When it’s on: Saturday, 12 May (3.15 pm)
As widely reported in the media, Sky has bought the rights to screen James Bond films on its channels, ending a long association between 007 and the ITV network. That it’s made the news is testament to the ingrained tradition of your serving of Bank Holiday Bond. Christmas Day certainly won’t be the same, though ITV’s omission of the spy from its 25 December schedules in recent years hasn’t exactly been lamented. A pity they have never found anything memorable to replace it.
Under the guise of celebrating 50 years of Bond, ITV is kissing off its partnership with Saville Row’s greatest walking advert with a weekly showing of each film, hopefully in strict sequence. We start, logically enough, with Dr No, which remains a spry, muscular piece of work fifty years since it first hit the screen.
These days, it’s tough to imagine a world without 007. A bit like Dr Who, he’s always been there, and I suspect many people have a fondness for their ‘Bond’ in the same way they love a certain Doctor, depending on the actor of the day (for me, it’s Roger Moore and Tom Baker). I think it helps that Sean Connery initially filled the role of the central character as though he’d worn those beautifully tailored suits for years. Connery was a little known, jobbing actor before he won the part over a raft of more famous actors, including a certain Roger George Moore. The Scot’s relative obscurity worked in his favour. There had previously been a cautious sounding out of Cary Grant for the role, which would have turned Dr No into a vehicle for its star. Instead, we got Connery – in his early 30s, handsome, athletic, at ease in his work (even with the famous toupee), an all-round fully formed gentleman spy.
Within the context of the 007 series, Dr No introduced parts of the formula that would become well established over the course of 22 (official) films – we get our megalomaniac villain bent on world domination (Joseph Wiseman) with his outstanding feature i.e. metal hands. Glamorous locations are laid on – much of Dr No is set in Jamaica, and that really is the Caribbean rather than some studio backlot. Bond’s snobbery and his enviable attraction to women are present and correct. And yet this film doesn’t quite set the template for entries to come. That comes with Goldfinger, in which Bond becomes more or less an invulnerable superhero. There’s definite fragility here, moments in which 007 finds himself in real peril, and he’s all the more interesting for the resources he calls upon when dealing with these instances.
Terence Young, already a veteran of nearly twenty directing jobs by this point, was called on to helm the project and did so economically. Dr No’s $1.25m budget was well spent on a fast moving yarn that showed off the beauty of Jamaica whilst never letting the audience rest long enough to consider how daft the whole show really was. Deep into the film comes its signature scene, the best known Young was ever involved with and utterly iconic, the one showing Ursula Andress emerging from the sea in a white bikini. Her dialogue may have been dubbed (by Nikki van der Zyl, a voice artist who applied her tones to many female characters in the film), but her aloof sexiness was unfakeable and added immeasurably to Dr No’s appeal. It’s a quality successive films tried to match, with results ranging from noble efforts to terrible messes.
Dr No: ****