Monthly Archives: April 2014

Rashomon (1950)


*. A genuinely entertaining art house film. There aren’t that many.
*. I don’t like hearing about the so-called Rashomon effect: the idea that all truth is subjective/relative. I don’t think this is what the movie is about. I think it’s about people who are lying. We don’t see the same events from different perspectives and with different emphases or interpretations so much as we see entirely different events taking place in the different stories. The four stories are, in various ways, entirely incompatible.
*. And it is precisely the problem of lying that the characters in the temple are most upset by. They don’t talk about people having false impressions or holding different points of view. They talk about people who are lying. This is the darkness that so shakes the priest and the man, not the idea that people can witness the same events and come to different conclusions.

*. In his autobiography Kurosawa explained the movie’s theme fairly directly. He thought it was simple: “Human beings are unable to be honest with themselves about themselves. They cannot talk about themselves without embellishing. This script portrays such human beings — the kind who cannot survive without lies to make them feel they are better people than they really are. It even shows this sinful need for flattering faleshood going beyond the grave — even the character who dies cannot give up his lies when he speaks to the living through a medium.”
*. Now here is Roger Ebert interpreting this same passage, and (oh, the irony!) saying something quite different: “The genius of Rashomon is that all of the flashbacks are both true and false. True, in that they present an accurate portrait of what each witness thinks happened. False because as Kurosawa observes in his autobiography, ‘Human beings are unable to be honest with themselves about themselves. They cannot talk about themselves without embellishing.'”
*. I think Ebert is wrong. The flashbacks are not true, accurate portraits of what each witness honestly believed happened. The woodcutter, for example, is caught out in a lie about the dagger at the very end, and he knows it. And we simply can’t believe that four people all present in the same place at the same time could not agree on the simple matter of who killed the samurai. They are lying, and what’s more lying without much reason to lie.
*. Ebert’s interpretation is standard. Here is Donald Richie on the Criterion DVD commentary: “One of the main points of the film is that they’re not lying, they’re really believing what they’re saying.” Again: I disagree. The main point of the film is that they are lying, and they aren’t going to stop lying even if they’re only lying to themselves.
*. Also contra Richie’s commentary, I quite like the use of Ravel’s “Bolero.”
*. What I did agree with in Richie’s commentary is his constant highlighting of the various dramatic conventions and poses in the film. And this is fitting because what we see are dramatizations of the events, not the events themselves. This also explains the sometimes hammy acting. Mentally, we exaggerate what people have actually said and done and tend to cast the actors into more conventional roles. Memory is writing in a form of shorthand.
*. Of course the forest photography is brilliant, the dappled shadows making the perfect objective correlative to the confusion among the different stories. That opening sequence with the woodcutter entering the forest deserves all the praise heaped on it. What better way to draw the viewer into the mystery of the story?
*. I dislike the ending. I understand the moral necessity for it Kurosawa felt, but it seems tacked on and false.
*. The first time I saw Mifune cutting the samurai’s bonds I thought it seemed awfully easy.  His sword barely touches the rope! Seeing him repeat the action in subsequent versions of the story the break in the rope is clearly evident.
*. All of the actors are good, but Machiko Kyo impresses me the most on repeated viewings. She also has the most work to do, as her character has to cover the most ground, not only between the different stories but within them. And finally she’s the hardest to read and the one I trust the least. Is that sexist?


Equinox (1970)


