. Bond is meant to be fun! Who knew?
Big budget, classy scriptwriting (exclusive of every single female character and all interactions with them), stunning sets and locations – is this is what Bond really is? It all falls into place; I get it now.
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