The 1st Bond Movie: “Dr. No” (1962)

There’s no question that this first entry in the still running series is a pure classic as it pretty much set-up every superhero/secret agent movie that would follow. Director Francois Truffaut gave an interview in 1979 stating that he believed this film helped ruin cinema as he felt movies were meant to tell a story so that people would believe it. I don’t agree with Truffaut but I can see how some might be put off by this film since it, in many ways, does play out like a guy’s fantasy. Bond is certainly the character any guy would want to be as he’s smooth talking, tough, gets all the ladies and in the end he always wins. With that said, I’m sure Truffaut shouldn’t have taken the film too seriously as the goal was probably just to deliver an entertaining movie. 

-Excerpt from IMDB review

This is the 1st Bond movie; it is based on the writings of Ian Fleming (who was himself a former British spy). Perhaps some of your parents recall seeing it (or some of the following films in the franchise) in theaters in their youth. I think I saw all of the films (starring Pierce Brosnan) in theaters w/ my family. My parents saw From Russia with Love several times when it aired on TV; this was likely in the mid-1970s in England. My dad commented that he liked Roger Moore’s version of Bond. I don’t know too much re: Bond films; many consider them to be “fantasy wish fulfillment,” while others feel they are “problematic.”

James Bond AKA 007 (Sean Connery)- Britain’s top agent- is on a mission to solve the mysterious murder of a fellow agent. The task sends him to Jamaica, where he joins forces w/ Quarrel (John Kitzmiller) and a C.I.A. Agent, Felix Leiter (Jack Lord). While dodging a tarantula, “dragon,” and “three blind mice” assassins, Bond meets beautiful Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) and goes face to face w/ the evil Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman).

Connery won the role of Bond after producer Albert R. Broccoli attended a screening of Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959)- no joke! He was particularly impressed w/ the fist fight Connery has with a village bully; Broccoli later had his wife Dana see the movie and confirm his sex appeal. Fleming didn’t originally like the casting of Connery. Bond was English, but Connery was Scottish (his accent pops out often); Bond was from an upper-class background, but Connery was working-class; Bond was refined/educated, and Connery was rugged. Fleming served in British Naval Intelligence during World War II; he was acquainted w/ David Niven, then a Major with the British Commandos. Niven was Fleming’s first choice to play Bond. Director Terence Young called Connery “a diamond in the rough;” he spent time to polish him up, such as introducing him into British high society and getting him a new wardrobe.

The opening credits to Dr. No are wacky: flashing lights, dancing people, then three blind men walking around. Then we have the (now iconic) opening created by Maurice Binder almost at the last minute. It is the sequence where an assassin tracks Bond (played by Connery’s stuntman Bob Simmons), but he turns and shoots the assassin, all seen through the assassin’s gun barrel. The James Bond theme originated from a song Good Sign, Bad Sign composed by Monty Norman for a musical that was never produced. John Barry arranged and orchestrated Norman’s theme to produce the theme as it is known worldwide. The introduction of Bond is an homage to a technique from William Dieterle’s Juarez (1939): a series of close-ups of the character w/o revealing the face, cross-cutting w/ the other characters in the scene and the gambling table, then the face is revealed as Bond states his name. The filmmakers didn’t know that the way that Bond introduces himself would become iconic; he was jokingly speaking the way Sylvia did!

[James Bond’s first scene, winning a game of chemin-de-fer]

Bond: I admire your courage, Miss…?

Sylvia: Trench. Sylvia Trench. I admire your luck, Mr…?

Bond: Bond. James Bond.

Do clothes make the man? Well, many feel that all men look better in suits or tuxedos (which are worn rarely in today’s society). Connery’s suits were made by Saville Row (as Bond says in the movie); the tailor Anthony Sinclair stated that a truly great bespoke suit would be able to stand up to a good deal of abuse (such as grabbing by the lapels) and still look great afterwards. This is one of only 3 times when we see Bond’s apt. Though the film was low budget (est. at $1M), Ken Adam’s created sets which impressed Stanley Kubrick. The young director hired Adams to be production designer on Dr. Strangelove (1964).