*. How can you not be charmed by this classic piece of backyard filmmaking, the product of a bunch of young people just having fun, experimenting with different technical possibilities, and coming up with some real innovations along the way. It’s primitive, but also sweetly innocent.
*. It is, however, an innocence steeped in film. Every part of it seems a nod to some previous production, with the main source of inspiration being the B-movie monster flicks that the makers watched on late-night television and followed in fanzines. Out of this same ground would spring Carpenter, Landis, Lucas, and others.
*. And the torch is passed on. Equinox is such an obvious influence on The Evil Dead that at times it’s striking. I mean parts of it are direct visual quotes. But Raimi has never commented on the connection.
*. Another lineal descendant is Coscarelli’s Phantasm, especially with the business of people being sucked through an invisible barrier into an off-colour dimension populated by mysterious hooded figures.
*. A thought experiment: What make this Criterion Collection title all that different from the low-budget, drive-in trash lovingly restored by Something Weird Video? The acting, script, direction, and sound quality are all similarly wretched. About the direction (at least of the 1967 version) the best the makers can claim on the commentary is “a certain amount of craft, of a mechanical sort,” while the script is dismissed as downright laughable.
*. The quick answer to my question would be the quality of the special effects. It’s truly amazing what was achieved here on such a limited budget (I believe the initial production came in under $7,000). Yes, some of the visuals are crude. But it’s no accident that the person involved who went on to have the most successful career, Dennis Muren, was an FX man.
*. There’s a terrific dark ending too, that beautifully closes the frame narrative.
*. It would be easy, but nonetheless accurate, to say that the rest of the movie is only a prop for showcasing a handful of set-piece monster scenes. Even in the 71-minute original, The Equinox . . . A Journey into the Supernatural, there are several talky “filler” episodes that have no purpose at all except to pad out the running time.
*. Isn’t it odd that none of the kids thinks anything of a sheriff who introduces himself as Asmodeus?
*. Did Jack H. Harris and Jack Woods help the movie when they added material to make it more commercially viable? They certainly made some quite significant changes, for example adding all of the Asmodeus stuff and cutting a number of the filler scenes. Overall, I think they did improve it, though some of the innocence of the original was lost and what was added has a sulfurous air of exploitation about it.


Bullets or Ballots (1936)


*. The title is only vaguely allusive — there’s just the one passing mention of bullets and ballots in the opening newsreel — but I guess someone thought it was clever. According to Dana Polan’s commentary Warner Brothers referred to the title in some correspondence as Bullets and Ballads, “as if Warner Brothers themselves wasn’t sure what the title meant or how appropriate it was for the film.” Admittedly, the generic alternative titles were even worse, among the candidates being All the Evidence, The Showdown, and The Pigeon.
*. Things that date badly. The gunshots followed by men clutching their chests with no sign of impact are hilarious. As are a lot of Robinson’s rather soft-looking punches.
*. I want to call it an archetypal plot, as it was to be repeated so many times. The cop who goes undercover and can’t tell anyone, even his woman, that he’s not really a heel.
*. Or is she his woman? There is some vague suggestion of a shared history between Lee and Blake, and regrets over what might have been. But let’s face it, Edward G. Robinson was hard to sell as a romantic lead.


*. In fact the only guy who does seem interested in Joan Blondell is Bogart’s Fenner. Which is very weird. Usually the psycho thug, right down to his present day iterations, is asexual. And is Blondell interested in Fenner? It’s hard to tell. I love the ambiguous “Go ahead and take it” line. And how convincing is her subsequent demur that a kiss is not what she meant? Not very.
*. What was the first movie to use the device of newspaper headlines as a way of conveying information? It’s used at least half a dozen times here, but I wonder who did it first.
*. How legit is Lee’s numbers game? She doesn’t seem to be a criminal figure, but the game is surely another racket, only overlooked by the crime syndicate because it’s assumed to be “penny-ante” stuff (identified with women, blacks, and morons). But I don’t see where the question of its legality is ever raised in the film.
*. It was the ’30s, and gender roles were pretty strict. When Lee offers to cut the newly-unemployed Johnny in for a percentage of her numbers game if he’ll help her run it he is dismissive: “Oh, not a chance. Say, any money I’d make would be coming out of your pocket. And I don’t take any money away from women.” This is his response to her offering him a job: that her paying him would just be taking money away from her! Having a woman as a boss wouldn’t only be emasculating, it would be downright caddish!
*. It was the ’30s, and the bad guys are . . . Wall Street plutocrats in smoke-filled rooms! Damn right.
*. I guess a comic character like the dim McCloskey was considered an essential element. But boy does his routine seem perfunctory and laboured.
*. Some faces just belong to this genre, whatever side of the thin blue line they were playing. And I’m not just talking about Robinson and Bogart here. Barton MacLane is just as essential a figure, looming in the background of so many films like this. Hats on!


