Sunday, 1 May 2016

Dress Down Sunday: Dr No by Ian Fleming


James Bond book 6

published 1958

LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES


Dr No 1

[James Bond is on a beach on a secret Caribbean island, and sees someone…]

It was a naked girl, with her back to him. She was not quite naked. She wore a broad leather belt round her waist with a hunting knife in a leather sheath at her right hip. The belt made her nakedness extraordinarily erotic. She stood not more than five yards away on the tideline looking down at something in her hand. She stood in the classical relaxed pose of the nude, all the weight on the right leg and the left knee bent and turning slightly inwards, the head to one side as she examined the things in her hand. It was a beautiful back…

Her hair was ash blonde. It was cut to the shoulders and hung there and along the side of her bent cheek in thick wet strands. A green diving mask was pushed back above her forehead, and the green rubber thong bound her hair at the back. The whole scene, the empty beach, the green and blue sea, the naked girl with the strands of fair hair, reminded Bond of something. He searched his mind. Yes, she was Botticelli’s Venus, seen from behind.

Dr No 2


commentary: This is probably the most famous arrival of a Bond girl in the entire canon, although of course the equally famous film version is considerably bowdlerised (if that’s the word) because Ursula Andress couldn’t be naked – she has to wear what by modern standards is a pretty substantial bikini. But I had to use that picture, because the whole thing is iconic.

This is book 6, and it’s a great one – exotic location, very focused on one clear story, but with some great turnarounds and changes of tone. The scary dragons with flames coming out of their mouths, protecting something on the mystery island, are terrific.

Dr No begins with Bond recovering from the dreadful events at the end of From Russia with Love. He is not in good nick, health-wise, and he has lost the regard of his boss M. As if that wasn’t enough, a new smug armourer, Major Boothroyd, tells him that his Beretta is a ‘ladies’ gun’ and he is forced to replace it. Then he is sent on what seems like a footling assignment – more of a Caribbean holiday. Find out what happened to a missing agent and his assistant. Surely they have just run away together? Surely not. Naturally this is not going to turn out to be a holiday at all…

Fleming lived on Jamaica for part of the year, and the local colour has a real ring of authenticity. There is a horrible incident with a deadly centipede. Bond gets fit with the help of his old friend Quarrel, though frankly, I think his exercise regime sounds a bit too much like a luxury spa:
Bond fixed his training routine – up at seven, swim a quarter of a mile, breakfast, an hour’s sunbathing, run a mile, swim again, lunch, sleep, sunbathe, swim a mile, hot bath and massage, dinner and asleep by nine.
Honeychile Rider is an interesting Bond girl, almost falling over into child-like cliché but not quite, always holding our attention. I liked this description of her:
She was dressed almost in rags – a faded brown shirt with torn sleeves and a knee-length patched brown cotton skirt held in place by the leather belt with the knife. She had a canvas knapsack slung over one shoulder. She looked like a principal girl dressed as Man Friday.
Kingsley Amis, in his invaluable James Bond Dossier, talks of Fleming/Bond, and the accusation that he/they are misogynists. Looking specifically at Honeychile Rider, he says:
I suppose it is conceivable that the man who wrote that ‘hates women terribly’, but I can’t feel that he obviously does.
And I agree with him: I am ever on the alert for what I consider to be problematic male writing, and am a very strong feminist. Of course there are attitudes and remarks in these books that I wince at – they are very much of their time, and would be unacceptable now. But overall, I think Amis is right. I was expecting much worse from Bond when I started re-reading the books.

Strangely there is a minor character in the book called May – the same name as Bond’s housekeeper back in London. (We were wondering recently what Bond’s secretary does all day. Might ask the same question of May the treasure.)

Another item from Fleming’s letters: The whole business with the gun is based on an exchange of letters Fleming had (in real life) with an expert in small arms, and the correspondent is actually given the part of armourer to the department in the books from now on.

Pictures show Ursula Andress in Dr No, and Brigitte Bardot in … And God Created Woman. I found a rather wonderful pic of a panto of Robinson Crusoe in Worthing – do go and look  here, (not supposed to reproduce the picture), the dancing young woman on the left has that Honeychile Rider look.












14 comments:

  1. Oh, Ursula Andress is indeed iconic in that film version of the novel, Moira, isn't she? And I agree with you that the story is nicely focused. I have to admit, though, that I find it really hard to get past the attitudes of that time. And that's odd, because I can understand them, if not exactly like them, in other novels. Not these, though. Go figure.

