No, I Haven’t Seen It Until Now: ‘Dr. No’

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written back in 2008 when I was way behind on my 007 watchlist. RIP Sean Connery.

I keep hearing over and over telling me Sean Connery was the best James Bond and still is. And yet after all these years and so many 007 movies later, I have only seen a few of the ones starring Connery. Until yesterday, the only ones I had seen all the way through were “From Russia With Love” which remains one of my favorite Bond movies ever, and the rogue Bond “Never Say Never Again” which brought Connery back to the role for the first time since “Diamonds Are Forever.” The James Bond I really got weaned on as a kid was Roger Moore who played the character like a flamboyant playboy who got caught up in events he looked as though he had no business getting caught in. Nevertheless, Moore managed to get the job done even as the franchise started to descend into parody.

Yesterday, New Beverly Cinema, my favorite movie theater in Los Angeles, had a double feature of the first two Bond movies ever made: “Dr. No” & “From Russia With Love.” I had seen bits and pieces of “Dr. No” previously, but never the whole way through. Watching it today, this 007 adventure seems like an average Bond with the megalomaniac villain bent on world domination. I was starting to get sick of this in the last few films which starred Pierce Brosnan as Ian Fleming’s famous spy. Every once in a while, I like to see Bond go head to head with a villain who is not looking for an infinite level of power, but instead one whom he just wants revenge over like in “License to Kill.”

It helps, however, to keep in mind what action movies were like before James Bond came along. Compared to “Dr. No,” they were nowhere as gritty. Shooting female characters in a film was not allowed back in 1962, and this Bond quickly did away with this unwritten law. There was a lot more going on than just your average good guy here. While it might appear to be something of an average film for those seeing it today, “Dr. No” was in many ways a groundbreaking film which led to a franchise which has lasted longer than so many others.

OK, I am in agreement, nobody played James Bond better than Connery, and this is even though I consider Daniel Craig to be a very close second. His very first appearance as 007 in “Dr. No” was truly brilliant as you could see him at the card playing table, but you did not see his face until he uttered one of the most famous lines in cinematic history:

“Bond. James Bond.”

My dad is always telling me what made Connery so great in playing Bond is that he was so believable in how he could romance a woman one second, and then slap her when she was holding back information from him. There was a raw danger which Connery brought to this iconic character, and he set the bar almost impossibly high for the others who inhabited Bond after him. When he lets a driver take him to his destination, even though he knows this driver is up to no good, shows how quickly Bond can change from being suave and debonair to lethal and dangerous in a heartbeat. Connery’s Bond kept his cool and managed to get his way in the end. The bad guys think they have him cornered, but this is what he wants them to think.

It is endlessly interesting to see how the Bond movies have evolved since “Dr. No.” It remains the only 007 film to not have a pre-titles scene which the others are famous for having. It just goes right into the gun barrel opening in which Bond shoots right at us. The titles look cheesy today as “Dr. No” and “007” are put everywhere on the silver screen. It was the first of many opening credits sequences designed by Maurice Binder, and this one remains the most disjointed of the bunch. It goes from the unforgettable Monty Norman theme we all know to three men superimposed over the credits to the tune of “Three Blind Mice.” The audience at the New Beverly laughed at this part, and I couldn’t help but laugh myself. Things have changed a lot since “Dr. No” came out.

Seeing Bond flirt for the first time with Miss Moneypenny (the late Lois Maxwell) here makes me miss the banter these two characters have had from one film to the next. Miss Moneypenny was not in “Casino Royale,” and I have no idea if we will ever see her again in the future. But seeing these characters here for the first time reminded me of how great and fun their banter was until M made her buzz Bond in for his next assignment. Just when things got interesting between the two, business comes to obliterate pleasure.

In “Dr. No,” Bond actually gets to bed several different ladies instead of just one. Connery makes seduction look so easy to pull off. The fact such seduction is not this easy in real life is utterly frustrating. This lucky bastard of an Oscar winning actor had quite a selection before he came to meet the first Bond woman ever, Honey Rider (Ursula Andress), whose entrance in a flesh colored bikini is still one for the ages. This also marked the first time Bond actually sang, and he has not sung since. I can’t help but wonder if this was a good or bad thing. Then again, I can’t quite picture Timothy Dalton singing “Thunderball.” As for Brosnan, I never want to hear him sing again after “Mamma Mia.”

One of Bond’s first death-defying moments involved a tarantula, and just typing out this particular spider’s description sends shivers down my spine! UGGH! This may have been why I never bothered to watch “Dr. No” earlier in my life. Those damn things creep me out like nothing else. Seriously, get that creature away from me! Easily one of the scariest moments in any Bond movie, the tension escalates so quickly to where the rest of this movie can never quite match it. Still, it wouldn’t be the last time we saw spiders in a Bond movie. My brother covered my eyes during one scene in “Octopussy” which included them. I think it is just as well that he did.