House on Haunted Hill (1999)


*. Geoffrey Rush wanted to play Vincent Price (Stephen Price here) as John Waters. But hasn’t John Waters been playing Vincent Price all these years? The camp bloodlines have no end and no beginning.
*. Tell me that the people behind American Horror Story weren’t watching this. Or maybe they are the same people. I don’t know.
*. I guess I’m a real outlier in my response to this one. According to the review aggregators the original 1959 version is a much loved camp classic, while this movie got near-universal bomb ratings. But I actually like this movie better. I think it duplicates the spirit of the 1959 version remarkably well and is quite spry and inventive in its own right.
*. It was the ’90s. Here are some names you might have known then and probably won’t today: Taye Diggs, Famke Janssen, Chris Kattan, Marilyn Manson. I didn’t even recognize Jeffrey Combs. And Geoffrey Rush? Well, he was part of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but those films won’t last. How oblivion scatters her poppies.
*. And, since it’s the ’90s, the Ennis House is now an art deco computer tower. A style that probably won’t age as well as Frank Lloyd Wright.


*. The FX (and there is almost no use of CGI) seem to work really well, and they’re helped by an original visual imagination. These aren’t the usual horror-film staples here, but genuine bits of inspired oddity. The zoetrope “saturation chamber” is marvelous. Sadly, when the horror-film staples are introduced they are often unconvincing, with the blood in particular seeming fake and the cuts on Janssen’s and Larter’s faces looking like pen strokes.
*. Among the deleted scenes is the explanation of how Larter substitutes herself for the house’s intended victim (her bitchy employer). I understand why they left this sequence out, but it leaves the story a bit confusing because you’re not sure how she fits into the evil agenda, or if she is even at risk as a victim of the house. This same issue leads to all kinds of other questions. If Dr. Blackburn had not been killed by Janssen, would the house have killed him? As Diggs was adopted, was he in danger? And did the house not know this? Did the house not know that Larter didn’t belong? If it had known, would it have cared?
*. The smoky composite ghost seems to change gears a lot between moving either very quickly or very slowly. But perhaps it’s just toying with its victims. In any event, it’s necessary for the final part of the movie to play out as it does.


House on Haunted Hill (1959)


*. Wait. That’s the House on Haunted Hill? The Ennis House in L.A.? Best known for its appearance in Blade Runner? Talk about an odd choice of location.
*. Something about the title has always bothered me. The hill is haunted, not the house?
*. William Castle. Being a low-budget producer should give one a certain amount of creative license. I still believe that, but it’s also the case that most producers in such situations stick with what they know is going to make a quick and easy dollar.
*. Castle was a kitsch showman with an odd penchant for theatre gimmicks. This movie was released in some locations with a mechanical skeleton dubbed “Emergo” that by all reports was about as convincing as the plastic-and-wire contraption that scares Annabelle to death. Children were even reported to have thrown things at it.
*. Gimmickry aside, Castle’s films tend to be derivative and formulaic, as you’d expect. I mean, a falling chandelier? That goes back at least as far as the 1925 version of Phantom of the Opera. Squeaky doors mysteriously shutting on their own, and cobwebs on all the furnishings? (Speaking of which, why are there so many cobwebs? The house is being lived in and there are a pair of housekeepers, even if one of them is blind.) And when was the first time a film began in darkness with a woman screaming? I’m not sure when this bit of business began or where it came from.


*. The basic idea isn’t all that original either. It’s just And Then There Were None re-jigged as a horror film.
*. That said, cheap schlock does have is attractions, and there must be some reason this movie is still watched aside from the inherent fun of watching Vincent Price camping it up. Unfortunately the rest of the cast has little to do, with Elisha Cook in particular being wasted.
*. I think it would have worked better if some of the guests had actually been killed, and can’t think of any convincing reason why Castle didn’t up the body count. At 75 minutes he had plenty of time.
*. What a remarkable wardrobe for Annabelle Loren (Carol Ohmart). Her first get-up looks like some kind of velour bathrobe-with-pants combination, And the second outfit with the piratical sash is equally bold. Meanwhile, everybody else in the movie is dressed conservatively. Perhaps Annabelle just has a flair for the dramatic.



