Post thumbnail

The sequel to Dr. No starts with James Bond being hunted and killed by a scary Robert Shaw. Of course, it is not actually James Bond that dies but a double wearing a mask. It appears that Shaw is learning how to hunt and kill the great white natural killing machine that is 007. This opening is little more than a fun way to disorient the audience, but when you think about it, it is one crazy-ass sequence. The notion that SPECTRE not only forces people to be live bait in their training exercises, but that they make these poor bastards wear absurdly realistic masks to create that touch of verisimilitude is dumb in a way that I kind of love.


After the credits, two SPECTRE bigwigs and their unseen cat-stroking leader hatch a scheme to kill James Bond while furthering their own goals. They want revenge for his killing Dr. No in the previous film and they also want a Russian cryptographic device known as a Lektor. Their two-birded, low-stakes scheme hinges on the not-unreasonable supposition that all you need to do in order to catch a James Bond is to dangle a beautiful woman in front of him.


One of these three villains is Rosa Klebb, a former SMERSH spymaster, current SPECTRE #3, and implied lesbian. She has been helicoptered to SPECTRE Island, a henchmen training camp. She is escorted through the island past an array of absurdly evil training exercises, involving more live-dude targets. Eventually, she is presented with Robert Shaw’s character, named Grant. She looks him over, and then punches him once in the gut with brass knuckles. He does not flinch. Satisfied, she gives her approval, and promptly leaves the island, her business concluded. This is one of the greatest scenes of supervillainy I have ever seen.


Klebb then goes to Russia, where she, pretending to still be a high ranking SMERSH agent, commands Tatiana Romanova, a beautiful cipher clerk, to pretend to defect to the West so that she can feed Bond false information. So, we have a Russian defector pretending to have not defected who is forcing a woman to fake-defect but not to the terrorists that the real defector has defected to but rather to the West, ostensibly to help Russia but in actuality to steal from Russia. This is some Cold-ass War right here. Also, Klebb explicitly orders Romanova to sleep with Bond.


18 minutes into the film, we finally get to see James Bond Actual and he is on a picnic date with Sylvia Trench, the baccarat woman from the previous film. First, the bad guys were mad at Bond for what he did in the previous film, now Bond is seen romancing the same woman two films in a row. This movie has a lot of explicit connections to the previous film, something that runs counter to my expectations of how these movies work. I guess this is still a real movie, not yet a full-blown “Bond Movie”. It is kind of strange.


At any rate, we don’t spend much time with Miss Trench before Bond gets called into the office from his car phone. In the office, Bond gets to flirt with Moneypenny after tossing his hat onto a coat rack, and he gets an exposition dump which is essentially redundant, since the SPECTRE schemers have already exposited all this stuff already.


After the exposition, we meet Q, a series mainstay, although in this film, he is just the guy from Q (as in Quartermasters) Branch. He shows Bond a suitcase with hidden compartments and booby traps. Bond is visibly impressed with all these gimmicks. All this trick stuff seems totally novel and cool to him.


Bond flies off to Istanbul, where everything is so very very Cold War. Everywhere Bond goes it is all tails and mistrust and searching for bugs and dummy cars and code phrases. The good guys have installed a goddamned periscope in the Russian consulate for spying because that’s the sort of things good guys do during a Cold War. The movie is drenching us in paranoia, but it is all espionage travelogue. Nothing is actually forwarding the story, let alone the plot.


Eventually, the local station chief takes Bond to a gypsy camp to provide some local color. Bond is super-bored until two women have a vicious, ritual sexyfight over a man. For the first time in the movie, Bond perks up. Murderous sexytime hits his sweet spot.


Before the sexyfight can conclude, a gun battle erupts for reasons that are not particularly clear. During the gun battle, Robert Shaw, lurking in the background, secretly shoots someone about to kill Bond from behind. After the dust has cleared, Bond, with the wisdom of King Solomon solves the sexyfight by sleeping with both women.


After the gypsy episode, there is more murdering and counter-murdering, which is a lot duller than it sounds. Eventually, Bond actually furthers his mission and meets Romanova. Within 60 seconds from their meeting, Bond transitions from having his gun drawn on her to making out with her. It’s super creepy, made creepier by the knowledge that she has been ordered to let Bond sleep with her on pain of death.