Watching “Dr. No” was fun, and it is an excellent Bond movie in many ways. Time has not been exactly kind to it though. We can see the green screen being used, so we have to snicker some. The pace is a lot more leisurely, and no Bond movie can move so slowly these days. Norman’s Bond theme is played endlessly here to where we threaten to get sick of it. But decades later, it is impossible to tire of this theme as it is to tire of John Carpenter’s theme to “Halloween.”

The print New Beverly Cinema had of “Dr. No” was in peak condition, and it was a recent printing down for the occasion of United Artists’ 90th anniversary. It was great to see it on the big screen all the way through instead of just on television. From here, the Bond series had nowhere to go but up. The formula was more or less perfected with “From Russia With Love,” and the producers did not mess with this formula until after “Die Another Day.” I enjoyed “Dr. No,” and I love how it paved the way for many more exciting adventures with this British spy. May there be many more in the years to come.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Kirk Douglas Looks Back at ‘Lonely Are The Brave’

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The Ultimate Rabbit would like to wish Kirk Douglas a very happy 100th birthday. It is an age few people ever reach, and this is a man who has survived so much in his lifetime: Hollywood, anti-Semitism, a stroke, a helicopter crash and, tragically, the loss of a son. Still, Douglas persevered in spite of many obstacles thrown in his path, and in his 90’s he continued to work as an actor and a writer. The man who was Spartacus has reached a milestone which needs to be celebrated, but it should be no surprise he has lasted as long as he has. Happy Birthday Kirk!

The following article is of an appearance he made in Hollywood a few years ago in which he talked about one of his most enduring motion pictures.

“The best actors disappear into their roles, but icons always keep part of themselves onscreen. Every one of his characters makes hard choices as a figure of integrity. Not always a good guy, not always a bad guy, but a real guy.”

Those were the words writer Geoff Boucher used to introduce legendary actor Kirk Douglas who made a special appearance at the Egyptian Theatre on September 19, 2012. American Cinematheque was screening “Lonely are the Brave” in honor of the movie’s 50th anniversary, and Douglas was greeted with a thunderous and deserved standing ovation. Douglas thanked the audience for coming to see this movie which he made fifty years ago. He also added, “Don’t ask for your money back!”

Boucher pointed out how Douglas has made so many great movies, but this one in particular really stands out. In the movie, Douglas portrays John W. “Jack” Burns, a cowboy from the Old West who refuses to become a part of modern society. “Lonely are the Brave” is based on the book “The Brave Cowboy” written by Edward Abbey, and Douglas recalled being so intrigued by the character and his horse (Whiskey) and how the book spoke strongly about the difficulty of being an individual today. Douglas did, however, say his major problem was by the end of the movie the audience was “rooting for the horse instead of me!”

There was also talk about Dalton Trumbo who wrote the screenplay for “Lonely are the Brave” and whom Douglas had previously worked with on “Spartacus.” Trumbo was one of the Hollywood Ten who refused to answer questions from the House Committee on Un-American Activities regarding their alleged involvement with the Communist Party, and he ended up spending 11 months in prison for contempt as a result. It was Douglas who helped Trumbo get a screenwriting credit on “Spartacus,” and he said he hated the injustice of what Trumbo was put through. Douglas’ latest book “I am Spartacus! Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist” deals with this extensively.

Douglas made it clear how after reading Abbey’s book, he felt there was no one who could do a better job of adapting it than Trumbo, and it is said he found Trumbo’s screenplay for “Lonely are the Brave” to be perfect to where he didn’t change a single word of it.

Boucher also brought up that Douglas had some problems with “Lonely are the Brave” when it came out, and this was especially the case with the movie’s title:

“The book was called ‘The Brave Cowboy’ and I didn’t want that title,” Douglas said. “I wanted to call it ‘The Last Cowboy,’ but the studio which had the money insisted on ‘Lonely are the Brave.’ And I said, what the hell does that mean?”

Douglas has more than earned his status as an acting legend in Hollywood. Old age has not slowed him down one bit as he just finished a one-man show, released a new book, and took the time to appear at the Egyptian Theatre to talk about “Lonely are the Brave” which really is one of his very best movies. He finished his talk that evening by expressing his respect for actors who help other people, and of how he finds it sad that the media prefers instead to concentrate on the more “racy” things they do.

Boucher remarked at the amazing journey that Douglas has made from being “The Ragman’s Son” to going to all the places he has been and of having worked with all the great people he has worked with, and he commended the actor’s career for being guided not just by talent but integrity. That sentiment was shared by everyone in the audience in attendance as we were all very happy to see Douglas there, and he told them he was “glad and happy” they all came to see him and “Lonely are the Brave” which came out fifty years ago.