The Raid (2011)


*. This one reminded me a lot of the French film The Horde (2009), a zombie slaughterfest that has a police team raiding a run-down, high-rise apartment building infested with well-armed gangsters who, in the event, turn into zombies. Basically the zombies and the gang members are interchangeable. Point being these are both body count movies, and you’re just paying for the action sequences.
*. I quite enjoyed The Raid, but there couldn’t have been more than ten pages of script. To call the family backstory stuff perfunctory would perhaps be giving it more credit than it’s due. What you’re watching is a two-hour cage fight.


*. It’s also one of those ADD movies that never lets you catch your breath, what with all the abrupt editing and quick camera movement. There’s nothing wrong with that (especially in an action film), but it makes me wonder whether an audience raised on such fare will ever be able to go back and watch movies from a previous generation without going into fits. Won’t they just want to play videogames instead?
*. Gareth “Huw” Evans seems to have a thing for neck violence. Look at all those throats being cut, and necks slashed, punctured, and broken.
*. I do like how Evans has said in interviews that the only unrealistic thing about the fight sequences was their length. Some people might not think of this at first, but the fact is that even martial artists in top condition can only manage to fight at a pace like we see here for a couple of minutes. Then they’d be totally exhausted.
*. That’s a great line about how pulling a trigger is like ordering take-out. I guess real martial artists don’t need guns. Or weapons of any kind. Why else does Rama walk past various weapons (I spotted a gun, a knife, and the billy club that he had just used to such devastating effect) right after he leaves his wounded friend in the safe apartment? Why doesn’t he pick at least one of these useful items up?


*. I love how everyone you meet in these martial arts films is a black belt. Even the flunkies working in the drug lab are set to start busting crazy moves as soon as the music starts.
*. There was, of course, immediate talk of an American remake. I don’t know why. Can’t Hollywood just go out and do a martial arts film of their own? There’s no story here to remake! It’s just a string of fight sequences. Anyone could come up with a generic five or six-page outline that would let the fight choreographers and stunt men do their thing without a story or plot getting in the way.


High Noon (1952)


*. I love this movie so much. Let me try and count just a few of the ways.
*. It’s tight. So nice to bring in a movie like this in 84 minutes (the real time of the plot), and not feel there’s any padding.
*. I can’t think of another movie I’ve really liked Gary Cooper in. But here he’s perfect. That face is so soft and jowly and so granite-like, the perfect combination of toughness and vulnerability for the role. And it’s a wonderful understated performance. Look at how little he gives away as the mayor sells him out in front of the churchgoers.


*. I feel like I should hate the song, but I actually find it quite moving. Especially the part about not carin’ ’bout dyin’, but only if his woman’s leavin’.
*. I love the montage as the clock ticks down to noon, ending not in a clock gonging the hour but the train’s whistle.
*. I love all the nice psychological touches. The way Will keeps trying to force an ingratiating smile at the people he hates having to ask for help, and then letting the smile slide and crumble. The way Harvey has to fight with Will to try and prove he’s not a coward. The way Will stops crying when he realizes the boy is there. The way the townsman looks when he’s buying Helen’s store off her, at what’s probably a very nice rate. The way Will looks when it dawns on him that he’s being thrown under the bus in the church scene. So many perfect moments. And best of all Will’s face as the camera pulls away from him during the famous crane shot, leaving him alone on the street.
*. I love how the laconic script leaves so much unsaid, and that it doesn’t need to be said. Like the nature and history of the relationship between Will and Helen. No need to go over it. Just look at the two of them together.
*. I love the opening shot, revealing . . . Lee Van Cleef! And as the credits roll, the gang assembles. But wait . . . these can’t be the good guys. They haven’t shaved! Something odd is going on here. And note that it isn’t Van Cleef’s Jack Colby with the nasty sneer, but Robert J. Wilke’s Jim Pierce. An influence then?
*. Thomson thought it unlikely Cooper would be without help because Americans love a fight. Perhaps. But they like to be heroes too and the town is only big enough for one hero. Also, the winning argument against helping Will out is . . . property values! And those do kind of trump everything.
*. Talk about a May/December age gap (Cooper was 51, Kelly 24). Kelly was an unknown at the time, but obviously she had “it.” And I like how Amy first appears to us in the wedding scene, with her Bambi eyes looking out of her bonneted face, like some kind of porcelain doll. That’s the image required, the virginal archetype, that the ending will play off against.
*. Such an archetypal tale, like so many Westerns. Good and evil. Set in an everyplace (dirty little town in the middle of nowhere). Nobody says very much. I don’t think Frank Miller has ten words. And as for Will: “I’ve gotta go back, that’s the whole thing.” But what’s the whole thing? Well, as Helen Ramirez puts it: “If you don’t know, I cannot explain it to you.” Or Will himself: “If you don’t know, it’s no use me telling you.” It’s just the thing.
*. Of course lines like this strike us as clichés, but there’s something complex and true in the idea that some people have an innate knowledge or moral sense that others are so completely out of touch with they can never understand. People like Lloyd Bridges’s Harvey don’t get it, and they never can get it.
*. Truly fascinating how strongly Wayne and Hawks reacted against this film (as Wayne would also against the re-working of the same story in High Plains Drifter). Says a lot about just how reactionary those two were.


