So it turns out that the Bond movies don’t hit the ground running. It actually takes a while for them to develop all the clichés that we think of when we imagine a Bond movie: the Evil Plan, the Death Traps, and so on. Some of the usual stuff still applies, such as the one-liners and the sexy love-interest/fuck buddy, but not in the way you’d expect. In short, the first film is a bit of a prototype: it’s not until the third film that all the ingredients in the recipe are codified.
The trouble is, I enjoyed the film because it didn’t feel like a Bond movie. There are several reasons for this. The first is that the story, and the character of JB himself, is a lot more grounded. The movie actually has to prove to us that Bond is a cool character, by making him do intelligent and risky things, rather than just shoving him into our faces and saying: “Look! It’s James Bond! Isn’t he bloody brilliant?”
It also makes Bond quite a fallible, engaging character. He fucks up quite a lot. Losing fights against random guys (sometimes one-on-one), dropping his gun, and generally seeming a lot more like someone out of his depth who’s good at thinking on his feet, as opposed to a superhuman. There’s even an oblique reference to Bond suffering from erectile dysfunction, which is utterly unthinkable later (there were many scenes where I wished that impotence would strike again, but alas not).
See, in this film Bond actually thinks his way out of problems. Okay, so the solutions are all very a–boy’s-own-adventure (using a reed to breathe underwater, powdering his suitcase to check for fingerprints, removing his shoes to tread softly on a carpet and damp hair across the closet door, etc) but at least you get a sense that he’s a genuine spy with covert skills, not a satyromaniac who blabbed his way into MI6.
Bond’s first kill is surprisingly brutal and strangely mundane. A bad guy comes into his room and tries to assassinate him, but Bond fools him with the old ‘pillows under the sheets’ manoeuvre and gets the drop on him. He interrogates him for information, and then he lights up a fag. The bad guy grabs his gun and tries to blast his head off … the but pistol clicks. Then Bond says:
“That’s a Smith and Wesson … and you’ve had your six.”
And he just shoots him. He could have captured him, or handed him over to the CIA. But he doesn’t. He shoots the dude once in the chest, and then again in the back just to make sure. He doesn’t look like he enjoys it. He’s not smirking when he says the one-liner. He’s joking in the same way doctors joke about their patients – because death is a part of his trade and he’s long past the point of losing sleep over it.
But there’s still plenty of ridiculous things too. Dr No, for example, is an allegedly-Chinese Mastermind played by a white man in yellowface with badly-made robot hands. His evil scheme is that he wants to disrupt a rocket launch with a radio beam. James Bond blows up the nuclear reactor in his lair by pressing random buttons, and when Dr No tries to stop Bond, he falls into a boiling reactor pool because his big daft bionic hands have no manual dexterity. Fanny.
There’s also a completely naff-looking ‘Dragon’ – basically a crap tank with a flamethrower – which looks like something from Robot Wars that got out of control, and a laughable scene where Bond gets a wee fright because a spider crawls into bed with him (the only time that Bond and I would ever react the same way to anything). Bond’s imperialist nature also makes it felt a number of times, such as when he asks his sidekick, a Jamaican man named Quarrel, to ‘fetch my shoes,’ in the same tone of voice that James Blake used when he told Rosa Parks to sit at the back of the bus. There’s a car chase where Bond gets his chauffeur to do his driving for him. You never know what to expect.
Still, for all its flaws, there is a bit at the start where Bond comes into M’s office and he tosses his hat onto the hatstand. So, you know, not all bad.