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Posts Tagged ‘Joseph Wiseman’

Successful fictional creations seem to have a habit of breaking free of their creator’s control – sometimes, anyway. The more fully conceived a character or a setting, the more it seems to exist as a separate entity to the person who actually thought it up. I suppose this reaches its fullest expression when a new author is recruited to continue a popular series whose originator has passed away: the idea apparently being that the creator didn’t actually create somewhere new, but stumbled upon it and brought back stories already existing there, and that in theory anyone else could do the same. This is probably the ultimate backhanded compliment for a storyteller (it also happens to be a pet hate of mine, and I got told off for describing the new non-Douglas Adams Hitch Hiker book as literary grave-robbing).

Possibly the ultimate example of a character busting loose and rampaging off away from their roots is the James Bond phenomenon. I think many people could tell you who created the character, but of the billion-plus people who’ve seen one or more of the movies I suspect only a tiny minority have actually read one of Ian Fleming’s original novels. The essential concept of the character hasn’t changed that much over the years – Bond remains a very smooth blunt instrument at the command of the British government – but when you think of the (generally family-friendly) swagger and humour and over-the-top spectacle of the movies, it’s a world away from the darkness of the books. It’s also telling, I think, that when Timothy Dalton tried to go back to the source to find his characterisation audiences were not impressed – and while audiences liked Daniel Craig’s very Fleming-esque Bond in his first outing, by the time of his second they were showing signs of restlessness at how dark and downbeat the movies he appeared in were.

Ian Fleming’s own preferred choice of actor to bring James Bond to the screen was, as I think is quite well known, Roger Moore. His first choice of actor to play opposite him was his cousin Christopher Lee, which raises the alarming spectre – no pun intended – of his ideal Bond adaptation being the movie version of The Man with the Golden Gun. Then again, as I’ve said before, I think Moore is exactly right for the style of movies he made, and mainly gets stick simply for not being Connery. Going first, the Milkman (who Fleming himself apparently thought was ‘dreadful’) basically got to put up the goalposts himself – there’s a lot of Fleming’s Bond in Connery’s performance, especially at first, but he’s a bit more open emotionally (and, crucially, has more of a sense of humour) – even if he’s about as ruthless here as he’s ever allowed to be on screen.

Hey, what do you know, we’ve surreptitiously segued into an actual review of Dr No! Could this mean another Bond season is running, which will inevitably be followed by a string of Bond-related posts here? Could be. Having done the same for Moore, I think I am obliged to extend the Milkman the same courtesy.

I think it’s fairly doubtful that Eon anticipated the Bond franchise would run for 46 years (and counting) when they started pre-production on Dr No, but it’s very evident that they were playing a long game from the start. The beginning of the film is brilliantly designed to build up to our first sight of Connery’s face, which comes just as he utters one of the Bond catch-phrases and as the theme kicks in in the background. Connery has presence, there’s no denying it, but virtually anybody would come out looking good under these conditions.

In the end they persuaded him that a toupee was a better option.

The rest of the film is pretty low-key by Bond standards, with the weirder elements of the novel largely toned down or cut. (The novel’s centipede is replaced by a tarantula, a more conventional scare for those who don’t know exactly how painful tropical centipede bites can be – did I mention I was scarred for life by one of those buggers?) The omission of the climactic fight between Bond and a giant squid (no, really) one can mainly pit down to budgetary constraints, while alteration in the manner of Dr No’s demise (in the book Bond buries him alive under tons of powdered guano) is probably done for reasons of taste and decency.

What remains is a slick, tough, well-put together thriller – one can just about see the modern action movie coming into existence as the film unholds, but I don’t think anyone watching at the time would have thought the same. It’s slightly structurally odd in that of the three main characters, two of them don’t appear until deep into the second half of the story, but this does allow Bond himself to dominate which was surely the film-makers’ intention. Judging it as a ‘Bond movie’ is slightly odd and possibly unfair, as we’re talking about a set of criteria that didn’t even exist when it was made, but it emerges well anyway – shorter on spectacle than most, but also stronger on character. Almost certainly not the best movie in the series, but a landmark movie as well as a good one.

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