James Bond Begins!: Sean Connery as 007 in DR. NO (United Artists 1962)

 

Ian Fleming’s secret agent 007, James Bond, was introduced in the 1953 novel Casino Royale, and was a smashing success, leading to a long-running series of books starring MI-6’s “licensed to kill” super spy. No less than President John F. Kennedy was a huge fan of Fleming’s books, and since the early 60’s were all about “Camelot”, producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman decided to cash in and bring James Bond to the big screen (the character had appeared in the person of Barry Nelson in an adaptation of CASINO ROYALE for a 1954 episode of TV’s CLIMAX!, with Peter Lorre as the villain Le Chiffre).

DR. NO was the first Bond movie, and the producers wanted Patrick McGoohan, star of the British TV series SECRET AGENT, to play the suave, ruthless Bond. McGoohan declined, and Richard Johnson was considered. He also turned them down, leading Broccoli and Saltzman to hire Scottish actor Sean Connery, then not a well-known commodity, to portray 007. The part fit Connery like a tailored tuxedo, and launched his career into the stratosphere. Connery struck the right balance of charming, intelligence, and menace as James Bond, and starred in the next four entries (FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, GOLDFINGER , THUNDERBALL, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE), returning to his iconic role later in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971) and NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983).

After Maurice Binder’s cool opening  credits play over that soon-to-be familiar theme by Monty Norman (orchestrated by John Barry), we meet Bond playing high-stakes chemin de fer in a casino, where he’s summoned to MI-6 headquarters by his boss M. It seems there’s trouble in Jamaica, as an agent has vanished, and Bond is sent to investigate. Here Bond meets CIA agent Felix Leiter, who clues him in on some nefarious goings-on involving the disruption of U.S. rocket launches, and endures numerous attempts on his life. All signs point to Crab Key, where the mysterious Dr. No lives, his island fortress protected by a “dragon”. Bond heads out to the isle with Leiter’s operative Quarrels, discovering they’re not alone… the beautiful Honey Ryder is there, collecting sea shells by the sea-shore! The three face danger at the hands of No’s minions, Quarrels meets a fiery death by the dragon (actually an amphibious tank), and Bond and Honey are taken to the lair of Dr. No, a criminal mastermind working for a secret world-dominating cartel known as SPECTRE…

DR. NO introduces us to the world of James Bond, and most of the familiar characters and tropes that follow. Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell begin their reigns as M and Miss Moneypenny, respectively. Felix Leiter makes his first appearance in the person of Jack Lord (HAWAII 5-0); later Leiters include David Hedison and Bernie Casey, among others. Since Quarrels is killed in DR. NO, his son Quarrels Jr. pops up in another Jamaican-themed Bond flick, LIVE AND LET DIE . Bond introduces himself as “Bond, James Bond” for the first time, and is issued his trademark Walther PPK. His preference for martinis, martial arts skills, and way with women are all here, and his reputation as a deadly assassin is established.

Speaking of women, Ursula Andress makes a spectacular entrance as the bikini-clad Honey Ryder:

Miss Andress, the first ‘Bond Girl’, became as much a 60’s sex symbol for the male audience as Connery was to females. Veteran Joseph Wiseman makes a  serene and cerebral adversary as Dr. No, though the actor always stated he hated being remembered as 007’s first villain. Dr. No gives us (and Bond) the first inkling of that evil organization SPECTRE – which stands for SPECIAL EXECUTIVE for COUNTER-INTELLIGENCE, TERRORIZISM, REVENGE, and EXTORTION, in case you were wondering!

What’s missing is the pre-credits opening scene; that wouldn’t come until 1963’s FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. Besides a few quick quips, the comedy prevalent in the Roger Moore Bond’s is absent, instead presenting Connery as a more serious secret agent with a hell of a mean streak. That seriousness would continue in the next outing, 1963’s FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE….

Rat Pack – 3 = FOUR FOR TEXAS (Warner Brothers 1963)

The wait is finally over, my new DirecTV receiver has arrived and is all hooked up! Unfortunately, all my DVR’d movies have vanished. And since it was filled to about 70% capacity, that’s a lot of movies! Needless to say, I’ve got to load up the ol’ DVR again. Thanks to TCM, I re-recorded one of my old favorites the other day, FOUR FOR TEXAS, an action-packed Western comedy I’ve seen about 100 times already (ok, that’s a slight exaggeration). This combines the two leaders of the Rat Pack, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin , with the talents of director Robert Aldrich. The result is an all-star, slam-bang entertainment that is loads of fun for film fans.

The pre-credits sequence looks like we’re about to watch a traditional Western, with a gang of outlaws led by Charles Bronson   riding out to ambush a stagecoach. But wait, that’s Frankie and Dino defending the coach, shooting it out with the robbers. Frank is Zack Thomas, who’s got a $100,000 hidden onboard; Dean is Joe Jarrett, a sharp-shooting con artist. After the stage crashes, Zack and Joe are the only survivors. Joe holds Zack at gunpoint intending on stealing the loot. Zack turns the tables, but Joe turns ’em right back and leaves Zack in the desert, high, dry, and horseless.

