Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Most Secret: Dr.No

The year that saw Ian Fleming's hero brought to the screen wasn't quiet or dull; The Cuban Missile Crisis saw the World on the very brink of nuclear war and even the Pope waded in, excommunicating Fidel Castro. With war in Vietnam set to escalate, President Kennedy gave the US Navy the thumbs-up to establish a new unit; the Navy Seals. Everywhere it seems there was unrest; In South Africa, Nelson Mandela was arrested and in East Berlin, twelve people escaped to the west by tunnelling beneath the Berlin Wall. An 18yr old student, Peter Fechter was shot dead during his own bid for freedom. Francis Gary Powers, a U2 spy plane pilot was exchanged for a Soviet spy in the city after his plane was shot down over hostile territory. A coal-mine explosion in Saarland, West Germany claimed 299 lives, while storms along the North coast of the country took a further 300. In the US, plane crashes made frequent headlines, as did the escape from Alcatraz by three inmates, who were never seen again.

In Space; Telstar, the first commercial communication satellite is launched and American John Glenn becomes the first person to orbit the Earth, he circles our planet three times. JFK announces a loftier ambition; to send men to the Moon by the end of the decade. NASA will need to pull its socks up; Space Probe Ranger 3 misses the Moon by 22,000 miles, while Ranger 4 smashes into it.

In pop culture, West Side Story took the Best Picture Oscar and the year saw the release of the epic Lawrence of Arabia. Amazing Fantasy #15 comic is published – the first outing for Spider Man. The Rolling Stones play their first gig at the Marquee and The Beatles audition for Decca.

Famous Births; (To name a few) Jim Carrey, Axl Pose, Sheryl Crow, Lou Diamond Phillips, Adam Baldwin, Jon Bon Jovi, MC Hammer, Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise, Wesley Snipes, Demi Moore & Jodie Foster. Hong Kong Legend Michelle Yeoh is also born.

Tragically, Marilyn Monroe is found dead at her California home.

Oh... and in England, October 5th saw the Premiere of Dr.No...


Dr.No. No, No, No.

Famously, Noel Coward, Fleming's island neighbour sent the above reply when invited to play the first cinematic Bond villain. A product of the Etonian system, Ian Lancaster Fleming came from a privileged family, born in 1908 to Eve Ste Croix Rose and Valentine Fleming. Awarded the DSO, Major Fleming was killed in World War One. Ian turned his hand to journalism and, less successfully, stockbroking. After serving in British Naval Intelligence during the war, Fleming took a post with Kemsley newspaper group. He began writing the Bond books at his Jamaican villa, named for a WWII operation; Goldeneye.

So, where did James Bond come from?. Notably, Fleming wrote quickly and accurately – a skill he picked up working for Reuters. Somewhat of a snob, Fleming mixed in high society, with his wife Ann and her literati friends sneering at what she called his 'pornography'. He had the last laugh, taking his friend Coward's advice to 'write his bloody book' - Casino Royale. Having observed spies and their devil may care lifestyles during the war, Fleming took the name of an ornithologist from a book on his shelf, adding names and aspects of real people. At school he had had fights with George Scaramanga; a fellow member of Boodles, the club Fleming belonged to was named John Blofeld – whose father just happened to be called Ernst... Even Dear old Q – properly Major Boothroyd was named for a friend, a man called Geoffrey who advised Fleming on the 'right' gun for Bond. Add characters based on his wartime boss in Naval Intelligence and his peacetime life and you have a recipe – but only if you have a unique way with words and descriptive prose.

The Music; Monty Norman's unforgettable gunbarrel - theme, arranged by John Barry was described by (Later Bond composer) David Arnold as "Bebop-swing vibe coupled with that vicious, dark, distorted electric guitar, definitely an instrument of rock 'n' roll... it represented everything about the character you would want; It was cocky, swaggering, confident, dark, dangerous, suggestive, sexy, unstoppable - and he did it in two minutes." Honey Ryder's famous “Under the mango tree” song was sung by Diana Coupland, Norman's wife.

There's a Plot, right? (SPOILER ALERT)

'You've had your six.'

Strangways, head of the British Secret Intelligence Service in Jamaica is murdered, as is his secretary. 'M', Head of Service, sends for his best man – and no prizes for guessing where he finds him in the wee small hours. American rocket launches from Cape Canaveral have been going wonky – some sort of shenanigans is suspected involving 'Toppling' – radio beams are jamming the launch frequencies and spoiling the show. Off to Jamaica, where the other side is clearly onto our man from London. The 'chauffeur' sent to pick up Bond takes a suicide pill rather than talk...clearly whoever is behind the murder isn't playing around. Bond tracks down Quarrel, the Cayman Islander and boatman who was a friend of Strangways and cagey about it, pulling a blade on 007. Felix Leiter shows up and realises they are on the same side – theres an American rocket launch coming soon, and Leiter has been sent to stop the rocket topplers.
Strangways was interested in an island, Crab Key, whose mysterious owner Dr. No is, well, mysterious and therefore up to something. There's a bauxite mine there, but a sample of rocks claims they were not radioactive. Shurely Shome Mistake? - well, Professor Dent, the local rock-ologist, and possibly geolologist is a stooge for Dr. No – and tries to kill Bond with a tarantula. Nowadaze secret agents wouldn't exactly welcome a bitey spider in their bed – but this was 1962 don't forget; all people 'knew' back then was tarantulas were deadly killers. Bond despatches the hairy beastie with his shoe – and then goes to the bathroom to lose his dinner. (One hairy Jamaican killed by an even hairier Scotsman...) Arachno-cide having failed, Dent uses a gun and executes 007's pillow. This gives us the memorable line every schoolboy must have been using for years to come, as Bond shoots the hapless Dent.

