Saturday, January 31, 2009

Dr. No

Dr. No posterDr. No (1962) is British secret agent James Bond's explosive debut into the world of film, in the form of the smooth-talking Sean Connery. His first mission is to investigate the murder of a fellow agent, John Strangways, and his secretary stationed in Jamaica. The dead agent was working on a case with the American CIA involving the disruption of Cape Canaveral rocket launches by radio jamming. Upon arrival in Kingston, Bond proceeds to Government House, where he meets Principal Secretary Pleydell-Smith, who sets him up with a local Police liaison and arranges an interview with other members of Strangways' bridge four (who were the last to see him alive). He meets with them at the Queen's club and is pointed in the direction of a local fishing guide, who apparently had taken Strangways on numerous boat-trips before his death. When Bond goes to the port to find the guide, named Quarrel, he discovers that he and the Felix Leiter of the CIA were observing a certain offshore island called Crab Key with Strangways. Rocks collected from this island have turned out to be radioactive; furthermore, locals are afraid to go near there because of the existence of a "dragon", keeping the island completely private. The owner of the island is a mysterious Chinese man, Dr. No.

Bond pursues a lead and goes to see Professor Dent, a local metallurgist and member of Strangways' bridge four. Dent refuses to cooperate with Bond's inquiries, and immediately thereafter takes a boat to Crab Key, where he goes into a large complex and is instructed by an unseen voice to kill Bond with a black widow spider. That night, Dent releases the spider into Bond's room, but Bond keeps his cool and kills it with a shoe. The next morning, he goes to Government House to report, and catches the sexy Asian secretary, Miss Taro, listening at the keyhole. He makes a date with her for that afternoon. When he is driving up to her house in the mountains, Dr. No's henchmen chase him in a hearse, but thanks to Bond's excellent maneuvering, they drive off a cliff. Miss Taro is surprised when he arrives to her house, expecting him to be dead. He seduces her, calls the police to take her to prison. Then he waits in the dark at her house, knowing that someone will show up to kill him. This unlucky someone is Dent, whom Bond kills.

Late that night, he meets with Leiter and Quarrel to reconnoitre Crab Key in Quarrel's boat. Bond and Quarrel sleep on the island, waiting for day. The next morning, Bond finds the beautiful Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress), who is diving for shells off the beach. Suddenly a patrol boat of security men show up, shooting up the beach with machine guns while Bond, Honey, and Quarrel hide. When they have gone, Honey leads the two men up a stream and into the jungle, where they barely avoid being found by the guards and their dogs. As night falls, they are on an open swamp and encounter Crab Key's famous "dragon," which is a fire-blowing armoured tractor driven by guards in radioactive suits. The dragon's fire kills Quarrel, and the guards capture Bond and Honey. They are taken to Dr. No's lair, a large underground complex full of men in radioactive suits, and soon thereafter are invited to dine with Dr. No. Dr. No is a megalomaniac genius of German and Chinese descent, who is a member of the evil SPECTRE organization, and is working on disrupting a highly publicized Project Mercury space launch (Nasa's first manned program, erroneously described as the first moon-orbital shot) from Cape Canaveral with his atomic powered radio beam. After dinner, he has Bond and Honey put into separate cells, and proceeds to his control room to disrupt the space launch. Bond escapes from his cell and breaks into the control room, disguised as one of No's men. He overloads the nuclear reactor that powers the complex, kills Dr. No, and saves Honey as the whole complex begins to explode. He steals a boat just in time and escapes with Honey while Dr. No's lair blows sky-high in the background.

Dr No was filmed entirely in Jamaica in 1961-62. Jamaica gained its full independence from Britain in 1962, immediately after the filming was finished. In the movie, Jamaica is still a British colony, its power centre at Government House, which is administered by British bureaucrats and military officers in khaki shorts and knee-high socks. The entire film is permeated by the British colonial spirit, with its propriety and organization, its high social circles completely separated from those of the locals. At the Queen's Club, the British ex-pats play bridge and talk about business. The Jamaicans' island, on the other hand, is a laid-back and fun place where American tourists go to party. One scene takes place in a bar on the beach, where whites and black locals mingle and dance together. Jamaican people are portrayed as relaxed, but distrustful of foreigners. They are very superstitious, and Dr. No takes advantage of this by creating the myth of the "dragoon".

Where does James Bond stand in all of this? Bond is undeniably a part of the British power organization, and slips easily into the colonial atmosphere. He acts as if he owns the island, but is it because it's a British colony or because Bond acts this way wherever he goes? He works alongside a black local, Quarrel, as an equal. The island dynamics demonstrate, however, that the local Jamaicans are far below the high-up and high-power politics of the British elite. They are excluded from every important event in the film. There is still very much a small English ball of power within a larger, looser, darker Jamaican world.

See also Jon's account of the film.

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