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Scene Analysis: Dr. No

May 2, 2013

Dr. No









Scene Analysis: Dr. No

Professor Dent murder

Untroubled by regrets, always dependable, a complex and finely honed lethal weapon operating in a world which doesn’t obey the normal rules of moral conduct, and where the concept of honour is highly elastic. This is my idea of James Bond, cultivated from reading Ian Fleming’s source novels and an adolescence spent idling summers away, working my way through the entire set of movies. And the man that embodies this character? It certainly isn’t Roger Moore’s eyebrow arching, danger-free, panto Seventies/Eighties version. Forget the inauthentically suave, punning, gadget-infused stint of Pierce Brosnan, and Timothy Dalton – though a fine actor in his own right – had a thin-lipped steel that might have better suited playing a villain. Daniel Craig has made a suitably sober, post-9/11 Bond, but there’s something about his films’ perpetual insistence on him as “damaged goods” that grates and doesn’t fit with my ultra-professional vision of Bond. To me, Sean Connery is James Bond. And if you need evidence as to why, check this fantastic sequence from Dr. No, where Bond entices Doctor No’s subordinate Professor Dent into a showdown, before assassinating him in near cold blood.

The sequence opens quietly – no blazing soundtrack or pyrotechnics familiar from the other Bond movies – just the chirping sound of crickets, and Bond doing something we rarely see him do again in the series, yet surely key constituents for a Cold War spy – he’s thinking and scheming (0.07). After ten seconds of stalking the apartment, Bond has successfully concocted his plan, revealed by the relaxed, leisurely smile lighting up Connery’s face (0.18). Then, with no sense of panic, Bond enacts his ruse with a confidence and laconic calm which only Connery can emit. Typical of Bond the connoisseur, he doesn’t leave any detail out – from pouring a couple of vodka shorts (0.21), and repadding the pillows on the chair (0.39), to laying out his jacket (0.46) – all to create the impression of business as usual in the apartment.

A super moment comes at 0.53 when Bond pauses by the bedroom door to play a song, “Underneath the Mango Tree”, in the record player. As well as being indicative of Bond’s uncanny relaxation at such a dangerous juncture, it’s also a lovely touch, the song becoming a motif throughout the film, most notably when Bond comes across the gorgeous Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) on a Crab Key beach. Incidentally, the first minute of this scene is conducted in a single-take – unheard of in a Bond movie, especially when nothing much is ostensibly happening – and Connery totally owns this minute with his persona alone.

For the next twenty seconds or so, Bond prepares the bed. This is such a compelling antidote to the Bond of later movies where he’d be relying on a silly Q gadget to off his enemy. Here, it’s the simple ploy of stuffing the bed with pillows to make it look like someone is sleeping there. At 1:40 comes Bond the ‘lethal weapon’ that I suggested in my opening sentence. He prepares his gun and plausibly applies a silencer to it (again, a counterpoint to the loud “Mr Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” of subsequent Bonds). And what’s a man to do while he waits for his showdown with a murderer? Why, if you’re James Bond, you play cards of course (1.49 – 1.54)!

Director Terence Young atmospherically films the entrance of Professor Dent. Bond carefully and stealthily, with his beautiful feline hands (1.55), picks up his gun, as the shadow of Professor Dent appears, followed by Dent firing six shots at the ‘body’ in the bed. As Bond turns the tables on Dent, Connery is positively purring (2.21), the only tension to us the audience as he interrogates Professor Dent, is why Bond seems so blasé? This is the rare case where the character knows more than the audience (an infrequent quality in the dumbed-down Bond grammar of later years). Bond puts his gun down (2.34) and starts lighting up a cigarette (2.37) – even taking his eyes off Dent at this point. Dent senses his opportunity too, slowly dragging the duvet which contains his gun, closer to him (2.41). Bond uses Dent’s growing confidence to induce more information from him (3.00), Dent tries to kill Bond once again (3.04), before the apex of Bond’s ruse stuns both Dent (and the audience) with the immortal line: “that’s a Smith & Wesson, and you’ve had your six”. It’s a ruthless, ingenious, cold-blooded killing, honouring Bond’s knowledge as a spy, and what I like about Connery’s reaction at the end is that there’s no silly quip or sense of false satisfaction over the murder. He quietly removes the silencer, blows on it to cool it, and looks on stoically at Dent’s body (3.23) – it’s another job, well done….

If you like my reading of this scene, check out my reviews of all the other Bond movies in the Alphabetical Review Archive, and my resumé of them as a series in my list:

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