Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Dr. No: A Review Celebrating The 55th Anniversary Of 007's First Adventure

Source: MGM/Sony Pictures/EON Productions

Secret Agent James Bond 007- where should we begin? As I had mentioned in one of my previous posts, the 007 series is the top of my favorite list when it comes to film series. It is also one of the most popular and, at 55 years and counting, is the longest running series in movie history. Bond's introduction ("Bond...James Bond") was voted as the most famous line in the history of movies and his faithful movie followers grow in numbers every year. His choice of drink (Vodka Martini- shaken, not stirred) is world famous and his influence on the action and adventure films genre is ever present. James Bond's journey from a 1950's best selling series of spy thrillers written by his creator, Ian Fleming, to the silver screen was almost as disastrous as some of the evil plots he would foil in ensuing years to come, but nevertheless his string of box office success has proved that he is truly indestructible. I could easily dedicate a whole post just to telling the story of Bond's journey to the big screen but for now let's focus on answering the question posed at the beginning of the article- Where should we begin? Answer- at the beginning of course!

In October of 1962 moviegoers in the United Kingdom were treated to a brand new adventure that was not only exciting but also proudly presented a true British hero to the world. What they discovered was not only a homeland hero but the beginnings of what would become one of the most successful film series in the history of cinema. After a string of failed attempts to get his character brought to life in a full length feature film, James Bond creator Ian Fleming eventually met with a duo that had the vision and the right connections to get the series started, producers Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. The original intention was to make a movie of Fleming's novel "Thunderball" which was initially written as a film script and turned into a novel. However, some legal dispute issues raised from a previous potential producer concerning that book became a cause of concern for the producers. Additionally, the studio that was funding the project, United Artists, was offering a budget that was much too modest for a project as ambitious as "Thunderball". Fortunately Fleming had written nine Bond books by the time they were ready to being turning the book series into movies, so there were other options. The idea now was to figure out which story would be the easiest to shoot within the restrictions of the budget they were given ($1 million which, even in 1962, was not a large sum for a feature film production). In spite of the limited budget Broccoli and Saltzman were determined to make a film for the ages and finally decided that Dr. No was the best story to go with. They had a script treatment completed and began acquiring their production crew.

The first major step in the process was to hire a director that could fit the scope and scale that the producers had in mind for James Bond, but also someone who would be willing to work for a salary that was reasonable in comparison to their budgetary restrictions (Alfred Hitchcock was the original choice to direct). Enter Terence Young, who had previously worked with Cubby Broccoli on the 1953 film The Red Beret. Young's sense of style and tone were a perfect fit to set James Bond in motion, so the next step was to find the right person to be their leading man. Many names were brought up including Carey Grant, who had starred in some of Hitchcock's spy thrillers and was also a close friend of Cubby Broccoli. Grant was flattered to be considered but was not willing to commit to an ongoing series. Some other actors expressed the same issue, stating that starring in two or three films would be the most they would be willing to commit to. The decision was then made to find an unknown actor who would not balk at a longer term commitment. Fortune smiled on them when Sean Connery, who had also worked previously with Terence Young in 1957's Action Of The Tiger, expressed interest in auditioning for the part. According to stories told over the years Connery came in to visit the producers looking very unkempt and "scrufty". However he had a demeanor and a toughness about him that shone through the visual impression and upon seeing the stature with which he walked (Saltzman once said he "moved like a cat") they decided they had found their man. Once he agreed to take the role Connery was instructed to stay with Terence Young so he could be "polished" and shown how to present himself as a high profile, proper, British gentleman. With their director and leading man now in place, the producers rounded out the cast and traveled to Jamaica in January of 1962 to being filming.