[Professor Dent tries to kill Bond, but his gun is out of bullets]

Bond: That’s a Smith & Wesson and you’ve had your six.

[Bond shoots Dent twice]

As a movie critic noted, Bond (unlike most screen heroes before him) is a sexual being. Well, maybe this is a BIT too much for some viewers? Seriously, I don’t know if his (casual) attitude on relationships reflected what was happening in the early 1960s. We meet the first “Bond girls,” who’d become a staple of the series; of course, these female characters have evolved over the decades. Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson) is the woman who Bond meets while gambling. Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny) was actually Canadian; she plays the loyal/classy secretary to M, Moneypenny isn’t a prude, as she obviously enjoys flirting w/ Bond. However, the woman who made the biggest impression was Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress- who was Swiss-born and new to movies). Her salary for the film was only $6,000 Both Gayson and Andress had their voices dubbed; Andress had a thick accent when she spoke English. Andress’ bikini top was made from an underwire bra sold from a Saks in NYC. Costume designer Tessa Welborn ordered 3 of theses bras, covered them in cotton, and refined the design. The belt for the bikini was made from a white webbing Army belt, w/ brass fittings and a scabbard.

It’s a mystery. All I did was wear this bikini, not even a small one, and whoosh! Overnight, I made it.

-Andress

“Yojimbo” directed by Akira Kurosawa (1961) & “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964) directed by Sergio Leone

Better if all these men were dead. Think about it! – Tagline for Yojimbo

In Yojimbo, Sanjuro (Toshiro Mifune) is a middle-aged traveling samurai (AKA ronin) who comes to a small town in 19th c. Japan. After learning from the old innkeeper that this town is divided between two rival gangsters, he plays one side off against the other. Then a younger man, Unosuke (Tatsuya Nakadai), the son of one of the gangsters, arrives in town w/ a gun. Insults fly, as do swords, and (selflessly) Sanjuro decides to help a kidnapped woman reunite w/ her husband and young son. Sanjuro survives a brutal beating and hides out in an abandoned temple. He returns to town after learning that the innkeeper has been beaten for helping him escape. In the “spaghetti Western” A Fistful of Dollars (AFoD), a drifter gunman w/ no name (AKA Joe) played by Clint Eastwood (in his first starring role at age 34) arrives in the Mexican village of San Miguel. He befriends the elderly owner of the local bar, Silvanito. Joe learns that the town is dominated by two gangster lords: John Baxter (Wolfgang Lukschy) and Ramón Rojo (Gian Maria Volontè). After Joe kills 4 men in Baxter’s gang, he’s offered a job by Ramón’s brother, Esteban Rojo (Sieghardt Rupp). Of course, Joe also decides to play both sides off each other.

This is the man with no name. Danger fits him like a glove. -Tag line for AFoD

Sergio Leone was inspired by Yojimbo (“bodyguard” in Japanese) to make his movie (which has a similar plot). Leone didn’t officially get permission for the remake, which was copyrighted Akira Kurosawa, so the Japanese director sued him and delayed the release of AFoD until 1967 (3 yrs). Leone had to pay Kurosawa a sum and 15% of the profits. Kurosawa was influenced by American Westerns, incl. High Noon (1952) and Shane (1953). He was also influenced by the film noir The Glass Key (1942). (I’ll have to check that out!) Kurosawa came up w/ the (darkly comic) idea of the dog carrying the human hand to show that Sanjuro was in a dangerous town. Kurosawa told Mifune that his character was like a wolf or a dog; he told Nakadai that his character was like a snake. Mifune came up with Sanjuro’s trademark shoulder twitch. Composer Masaru Sato was instructed by Kurosawa to write “whatever you like” as long as it wasn’t the usual period samurai film music. This film is part of the jidai-geki (“period drama”) genre which were usually set during the Edo Period. As for the violence (esp. sword fighting)- it’s done so fast!

