Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

DR. NO [revisited]

DR. NO (1962). Director: Terence Young.

Asked what he thought of the film adaptation of his novel "Dr. No," Ian Fleming replied thusly: “Those who've read the book are likely to be disappointed, but those who haven't will find it a wonderful movie. Audiences laugh in all the right places.” Well ... score one for Fleming, who was right on target: the book was better. Still, Dr No is an entertaining, essentially well-made thriller which introduced James Bond 007 to the world (notwithstanding the Casino Royale television production) and started the practice of him giving out with black comedy quips which were not in Fleming's novels. Dr. No also began the practice of featuring a cinematic Bond who was much less dimensional than he was in the books. Bond is assigned to investigate the disappearance of two agents in Jamaica, and comes afoul of the sinister Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman), who is taking over the guidance systems of the super-powers' missiles. The best and most suspenseful sequences have to do with Bond trying to keep from being captured by the doctor's men on his island of Crab Key. [Although the fictional James Bond has a scar on his cheek, this detail has always been omitted from the films.]

Although the movie is relatively faithful to Ian Fleming's novel, there were quite a few changes made. Felix Leiter does not appear in the book, but he shows up briefly in the film in the form of Jack Lord. Bond winds up with a tarantula in his bed instead of the much more dangerous giant centipede that appears in the novel [the deadliness of the tarantula has always been greatly exaggerated]. There are no birds or bird dung on Crab Key, and we learn what the doctor is up to almost from the very start. Honey (Ursula Andress) does not have a broken nose, but she does relate the story, as in the novel, of dropping a black widow spider into the bed of a man who raped her. [Although no reference book states this outright, Andress appears to be dubbed; for one thing the Swiss actress has a British schoolgirl accent, and her voice sounds different from subsequent film appearances.] Dr. No is working for SPECTRE instead of for the Russians, and at the end Bond enters a tunnel simply as an escape attempt – it is not “doctored” with Dr. No's traps as a test of endurance as in the novel. Finally, there is no giant squid at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps the filmmakers felt the audience just wouldn't buy this [to date there is no live giant squid in captivity.]

Handsome and well-produced, Dr. No is not a great movie, but it is a good one, and a not-bad introduction to the World of 007. There is one rather dumb moment, when Bond kills Professor Dent, who is in the employ of Dr. No. While one can't blame Bond for wanting to snuff Dent, who has tried to kill him more than once, what about keeping him alive for questioning? The cast members give adequate to excellent performances with Wiseman the best as the sinister and strangely elegant Dr. No.

Verdict: Definitely has its moments. ***.

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