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    1. We each react individually don't we? Our brains are making our minds up for us, and we can't probably define exactly which detail pushed it over the line... either towards acceptability, or un-acceptability. It's a complex area...

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  2. It's a massively enjoyable book. There is a sort of expansive, relaxed quality to it, which may possibly have something to do with the fact that the previous book had finally made the series a huge success (or maybe not, I'm not certain when he started writing it). The difference in tone between this and the previous book is quite marked. You almost feel as if Fleming were trying to see what he could get away with in terms of plot, as it is really moving from the more-or-less real world of honey-traps and hit-men into something where a pincer-handed supervillain hides in his secret base (complete with gigantic underwater glass window), pondering his bird-poo financed campaign against mankind whilst putting poor old 007 through a version of one of the more sadistic Japanese game show. You can see why EON started with this movie, as it is almost designed for the silver screen, with the great settings and amazing sets. They replaced the killer centipede with a killer spider, but the scene in the book is one that has stuck with me over the years. It's a superb bit of writing.

    Honey is a great change of pace from the previous Bond girls, being very much in the mold of characters such as Sheena-Queen of the Jungle from the 1930s comic strips. If I remember right, Honey has a broken nose in the book, which is another thing that they didn't do in the movie. Even so, I can't believe that Fleming was entirely disappointed when Ursula Andress rose from the depths complete with bra and unbroken schnozzle.

    Being the first adaption, the movie version keeps the scene in with Boothroyd. From the second movie he was played by Desmond Llewelyn, and developed into the character known as 'Q'. Had they adapted another of the books he might not have appeared, so it's good that they didn't, as he is a major part of the franchise.

    The problem is that now you've put that bit with the ROBINSON CRUSOE Panto in Worthing in my mind, I can't get it out. I keep imagining Dr. NO on stage, with Honey done in the style of the Principal Boy, slapping her thighs and giving 007 warnings "Behind you, James....no, behhiiiiiind you!" You could have the evil Dr. No leading the kids in a singalong, and a scene with 007 fighting a puppet giant squid (what did you think of the squid?)

    I do hope that you're doing another post on this!

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    1. I'm so glad someone doesn't think I'm doing too much. Probably no more on this one, and on to Goldfinger...
      There SO should be a James Bond panto, what a theme. Or, a Gerry and Sylvia Anderson puppet extravaganze, going with your other theme, 'James Bond is ... GO!'
      You did warn me about the squid when I did Live and Let Die, I do like a giant cephalopod (?is that right).
      And yes, I loved it, really enjoyed this one, for all the reasons you describe so well.
      And yes, she has a broken nose, and when she sees Bond she puts her hand over her face rather than any other area...

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  3. I am looking forward to getting to this point in the books, so I can be rewatching the Connery movies after I read each book. Now that I have finished Moonraker, after that one the next four will be Connery movies. Then back to ... Roger Moore I think.

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    1. I really have to start watching the films Tracy - if I'd been a bit more organized about this I could have done posts covering film and book.

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    2. When you get to ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE a combined movie/book post would be great. That film is so different from the other Bond films. It's still a Bond movie and it has some great action scenes but it's rather different in tone. There are quite a few Bond fans who think it's the best of all the Bond movies. I'd certainly put it in the top three.

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    3. OK, it's a deal, I will try to get hold of the DVD in plenty of time, I have a few to go before I reach OHMSS...

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  4. James Bond panto does sound like fun Moira! This was, I think, the first Bond novel I read. I think I have always preferred GOLDFINGER, RUSSIA and CASINO because I prefer the villains as they are less obviously in the Fu Manchu mould - apparently Fleming thought be perfected the Bond formular with DR NO however, so what do I know ...

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    1. I do see what you mean about the villains, but I did enjoy this one, and think Gary, above, is correct in his analysis of why they chose it for the first film. Goldfinger is next up, then some short stories, then Thunderball - which had a different genesis didn't it? I am enjoying these books so much...

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    2. then Thunderball - which had a different genesis didn't it?

      THUNDERBALL was a bit controversial, with a messy court case. And there are two film versions. The original THUNDERBALL was I believe the biggest hit of the entire series.

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    3. Yes, I have already read a rather fascinating Len Deighton short piece about Thunderball...

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  5. Moira, I am looking for a stack of Ian Fleming paperbacks to read and possibly review. I need to look at Bond from his creator's point of view and not just the Broccolis as I have been doing all these years.

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    1. I'm sure you will enjoy the books Prashant, and I hope you might be able to pick up some cheap copies -there must be so many of them in print there should be bargains...

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