Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Dr No

I am being overambitious in wanting to experience again all the 29 James Bond Films and the Harry Potter series back to back before I depart for a Christmas and New Year Break, weather permitting, although in this instance the task is not as great as Montalbano or George Smiley as I only possess two Bond Books, but which fortunately includes the first filmed, Dr No, and the sixth novel in the series.

Having recently seen and reported on the latest film Skyfall I want to begin with considering how the films have evolved if they have! While there are several changes between the book and the film, the emphasis is on the story rather than the action and the thrills in part because of the limitation of the cinema craft back in the 1962 and also studio reservations about expensive gimmicks. This is demonstrated in Dr No by a simple opening although colourful there is no explosive opening sequence before the main film commences and the technology is much flashing lights and also models and back screen projections.

At one point a tower rises from the sea in the Caribbean which contains an atomic reactor driven ray able to disrupt the path of a rocket fired by the USA and which is clearly a model. When Connery is escaping from a chasing car it is evident that scenes of him at the wheel are studio based with a moving back screen projection used for trains planes, boats and cars over several decades. There is also no presentation of toys for Bond to use with him only presented with the latest commercially produced hand gun and told to leave his familiar and trusted weapon behind. A dragon turns out to be a crude mechanical vehicle fitted with an extra large flame thrower

The film does introduce us to M and Miss Moneypenny M’s Secretary, and Bond’s skill at cards and roulette although the opening Casino scene is not in the book. The film also begins the caricature of Bond’s ability for beautiful women to offer themselves to him, a feature which if my recollection is correct Roger Moore perfected whereas in my judgement Bond is written as a character with greater depth looking for an ongoing and meaningful relationship. The films always have an end sequence with him getting the girl before the eyes of the world so to speak as officialdom seeks to retrieve him from some impossible to survive situation. Similarly this film commenced the myth of his indestructibility and ability to get out whatever form of imprisonment or close to death predicament he is placed and my memory is that all the films including the first end with a big bang or potential big bang averted as he, sometimes with support, takes on a vastly superior force of mercenaries in terms of numbers and weapons. There is no specially written number 1 hit tune performed by the leading songstress of the day.

Now to the film story and the substantial difference between book and film mainly I believe in order to create a fast moving and exciting thriller not restricted to adults but also perhaps because the book ending is flawed. I have mentioned that the films begins with Bond winning a substantial sum from woman at a Casino before being called away to see M at 3 am in the morning. He flirts with the woman and agrees to compete again in a round of golf before learning that he has to immediately travel away which handicaps his opportunity when he finds that she got into his home and is practicing carpet golf wearing one of his shirts. They have time to have sex off screen before his 10 hour flight Jamaica. She has no role in the main story or is seen again. In the sixties such scenes were considered exciting and revolutionary.

The film is story of Dr No, product of a relationship between a Chinese and Western couple who after making $10 million as part of a Chinese Triad he takes the loot which he uses to becomes a lead member of SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter Intelligence Terrorism Revenge and Extortion).

In the book he became a member of a Chinese Tong in the USA and written at the height of the Cold War Dr No he has done a deal with the Russians who help finance his lifestyle on the island purchased in 1943 from the British with his ill gotten gains. In book and film his sideline is disrupting the launch, direction and location of rockets launched by the USA although in the book the CIA and USA marines have no role as developed in the film.

In both as in the majority if not all Bond films, the chief villain is a ruthless maniac who has built at enormous cost a secret hideaway, strongly fortified with a huge number of expendable mercenaries and high tech weaponry but where his private quarters are luxurious, displaying his wealth with stolen works of art, commanding a superior chef and a cellar of the finest wines.

Whereas in the book the Russians fund and support with their technology in order to undermine the military capabilities of their enemy, the film skates over how the SPECTRE action will help their conquest of the world.

In the Film the reason why Bond has to suddenly leave the private casino is because the agent stationed in Jamaica has failed to make his daily radio call and the channel had remained open although unanswered after his secretary assistant had began the connection to the British mainland Security Communications centre. Soon after arriving in Jamaica Bond visits the residence of the agent when the Police Commissioner shows him the dried blood identified as that of the female assistant. In the book the agent and the assistant disappeared three weeks before with the residence burned to the ground and the view of the Island’s Governor is that the couple ran off together with whatever funds were to hand. In the film we know the agent was gunned down by three Chinese Jamaicans posing as blind men while the tune Three Blind Mice is played in the background after he left the club where he played cards with a small group of men including the local analyst who quickly is rightly identified as the suspect, although again he has no role in the book. In the film Bonds finds a receipt for the analysis of rocks taken from Dr No’s island which the man later denies had any value or significance and which he had thrown away. Bond on the ball had guessed correctly and arranged for a radiation detection device to be sent from London which when applied to the place on a boat where the rocks had been reveals significant continuing radiation. Having gone to island against orders to inform Dr No of the development, he is told to take a caged Tarantula back with him and later there is a great scene where Bond narrowly escapes death from the creature, although in the book we never know who directly placed the creature or delivered, allegedly from the governor a bowl of fruit where Bond spots the syringe marks which when analysed reveal lethal quantities of cyanide.

