In light of the upcoming release of the latest Bond movie on April 2nd of this year, I’ll be going over, and doing retrospective reviews on each, and every one of the movies that comprise the saga. So let’s start off with the movie that begun one of the most successful, and long running cinematic franchises in Cinema History.
When writer Ian Fleming published his first spy novel, Casino Royale (1953), which, for the first time, featured his womanizing, and cold blooded British secret agent with a licence to kill, James Bond; it was an immediate success. Many more novels would follow with Bond as the main protagonist. There was clearly an appetite for the exotic and, most times outlandish adventures of this secret agent, that faced the most dangerous foes, and surrounded himself with the most beautiful, and pleasing women. American Producer Albert R. Broccoli saw this property as the perfect source material upon which a long-running movie franchise could be built. At the time, Broccoli had formed a partnership with Producer Irwin Allen, with whom he shared his desire to buy the rights to this property from Ian Fleming. A meeting was set between Allen and Fleming with disastrous results, after Allen dismissed Fleming’s books as not even worthy of becoming a TV show. At the same time, another producer by the name of Harry Saltzman became interested in the property in the hopes of also adapting them to the big screen. He managed to buy the property for a limited period of six months, except the rights to Fleming’s first novel; Casino Royal, who belonged to someone else. He had this short period of time to start adapting the novels, or the rights would revert, once again, to Fleming. Broccoli learned of this deal and tried at first, unsuccessfully, to buy the rights from Saltzman, who otherwise convinced him to bring him in as a producing partner. They took the deal to MGM, who accepted under the condition that the movie be made with a budget of one million dollars. Both producers dissolved their previous partnerships, and formed their own production company; Eon Productions. The producers also realized that in order to appeal to American audiences, they would have to bring in a screenwriter with the right sensibilities towards that market, but who would also not deviate too much from the source material. Enter American screenwriter Richard Maibaum, who would become a mainstay for most of the series and who, thanks to his writing style, would shape the character into what it is today.
Finding the right Bond.
What was thought as a near impossible task of finding the right actor to play the role of James Bond, would turn out to be more straightforward than anticipated.
When Sean Connery was cast as James Bond, he was an actor with very limited acting experience. He’d played some bit parts here and there, in some British and American productions, and had previously worked with director Terence Young, who would be the man ultimately chosen by the producers to helm the proyect.
Connery came from a poor background, born and raised in Edinburgh, Scotland, he was described by both Young and the producers as a “diamond in the rough”. He had devilishly good looks, and a very strong physique thanks to his background in bodybuilding, but lacked the charm and class required for the role. It was up to Terence Young to build him up as James Bond. He took the actor to his personal tailor, and taught him all the mannerisms required to play the character succesfully. He basically taught him how to dress, talk and behave like Bond. By the time he was done, Young, who himself had all the attributes to play the role, had transformed Connery into the perfect James Bond. It was actually thanks to Young’s contributions that the foundations of what the James Bond character would develop into, were successfully laid out.
For the role of the first “Bond girl” proper, Swiss-German actress Ursula Andress was chosen. She was mainly cast on her looks, as she had very limited experience, and her thick German accent, which made it very difficult for her to be understood, would result in her lines being dubbed over in Post-production. In spite of that, her screen presence was undeniable, and through her physical performance her character came off as being both very sweet and resourceful at the same time.
For the part of the main villain, the producers went with Canadian actor Joseph Wiseman, who would have to wear heavy makeup to pass him off as Chinese mad scientist, working for the criminal organization SPECTRE, Dr No, and also very uncomfortable prosthetic metal hands as a result of the character’s dabbling with nuclear power.
