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Dr. No ()

It is no coincidence that the best of the Bond movies is the first one, Dr. No, and that it is the most loyal adaptation of the original Ian Fleming novels.  Though the film franchise deteriorated into bloated, one dimensional, special effects driven, piffle, the first couple films and the novels of Ian Fleming were much more nuanced and entertaining.  The novel Dr. No, in particular, features a genuinely vulnerable hero in an adventure that harkens back to the great, though horrifyingly politically incorrect, Fu Manchu books of Sax Rohmer (see Orrin's review).  It is a classic pulp fiction thriller and great fun.

M sends Bond, only recently recovered from the brutal physical abuse he had suffered in From Russia With Love, to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of the local station chief and his secretary, an assignment that both expect will be nearly a vacation.   Both because it makes good tactical sense and as a form of punishment, M forces Bond to switch from his beloved Beretta to a Walther PPK.  The scene stirs up a level of insecurity and petulance that makes this Bond much more human than the cartoon version we've become all too familiar with in recent decades :

    Bond reached across and picked up the file.  He also made to pick up his Beretta and the holster.
    'No,' said M sharply.  'Leave that.  And mind you've got the hang of the other two guns by the
    time I see you again.'

    Bond looked across into M's eyes.  For the first time in his life he hated the man.  He knew
    perfectly well why M was being tough and mean.  It was deferred punishment for having nearly
    got killed on his last job.  Plus getting away from this filthy weather into the sunshine.  M couldn't
    bear his men to have an easy time.  In a way Bond felt sure he was being sent on this cushy
    assignment to humiliate him.  The old bastard.

When he gets to Jamaica, Bond is assisted by his old friend Quarrel, a native of the Cayman Islands who, though clearly subservient to Bond, is equally clearly vital to his mission.  The investigation narrows in on the strange case of a protest from the Audobon Society, that rare roseate spoonbills are disappearing from a bird sanctuary on the island of Crab Key, a guano island run by the mysterious Chinese immigrant Dr. No.  When Bond and Quarrel pay a visit to Crab Key they meet the delectable young Honeychile Rider, who makes a living by poaching shells from the waters around the island.  She, like Quarrel, is terrified of the fire-breathing dragon which protects Dr. No's privacy, but Bond pushes them forward, with disastrous results.

From the archaic racial sensibilities (beyond the representation of Dr. No as a Yellow Menace, his evil henchmen are referred to as Chigroes--half Chinese, half black); to the somewhat shaky Bond, with his physical dependence on Quarrel and his eventual emotional dependence on Honey; to the decidedly low tech finale; the book is a delight.  It's most interesting historical aspect may be the simple assurance which it reflects that the West represented a righteous bulwark against totalitarian barbarism.  Contrast it, for example, with John LeCarre's The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (see Orrin's review), which came just a few years later and essentially took as it's starting point the idea that there was no difference between us and them.

Rather than renting yet another feeble successor in the moribund film franchise, try reading one of these old originals.  You'll find a very different James Bond, one you'll like much better.


Grade: (B+)


See also:

Ian Fleming Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Ian Fleming
    -ESSAY: James Bond novel revisions won't affect his sexist core (Christine Lehnen, 3/03/23, Deutsche-Welle)
    -ESSAY: On Ian Fleming as Craftsman (Jordan M. Poss, 9/26/21, University Bookman)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Bonding With a Superhero (OTTO PENZLER, January 10, 2007, NY Sun)
    -ESSAY: Fleming, Ian Fleming: How World War II Inspired the Creation of James Bond: By the war’s end, Fleming had accumulated a vast store of ideas, impressions, and incidents he was to use in his James Bond novels. (Warfare History Network, 2/09/21)
    -REVIEW: of Casino Royale (Vanessa Thorpe, Observer)
    -ARCHIVES: Ian Fleming (Times of London)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Goldfinger and How James Bond Becomes a Cultural Behemoth (Gerald Early, DECEMBER 22, 2021, Common Reader)
    -FILM REVIEW: THe Man with the Golden Gun (Matthew Surridge, Splice Today)

Book-related and General Links:
    -Ian (Lancaster) Fleming (1908-1964) - pseudonym Atticus (kirjasto)
    -Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang! The premier James Bond website.
    -Ian Fleming (Stop You're Killing Me)
    -James Bond, Agent 007 OHMSS
    -Ian Fleming (007 Page)
    -James Bond (Matt's Place)
    -The James Bond dossier (BBC)
    -Ian Fleming's Jamaica (Commanders Club)
    -ESSAY : Best of Bond : Ian Fleming's 007 is often most memorable when he's most offensive (Emily Jenkins, Salon)
    -ESSAY : The sensitive  Bond : Even as a preteen girl, I knew that Ian Fleming's James Bond was a vulnerable guy -- and his creator, an equal-opportunity voyeur. (Emily Jenkins, Salon)
    -ESSAY : Bondage and rumination : Bond expert James Chapman talks about the enduring allure of Agent 007 and the sexual ambiguity of Ian Fleming's creation (Maria Russo, Salon)
    -ESSAY : The Name's Fleming - Ian Fleming (Keith De La Rue)
    -REVIEW : of Ian Fleming : The Man Behind James Bond By Andrew Lycett (Tony Buchsbaum, Book Page)

    -BUY IT : Dr. No (1963) DVD (
    -BUT IT : Dr. No (1963) VHS (
    -INFO : Dr. No (1962) (IMDB)
    -REVIEW : of On Her Majesty's Secret Service (Charles Taylor's Home Movies, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of LICENCE TO THRILL: A CULTURAL HISTORY OF THE JAMES BOND  FILMS By James Chapman (Rachel Barney, National Post)

Other James Bond Adventures by Ian Fleming:
    -Casino Royale (1953)
    -Live and Let Die (1954)
    -Moonraker (1955)
    -Diamonds are Forever (1956)
    -From Russia With Love (1957)
    -Dr. No (1958)
    -Goldfinger (1959)
    -For Your Eyes Only (1960)
    -Thunderball (1961)
    -The Spy Who Loved Me (1962)
    -On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1963)
    -You Only Live Twice (1964)
    -The Man With the Golden Gun (1965)
    -Octopussy (1966)

Other recommended books by Ian Fleming
    -Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang (1964)