I’ve never been to Italy. I’ve never been to Spain. I’ve never been to Germany. I’ve never been to any of the countries (co-producing) this film. The worst I can come out of this is a nice little trip. I’ll go over there and learn some stuff. I’ll see how other people make films in other countries. -Clint Eastwood, recalling his thinking after getting his role

In AFoD, we see Eastwood’s (now trademark) squint; it was caused by the combination of the sun and high-wattage arc lamps on set in Spain. The producers chose Spain- it was 25% cheaper than shooting in Italy. Eastwood (looking good) brought some pieces for his costume from home: black jeans, boots, hat, and cigars (though he was a non-smoker). At first, Eastwood had some major disagreements w/ Leone, particularly over the script. After convincing Leone to cut his dialogue to a minimum, the men began to collaborate better. Eastwood’s performance would later become a trademark of his Westerns and crime films. This was Leone’s first time working w/ composer Ennio Morricone; the (now iconic) music contributed much to its success. The theme song was originally composed by Morricone as a lullaby.

[after saving Marisol and her family and giving them money]

Marisol: Why do you do it for us?

Joe: Why? I knew someone like you once. There was no one to there to help. Now get moving.

Yojimbo is among the films in Roger Ebert’s list of The Great Movies. There are many creative creative shots, incl. one where Sanjuro is perched high above the two gangs as they (comically) threaten each other on the street below. Both Sanjuro and Joe (AKA The Man With No Name) are men of few words; however, some of the looks that Mifune makes are priceless (revealing this thoughts). The scene where Joe faces off with Ramón using the boiler plate as a bulletproof vest in AFoD is being watched by Biff in Back to the Future Part II (1989) and then re-created by Marty (Michael J. Fox) in its sequel Back to the Future Part III (1990). Marty dons an outfit similar to Eastwood’s and uses the name “Clint Eastwood”- LOL! In S2 E5 of HBO’s Westworld, you will also see influences from both of these films.

[1] The fact that this masterless samurai has deep compassion for strangers is different than most modern action movies alone. Toshiro Mifune is magical in the lead role. His presence is felt all throughout the film even when he isn’t on camera. All film buffs should watch this film, it is a perfect example of a director and actor with confidence in their craft.

[2] If I had to choose only one movie for film students to learn from, this would be it. Other films may be more profound, or their imagery more groundbreaking, but this one is so tightly constructed that nothing – not a frame, word, or gesture – is extraneous.

Kurosawa meticulously infuses every detail with meaning; there’s a purpose behind every shot, and aspiring directors should pay close attention (why is the camera slightly tilted? why are there concubines in the background?)

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews re: Yojimbo

[1] This is the beginning of the Man With No Name series. The visuals are beautiful, the character of the Man With No Name menacing and mysterious, the score is brilliant and the action is a blast. The one that launched a thousand copycat versions…

[2] see the nascent Leone visual style here, with the close-up style and contrast of close-ups and long shots appearing. This alone sets it apart from previous films, westerns and non-westerns alike, and still provides for great visual treats that one can appreciate today.

This films also marks the first brilliant score of Ennio Morricone. It is here that he introduced the lonely whistling, guitar music, chorus, and unusual combinations and styles that developed into the music that has become in the U.S. synonymous with westerns and duels in the same way that Leone’s visuals and themes have.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews re: AFoD

Hitchcock’s 50th Film: “Torn Curtain” (1966) starring Paul Newman & Julie Andrews

Prof. Michael Armstrong (Paul Newman- the hottest scientist ever) is heading via boat to Copenhagen to attend a conference w/ his assistant/fiancée, Sarah Sherman (Julie Andrews). Once they arrive, Michael informs her that he’ll be staying for a while and she should go home. Sarah follows him and realizes Michael is actually going to East Germany (behind the Iron Curtain). She is shocked when Michael announces that he’s defecting; the U.S. government cancelled his project after 6 yrs. In truth, Michael is there to get info (which a professional spy couldn’t understand) from another nuclear physicist!

