It’s eight years since Casion Royale and Thunderball has just hit the store shelves so Eon and United Artists decide to have a go at something bigger than a made for t.v series, anthology, budget. The problem is that someone owns half the rights to that book, someone other than Ian Flemming. Though others have said that while they’ve got more of a budget than Climax can offer they haven’t got enough for the plot of Thunderball just yet and would have to wait three more years to take a shot at it. Thus with Casino Royale tied up elsewhere they settled on the forth book in the series ….
We open with the familiar, by now, gun barrel and theme tune of James Bond. Something that I had forgotten was in this movie. I was convinced that it came along later in the series and watching it I think I know why. We have the theme play form the gun barrel over a flashing array or circles before we abruptly cut to some random silhouettes dancing before we settle on the ‘Three Bling Mice’ arrangement by Byron Lee and the Draonaires as our assassins make their way to the next target and had I been in charge of the film at the time I may have cut the rest entirely. Maybe saving the gun barrel and the opening riff of the now iconic Bond theme if anything. Granted it’s a good job I wasn’t as that gun barrel is now up there with one of the most iconic bits of cinema ever filmed and I suspect the dancing silhouettes led on to the almost as iconic titillating, opening credits, women of many a Bond title sequence that would become as synonymous with Bond as vodka martinis and gadget laden watches. The theme would survive however as the film sprinkles it liberally throughout, often for when Bond just walks through a doorway. Either way it means we have three songs in as many minutes and the first two lots of credits aren’t as good as the third so it gives a slightly uncluttered opening to the movie. Especially after the random bleeps and boops of someone plugging their Casio keyboard in, before they start playing, over the gun barrel itself.
Still seen as how I am three hundred words in and not yet past the opening credits maybe I should speed up a little bit. The three men are out to kill a British intelligence operative called Strangeways and his sectary Trueblood. They make off with some top secret documents and when nobody answers MI6’s call they dial up James Bond to investigate. Bonds intro is good, sat around a card table hitting up the ladies and giving us that legendary “Bond, James Bond” but watching the movie back I wonder if we could have cut it and the following random lady in his apartment following on. Despite his reputation Bond isn’t quite so irresistible in this move, overall he is far more human than we remember, but this seems to be there for a bit of padding that I would argue a two hour movie doesn’t need. We know he’s supposed to be attractive given how the rest of the movie plays out so to have some random woman break into his apartment to play golf in his shirt seems a little superfluous and is why the series became such a joke. Pus it undermines your super spy a little to have someone so easily break into his apartment and go through his things.
Strangely enough I don’t object to the gun scene as Bond swaps out his trusted Beretta for the now famous Walther. Written into the novels after a fan wrote to Flemming to say much of what Major Boothroyd says here. It’s short and highlights the flawed nature of Bond. They downplay him from such a cruel and cool character in the novels for a more human character here and this holding onto an inferior weapon helps show it. It also gives the series a sense of History. Just as M says he has cut down on double 0 deaths. Granted that sense of history is probably easy to get when you are adapting the sixth book in a series.
Arriving in Kingston airport Bond beats his first obstacle thanks to some good old fashioned paranoia though again interestingly he doesn’t give his would be driver the slip which again shows us something of his character. Though you could argue he gets in the car for information the look on Connery’s face says that there is more to it than that. This paranoia will extend to the hotel room later where he lays a few tricks for some would be interloper. Each of them is fairly low key, hairs on the door, talc on the lock. This is really a Bond without any of the gadgets we would come to know him for. Later on in the movie when he needs to duck underwater he relies on some reeds to keep him breathing and the knife he uses for this task is borrowed off someone else showing that he doesn’t even carry a boy scout pen knife with him. Considering how much his watch will be able to do later on this is quite interesting. Showing a spy who simply uses his brains and the tools he has to hand.
Speaking of the tools he has to hand Bond quickly falls in with a decent lot of allies for this mission. There’s Quarrel a friendly fisherman who had been helping Strangeways and is now working with Felix Leiter. There is a bit of a mix up and bust up before they figure out they are all on the same side. Though Quarrel plays a decent part here Felix feels like he could have been cut for time. He’s not bad but simply just there. I’m not sure how well Bond and Quarrel’s relationship holds up here as they quickly fall into a strong power dynamic that doesn’t really work. Ignoring the problematic viewings such as when Bond barks for him to fetch his shoes and even in the more tense and less problematic scenes it downplays Bond a little bit when Quarrel is dispatched to get the photographer while Bond sits there smoking. Had they each taken one direction to cut her off it might have worked better and yeah I get that we can’t have our good looking leading man have his face sliced open but under cutting your leading man by having him sit there doing nothing probably doesn’t make him appear as cool and calm as they hoped. At least to me. Though Quarrel does make the mistake of going into the final act with a red shirt on.
