20 October 2007

Guest: Bond, James Bond (1962-1963)

1962 - Dr. No - You’re a filmmaker and you’re told to grab the audience at the offset with a good opening, and since you’re Terence Young and you’re awesome, you take that to mean making kickass opening credits. So you call up Maurice Binder and let him work the magic. The result: you, yeah you, wait until those weird 50’s sci-fi noises finally stop and then it’s time for ROCKING, a loud orchestral climax followed by flashing colors and an early Romanek iPod commercial. Sweet.

We’re off to a great start for a series that is more or less in the experimental stages, in a film which sets about breaking rules in the action genre, the spy genre, and the noir genre. Combining old Hollywood shooting style with a hip, exuberant editing style. A story that while told in a meaty adult tone, is pure candy at the core.

There is an inherent quickness; Bond accomplishes goals almost faster than the camera can catch him, quipping at times when it is most damaging to those in proximity and only expounding on the plot when another character needs to hear it. Not much handholding going on until the title villain’s speech towards the end, and by then, it’s like, fifteen minutes before the fadeout.

Connery truly was born to play this role. Every action looks calculated and professional, even when he is caught off guard by kinky dames playing golf in his hotel room. And does he sidestep danger? Hell no, he meets it foolishly head on, making sure he sleeps with Miss Taro first before he turns her in, what any good OO agent would do.

So okay, enjoyable as it is, I’m finding it hard to accurately explain how I feel about this film; it’s a miracle that it works, that it was pulled off at all. It’s got bulls-eyed style supplemented with confident camerawork, brutal killings, and appropriate humor, enough to balance it all out and distract from how ridiculously thin and dreamlike this stuff is. Did Bond just fight a tarantula? Yes. Yes he did.

Honey Ryder’s iconic introduction is the most unnecessary moment in the film, but it’s a marvelous addition to the rich tapestry. By the time all motives are revealed and the showdown above the radioactive isotope finally occurs, it doesn’t even matter that Dr. No Hands is obviously not Chinese. It is an inexplicably good ride.

Oh, and Felix Leiter, now properly named, is yet again, a badass.

“You’ll be sorry! You’ll all be sorry, you rats!” (6.5/10)
d. Terence Young

1963 - From Russia With Love - Why did SPECTRE feel the need to dress up a human target as Bond? Because they knew that he wouldn’t appear for another fifteen minutes or so? I suppose more ridiculous things have happened, and I’ll be getting to those soon.

Take Dr. No’s political intrigue and ratchet it up about 100 percent and you have this film. The complicated chess match between SPECTRE and Her Majesty’s Secret Service is what sets this apart from its predecessor(s). SPECTRE uses an unwitting Russian agent to play an undercover role in defecting and offering a decoding device to England, which really is a front operation in itself, but England knows at least half the story and all the while Bond plays it oblivious, never believing for a second that Russia would ever betray its allies. What gets better than that? Not destroying America’s space program with radiation or bankrupting an organization in a card game, that’s for sure.

It’s still by-the-numbers spyness, and whether or not it is enjoyable comes down to taste. I found the bits of information even more unnecessary, as it didn’t amount to anything substantial beyond making the universe easier to swallow. The film veers off on a tangent somewhere in the middle, where 007 follows around his Russian contact and learns ‘the gypsy way,’ which is nothing but two girls rolling around in the dirt. Honestly, even with the amount of intrigue, the film feels even thinner than Dr. No. Only when it goes behind the curtain does it really interest me, and thus the prime advantage: the villains aren’t silly-dangerous but actually-dangerous, and wouldn’t hesitate to stick you in the throat with a shoeknife.

Speaking of gadgets, I am doing my best to appreciate their inventiveness now before they deteriorate into screenplay exits and deus ex machinas. Q Branch’s suitcase kit is neat, and is very nicely utilized. Amazing how many situations call for a one-shot sniper rifle.

Still a good film. I would have married the hell out of Miss Moneypenny.

“Twelve seconds… One day we must invent a faster working venom.” (6.0/10)
d. Terence Young