Meanwhile, Shaw keeps killing people who want to kill Bond because while ultimately, he wants to kill Bond himself, he first needs the fake defector to finish her fake defection so that he can steal the cryptographic device that she is going to help Bond steal.


In a surprisingly brief scene, Bond and Romanova bomb a consulate and steal the device. This seems disappointingly easy and pretty morally questionable. In fact, nothing Bond has done so far this film has seemed at all heroic. From a post-Cold War, post-Women’s Lib vantage point, Bond seems decidedly a villain. Thus far, it has been nothing but murder, terrorism, theft, and quasi-rape.


Once Bond and Romanova have the device, they board a train and dick around with more espionage stuff and more sexytimes. This movie is so slow. The entire film could be edited down to about half an hour without losing anything of import, but the film is weirdly enjoyable. There is something to be said for soaking up this strange bygone Cold War flavor. Or maybe I just like trains.


Ninety minutes in, the movie shifts tone pretty hard when Shaw presents himself as Bond’s contact on the train, having killed the real contact. And with that, the movie actually become very tense and very cool. Shaw has proven himself to the audience to be a ruthless and capable killer, and Bond and Romanova are completely unaware of the danger he presents. It makes for great film, waiting to see how it plays out.


The charade is maintained for several scenes. Bond gets suspicious when Shaw orders red wine with fish, but not suspicious enough. Shaw eventually pulls a gun on Bond and gives a fun, contemptuous bad guy speech.


Shaw’s character is cool, cold and cruel. There are are very few differences between this man and James Bond. One of them is private sector and one is public, and one of them knows what wine to order with fish. I guess that’s supposed to be enough to make us root for Bond.


Things look bad for Bond, but he tricks Shaw into setting off the booby trap on his brief case. It’s an old gag in an old movie but the way that Connery sells the deception makes for a fantastic little moment, one that leads directly into a delightfully savage brawl. Two beasts of men in tight quarters desperately try to kill the other with whatever they can get their hands on. Eventually Bond garrottes Shaw to death in a shockingly violent fashion. It’s a truly great fight.


Unfathomably, there is then fifteen more minutes of Cold War stuff as Bond and Romanova finish their journey to the West. Bond fights a helicopter and engages in a high speed boat chase, both of which should be exciting and cool, but all this stuff seems a let down after the amazing train fight. Doesn’t the movie know it should be over?


It’s almost over. After it appears that the danger has finally passed, Rosa Klebb, the newly promoted #2 in worldwide villainy nearly defeats Bond by sneaking into his hotel room disguised as a maid and swiping the Lektor without a fight. It is hilarious.


However, at the last minute Romanova spots her and after some deliberation chooses Bond over Russia, turning the fake defector into a real defector. Klebb tries to stab Bond with her shoe and Romanova shoots her. This is meant to be seen as a heroic act, but to me, she just comes off as a traitor to her people.


Afterward, Bond and Romanova fuck on a boat. The end.


This is a weird movie. Neither Bond and Romanova show any signs of having morals or values of any sort. Bond likes killing and sex and Savile Row suits and Romanova likes James Bond. The tone veers from dull to goofy to brutal and back with no sense of pace. The whole film is a big mess. Yet for all of its flaws, there is some really interesting stuff in here. I like the goofy villain stuff with Shaw at the beginning. The sliver of the film where Bond and Shaw actually interact with each other is great. And I can’t decided if the amorality of the protagonist is a strength or a weakness. Hell, I truly can’t tell if the amorality is deliberate or not. It is compelling and repellant at once. Maybe this is the appeal of Bond.

Post thumbnail

This is how the Bond of films begins. The first time out this isn’t a “Bond Movie”, it is a spy movie featuring a character named James Bond. When we first meet James Bond – and what an odd thing to do, meet James Bond for the first time – he is playing baccarat for high stakes and flirting with a beautiful woman with a suggestive name. He is then called away on urgent business. This scene does nothing to further the plot but it does show us what this Bond fella does when he isn’t on the clock.


We move on to the office, where he flirts with his boss’s secretary Miss Moneypenny before being briefed by M, his boss. Some spy dude was murdered in Jamaica and Bond is being sent to investigate. But before he leaves, M makes fun of his favorite gun and tells him he has to use a different one because the one he likes is for pussies. Bond is heartbroken. He really liked his Beretta.


