It’s another week and another entry in the Bond vs Bond series. Last week we got into the series high in terms of the books and in terms of the movies (for a while at least). It was a nice and steady uptick in the series for me, each book after the letdown Live and Let Die being better than the last. And even though the movies don’t line up in the same chronology as the books, the movies were better than the last. But sadly, it’s time for a regression. This book and this movie is worse than From Russia With Love. It makes sense for the movie, since this is the first one they made. But it’s not ok for the books, as it’s a regression into Flemings weird racism and lax plotting. It’s also not very clear if Fleming really had his heart in this one. Thankfully though, the producers of the film were able to shake things up from the source material to elevate it a tad. We’ve reached the 6th book and the debut on the big screens for 007. This is Dr. No. Let’s get into it.
To see the write up on Casino Royale, click here.
To see the write up on Live and Let Die, click here.
To see the write up on Moonraker, click here.
To see the write up on Diamonds Are Forever, click here.
To see the write up on From Russia With Love, click here.
1958 saw Ian Fleming return to the world of 007. It wasn’t a long wait, only a year since From Russia With Love. A typical waiting period between books for Fleming. But this was a bit more momentous as Ian Fleming wasn’t exactly sure he was gonna return to the series. He ended From Russia With Love on a moment of uncertainty. Bond was poisoned, on the verge of death. If he had never come back to the series, it was as definitive an ending something so open ended could be. But obviously he came back, and quickly, because he would put out Dr. No quickly thereafter. It was a similar situation to another historic British literary figure, just done much quicker. Arthur Conan Doyle wanted to be done with Sherlock Holmes and “killed” him off in The Final Problem. It took him 8 years of public pressure, but he brought the man back. So Fleming had the same thought process that Doyle had, but did it much quicker. And if only he knew that he would bring Bond back to life in the book that would kickstart the 53 years and counting film franchise.
In 1961, work started being done to make the first feature film for James Bond. A partnership was formed between Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli to do so, each of them owning the film rights to the character. Initially though, Dr. No was not the book that they wanted to do first. Initially they wanted to do Thunderball, but legal bullshit regarding that book kept them from doing so. And honestly, it was probably for the best. They got $1 Million to make the movie they ended up making, and it was a budget that wouldn’t have done Thunderball justice. A little too big for what they had. So they ended up with Dr. No. And it seemed like destiny, because there were reports in the air about rocket issues going on at Cape Canaveral. So they got the rights and they got the money to make the book transition to the big screen. For anyone who’s read this series or has an even passing knowledge of the Bond series, a big question comes up. That question? How faithful was the movie that ended up being made?
It was honestly surprising, by the end of this book, to see how faithful it was adapted to the big screen. So much so that there’s even scenes and dialogue taken verbatim from the page. Now obviously, there were changes made. It’s the Bond franchise. Being the first one though, it’s the one that made changes to the books that would go on to be defining for the character. Sean Connery has become a cinema legend thanks to this role. But reading any of the books, Sean Connery is most definitely not the character that Ian Fleming wrote. You can see where Fleming was coming from, as he had initial reservations about Connery taking the role on. He came around eventually, so much so that he included a Scottish heritage to the character in one of his later books. Connery’s just basic performance is not in line with the character though. Fleming had described him as a cold, brooding man who was capable of violence without question. Flemings Bond was a man who initially was a very cold man to women, but became a man who was very easily in love with whatever woman came his way. That’s not Connery’s Bond. Connery’s Bond is a man that’s all charm. He’s easy going and acts like nothing can touch him. There’s no question he is a man capable of violence, but he isn’t a brute. It’s not like he acts regretful doing it, but he never seems to enjoy it. And really, women are only sexual objects for him. You could not see this Bond falling for a woman the way Flemings man did. But this is a change that pretty much anyone with a passing knowledge knows. I knew it before this series and I hadn’t read the books until a few weeks ago.
Aside from the portrayal of Bond, there was some other changes in this that made an impact on the story at hand. The first one I’m gonna talk about though involved me jumping to the climax of the movie. Cause the ending of this movie is actually going pretty accurately to the novel. Bond and Honey are captured by Dr. Nos men, after they watched boatman Quarrel get roasted by a flamethrowing tank. They are lead to an entrance at the mountain that doesn’t seem too impressive from the outside, until they get inside and it looks like a well managed hotel. They’re treated like hotel guests, being taken to their hotel rooms with respect and being locked in. Food and drink are waiting for them, which they partake in. It’s drugged though and they pass out, when Dr. No himself (which in both we don’t know yet) to look over our two heroes. They wake up and are taken to a meal with the titular baddie, we he explains the plot to our heroes (and us). That explanation is different, but I’ll get to that in a bit. What changes though is what Dr. No does to Bond and Honey. In the book, No forces Bond into a deadly obstacle course while Honey is chained down on the mountain to be eaten alive by crabs. The movie just skips the obstacle course. Bond is locked away in a room, where he escapes and foils the plan. That’s it. Nothing elaborate for him. Honey is chained down while water slowly rises around her, but she’s saved by Bond, where she saves herself in the book. This is most likely due to budget and technical limitations of the time. The course Bond has to go through in the book? He gets electrocuted by a fence, has to walk over super hot tunneling, and make his way through a pit of poisonous spiders. But the coup de grace? Bond has to end up fighting a giant squid, which he only does by stabbing it in the eye with a piece of wire he stole from the beginning of the course. So they may have been able to rig up a course that would function in the same way (No likes to experiment on how much pain a body can endure), while nixing the more dangerous animal stunts. I wish they coulda done such a stupidly fantastical squid fight, but it was 1962. I get it. They didn’t have the money or time to do such a silly thing with the primitive tech they had. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was disappointed that the two books were Bond goes to Jamaica and ends up fighting squids were adapted and both lost the squid stuff.