Bond talks Quarrel into a boat ride to Crab Key, where they meet a shell-collector named Honey Ryder. In the book she is starkers apart from knife belt, but Ursula Andress' entrance is simply iconic. If you haven't seen her emergence from the sea in that bikini – where have you been?. A boat – load of baddies show up and shoot up the beach, but the trio remain undetected, even to the dog teams that come later. (To my delight, they do the reed-breathing-tube trick – another thing known to every English schoolboy) Unfortunately for Quarrel, there's a dragon on the island – An armoured car (I had always thought this was an American WWII DUKW amphibian – apparently it was just a load of pipes and metal sheets made for the film.) with a flamethrower crewed by knob-heads in radiation suits. With Quarrel dead, James Bond and Honey are taken to the mysterious HQ of the mysterious Dr. No. Mysteriously, after a high–tech decontamination process (A travellator/moving pavement with lots of red lights and radiation meters – with a high-tech scrub-down from a broom. Look closely and you can see Andress wasn't Un-dressed. (I did.)Then it's through an airlock to... a luxury underground hotel. Or clinic. Something. I'm not sure – but there's Chinese ladies and they are very sweet, politely imprisoning and drugging Bond & Honey. I'm guessing they read his file and wanted to stop anything inappropriate going on...
Possibly mis-reading British etiquette, Dr. No decides on menacing his guests over dinner, revealing his sinister metal hands – a reminder of the danger of nuclear power, the result of a previous accident. Bond sneers at the Doctor and Honey is taken off somewhere. 007 ends up in a cell, but there is a touch of the friday-afternoon about the design; a great big flimsy ventilation grille, what were they thinking?. Its electrified, but only a bit – a sort of practical jokey electric grille as it only zaps Bond enough to really piss him off. He clambers through a conveniently large pipe and sets the template for Bruce Willis and Mission Impossible type films in the process. (In the book, it was a murder maze, filled with deadly tarantulas and a plunge into a pool with a giant squid.) 007 finds himself in Dr. No's nuclear power station, where the bad Doctor is planning a bit of Rocket – Toppling. Luckily for Bond, everyone is dressed in those old – style radiation suits that look like they were inflatable, so no-one suspects the six foot – plus Chinese technician stooging around. With a spin of the dial, the power goes to red – you'd think that would be a good thing for a power mad radio jammer, but no, No is VERY cross and has a pop at 007 for his audacious wheel – spinnery.

Now, my knowledge of Nuclear reactors (Actually I know a fair bit, having done my home-work for my Bayamo story) isn't Nobel Prize territory, but I'm willing to bet having an exposed pool of cooling water with visibly glowing control rods dunked in it is going to end in tears. Glug-Glug-Glug, he gets boiled in a nuclear kettle...
Who's in it, then?
Ursula Andress' body might be in it, but not her voice; described as 'Sounding like a Dutch comedienne' she was dubbed by Nikki van der Zyl.

Joseph Wiseman, the New York actor is the Doctor of the title.
Bernard Lee is 'M', a role he would play until 1979's Moonraker.
Later to go on to Hawaii Five-O fame, Jack Lord is Felix Leiter – in a monumental display of stinginess the producers rejected his request for more money to re-appear and he was replaced for Goldfinger.
Lois Maxwell was offered the choice of role; bad girl Miss Taro – or Miss Moneypenny...

Zena Marshall is Miss Taro, one of Dr. No's operatives – and a very hot one at that.
Eunice Gayson plays Bond's girlfriend Sylvia Trench, a role she reprised for From Russia with Love.
Who's not in it?
Desmond Llewelyn's time as Major Boothroyd/Q was to come later – Peter Burton plays the role first time out.

Toys for the Boys – If Daniel Craig's Bond thought it wasn't exactly Christmas, at least he got a radio. Unless you count a geiger counter, all 007 gets to play with is his Walther PPK, having been relieved of his favourite, a Beretta Model 1934. Car-wise, the film's budget meant a Sunbeam Alpine was Bond's transport.

Random things wot you should know
Director Terence Young took Sean Connery under his wing, showing him how to eat, drink & behave in polite society, even sending him to his own tailor (Below)– one recurring feature of Bond is his effortless social skill and the way he is always at ease no matter where he might find himself.

The Gun-barrel sequence – that's not Sean Connery spinning and shooting at us – its Stuntman Bob Simmons, who described the Tarantula scene as the most frightening stunt of his career. Simmons would go on to become a legend in the series – remember the fight with the Transvestite at the start of Thunderball?, the scene in Q's lab in Goldfinger with a man wearing a bullet-proof coat?; Simmons. As stuntman and fight arranger the ex-soldier was to feature in many of James Bond's finest moments.

In the film, Dr. No has a painting of The Duke of Wellington. So what? - well, the original – a Goya – had been stolen from the National Gallery recently and, in a nice comic touch, set designer Ken Adam copied it from a slide, neatly suggesting Dr. No had been behind the theft.

The beach scene was filmed near to Fleming's villa, Goldeneye. Visiting the set one day, Fleming and his pals were ordered to get down as a set of squibs was fired, simulating machine-gun fire. They dropped to the sand – and stayed there long after the take, apparently forgotten.

And sales of Bikinis were sent through the roof...

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