*. David Thomson notes how it’s become customary in film circles to pull a face at High Noon, and calls such people snobs. But he then proceeds to pull a face at it, deciding that “it’s not a film to see more than once” (while wondering why Cooper didn’t just fuck Kelly senseless for the 84 minutes he was waiting for the train). Most critics pay a grudging respect to its professional effectiveness, but find it not just simple but simple-minded. Leslie Halliwell gave it four stars, but seems not to have cared for it much: “A minor western with a soft-pedalled message for the world, this turned out to be a classic simply because it was well done.” Manny Farber thought it “deftly fouled-up” and “contrived.” Pauline Kael found in it only a crude civics lesson. Roger Ebert didn’t include it in his three volumes of Great Movies. I can’t really explain this. Yes, it’s a simple movie. But that simplicity, in almost every scene, conceals honest human complexity. This is a movie that is truly great: memorable, moving, and freshly rewarding (pace Thomson) on every re-viewing.


Candyman (1992)


*. I saw this one when it first came out, and I remember being quite impressed. I don’t like it quite as much today, but it still stands out as one of the better horror films of the time.
*. What makes it work, I think, is the open question of whether Candyman is “real” or just a projection of Helen’s own inner demons (he is called forth out of a mirror, after all). I don’t think the latter reading can be sustained all the way, but it is a level that most of the movie can be read on.
*. Virginia Madsen really looks like Sharon Stone here, doesn’t she? But what’s with the scene where the butch guard makes her strip out of her bloody underwear? Kink?
*. Like a lot of cheap but effective horror films, you remember it as being more violent and explicit than it really is. You only see one person get killed. The other gory scenes involve the discovery of dead bodies.
*. The wire clearly visible on Tony Todd as he smashes backward through the window is hard to miss. What a spectacular goof.
*. Clive Barker wasn’t good for very long, but he was the creative force behind a couple of the more original horror efforts that came out during this depressing period. Now I’d agree that isn’t saying very much, but it;s saying something. Alas, for the man once heralded by Stephen King as the “future of horror,” he flamed out pretty fast.