For the other secondary roles, we have British stage actor Bernard Lee as M, Bond’s superior, and the Head of MI6, and who would end up reprising the role in another 10 movies until his death, Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny, M’s secretary, and eternally pining for Bond’s attentions, who was another actress who’d previously worked with Terence Young, American actor Jack Lord played the part of CIA agent Felix Leiter, Anthony Dawson as Professor Dent, one of Dr No’s minions, and playing other bit parts we have British actress Zena Marshall as the very attractive, but lethal SPECTRE agent Miss Taro, who like Wiseman, had to wear heavy oriental makeup for the role, and also former Miss Jamaica, and airliner worker at the Kingston airport, Marguerite LeWars, who plays the part of a mysterious photographer who follows Bond around everywhere. Another important part would be played by British actress Eunice Grayson as Sylvia Trench, Bond’s first love conquest in the movie, whom he meets in the famous Casino sequence at the beginning of the movie, where Connery utters the now famous line; “My name is Bond, James Bond”, for the very first time. The actor chosen to play the part of Mayor Boothroyd, the Head of Q-Branch, was British actor Peter Burton, who sadly became unavailable for the next movie in the series; From Russia with Love, falling the role on Desmond Llewelyn for the next entry, and who’d end up playing Q as far as The World is not Enough (1999), Pierce Brosnan’s penultimate movie as James Bond.
Fiming started on 16 January 1962 in Jamaica. The production was plagued by bad weather, and other logistical issues. They had very little money to play with, and the budget constraints led to some very imaginative techniques used by Production Designer Ken Adan, Set Designer Syd Cain, and editor Peter Hunt to overcome some of the most complicated set pieces from the script, like the chase and fight sequences in which Hunt’s innovative style of quick cuts, and over bloated sound mixing, would help a great deal, and in scenes like the one in which Dent places a Tarantula in Bond’s room, which was resolved by pinning the bed to a wall, and placing a sheet of protective glass between Connery and the lethal spider, to ensure that no harm would come to the actor.
Back in London, in Pinewood Studios, Ken Adam had already started work on the different sets used throughout the movie, like M’s office, Miss Taro’s apartment and Dr No’s underground lair and laboratory. This last set would prove to be both the most visually striking and, at the same time, the most difficult to recreate. It was mainly due to his work on these sets that Ken Adam would become unavailable for the next picture due to his work on Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove. Another massive contributor to the production was Special Effects Supervisor John Stears, who would stage the huge explosions in Dr No’s compound seen at the end of the movie.
As the first movie in the series, the film is played very straight, with some sprinkles of dry humour throughout, that were added by Connery and Young on the fly, to smooth out the overall very prickly and violent tone of the movie. Most of the traits that 007 would become known for, are already there, in some form or another. Connery delivers an astoundingly strong performance for someone with such limited acting experience, and uses both his incredible physiche, charm and dry wit to win audiences over, and make the role his own.
The quick paced editing style of the movie is used to great effect in the action sequences, and the Production and Set Design is remarkable given the limited budget the production had. As for the now iconic sequence in which Honey Ryder emerges from the sea in all her bikini-clad glory, Ursula Andress did really make an impression, and her Honey Ryder would become the model on which many “Bond girls” to come would sculpt their respective roles after. There’s no denying that Terence Young laid the foundations of what James Bond, as a ” bigger than Life”character, would become to be known as, the world over. His direction is precise, even if a bit rough round the edges, but he would more than make up for that in the next entry in the series; From Russia with Love.
Another great contribution to the series was the work of Maurice Binder, in both the title sequence, and the now iconic gun barrel sequence; for which stuntman Bob Simmons, and not Sean Connery, played the role of Bond. Connery would only shoot the sequence for the cinemascope format in Thunderball (1965).
The music is a bit of a controversial area, as there is no definite answer as to who did what for the first movie. Monty Norman is largely credited as the creator of the James Bond theme, but apparently, composer John Barry, had a large part to play in that too. There’s no proper score for the movie, except for the James Bond theme that’s used sporadically throughout, every time Bond is on-screen, and some incidental music of which the theme; Under the Mango tree, is a clear standout. John Barry would only come into his own on the next movie in the series. All in all, a solid start to the franchise, with memorable characters, set-pieces, and some of the best one-liners in the series. Hello, Mr Bond, indeed.
Thanks for reading.