In the first installment of Bond Night, Michael O’Connor tackles Sean Connery’s inaugural turn as 007 in Dr. No.
Bond Night is a tradition started between myself, a bonafide Bondian, and friends whose exposure to the James Bond film franchise was limited. One film a month is paired with a region-appropriate cuisine and cocktail and spirited discourse about each film’s merits and shortcomings. The goal of this column is to translate that experience here, walking newbies and Bond-experts alike through fifty years of the British super-spy’s cinematic history (from Dr. No through today) and declassifying all the secret intel necessary for you to host your own Bond Night with friends and family.
Welcome to Bond Night! When I started this experiment with some friends of mine, I was concerned. Their initial impression sight-unseen of classic Bond films (like Dr. No) was Sean Connery sitting around on trains for two laborious hours. I happen to love older films and grew up watching (and re-watching) the Bond films with my father, but for my friends, anything that predates 1977’s original Star Wars is suspect.
Would the older films hold up to a modern sensibility conditioned on non-stop action and fast cut edits? Would my friends like it, or would they threaten mutiny, exclaiming that my old man films were outdated and dull? A year-and-a-half later, I’m pleased to report that Bond Night remains a success at the O’Connor household and a monthly event that is met with both anticipation and excitement.
Hopefully, you’ll be able to share in that same excitement with each installment of this column. To get you prepared, let’s take a quick walkthrough of the six regular sections in each Bond Night entry.
HISTORY will give you a brief overview of the film covering everything from how closely it hews to the source material to what was going on behind the scenes.
DINE is dedicated to discussing a matching cuisine for the film based on a region or country where the film takes place.
DRINK will instruct you on how to construct a classic Bond cocktail that pairs with each film.
INTERMISSION is your guide when to pause the film and head back to the bar for another round of drinks.
VERDICT gives you the lowdown on my friends’ differing opinions on the particular film, the things they noticed and what they took away from the movie-going experience.
RANK pits the current Bond film against all that have come prior in consecutive order.
Got it? Great! Let’s talk Dr. No!
It surprises many fans of the film series to learn that Dr. No was not the first novel that James Bond creator Ian Fleming wrote about his famous super-spy. Nor was it the second, or third. It was actually the SIXTH novel. So why not start from the beginning? Well, Casino Royale is kind of a bummer.
Beyond just the big torture scene on Bond’s balls at the end of the second act and Bond losing the love of his life when she commits suicide, it’s mostly a book about our hero being kind of a failure and a screw-up and in well over his head. That stuff plays great in the melancholic and tragic novel and in the 2006 film, set in a post-9/11 world and as a necessary course-correction from the excesses of the Brosnan era. But it’s not exactly the way to kick off a film franchise in the swinging 60s.
Dr. No (1962), by contrast, has all the elements of classic Bond that the producers were seeking. In the book, Bond gets his famous Walther PPK (previously he’d been armed with a Beretta), goes on a one-and-done mission to an exotic locale, meets the bewitching mermaid fantasy of a Bond Girl, Honeychile Rider, and fights a megalomaniac with an island base, a mechanical dragon and a giant man-eating squid. All of this made it to the screen; well, except for the giant man-eating squid.
Dr. No perfectly encapsulates the pulpy male power fantasy appeal of the character and happens to be one of the better novels in the series. It was a no-brainer as the first of Ian Fleming’s novels to adapt and the producers were wise to bring Director Terence Young aboard the project.
Young, by many reports, was a real-life James Bond: suave, fashionable, manly in the classic aristocratic tradition. Scottish actor Sean Connery, on the other hand, was a strange choice on paper to inhabit the role, given his burly, coarse, decidedly blue collar manner. Before we all attributed his performance to the definition of cool affluence, Connery must have looked like a gorilla in a penguin suit to outsiders.
Fortunately, Young realized he had a diamond in the rough and coaxed the greatness out of Connery’s natural charisma and sex appeal by educating the younger man on topics ranging from fashion to posture to gentlemanly behavior and even going so far as to set him up with his tailor. Connery’s performance in Dr. No may very well be his finest; it’s raw and grounded and the implied threat of violence is always there just beneath the thin veneer of civility, charm and black humor. It’s this contrast between civilized aristocrat and feral animal that Connery masters so well, and it’s a central reason why in his finer performances it’s hard to argue that any other actor can surpass his interpretation.
The film is set almost entirely in Jamaica, so if you have access to Jamaican cuisine, it’s a no-brainer. Jamaican cuisine consists largely of chicken and fish main dishes served with sides of rice and beans or cabbage, yams and okra. The chicken is usually served “jerk” style, marinated or dry-rubbed with a very hot blend of Jamaican spices.
If you have a local restaurant that specializes in the cuisine, I always recommend take-out for Bond Night. You’ll be busy enough hosting and preparing drinks. Committing to a full cooked meal can be a bit of a burden every month if cooking isn’t a profound passion of yours.