I did not have to act in ‘Torn Curtain’. I merely went along for the ride. I don’t feel that the part demanded much of me, other than to look glamorous, which Mr. Hitchcock can always arrange better than anyone. I did have reservations about this film, but I wasn’t agonized by it. The kick of it was working for Hitchcock. That’s what I did it for, and that’s what I got out of it. -Julie Andrews

The idea behind this film came from the defections of British diplomats (Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean) to the Soviet Union in 1951. Sir Alfred Hitchcock was very intrigued re: Maclean’s life in the Soviet Union, incl. about Melinda Marling (his wife) who followed her husband a year later w/ their three children. In the end, Hitch was so unhappy w/ this movie that he didn’t make a trailer w/ his appearance in it (as was his habit). Bernard Herrmann (composer) wrote an original score, but Universal execs convinced the director on something more upbeat. Hitchcock and Herrmann had a big fight and never worked together again! Steven Spielberg admitted on Inside the Actors Studio (1994) that as a young man he snuck onto the soundstage; he was there for 45 mins. before an assistant producer asked him to leave.

I think Hitch and I could have really hit it off, but the script kept getting in the way. -Paul Newman

The working relationship between Hitch and Newman was problematic; the actor came from a different generation than Cary Grant and James Stewart. He questioned the director re: the script and his characterization, which Hitch later said he found “unacceptable and disrespectful.” As a Method actor, Newman consulted Hitch about his character’s motivations; Hitch replied that his “motivation is your salary.” Also, no romantic chemistry developed between Newman and Andrews (another disappointment to the director). Though the screenplay drags along, the colorful Eastern European supporting actors do fine w/ what they are given. Many critics/viewers recalled the (memorable) killing scene where Gromek fights Armstrong and a housekeeper in the farmhouse.

[1] Pity. I love Hitchcock. There is a detachment here never seen before in a Hitch flick. As if the master was tired or uninterested.

[2] The main thing about Torn Curtain is the photography. It’s full of pretty pictures- one of the most beautifully filmed of all Hitchcock’s films, with lots bold swaths of primary colors and attractive and constantly changing locations…

[3] This was Alfred Hitchcock’s last star vehicle. At the time this was made Julie Andrews was fresh from Mary Poppins and had all kinds of roles offered her. …she and Newman really have no chemistry at all.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Hamlet at Elsinore” (BBC: 1964) starring Christopher Plummer, Robert Shaw, & Michael Caine

[1] Plummer’s performance, it is a very sensitive and reflective one.

[2] Plummer gives us the complete Prince where others have given us parcels. He has looks, presence, breeding, charm, athleticism, wit and consummate grace.

[3] Christopher Plumber is always fascinating, and Robert Shaw was by far the best Claudius ever filmed… 

[4] Robert Shaw… the first Claudius I ever saw who was not only sonorous and regal, but violent, and sexy enough to seduce the Queen and make her agree to kill her husband.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

I’ve been on a theater kick lately, and I’m a really into Shakespeare. I saw this BBC TV movie on YouTube (it’s free, so the sound/picture quality weren’t perfect). This adaptation will not appeal to a mass audience, or someone who’s not a fan of Christopher Plummer (a fine and fine-looking Hamlet). He knows the words and also gives them feeling, but nothing feels overblown. Most viewers know Plummer from The Sound of Music (1965), but he had a long stage career before. Aside from a 1910 silent film, this is the only production to be filmed in Elsinore, Denmark. It’s refreshing to see a few outdoor scenes- Hamlet meets the players in Kronberg Castle’s courtyard and sees Fortinbras’ soldiers heading off to Poland. Shots of waves crashing upon rocks look back to Olivier’s Hamlet (1948).