*. I don’t think Barker’s treacle rhetoric is very deep (though Todd makes it sound heavy), and he’s obviously still writing under the influence of his fetish-fascination with pain that is “exquisite,” but the bleak setting and the urban mythology angle help make it seem fresh.
*. Hell hath no fury like . . . a grad student in pursuit of publications and tenure. Oh, and a woman scorned.
*. Almost anything will burn on a bonfire. But most of the stuff on this one struck me as being rather non-flammable. Shopping carts? Who would try and burn a shopping cart?
*. I hate the ending with all the black folk showing up at Helen’s funeral. She’s a hero now? She was the Bride of Candyman!
*. The cast and crew on the commentary track spend a lot of time talking about the racial angle, but even at the time of the film’s release I didn’t find this groundbreaking or particularly noteworthy.
*. Yes, it’s sexual. Helen is obviously unsatisfied with her nerdy hubby (who has other interests anyway), so why not move on to a new lover? And clearly she’ll “never go back,” as the saying goes.
*. But there are limits to a sexual reading. I’m not buying any of what Bernard Rose has to say on the matter: “You know he [Candyman] has basically this sort of huge cock on his hand and, um, he kills people by sticking it in them, in their orifices, that’s part of the movie, I think that’s partly why people like it.” Please. A giant hook is not a huge cock, and he doesn’t stick it in any orifices, he tears new ones. This sort of analysis is so common, and so ridiculous.
*. I’ve never been a big Philip Glass fan, but his music really works with this material. It’s the musical equivalent to Barker’s portentous prose, and plays well off the desolate (and oddly barren) ghetto environment.
*. The bees were real, and look the better for it. Rose redeems himself with his acid commentary on CGI: “Let’s face if folks, CGI looks so phoney. I mean who . . . it’s going to be like the blight . . . late ’90s, early twenty-first century films are going to look so dated in twenty years with all this really cheesy CGI work that goes on in films now.”


Kiss of Death (1947)


*. Victor Mature has a bad rep, receiving a Golden Turkey nomination for worst film actor of all time and inspiring David Thomson to some lovely invective: “It is too easy to dismiss Mature, for he surpasses badness. He is a strong man in a land of hundred-pound weaklings, an incredible concoction of beefsteak, husky voice, and brilliantine — a barely concealed sexual advertisement for soiled goods.”
*. Does he deserve all this? Mostly, yes. Though he’s not bad, or at least he doesn’t seem out of place, playing a stoic monument in this movie. But he’s still stiff even beyond what you expect a big guy to be. I think that perhaps Hathaway sprayed sweat on his face in a couple of scenes just to represent an emotion he thought Mature incapable of expressing.


*. Widmark, on the other hand, really invents his part, complete with a Jack-o-lantern grin and crazy eyes. I also liked the business he made up of constantly wiping his mouth, which invokes hunger, nervousness, and offbeat sexuality.
*. The giggling, however, I thought forced. But then a giggle is a forced laugh, isn’t it? Tom Hulce’s giggles in Amadeus strike me as inauthentic in much the same way.
*. Thomson, again: Tommy Udo “is one of the most frightening people ever revealed on the American screen . . . he changed pictures, and our safe view of their evil characters.”
*. Do contemporary audiences see this? The psycho act was more of a novelty at the time, and would go on to be repeated in countless parodies and caricatures (especially in our own day). Still, the part, I think, is great. Pushing Rizzo’s mother down the stairs and going crazy at the boxing match are two very well-imagined scenes.
*. What kind of a name is “Udo” anyway? Where does it hail from? I’ve never heard it outside of this movie.