Now the climax of the movie was obviously changed, scaled down to accommodate the budget they had. Another change in the movie is the actual plot of Dr. No. It’s weird, because the actual plot isn’t changed so much as expanded upon in a way. In the book, he is just screwing with American Missile launches. He works with the Russians and that’s his whole thing. In the movie though, this is changed slightly. No is still aiming to knock out american missiles, but has a specific launch to screw up, a launch to the moon. And he tells Bond that these missile attacks are just the beginning, as he is working with a group that will go for more. That group? SPECTRE. Now the novel never specifically says SMERSH, but it’s implied in the same way that Moonraker implied it. This change in the movie is something that would have obvious impact throughout the series, making SPECTRE the out of the gate threats, whereas they don’t show up for a good time in the books (Thunderball is their first appearance). A choice that left such an impact on the series, they became they iconic baddies for Bond and caused a lot of excitement when it was announced they were coming back in the 24th Bond flick, Spectre.
A change that I find amusing is how Dr. No ends up attracting the attention of the good guys. In the movie, it’s the CIA believes that the missiles are being jammed by radio jamming in the Jamaica region. The British’s man in Jamaica, Strangway’s, investigates. In his investigation, he comes upon Crab Key, the island owned by Dr. No. No is all for secrecy, so Strangways goes in under cover and collects rocks to have examined back on mainland. He’s told they don’t show anything, but the geologist (Dent) works for No and tipped him off. So Strangways is killed. Bond is sent in to find out who killed Strangways (obviously dead because he and his secretary are missing) and comes upon Dr. No’s schemes. In the book though, Strangways is killed because he is off the bat investigating No. Not because of any radio jamming shenanigans. It’s because of bird shit. Dr No owns the island and is using it to extract the guano of a highly valuable bird that lives on the island. His practices though, have led to a decrease in the population of a different bird species, a bird that is protected by a conservation group. A groups who sent two reps down to check things out but who died. So Bond is sent in to investigate why Strangways went missing and stumbles upon Dr. No’s plot with no real foreknowledge. Bond just thinks it’s a simple mission to find out why Strangways went missing, since it’s thought that he ran away with his secretary. No one even thinks about No, because there’s no outright dirty deeds being done. It’s all a crap shoot (pun totally intended). The book basically has No’s downfall be because of birds.
A change is brought about simply because of the movies place as being the debut. There is no history to draw from and continuity is non existent. The book though is 6th in a series and has a good deal of continuity to it. The book starts off with Bond just coming back from his recuperation due to poisoning at the end of From Russia With Love. So they have M talk about Bonds screw up, allowing Rosa Klebb to get the drop on him due to the gun he has getting stuck in his holster. This leads to a scene where Major Boothroyd (who’d end up being Q in the next movie) giving Bond his now iconic Walther PPK. What’s odd is that this is in the movie, with a reference to Bond getting injured in the same holster blamed way. This continuity is also the cause for Bond being given the mission. M thinks that Strangways ran off with the secretary and figures he’d give Bond an easy assignment in a sunny place as a bit of a vacation, something that Bond takes as an insult and one that M kinda means as one in some ways. This is obviously not in the movie, since the mission seems to have graver stakes. Strangways himself is a little piece of continuity, as he appears in Live and Let Die as a connect for Bond to do work on the island. In the book, Bond feels bad for the mans disappearance as he likes the guy. The movie, Bond has no connection to him and is just doing his job. Quarrel is in the movie, but with no continuity. In the books, this is his second (and last) appearance, as he helped out as a contact in Live and Let Die as well. And his usage is different too. In the movie, he’s just a boat captain, getting Bond to Crab Key. In the books though, he is a friend to Bond and a trainer. He takes a week to whip Bond into shape before heading out to Crab Key. Bond also likes him so much that he takes to heart his fear about Crab Key and has a life insurance policy taken out for his family’s sake. And there’s two pieces of continuity in here that are most definitely not in the movie, as they reference specific things from Live and Let Die. In the beginning sections on the Island, Bond reminisces about Solitaire and what she’s doing. A little piece of romantic nostalgia for a man who would never do such a thing in the movies. The second is when he is training and remembers, in a moment of fear, the scuba trek he took where he fought barracudas and a giant squid. Most of this stuff is not in the movie, as they’d have no context to be. For the book readers it adds a nice sense of history, especially since it involves Bond going back to a locale we had previously seen him in. The Walther scene makes it as it involves a nice piece of history within the series. Fleming had a fan write him, a Boothroyd, who was a gun nut and told him that the Beretta he had Bond use was not accurate. Bond should be using a Walter. By the time Fleming could put it in was in this book, so he did. And he made Boothroyd a character in the series essentially, Bonds’ eternal weapons master.