Robert Shaw plays Claudius w/ a lot of presence (and gets several close-ups); he’s a character actor maybe best known for Jaws (1975). It’s cool to see (young/cute) Michael Caine; he plays Horatio w/ reserve and speaks softly (which works well). One viewer commented that Horatio isn’t well-developed, b/c Caine was working hard to suppress his (natural) Cockney accent. Well, I felt he did well w/ Shakespeare’s language; his role is primarily to listen. Horatio is (of course) emotional at Hamlet’s dying scene; he wants to drink from the poison cup himself! Today, there are UK-based actors (incl. people of color, immigrants, etc.) who use their natural accents and have a strong grasp of Shakespeare. I didn’t know what to make of Donald Sutherland’s accent for Fortinbras- LOL!

There are some odd editing cuts and misdirection. The “get thee to a nunnery” scene is filmed in the chapel w/ Hamlet standing above (and away from) Ophelia. Fans of the play may be puzzled by this; the scene isn’t done this way in the theater. The distance lessens the drama and their connection. “The Mousetrap” is seen as a “dumb show” (mime), so Gertrude’s “the lady doth protest too much” makes no sense! Ophelia doesn’t get her second mad scene (w/ the flowers). Hamlet is kind, quiet and clear-minded w/ Ophelia, so that her “O what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!” has little effect.

“Planet of the Apes” (1968) starring Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowell, Kim Hunter, & Maurice Evans

It raises a lot of questions about our modern day society without letting social commentaries get in the way of the drama and action.

The movie based on this book [La planet de singes by Pierre Boulle] is an “Americanized” adaptation of it. Rod Serling did the first drafts of the screenplay, simplifying the plot by fitting it into the mold of his “Twilight Zone” TV series and introducing an anti-nuclear war theme not present in the Boulle novel.

Pierre Boulle raises such issues as balance of power, racism, the role of government, and evolution… 

The film is philosophical, creative, absorbing and scary. Excellent commentary on religion and just about everything else.

-Excerpts from comments on IMDB

This movie tells the story of George Taylor (Charlton Heston), when he and his fellow astronauts find themselves stranded on a seemingly unknown planet. It seems to have no life. After travelling across a desert, they discover plenty of life (incl. apes that are human-like and humans that are ape-like). The (orange) orangutans are the leaders; the (grayish) chimpanzees are intellectuals and technicians; the (black) gorillas are guards/police (or do grunt work). Taylor is shot in the neck rendering him unable to speak. He is taken to a human-ape study lab, where he meets Zira (Kim Hunter), a chimpanzee scientist. She notices that Taylor’s intelligence goes far beyond that of any other human she has seen; she encourages him to speak. However, the orangutan leader, Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans), sneers at Zira’s and her fiancé Cornelius’ (Roddy McDowall) belief in any human intelligence. He (and his council) won’t listen to reason. Despite Cornelius’ conflicted feelings towards Taylor, he agrees to help prove his intelligence.

As many critics and fans have noted, Heston basically played himself. This role is not unlike those he played before; he is often shirtless, tan, and bearded. Heston uses his physicality, as is needed for a action hero role. There are few moments (w/ Nova, the young woman who will be his “mate”) where his vulnerable side comes out. Zira and Cornelius are quite interesting characters. Hunter’s portrayal of Zira was considered very powerful by many viewers; she is the most developed character in the film. Hunter manages to make Zira what she was meant to be, more human then ape. The intelligent and curious Cornelius (Roddy McDowell) has a bit of a rivalry w/ Taylor (as they constantly challenge each other like males of any species).

Planet of the Apes is considered a pivotal work of American cinema. Modern viewers will be surprised (not only by the ending), but by the fine camera work, unique soundtrack (by Jerry Goldsmith), makeup (by John Chambers), and good performances. After the film’s success, there were sequels, a TV series, a remake and a prequel (2011). There were also toys/models, comics, cartoons, and T-shirts to sell. I think even those who avoid the sci-fi genre should check it out! The Simpsons (my younger brother was a big fan) did a parody of this film, so you know it left it’s mark on pop culture.