Speaking of bit part players who don’t get as much to do as you would think the Three Blind Mice return for a hit on Bond and to be honest the scene is no better than the opening to Climax’s Casino Royale where somebody tried to gun down Bond outside the hotel. Here they try to take a shot at him before he goes to see a Doctor about some rocks and when traffic comes they call it off and disappear from the movie. I think they are in the hearse car chase later on but to be honest I couldn’t really tell as I was topping up my drink at the time. The car chase is good, don’t get me wrong though nowadays it suffers from its green screen being particularly bad. The thing is that there are shots cut in of a real chase, or at least a few scenes from it and I think I would have rather had that even if it was kept far enough away to not be able to see the drivers face.
They are replaced in the movie by a tarantula. A trap that bothered me even as a child first seeing this film. They could lean through the door and shoot him, poison his food or drink or just dive in and try to beat him up but instead they release a spider into his room. What if it had just scurried under his bed or behind his chest of drawers as spiders as one to do. It’s made worse by the later knowledge that such spiders are not fatal to humans. Though there seems to be some fascination with this as later we hear of a man killed by Black Widow bite. Something that while not common is possible and aided by the fact that the thing was slipped inside his bug net rather than just slipped under the door. The two other baddies in the film, filling in for the titular character, who still isn’t here yet, are dealt with shortly after the car chase. One is great and the other not so much. Bond setting up the room and sitting playing solitaire before gunning down a man for failing to answer his question is great and adds a little something to the character. He bemoaned the driver taking a suicide pill earlier but when Dent tries to kill him, with a gun already out of bullets, Bond doesn’t hesitate to murder him there and then. Maybe Bond had all he needed at this point, after he finds out that Dent didn’t murder Strangeways, but is connected to who did, or maybe he just knows that after that the man is going to put up a fight and Bond doesn’t have the time or inclination for it. The other baddie is Miss Taro.
Bond probably knows this is a trap before he gets there. A real blind man could tell that it had been a trap when she opens the door but instead of doing something about it Bond decides to sleep with the woman before calling for someone to take her in. You could argue that this tells us something about Bond as a character but I wonder if it’s something we need to know. This coupled with the woman at the start show that Bond has a bit of a weakness for the ladies. But it’s one that doesn’t really factor into anything. It would be like if they had wanted to show he was a functioning alcoholic and decided to include a scene part way through the film where he stops off on the way, to the crime scene or to interrogate a suspect, at a bar to grab a drink.
Either way from here we’re into the final act of the film on Crab Key Island. I really like how much they have built up Dr No over the course of this film, dropping his name on documents and speaking from the shadows. Granted he fails to live up to this once the final show down comes in but he is built up to a decent degree. Honey Ryder while having one of the most iconic introductions of any Bond character ever and possibly rivalling others from different series to boot doesn’t really add much to the film. She doesn’t give him any key information or guidance just hanging off his arm, once he promises not to steal her shells, and getting rescued at pad out the ending. Heck considering Dr No killed her father it would have been nice to have her land the killing blow or have Bond save her life after she goes all in valuing revenge above her own life.
While she isn’t given too much to do she helps flesh out Bond in this final act peeling back that super suave, super tough, super cool, exterior. Yes he knows the room is probably bugged but falls for the old sleeping pill in the coffee pot trick. Also we see him nearly break when Honey is taken off by the guards and the quip he makes as he sits back down feels less, to us the audience, like a cool Bond one liner but like someone trying to play the part or act more in control than he really is.
The end does its job, with a decent lair considering the budget they had to work with though strangely after giving Bond the perfect disguise in the radiation suits that seem mandatory given all that is going on we undercut that by giving someone a see through version. This man seems to be the only one to get a see through suit and it’s lucky they weren’t rolled across the base I guess. The disguise works to that point after building up the radiation problems even as far back as before their trip to Crab Key but that one suit undercuts it by saying that Dr No could have followed the Evil Overlords list all along and just chose not to to allow Bond a chance to run round his base and ruin his evil scheme. Also while Bond was locked in a cell, presumably to be dealt with later, it’s noticeable that Honey was strapped into an easily escapable situation involving an overly elaborate and exotic death as she is presumably left to drown; the first of the series.
This isn’t a bad movie but going back to it after all this time, as one of the Bond movies I remember outside the Brosnan era, On her Majesties Secret Service, and a smattering of others I’m a little let down. Connery plays the part well even though he’s only in film one and the movie is good for the time and budget but it fails to live up to the over the top action to come and doesn’t give enough weight and intelligence to warrant the movie as something other than a Bond film. Needless to say I don’t think I’d start here but if you’ve not seen Bond before but I’d maybe come back to it later down the line once your invested and want to see where it came from.