There’s some changes in here regarding two of the characters, one of which is the absence of omission. Honey Rider in the book is very similar to the one in the movie, a childish woman with a lack of people skills. She got her learning through an encyclopedia and is a bit off in the societal game. A rough and tumble girl. And there’s some history that is the same. In both, she was raped by an older rich man who she then killed with a poisonous spider. But in the book, she is the daughter of old colonial types in Jamaica and is orphaned when their house is burned down and is raised in the ruins of the house by an old maid. The movie has her the daughter of a marine biologist who she believes was killed by Dr No. But essentially she’s the same, boring character. Dr. No though has a weird and rich history that is only briefly dealt with it the movie. In the book, he is the son of a German missionary and a chinese mother. He choses the name of No because his father rejected him. He ends up working for the Chinese mob as their treasure, where he would rob them, being hunted down and having his hands chopped off as a lesson. It’s also said that he was shot in the chest and surviving because the mob thought they shot his heart, but he has a condition that put his heart on the other side of his chest. This isn’t in the movie. The movie mentions his work and theft of the mob, but insinuate that he lost his hands due to a radiation accident, since his island in the movie is run on Nuclear power. It’s a weird change. They also make his hands more robotic in the movie, where they’re described as being more claw like in the books. This change also ties into his demise, which is very different in the book than in the movie. In the movie, Bond escapes his room and finds No about to initiate his missile plan. Bond stops it and gets into a fist fight with Dr No, scrambling around to get out before the nuclear reactor (that Bond caused to malfunction) blows up. Bond and No are about to descend into radiation water when Bond manages to climb out, leaving No below. No can’t climb out because his hands can’t get a grip on the metal rails that could lead him out. In the books, Bond finds him overseeing the moving of guano onto a boat and buries him alive in a big pile of bird shit. Simple enough. Dr No is different enough to be obvious, but is not too different as to be insulting, like Hugo Drax in Moonraker.
For me, the main difference between the two entities is that the movie is pretty good and groundbreaking, where the book is a regression for Fleming and pretty mediocre book at best. For one, Fleming regresses into his weird bullshit racism that takes up too much time and substitutes real character writing, making race deficiencies the cause for the henchmen to be bad. He’s so crazed that he spends time setting up the world of Jamaica having a lot of Chinese on the island, setting up the mixed race Chinese/Blacks on the island because of it and calling them, I shit you not, Chigroes. Too much time is spent on it and it’s really just boring and hard to read. And the plot in the book is, like I said, too coincidental to be be thrilling. Bond has no idea why he’s going after No, just that he’s bad. The best thing about the book is that it has a history to it. The movie doesn’t have that history, but it elevates everything else. It has one thing that the book can’t have, and that’s showing us the exotic locales and pretty girls. The movie strips away all the weird chigroe shit and just sticks to the easier idea that Jamaicans are black so No has black henchmen. And while it strips away all the weird history of No, it streamlines him into being a smart middle man to the badder guys that would come out later. Honey is not made to be as big of a closed off freak, taking away the weird childishness and animal nature that attracts Bond to her. They add more to the plot to make it work better, like having Bond go after the secretary in the government building that spies for No, instead of just letting her go like he does in the book. There’s also the added character of Dent, who he goes after to add more to Bonds certainty that No is to blame for all this shit and is more dangerous than though. In the book, Bond just assumes it’s No because he receives poison fruit and the secretary who is an obvious spy is Asian. Again, his racism coming out in opposition of Asians this time. The movie goes to pains to make it a natural progression to his decision to go after No. The action is also better and it just flows a lot better.
The movie isn’t perfect, having some of the 60’s action movie issues of slack pacing and slow scenes. I never loved the movie before this viewing, feeling it to be more important than actually good. But I came to like it more this time out. And sadly I liked the book a good deal less than most of them, seeing a steep decline in quality after From Russia With Love. It isn’t the worst, as that title goes to Live and Let Die. But it’s close and they are plagued with similar issues. This is the third Connery movie in a row for me, and I got another one after this. And luckily, it’s the big one. Goldfinger is on deck and it’s gonna be really interesting to get into that.
Book Rankings: From Russia With Love, Diamonds Are Forever, Moonraker, Casino Royale, Dr. No, Live and Let Die.
Movies Rankings: Casino Royale, From Russia With Love, Dr. No, Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die, Moonraker.
Up Next: Goldfinger