2012 marks the 50th anniversary of James Bond on the big screen. To celebrate, SFX’s Nick Setchfield revisits each and every 007 adventure in a week by week countdown to Skyfall…
MISSION 1: DR NO (1962)
A NEW AGE 1962, and a bomb-blast of glamour and sophistication is about to hit a Britain still mired in the charcoal gloom of postwar austerity. Yes, this is the year that the flavoured crisp arrives on Blighty’s shores… You can only imagine the impact of Bond’s big screen debut in a land where Cheese and Onion felt like a minor miracle. Dr No captures an age trembling on the edge of huge, lasting change, escaping the certainties of Empire and poised to embrace the revolution of the ‘60s. We’re at the cusp of the space age – the film opens with a moon rocket launch at Cape Canaveral, and there’s a hint of Sputnik in the eerie bleeps that punctuate the title sequence. There’s a dazzling modernity here, from Peter Hunt’s urgent, innovative cutting to the jolting violence (a woman is shot in the opening minutes, and there’s blood) to the trademark pulse of sexuality that throbs throughout – raffishly, Bond takes the time to bed Sylvia Trench before turning his attention to saving the world. A new age is here. And its hero is ready.
“BOND… JAMES BOND” Bond’s introduction amid the smoke-wreathed gaming tables of Les Ambassadeurs is beautifully staged by director Terence Young. At first Connery is concealed from us, a charismatic centre of gravity around which the other characters in the casino are orbiting. It’s as if the camera itself is wary of Bond, or at least complicit in his world of secrets and shadows. A card hits the table. We glimpse an elegant tuxedo sleeve, a glossy, coal-black sweep of hair. A hand reaches for a gleaming cigarette case. And then Connery is revealed to us in close-up, all hooded eyes and half-sneer. A cigarette hangs languidly from his lips. As he lights it he declares his name with an unmistakably saturnine purr: “Bond. James Bond”. And Monty Norman’s imminently immortal Bond theme kicks in, already ominous with the promise of the legend to come.
THE CONNERY FACTOR Sean Connery feels so effortlessly iconic as Bond that it’s sobering to remember just what a contentious choice he was. Eternally class-conscious, Ian Fleming initially considered this former barrow boy too coarse and loutish for his fastidious hero (“I’m looking for Commander James Bond, not an overgrown stuntman..”). United Artists, meanwhile, flinched at the thought of an unknown scoring so coveted a role. Terence Young may have preferred to assign 007’s licence to kill to Richard Johnson, but he clearly saw the potential in Connery and took it upon himself to sculpt the Scotsman’s raw matter. Young marched Connery to his tailor, clad him in Turnbull & Asser shirts, instructed him to kip in his suit until Bond’s immaculate sense of style clung like a second skin. But just enough of Connery’s brutish smoulder remained: his 007 would forever feel like a wildcat in gentleman’s disguise.
A MAN CALLED NO “I never fail, Mr Bond,” declares the master of Crab Key. With his dapper collarless suit and eerily robotic, black-gloved hands (“A misfortune,” he pronounces, with chilling, tantalising understatement), the first big screen Bond villain feels like the archetype for every world-grasping madman that follows. He’s already part of a long tradition, though, rooted in the Penny Dreadful devilry of such empire-threatening Oriental masterminds as Fu Manchu, created by Sax Rohmer in 1913. Ian Fleming approached Noel Coward for the title role – Coward’s response? “Dr No? No! No! No!” – while Christopher Lee declined the chance to take on 007 a whole decade before The Man With The Golden Gun. Acclaimed Broadway actor Joseph Wiseman won the part and played No in pseudo-Asian make-up, his face an implacable mannequin mask.
A TASTE OF HONEY Ursula Andress arrives an hour into Dr No, but somehow it feels as though cinema has been waiting for her forever. It’s one of the screen’s most heart-halting entrances: she emerges from the blue of the Caribbean like some warrior Venus, a sea-shell in her hand and a knife strapped to her shining thigh. You can almost hear the rulebook of celluloid sexuality being torn into tiny pieces. “What are you doing here, looking for shells?” she asks Bond. “No, I’m just looking,” he replies, for once the voice of the audience. The role of Honey Ryder remained uncast as late as two weeks before filming began – the producers offered Andress the part without even arranging a face to face meeting, so smitten were they by some strikingly glamorous photos taken by husband John Derek. Andress suffered for her immortality: striding from the waves she tore her leg open on some lurking coral. That celebrated image actually captures her with a painfully swollen knee.
BOND’S WORLDDr No creates a unique cinemascape for its hero, one poised between the old world and the new. Fleming’s beloved Jamaica is here, all colonial privilege, Cotton Island shirts and gentlemanly games of cards beneath a hot, listless sun. Big Ben, meanwhile, stands stately and reassuring in the British night as a secret service radio room fills with the urgent chatter of espionage. But elsewhere there’s a thrilling futurism: production designer Ken Adam spent $100,000 on the movie’s centrepiece nuclear control room set, conjuring a multi-tiered dream of atomic age tech. But Adam’s genius didn’t necessarily require serious bankrolling: one of the movie’s most memorable sets is simply a marble floor, some cunningly deployed shadows and a spider in a cage. It’s a masterclass in minimalist menace.
TRIV AND LET DIE
Who was the first person to play James Bond on the big screen? No, it wasn’t Sean Connery. Stuntman Bob Simmons actually earns that honour, doubling for 007 in the opening gunbarrel sequence.
Filming began on January 16th 1962. The first scene to be shot was Bond strolling past the photographer in the airport.
Ian Fleming was so impressed with the film’s leading lady that he slipped a mention of Ursula Andress into On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Andress’ appearance created a huge spike in global bikini sales.
Dr No sees the first appearance of the character who would later become known as Q. Peter Burton plays Major Boothroyd, the Mi6 armourer who equips Bond with his signature Walther.
It was Ben Fish, a friend of producer Harry Saltzman, who suggested Connery for the role of 007.
Dr No reveals that he works for SPECTRE. It’s the first time that Bond has heard of the globe-threatening organisation.