In the film the governor is alleged to have sent Bond a car whereas in the book given his anonymity as an Import and Export agent there is understandably no official link and he is met by Quarrel, a local fisherman and boat owner who he had contacted before setting off on the journey having used the man on his previous visit to the Island five years before. In the film he makes a phone call to establish the car and its chauffer are fakes and when he confronts the driver after giving the slip to a following vehicle, the man commits suicide with a cyanide filled cigarette. There is a fight when he contacts Quarrel after someone advises that the man will take visitors to the outlying islands.

Quarrel is suspicious of the stranger and Bond is prevented from seriously harming the man by the CIA contact that had needed the help of the killed agent because Jamaica was then a British Colony and Dr No’s island a former British possession over which the CIA had no jurisdiction. In the film the CIA man ferries them and a canoe to the outer waters of the Island and then arrives with USA marines at the end of the film to rescue Bond.

In both there is an attractive Chinese Jamaican who attempts to take a photo when he arrives off the plane and again when he is eating and drink with Quarrel at a restaurant bar. She is rightly identified as an agent of Dr No whose hold over her is such that she is prepared to withstand pain for him. However there is significant difference between film and book over another Chinese Jamaican. In the film she is secretary to the Governor and Bond correctly suspects she is the informant who has given away his arrival plan as well as being involved in the death of his predecessor and assistant. In the book she is secretary to the representative of the Colonial office who he notes had been examining files about the Island and its owner which had then disappeared and while she is identified as another agent of Dr No she also plays no further part in the book while in the film she invites Bond to her isolated home and first Bond is attacked by men in a car which crashes into a burning inferno, then after having sex with the woman who has been ordered to keep Bond busy for a couple of Hours, he arranged for her to be arrested and taken away while he waits for the arrival of the next assassin, who turns out be the analyst who Bond takes great delight in killing after they fight.

The film and the book are in two parts with the second concerned with the island of Dr No and what goes on there and it is with this second part that the differences become fundamental although there are several similarities which as I have previously mentioned include the luxury hideaway. In the film the original business of the island is a front for the creation of an atomic powered reactor to fuel the ray which is able to disrupt American rocket launches.

In the book the business of the island remain a crucial part of the story and while the technical disruption of the rockets is stated as a purpose this plays no further part in the story. In the film Bond’s capture coincides with a rocket launch and is why he is sent to island so quickly after the death of the former agent. Bond is able to prevent the intervention by setting the reactor to explode which it does destroying the island in a spectacular finale after Dr No dies in the reactor cooling system. My main criticism of this ending is that amazingly there appears to be no long term consequence from the radiation on Bond and his rescuers. The is a dangerously politically motivated device used by the film, no doubt on behalf of the then embryonic nuclear energy industry to suggest that it was and is possible to immediately decontaminate people from a major exposure when Bond and the female lead enter contaminated land although how the land came to be so affected is not explained and this in turn brings me to most important difference between the book and the film, the role, the personality and the back story of the female lead.

In the film she is played by Ursula Andress as a beautiful woman in face and body while in book important difference is that she has a broken nose. Another female actor is a voice over as Ursula did not speak fluent English at the time and a second actor sings a song for her. In a travesty of the plot the film makers wanted a super look Bond girl of the type glorified in Baywatch and since its creation by female announcers on Fox News. It is woman as a sexual object par excellence although the film also does attempt to portray the character as a violated virgin who lives a solitary life since the death feather bird studying father on the island sometime before.

Bond discovers the girl when he wakes first thing after arriving on the island in the cover of darkness the night before as she comes also is a canoe from the main island to collect large sculptured sea shells which sells in Miami at $50 a time. In the book she comes for a small closed coloured shell favoured by collectors which she gets for $5 and which she is saving to go to the States to get a nose job which occurred when she was raped by a worker on the plantation where her family had been one of the oldest and wealthiest on the island. She still lives in the decaying family home because the decline in the business and was cared for a servant friend since childhood when she became an orphan. Every year when the plantation was cleared the creatures who inhabited some furry and some dangerous had taken to the house cellars until the clearance ended and they could go back to their life in open. Because she had her carers had taken refuge in the cellars she had learned to lived with and become friends with the creatures and because she walked about with snakes cuddling her body she had established the reputation of having dark powers and which in turn had added to her isolation. This ability is to prove crucial to her survival in the book although is also where the book has a major flaw.