*. Almost entirely shot on actual locations but many of the interiors (for example, the D.A.’s office at the Criminal Courts Building and the jail cells in the Tombs) look like sets. Did they pretty them up? This is even registered in the commentary by James Ursini and Alain Silver, where they observe how the cells at the Tombs “look all spiffed up and clean for a Hollywood visit”. The floors and the walls appear to gleam.
*. The last sequence — the meeting at Luigi’s and the subsequent shootout — were filmed on a studio backlot because the original footage, which was shot on location, didn’t look “realistic.” This rather undercuts Hathaway’s whole purpose in shooting on location (“the only way to get realism in pictures is to go out after it”). There’s something ironic in that, I guess.
*. Colleen Gray’s love for Nick is downright creepy. She certainly adopts the role of the babysitter who moves in to the deceased wife’s place rather quickly. The commentary also notes the Oedipal quality to the relationship (noting the scene with her sitting on Nick’s lap), and that may be a fair call too, especially given the over-the-top dialogue she’s saddled with (“I’m mad about you. That’s all I think of — you. I’ve wanted you ever since I was a girl, long ago. When I used to look at you, I’d feel just like now. Every time you kiss me, I almost pass out.”). But really, everything about her just seems weird. For example: When Nick goes to visit her at her boarding house right after he gets paroled, why does she fall to her knees at the top of the stairs when she sees him? What’s that all about?
*. How did Karl Malden get his name on one of the main title cards for this one? How many lines does he have? How many scenes is he in? Nick’s two little girls have more to do.
*. I wonder what happens to the crooked lawyer Earl Howser at the end. Did I miss something? He seems to get away with (ordering) murder, which is odd for a film of the time. Then again, they apparently slipped a shot of a toilet bowl past the censors too.
*. The ’40s were a great age for men’s hats. And for wearing them a certain way. Which is to say, on an angle. Even the lawyer (with bowler) and the prison guard (with cap) set them rakishly. No one wears them square.
*. It’s interesting that they had some trouble settling on a title (the shooting title was Stool Pigeon and Zanuck’s suggestion was Blind Date). Kiss of Death doesn’t seem any more relevant, but at least it sounds better.
*. That ending is a bit ambiguous, isn’t it? The plan was for Nick to die, but the studio didn’t want that to happen, for all the obvious reasons. All we get at the end, however, is Nettie’s assertion that she got what she wanted because she “got Nick.” That could be interpreted in several different ways. For example: “I got to marry Nick,” or “I got to have Nick for a while.” It’s still possible Nick is dead at the end.

Dr. No (1962)


*. And so it began. The great Bond franchise. From the rather weak opening credit sequence  you wouldn’t be expecting much, but the foundation was there in what became the prototype. We have Sean, the groovy Bond theme, the Bond girl (Ursula, a classic even if re-voiced), the supporting administrative cast (at least M and Moneypenny, Q and his toys would have to wait for the next film), the gorgeous international settings, the lecherous banter, a couple of car chases, and a megalomaniacal villain with a magnficent Pinewood hideout that gets destroyed at the end along with most of the movie’s budget (a bit of financial planning that had apparently been forgotten by the time of Skyfall).
*. In later outings these elements would become a formula, and it’s hard to go back to this movie and imagine it as all being part of something new.


*. Connery was only 32 — this was his first major role — but he looks older. His face is so gaunt. And while not skinny, it’s interesting to think that this was what a bodybuilder looked like in the early ’60s.


*. Yes, it is an old dream. But is world domination really Dr. No’s game? Does he have a Napoleon complex? Or does he just want to show the world how smart he is?
*. Jack Lord’s sunglasses don’t seem very masculine. Was that the style for men?
*. The tarantula scene doesn’t work at all. Why would a spider slowly crawl up Bond’s body, under the sheets, without biting him on the foot or the leg? Also, the way the scene had to be shot (with the bed built on an angle and a glass plate for the spider to walk on, because that was a real tarantula), and the use of a double (the cuts from Connery’s sweaty face to a totally dry shoulder and neck are jarring), undercut its effectiveness. Terence Young should have known that if you can’t do something right (i.e., so that it works on screen) then you probably shouldn’t do it at all.
*. Interesting to hear that there were censorship issues involving Bond’s killing of Professor Dent. It was seen as unsporting, and I have to admit I did raise an eyebrow at it myself. Is it in character for Bond to kill Dent “in cold blood”? And wouldn’t it have made more sense to keep him alive, as he’s clearly someone with information about Dr. No? In both ways it does seem wrong.


*. When Honey Ryder tells Bond that the mosquitoes are only after the salt on his skin, and that the way to repel them is to rub water on himself, does that make any sense? I’ve never heard it before.
*. Are we really supposed to believe that Quarrel and Ryder think that Dr. No’s absurd Deathmobile is a dragon? Or that tire treads are dragon tracks?
*. I do love that giant globe in the middle of the reactor control room. It doesn’t seem to have any purpose, but it has a blinking light inside and it’s the kind of thing any megalomaniac dreaming of world domination should have as a prop.
*. The showpiece sets by Ken Adam really were amazing, especially given the budget. His hotel rooms never convince me of their luxury (though I’ll admit, the definition of luxury has changed quite a bit over the years), but for large-scale industrial craziness Adam had a unique vision.