There are times in every man’s life when he must undertake a specific challenge: watch all the Bond movies. Some men are even more ambitious, endeavoring to read all the Bond novels as well.
Friends, it is time for me to climb this mountain.
This is not my first attempt at Mt. Bond. I believe it was the summer of 1986, the summer in which I turned 15 and still relied on my parents for transportation, that I acquired a stack of Bond books at a used bookstore and spent hours on our deck reading them in the Midwestern heat and humidity. The movies were tougher to catch back then, but I would scan the TV section of the paper each Sunday to see if ABC or TBS would be showing any over the coming week.
But, like most summer plans, this one fell apart in the dog days of August and when school began in the fall, i was off to other things.
A couple years later, when we had more movie channels and you could expect to grab a few Bonds movies a month with your VCR, I built a small stack of VHS tapes with several of the movies. But, again, it was not a project I could complete.
In time, my interest in Bond waned. I caught a couple of the new movies in theaters, but when I ran across the old ones on cable, I would watch for a minute or two, chuckle at their primitiveness, and move on.
Still, it was like a childhood scar that sometimes itched, and when I scratched it the memories of those past immersions poured forth.
What caused this latest flareup of the old itch? Partially it was completing >The Wire and wanting to move on to another viewing project. Also, the hosts of a technology podcast I listen to have been watching and reviewing a Bond movie each week. Listening to them discuss the details of the classic early films set me on my path.
The big dilemma, as I began, was how to handle the books/films split. The movies were not produced in the same order as Ian Fleming’s novels. Should I read the novels in order, to get the proper exposure to Bond’s backstory? Or should I read them in concert with the films? I chose the latter path, mostly because it seems like if you’re going to undertake a Bond project, you really need to begin with “Dr. No” and not “Casino Royale” since it was the movies that made Bond a world phenomenon.
That long-winded intro leads us to what I did last week: read “Dr. No” Monday through Wednesday, then watched the movie Wednesday night.
I thoroughly enjoyed both. I’ve read the book before, and who knows how many times I’ve seen the movie, so everything was familiar. Yet there were enough details that had faded over time that it was still enjoyable to rediscover them.
I won’t write detailed reviews of the series as I go through it, but I do want to offer a few observations of each movie and each Bond girl.1
When you watch the oldest of the Bond movies, the production value is easy to laugh at. The sets look cheap and basic. The car chases cheesy, with the projection of the trailing vehicle on a screen behind an image of Bond filmed in a studio. The overdubbed voices of many characters. Night scenes clearly shot during the day with heavy filters over the camera lens.
The sexism and racism I write off to very different times. These movies were never trying to make social statements, but rather reflective of how much of the world operated at the time. Thank goodness we have evolved a little since then.
That said, few things in movie history have been cooler than Sean Connery as Agent 007, of course. He was a baaaaaaad man. The cinema Bond was a far more confident man than the one of the books. In the novels, there are always moments of self-doubt, when Bond questions whether he’s made the right choice and if he can extricate himself from his predicament. Not of that doubt is present in the movies.
As for the Bond girls, Ursula Andress, as Honey Ryder, emerging from the sea is the enduring image of the movie and perhaps the most iconic image of the series. She was a baaaaaaaad woman, setting a difficult bar for later Bond girls to reach. Somewhat lost in Andress’ glow are two other impressive Bond women. Zena Marshall plays the exotic Miss Taro. And Eunice Gayson plays the glamorous and aggressive Sylvia Trench, who after battling Bond at the baccarat table, seeks more games. We’ll hear from her again. A promising start for horndogs everywhere.
Dr. No is a fine kickoff for the Bond franchise. The story lags a bit at points, and there is some era-based silliness in the writing and production. But all-in-all, it’s an entertaining flick.
- Seems kind of silly to do this and not give the Bond girls their due respect, no? ↩