First Two Adventures of a Legendary Spy

Sunday, December 2, 2012
The year was 1962, a time where John Kennedy was our president and the Cold War was at a peak with the Cuban Missle Crisis. It was also the year a new hero came onto the silver screen; a man who had a way with the women while dealing with some of the most ruthless, cunning villains around. He brought style and panache doing what he needed to do his assignments for Queen and Country. His name: Bond, James Bond.
Producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman launched a franchise created by Ian Fleming, who at one time was a British intelligence agent as well as a journalist. His experiences cultivated in creating Mr. Bond, whose first story was "Casino Royale", which was made first as a TV play with American actor Barry Nelson essaying Bond. But it wasn't until 1962 when audiences around the globe were flocking into movie theaters watching the very first film chapter of James Bond.
Ironically, the first book filmed was "Dr. No", which was the sixth book Fleming penned. Broccoli and Saltzman searched for the perfect man to play 007 with names from Roger Moore to Patrick McGoohan popping up as possibilities. But it was Saltzman who discovered a Scottish actor who appeared in a Walt Disney film, "Darby O'Gill and the Little People" that caught his eye. The result was this actor came on board to do a five picture contract, yet he was unknown to many. The actor: Connery, Sean Connery.
Connery brought flair and dash to the character and audiences fell in love with James Bond from the get-go. "Dr. No" begins with a fellow agent, John Strangways, being gunned down by assassins known as "Three Blind Mice". Strangways was investigating a Chinese-german named Julius No (Joseph Wiseman) who lives at Crab Key in an underground base. Apparently No's plan is to disrupt an American space launch using a radio beam weapon. Bond gets help from a CIA operative, Felix Leiter (Jack Lord) and a native boatman, Quarrel (John Kitzmiller) who worked with Leiter in the past.
The trail leads to a geologist, Dr. R.J. Dent who notices some rock samples taken by Bond. But Dent secretly works for Dr. No and is asked to kill Bond by placing a tarantula in his bed. But Bond awakens in time and smashes the creature to death. In turn, Bond traps the geologist and kills him.
Bond is then following the trail of samples to an island where he meets up with Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress), who is found collecting shells. She is first leery of the secret agent, but then she warms up to him as they, along with Quarrel, try to outrun a "dragon" sent by our villainous doctor. Bond and Honey are captured and dine with No, who in turn tells them of his plan to mess up the U.S. space launch.
Bond is then roughed up and taken to a dungeon while Honey is placed somewhere in the lair. Bond escapes and manages to overload the reactor that would set off the beam. It results in a duel to the death with Dr. No, of which No is defeated and Honey is rescued by Bond.
Directed by Terence Young, the film seems to me a little dated by now. Yet this makes for a first exciting adventure that is smartly paced and well written. Richard Maibaum and Johanna Harwood collaborated on the script that would be the framework for further adventures.
What was most memorable for me was when the audience is first introduced to Bond via a card game. Connery cooly delivered the signature line that set the tone for the rest of his performance. Another highlight was when Bond encountered the tarantula and as he destroyed it with his shoe, the music, conducted by John Barry and written by Monty Norman, was in rhythm with Bond's shoe beating, making for a very tense moment.

While Connery was very effective as Bond, Wiseman was having fun with his character of Julius No. It is a shame that Wiseman was only better known for that character alone than for his other works. Ms. Andress was the model for other Bond Beauties after her, but she did not have very much to do here. Lord makes for a cool Felix, but this was his only appearance as the CIA agent. Kitzmiller brough a lot of authenticity to his role of Quarrel, making him a good ally for Bond.
It was only a year later that we would get the second Bond adventure, this time from an earlier Fleming novel that President Kennedy called "one of the best books I ever read". It would turn later into a video game using Connery's voice as its star.
"From Russia With Love" finds 007 involved with a cryptographic device that an organization called SPECTRE wants and is willing to sell it back to Russia while trying to exact revenge on Bond for killing off Dr. No in the first movie.
The film begins with a person who looks like Bond being attacked and killed by the ruthless assassin Red Grant (Robert Shaw). Grant is recruited by SPECTRE's No. 3 agent, Rosa Klebb to seek Bond out, while in turn Klebb hires a Russian clerk, Tatiana (Daniela Bianchi) to be the bait. Tatiana thinks that Klebb is still working for another organization called SMERSH.
Apparently, Tatiana is offering to defect with the device as a lure to both MI6, Bond's employers, and the CIA. She states that she would only surrender to Bond, thus our secret agent flies to Istanbul. There he meets up with the head of the Turkish agency, Ali Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendariz), who teams with Bond to get the goods on another Russian agent. Later, an ambush ensues at a gypsy hideout, where Bey is wounded and Bond is saved by Red, who is hiding in the darkness.
The next evening, Bond and Bey seek the Russian responsible for the attack and kills him while climbing onto a billboard for a Bob Hope movie. Bond heads back to a hotel where he encounters Tatiana, unknowing that SPECTRE is filming they activities.
Tatiana then sets out in the morning for a meeting that is shortened by Red's attack on a Soviet consulate. Bond finds the body as well as a floor plan to steal the device. Using Bey to help, Bond and Tatiana take the device and board onto the Orient Express. This sets the stage for one of the great battles in Bond film history as Red takes on our hero in a very suspenseful fight sequence on board the moving train.
A well time escape finds Bond and Tatiana fleeing in Red's truck, but not before Bond is attacked by a helicopter, of which Bond wisely short circuits its engine and plunging the helicopter and its occupants to death. When SPECTRE gets word of this, he is not a happy camper. He then asks Rosa to send out a fleet of boats to take down Bond.
Bond and Tatiana manage to get onto a boat, but immediately is attacked. Wisely incorporating unused oil barrels, Bond manages to dispatch of the boat force and the two head off to Venice. But one surprise still lurks, that of Rosa Klebb who knows that the last attempt had failed to rid of 007. Is it too late for Bond to discover that Tatiana was using Bond and will Rosa manage to do in Bond herself?
Once again, Terence Young helms this adventure which is a little longer in length, but makes for a more exciting nail biter here. The formula is very strong with good solid writing again from Johanna Harwood and Richard Maibaum. The characters are well fleshed out here, giving Connery more to grow on as James Bond.
This time out, he is flanked by a great cast including a very menacing turn by a very young Robert Shaw as Red Grant. He has the physique and demeanor to play this role of a cunning assassin. Lotte Leyna is also on the mark as Rosa Klebb. She plays the perfect bad spy with plenty of zest to go around. Ms. Bianchi is well casted here, having to do more here than Ursula Andress did in "Dr. No". Not only does she play well off Connery, but she was Connery's choice as leading lady for this film.
Ted Moore's great cinematography, Peter Hunt's flowing editing, and John Barry's solid score also contribute to give the film a gripping edge.
"From Russia With Love" perhaps set the table for the other Bond movies. It doubled the grosses of the first installment and to some it was the best in the series. But the next film, which came a year later, would set a mark in terms of its gadgetry and a henchman who just may seem unbeatable. But that will be in the next installment as I delve into the Bond canon as it celebrates 50 years in film.
Final grades: Dr. No gets a B plus
From Russia With Love receives an A plus.


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