Other alternatives to Jamaican cuisine include Cuban food, which shares several similarities or Hawaiian (or Island) BBQ. The point is to get something a little exotic, a little spicy and unfamiliar to your daily palate.
Rum is the national drink of Jamaica and the daiquiri is a classic cocktail that features in Fleming novels The Man With the Golden Gun and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. While Bond himself never partook of the stuff, he was missing out. Simple, potent and refreshing, the daiquiri would likely have been right up his alley.
The daiquiri requires not just any rum, but specifically white rum. I went with Denizen Rum, a Jamaican white rum bottled in Amsterdam that is pretty spectacular for the price ($19 in my market). If that’s unavailable in your region, Greenbar’s Crusoe Organic Rum, Flor de Caña, or Banks 5 Island Rum are all good substitutes.
My cocktail philosophy is, wherever possible, go simple and go classic. It’s tempting in cocktails to add everything but the kitchen sink, but when you weigh your drink down with too many mixers, fruits and syrups, you can’t taste the base liquor at the heart of it. Bond’s tastes lean towards strong and simple and that’s the mantra I’ll be adopting more often than not. The benefit is that it requires no special skills to make these drinks. The downside is you might have to invest in some slightly more expensive, higher quality liquors since you’ll actually be tasting them rather than obscuring them with juices.
- 2 ounces Denizen White Rum
- 1/2 ounce lime juice from a real lime
- 1 teaspoon simple syrup
If you don’t have simple syrup, it’s a cinch to make. Put one cup of white sugar and one cup of water in a pot and heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Let it cool and then store in the fridge at least a few hours prior to making your cocktails. You’ll have enough to last you awhile.
Put the ingredients listed above into a shaker, add some ice, and give it your best bartender impression. After a vigorous shaking, strain the liquid sans ice into a glass and garnish with a thin lime wheel.
Pause your copy of the film at the end of the scene when Bond says “That’s a Smith and Wesson and you’ve had your six.” It should be right around the 58:48 mark depending on what version of the film you have (I’ve got the Blu-Ray from the 50th Anniversary boxset).
Dr. No is a solid Bond film and certainly one of Connery’s best, but viewers used to the pacing of more modern entries are going to feel the drag. The film starts as few other Bond films, as a mystery and procedural with Bond investigating the death of a British agent in Jamaica. There is a palpable sense of tension as Bond’s enemies attempt to kill him by increasingly less subtle means, but it’s a slow burn and Bond is more of a spy here than the superhuman agent he would become in later entries. This is a guy who checks his room to see if it’s been bugged or if anyone has been through his stuff; he’s not yet driving tanks through Moscow or skiing off mountains and parachuting to safety.
If your guests can stay engaged until the second half, that’s when the action really picks up as Bond and his compatriots reach Dr. No’s island and begin to unravel the weird and twisted goings-on there.
One of my guests struggled to stay awake during the first half of the film (pro tip: don’t start watching the film after midnight, as we did). But after intermission and a drink refresher, he was captivated by the second half of the film. Ursula Andress and her shells might have had something to do with that.
Even despite the slower pacing, my guests all had favorable impressions. One guest was surprised by the ways in which the film evoked the more recent Daniel Craig films with its more grounded sensibility, lack of gadgets and the imposing, almost spectral threat of the villainous mastermind, Dr. No.
Another guest more familiar with the Bond formula commented in amazement at how many of the tropes we associate with Bond are there right from the beginning, from the Bond theme to the iconic “Bond, James Bond” line, the martini shaken not stirred, Ms. Moneypenny, M, and the megalomaniacal villain with his fantastical underground lair.
And then, there’s the The Coors Light Scene in the final moments of the film of course.
I suppose I should explain. The Coors Light Scene is a recurring joke amongst Bond Night participants. A particularly common trope in the franchise is for Bond to end up in a boat with his amor du’jour (apparently bodies of water are Bond’s Viagra). If you’ve heard the old joke, then you probably get the reference already, but if you haven’t, here it is:
How is Coors Light like sex in a canoe? Because they’re both f*****g close to water. Feel free to substitute in your American mass-market lager of choice.
(Editor’s note: Coors Light, or Supercolds, are from the Rockies by way of Heaven, and the delicious lifeblood of many a RetroZap production. -Joe)
One Bond film down, twenty three to go.
- Dr. No
Bond Night Will Return with From Russia With Love…
Michael O’Connor is a writer, filmmaker, and designer with a deep affection for film, literature, comic books… and craft beer. You can read his musings, check out his stories and watch his films at OCONNOBLOG. You can also check out his apparel company, George Shot First, and pick up a one-of-a-kind t-shirt or hat in honor of Star Wars creator George Lucas! Follow him on Twitter and Facebook at the links below.