In the book she comes out of the water naked except for a swimming belt omitted in the film to enable a teenage audience to attend the film and there is a well described tender love scene as well as other moments of nakedness in the book which the film skates over or avoids. In both she does describes giving the man who raped and injured her nose a low painful death over a week through a tarantula bite. In film she fires at Bond a series of questions in the form of little known information which is explained in the book that her education consisted of working through an encyclopaedia from A through to a letter towards the end of the alphabet, but not the end. In fairness the film does manage to communicate aspects of the naive, trusting, young girl personality of the book, although this is more to do with the voice over and script and my view Andress is miscast and sets the trend of using actresses as sex object par excellent in the part of the main female lead.

In the book the main business of the island is the production of fertilizer from bird droppings although the trade has its ups and down with the development of artificial manure by the Germans after the War. However it is another bird, flamingo like, which has led to the interest of the authorities in the Island. Representatives of a society concerned with the welfare and protection of these birds with rights carried over from the sale of the island to Dr No had visited and told him of their intention to open a hotel and associated facilities including an air strip in the area of the reserve in order to bring visitors to view the colony. They had never left the island and the dragon fire giving machine was developed not just to scare off other visitors but also to destroy and frighten off these particular birds.

In the book Dr No dies under a mountain of birth droppings spilt over him from a crane controlled by Bond and not in reactor core cooling fluid.

As in the book Bond and the 20 year old girl surrender to the men driving the dragon armoured vehicle after they have survived being machine gunned from a patrol boat, and being chased by pack of hounds by staying under water using cut reeds to breathe but give up when Quarrel is burnt to death by the advancing weapon. They are first cared for by Chinese Women who operate clinic built inside the mountain rock as front should officialdom come to investigate the island, under which are the quarters of Dr No and the atomic reactor and rocket disrupting technology.

In the book Dr No explains his purpose and his background in a forty five minute chat before dinner at nine after the couple have been drugged and spend the day sleeping. During this time he had inspected the naked bodies of the girl and Bond. He then makes it clear that Bond and the girl are not to leave the island. For Bond he has devised an assault course which Bond survives and where the book describes his effort in details as well as various painful injuries he sustains.

For the girl he explains that once a year, fortunately coinciding with her arrival, there is the march of crabs from one side of the island to the other side and this phenomenon does exist in nature and hence the name Crab Island!

Because he is a sadist and a scientist he enjoys observing human pain admitting he admired the work of the Nazi doctors and experimenters claiming they made significant contributions to science and human progress. He had staked a black Jamaican girl naked in the pathway of the migrating creatures and observed how long she had survived which was short. Now he would take the opportunity of comparing her survival that of a white woman. In the film the young woman is given over to the guards for their pleasure and Bond does find her staked but in an area where will drown, a change I believe in part designed to protect the lower rating of the film to maximise the International audience.

I immediately made the connection between her experiences on the plantation and this planned death and I was not wrong for she explains to Bond that the creatures did not like meat and would only attack a human or other animal carcass if there was an open wound. She had lain there while they walked over and around her until they departed with the dawn and than she had freed herself from the stakes making her way to kill Dr No and where she had encountered Bond.

It is this aspect where the story in the book is flawed and which may explain why it was varied in the film. The man would have ensured that he had opportunity watch both trials and deaths as they happened in person and there was no need for them to occur at the same time or for his attention to be diverted by the arrival of a ship to bring supplies and take away the fertilizer and even then he could have arranged for the tests to be filmed and monitored by his guards so he could study and enjoy later. He would have added to Bond‘s horror and pain by making him watch the death of girl and in any event he would know the behaviour of the creatures and would have therefore given the girl an open wound to ensure she was attacked and eaten to death. This I suspect is the main reason for change in ending.

The book does not end with Bond having sex with the girl in the bottom of a boat which enables them to leave the island as it explodes and then releasing the tow rope attached by the rescue team of the CIA contact and American marines, Bond has to go to hospital, then needs to recuperate from his wounds and is cared for by the girl at her estate house which she fills with silverware which has been locked away unused and which again could have been sold to get her the nose job. Bond does arrange for the young woman to go to New York for the operation and for his contact and new friend from the Colonial Office and his wife to care for her when she first returns home while Bonds continues his adventures elsewhere.

In the book the Governor is portrayed as a reactionary figure, a portrait which I believe has some factual basis but while his inclination is for a complete cover up Bond persuades that by seeking anonymity himself the governor will be able to claim credit for aspects of the truth.

I enjoyed the film and the book any may obtain a few of the other books just to see if the book character has greater depth than portrayed by the original Bonds, something which the latter two Bonds have managed to achieve on screen.

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