As the saying goes every good hero needs a rotten villain to go up against. The more cunning the villain, the bigger the evil, the more heroic the hero looks.
Case in point: James Bond, the suave spy with a license to kill. In the movies Bond has battled evil masterminds for over half a century now and the franchise has produced some of the most iconic villains of the silver screen.
That being said, I feel the evil plans of the iconic Bond villains often get overlooked or are quickly forgotten. I’m one of those guys who loses the plot of a Bond film about half way through so that when Bond finally faces off with the evil mastermind I’m left wondering why Bond is stopping him again. Like so many people I watch James Bond movies for the exotic locations, the suave suits and rich style, the womanizing and crazy gadgets; in short anything but the actual plot. Which is a shame because the franchise excels in presenting wonderfully colorful villains, wild with ambition and evil plans to match. And so in this youtube series I set out to re-watching the Bond movies and figuring out who the villain are and what their evil plans entail.
Seeing as I’m an incurable traditionalist I’m going to take things chronologically starting here with the first Bond movie: Dr. No. Released in theaters in 1962 Dr. No was an adaptation of the sixth James Bond novel by Ian Flaming with the same name. It would have made sense to start with the first novel Casino Royale but someone else held the rights to that one so that wasn’t an option for EON. And they probably figured if we can’t do the first novel we can start anywhere we want, right. Since they didn’t know if these movies were going to be a financial success, they picked Dr. No because it seemed like it would be the cheapest to make.
Dr. No takes us to Jamaica where the titular villain has a private Island, Crab Key from which he operates. It is clear Dr. No has done well from himself. Having grown up in China, he rose through the ranks of organized crime and when he became bored of that ran off with their money. Besides stealing Dr. No seems to have a real talent for science and offered up his services to the powerful nations of the East and the West but was rejected by both. I can see why neither would be very interested in a man with his resumé but being the mad scientist type, Mr No was presumably quite offended by the rejection. However he didn’t need to wait long before being picked up by a third party organization: SPECTRE. Seeing beyond such trivial geopolitical boundaries as East and West, SPECTRE’s goal is world domination or at least this is what James Bond speculates upon meeting Dr. No and learning about SPECTRE. But Dr. No doesn’t refute Bond’s assessment so I’m going to take it to be true.
SPECTRE stands for SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion so these guys clearly don’t want there to be any doubt what they’re about. It is a bit hard to see exactly where Dr. No fits in, smart as the man may be one gets the distinct impression he isn’t the brains behind the operation. The Terrorism department seems to fit Dr. No best, although his chosen target seems a bit odd in that regard. His main concern here seems to be disrupting US rockets launched from the Cape Canaveral site. Apparently just for this reason Dr. No has build his secret lair, complete with a nuclear reactor to power his disruptive radio beam. We are, however, somewhat left in the dark about his motives to do so. The only line of explanation given is this: (clip from movie: “Missiles are only the first step to prove our power”).
Vague as this line may be, it is certainly ominous. But if his goal is to raise some terror he’s going to have to come up with something a little scarier than knocking rockets off course. Than again rockets are crazy expensive so he’s bound to piss some people off in messing with those launches. We also learn Dr. No has specialized in nuclear physics (it is how he’s lost his hands) so he could be working up to a lot worse. Luckily Dr. No is stopped by our hero Bond before it gets to that.
Being only one of two villains who has the honor of having the entire film named after them, Dr. No actually gets surprisingly little screentime. Rather than taking center stage Dr. No operates from his lair deep beneath his island, making his presence felt through his henchmen, the three blind mice and sly Professor R.J. Dent rather than showing up in person. As the title suggests Dr. No’s shadow looms large over Bond’s first cinematic adventure, killing off anyone who gets too close to his operation. He keeps up an air of mystery that works remarkaby well as James slowly tracks him down. First time we actually see Dr. No’s face is almost an hour and a half into the movie. In the twenty minutes that are left before the credits roll he does make a distinct impression: both intelligent and sophisticated we meet the first gentleman Bond villain. Played cool by Joseph Wiseman, Dr. No is calculating and in control. Dressed in his now-signature white chinese costume and distinct face make-up Dr. No’s visual appearance is striking and memorable, setting the bar high for future Bond villains to come. He’s undeniably slightly off his rocker though, and his plan ultimately comes off as a bit silly.
Remarkably he’s not going to be the last Bond villain with a strange fascination with space and rockets either. While general interest in Space programmes may be at an all time low right now, during the sixties and seventies fascination couldn’t have been higher. Space exploration not only seemed to quench a scientific hunger, it also held the key to boosting our communication capabilities to unimaginable heights. Finally space opened the doors for new military applications. At the time rockets were not just a matter of prestige, they were a sign of innovation and progress. In the zeitgeist of the early sixties it would make sense for a mad scientist like Dr. No to be fascinated with rockets.
While not the best Bond villain, Dr. No certainly set the tone for his villainous successors: a wild if slightly silly evil plan, a striking and iconic appearance, a cutting edge lair in an exotic location, and aided by cool if sometimes incompetent henchmen.
Yes, Dr. No kicked off the James Bond movie franchise in style. By casually mentioning his membership with SPECTRE, Dr. No sets up a larger arc for the first Bond movies. In this first movie the evil organization remains shrouded in mystery though: who are the other members? What is their plan and endgame? Where do they operate from? We find out precious little in Dr. No.
So join us next time as we find out more about SPECTRE and see what the evil plan is in the second Bond movie: From Russia with Love.