Bond arrives in Jamaica where he proceeds to do generic spy stuff: putting hairs over doors, fighting enemy agents, conducting interrogations, that sort of thing. It is all a bit dull.


Eventually, he meets up with CIA agent Felix Leiter and local ally Quarrel. They do more spy stuff. Not Super Spy stuff. It is all very procedural. Bond is exceedingly confident and cultured and every woman he meets is pointedly attracted to him, except for a black freelance spy that he and his new friends lightly torture for information.


The bad guys try to kill him by putting a tarantula in his bed, which is a bit silly.


Fifty minutes into what has been a fairly dull film, and there is finally a scene that provides me with a glimmering of understanding as to the appeal of James Bond. Some assassins try to run Bond off the road. When he realizes what is going on, he starts grinning evilly as he outmaneuvers them before running them off of the road leading to a fireball of death. He then cracks a dumb joke. This is something I can latch onto. This is a man who is only happy when he is killing. Is that who Bond is supposed to be? It isn’t heroic or likable but it is potentially interesting.


The next scene is also interesting. He visits a lady spy who, after discovering that he isn’t dead, tries to seduce him in order to stall him until more assassins can arrive. Bond knows this is her plan but he sleeps with her anyways because he’s got time to kill while he waits for the next assassin. The scene is tense, cruel and a little gross.


When the assassin arrives, Bond disarms him and ultimately shoots him in cold blood. In three scenes, this film has become defined by sadism and it is pretty great.


Bond and Quarrel finally head out to the island where the bad guy lives. Quarrel, a black man, doesn’t want to come to the island because he is an ignorant islander who believes that there is a dragon on the island. Not a great look. Upon arriving, Bond meets Honey Ryder, a beachcomber in an iconic bikini who has come to the villain’s island looking for shells.


This island portion of the film has shifted gears from a spy procedural to a Jonny Quest-lite adventure with plodding pacing. Along the way, for no real reason, Ryder tells the story of her being raped and the revenge she got on her rapist. Oh and also, she suspects that Dr. No killed her father. At no point in the film is there any follow up on this point.


Eventually, they find the so-called dragon. It is revealed to be an armored tractor painted to look like a dragon. Quarrel is killed by it while Bond and Ryder are captured and taken to a crazy supervillain bunker where they are to be “guests”.


The villain invites them to dinner. As they head to meet their captor, Bond reassures Ryder by telling her “Of course I’m scared too.” This is, of course, a perfectly sane thing to say, but it flies in the face of everything I had believed James Bond to be. Also, the movie has been boooring since they came to the island.


They finally meet the eponymous Dr. No. A deadly calm madman with robot arms, a hilarious aquarium, and famous stolen art. As they talk, his backstory unfurls. He is a half-German, half-Chinese former treasurer of the Chinese Tongs and an expert in radiation.


At this point Bond suggests that No let the girl go. No agrees, sending her away to be raped. “I’m sure the guards will amuse her.” No quips.


No goes on to reveal that the existence of a cabal of supercriminals known as SPECTRE (The SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion.), of which he is a member. It is on their behalf that he plans to disrupt American rocket missions with his atomic-powered radio beam, which will in some way further SPECTRE’s plans of global conquest.
No thinks he sees a common spirit in Bond (Probably because they both love to murder people?) but Bond is unimpressed. “World Domination. Same old dream,” Bond dryly murmurs. A fantastic line in an a movie that has been utterly uninteresting for the past 40 minutes.


No realizes that he has misread Bond, but doesn’t kill him for some reason, instead putting him in a prison cell with a giant ventilation shaft. Bond escapes his cell, stops No’s plans, kills No, and sets up a chain reaction that will eventually blow up the base, all without creating an ounce of drama or suspense.


Bond finds Ryder chained in rising water with her pants removed. They escape and fuck in a boat. Credits roll.


That was the first film in the most enduring film franchise of all time. A slightly weird, mostly dull cold war spy movie starring a very sophisticated Scotsman with sadistic tendencies. At the time it was a bolt out of the blue, but 50 years on it is hard to see why. There are a few moments of brilliance but all in all, it is dull and weird and gross. It isn’t an obvious candiate to become one of the largest cultural phenomenons of all time.