JB Diaries: The Doctor’s In

The marathon’s name is Bond.

James Bond.

I’ve decided to take this Corona-mandated hiatus from new movies to revisit each and every 007 cinematic outing, in chronological order, to figure out what turned the secret agent into one of the most prolific — and thus successful — franchises ever.

In the words of another British icon, where else to start but at the beginning:

Dr. No‘s all about Sean Connery, the score, and the period design. From the outset, the creative powers-that-be seemed to understand the importance of a compelling villain (and trippy opening credits! Albeit, without an accompanying song; I guess you don’t need one when you can introduce that melody to audiences instead. Also, is anything more swinging 60s than the opening credits’ flashing lights??).

The lack (at least compared to later movies) of action and set pieces — be they suspenseful, cat-and-mouse tailing games, comedic, slapstick, screwball (like his flirtation with Moneypenny), romantic, emotional, character beats, etc. etc. etc. — makes for a slower ride, especially because the story ain’t all that (it’s basically a straightforward spy procedural), and the visual side of the filmmaking’s a bit style-deprived, all the more apparent next to Connery and the music oozing style out of every pore of their beings. And because of them, the pic’s still a lot of fun.

Can we talk about the fact that the first thing the movie wants us to know about him, his introductory character trait, what we’re repeatedly reminded of throughout: the dude fucks. And Sean Connery definitely fucked.

Now for some class to compensate for that vulgarity: fellow pedants may feel inclined to deep-read Dr. No as a commentary on Western imperialism, what with a powerful British Defense institution (America joins in, too!), prone to violence, running roughshod over a smaller, faraway country’s homeland. Meanwhile, Dr. No himself is a walking cultural appropriation, with a line of dialogue that basically negates the differences between “East” and “West”, describing them as indistinguishable points on a compass, both equally stupid. And then there’s the whole matter of Scotsman Connery representing the British government…

Buuuuut I’m not sure the movie could sustain such analysis. The producers probably just realized that “exoticism” — particularly fantastical versions — sell, then and now.

But I do feel comfortable suggesting this interpretation: though he utters neither “Bond. James Bond” nor “Shaken, not stirred” here, we do learn how he likes his martinis (courtesy of other characters, the first of whom says “Mixed, not stirred”). Besides being a pithy cocktail order, the repetition of this request can’t help calling attention to itself, as if it reveals something about the character, i.e. he’s a chaos agent. When Bond arrives, he’s going to shake shit up, violently and/or sexually; he’s not about that gentle stir life.

A millennial question I hope to be answered by the end of this marathon: is the best James Bond movie in fact the Austin Powers trilogy?


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