Seems Zack “persuaded” Galveston banker Harvey Burden (a dyspeptic Victor Buono ) to get the money so he could open a riverboat gambling operation. Zack serves as “protection” to Burden and his crooked cronies. What he doesn’t know is it was Burden who hired Matson (our man Bronson) to bushwhack the stage and kill Zack in the process. While Zack relaxes with his main squeeze Elya (the voluptuous Anita Ekberg), who should come riding into town but good ol’ Joe Jarrett. Zack sends some of his boys (led by Mike Mazurki and Richard Jaeckel ) to jump Joe and get the dough back, but Joe’s aided by his driver (Calypso singer Edric Connor) and little Angel (Nick Dennis), who deposits Joe’s loot (sewn into his jacket!) and takes him to meet riverboat owner Max.

Joe has second thoughts about investing when he sees the run-down, decrepit boat, and even thirds when Max begins shooting at him from a window! That is, until he gets a look at Max in the flesh – it’s Ursula Andress , fresh off her success in DR. NO! Naturally, they hook up, refurbish the boat, and get ready for opening night. Meanwhile, a cargo ship owned by Zack gets scuttled, and Zack assumes Joe’s behind it. He and his men storm the dock, looking for a hostile takeover, and the two go mano y mano (or at least their stunt doubles do!). Little do either of them know Burden’s the guilty culprit, and has sent Matson and an army of men to destroy the boat and kill Zack once and for all.

My favorite scene in the film has nothing to do with the plot; it’s the arrival of The Three Stooges   (Moe, Larry, and Curly Joe) delivering a nude portrait of Ursula to the ship. The comedy vets get to do their old “point to the right” gag, receiving a triple-slap from Dino for their troubles. They’re then accosted by a couple of elderly widows out to ban the painting, and revive their “toughest man in Texas” routine. It’s a fun scene, and I’m sure Martin appreciated it, having been a member of a comedy team himself with Jerry Lewis.

Director Aldrich is noted for his testosterone-fueled films like KISS ME DEADLY and THE DIRTY DOZEN , but he had his lighter side, too (THE LONGEST YARD, …ALL THE MARBLES ). He co-wrote the script with Teddi Sherman but allegedly wasn’t happy with it, nor with Sinatra. The film works for me though, with its plush sets and gorgeous Technicolor, Frank and Dean trading quips and barbs, Anita and Ursula both looking beautiful, and the top-notch supporting cast. Bronson plays his role totally straight, and it’s one of his best villainous performances. (His sick offscreen laugh is dubbed by Frank Gorshin, warming up for his later gig on BATMAN as The Riddler!). Buono gives another of his ace bad-guy turns as the cowardly, corpulent Burden. The roster of Familiar Faces popping up includes Wesley Addy, Marjorie Bennett, Virginia Christine, Ellen Corby, Jack Elam , Fritz Feld, Arthur Godfey (in a comic cameo), Percy Helton , Jonathan Hole, Yaphet Kotto, Jack Lambert , Manuel Padilla Jr, Eva Six , Abraham Soafer, Bob Steele, Grady Sutton , and Dave Willock . Now THAT’S what I call a cast!

There’s plenty of brawling, romancing, double entendres, and laughs to be had viewing FOUR FOR TEXAS, but curiously, there’s no singing from either Frank or Dino. Most critics tend to dismiss the film as just another Frankie & Dino vanity production, but I enjoy it each and every time I watch. It did what it set out to do – it entertained me. And when it’s all said and done, isn’t that what a movie’s supposed to do?

Oh No SHE Didn’t!! (MGM/Hammer 1965)

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…didn’t manage to keep me awake, that is! That’s right, I actually dozed off in the middle of SHE for a good fifteen minutes! This so-called adventure film, a remake of the rousing 1935 Merian C. Cooper production starring Helen Gahagan and Randolph Scott, is based on a novel by H. Rider Haggard, a pretty big-deal adventure novelist back in the day, who also wrote the novels KING SOLOMAN’S MINES and ALLAN QUARTERMAIN. The ’35 version was filled with sumptuous Art Deco sets and a dynamic score by Max Steiner, and proved popular with moviegoers of the day.

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But the times, they do a-change, and so do tastes. Hammer Films decided to do this remake thirty years later, with Ursula Andress in the title role. ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. caveman John Richardson plays Leo Vincey, who’s the spitting image of Queen Ayesha’s long-lost love Kallilkrates. Hammer’s top tag-team Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are in the cast, as is British comic actor Bernard Cribbins. An exciting story, a top-notch cast… what could go wrong?

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Well, to put it simply, the whole thing’s boring, with no chemistry at all between sexy Ursula and stiff John. Maybe he’d spent too much time in the stone age, I don’t know, but they just don’t click. Cushing and Lee are good as always, though the sight of Cushing boogieing with belly dancers in the opening scene is unintentionally funny. Lee has his moments as Ursula’s high priest, but they’re few and far between. The film just felt hopelessly outdated, and dragged on and on. Zzzzz…

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How boring was it? Well, I woke up in time to catch the final twenty minutes or so, hoping for a rousing finale. It wasn’t… I should’ve stayed asleep! And this was in the middle of the day, mind you, not during some late night movie marathon. Surprisingly to me, SHE was a box office hit, and Hammer actually made a 1968 sequel starring Richardson and the immortal Olga Berova, which tanked (I tried watching it and ended up turning off the TV).  So my recommendation is you watch the older version and skip this comic book nonsense. And not even a good comic book, mind you… I’m talking like Charlton or *gasp* Gold Key!