Dr. No begins in with the murder of Commander Strangways, the British Intelligence agent stationed in Jamaica, and his secretary. Following the death of Strangways and his secretary the killers raid a filing cabinet in their office and take two files named "Doctor No" and "Crab Key" respectively. British Intelligence has been looking closely at Jamaica recently since the Americans have been complaining about "massive interference" with their space rocket program and they believe the disturbance is emanating from an area near Jamaica. Once the offices of British Intelligence fail to make contact with Strangways they request an investigation which is forwarded to the offices of MI-6, the secret service branch. The head of MI-6, known only as "M", requests that James Bond, Agent 007, be located with instructions to report right away. We find 007 casually enjoying a game of Chemin De Fer (a French card game) against a very lovely lady named Sylvia Trench (played by Eunice Gayson). After seeing Bond's unending luck with the cards Ms. Trench comments "I admire your luck Mr...?" "Bond....James Bond" he replies (masterly delivered by Connery). It only takes this moment to recognize that James Bond is the ultimate connoisseur and very much a ladies man. He exudes confidence and style which draws Ms. Trench to him more and more. Unfortunately their encounter is cut short when Bond receives his message to report but offers to meet up with Ms. Trench another time. Once Bond enters the offices of MI-6 (which includes his continuous interludes with the charming Miss Moneypenny played wonderfully by Lois Maxwell)  he meets with M to be briefed on his new assignment, the investigation of the disappearance of Commander Strangways. Discovering what happened to Strangways could also offer some answers about the issue of the rocket interference as well. Bond is issued his new gun, a Walther PPK, and his tickets to Jamaica. He runs home to pack for his trip and enters his flat to discover that Ms. Trench has found her way in. Not wanting to be "impolite" to Ms. Trench he lets her know that he has to leave "almost immediately", making sure there is time to make her trip a worthwhile endeavor (as only James Bond does).

Once arriving in Jamaica it does not take Bond long to see that his presence there is not a welcome one. He is constantly followed, potentially kidnapped, and has numerous attempts made on his life, all of which he foils with suave and panache as audiences would come to expect in ensuing years. One particularly elaborate, and unsettling, attempt to kill Bond occurs when he is awakened in his bed by a large tarantula spider crawling up his arm. The scene is very tense and makes the viewer cringe upon sight of the massive arachnid. As Bond continues his investigation he is drawn closer and closer to the mysterious character named Doctor No who inhabits a small island of Crab Key. Despite some claims that Crab Key does not hold the clues that Bond is looking for he is convinced that the island is exactly where his answers lie. Luckily Bond has two allies with him - an American CIA agent named Felix Leiter (brilliantly played by Jack Lord of TV's Hawaii 5-0 fame) and Leiter's local contact Quarrel (played by John Kitzmiller). Bond convinces them to assist him in sneaking into Crab Key to have a closer look. While Bond is snooping around the island with Quarrel he encounters Honey Rider (played by Ursula Andress), who is visiting the island to look for seashells (this encounter sets up one of the many classic Bond one liners. When Honey tells Bond she is looking for shells she asks if he is doing the same. He replies, "no...I'm just looking"). It must be said that Ms. Andress' beauty is stunning and her emergence from sea when she is first introduced in the film is also an iconic moment of cinema.

Bond and Honey are ultimately captured by Dr. No's henchmen and are taken to the villain's lair (magnificently designed by Ken Adam who would go on to create some of James Bond's greatest set pieces) where they are confronted by Dr. No himself (played by Joseph Wiseman). Dr. No confesses to admiring Bond's abilities and foolishly hopes to coerce him into joining forces with the evil organization known as "S.P.E.C.T.R.E" of which Dr. No is a part. Naturally Bond dismisses the offer and reminds Dr. No that his plan is doomed to fail. Our hero is subsequently beaten up and thrown in a cell while Dr. No plans to take out another American rocket following his encounter with Bond. It's up to 007 to escape and to destroy Dr. No and his lair to prevent a war that could ignite between countries if space rockets continue to be tampered with. As expected, we know that 007 will succeed but the exciting way it unfolds is what makes it so much fun.

In my opinion, Dr. No has become more unique in recent years just as much as it was when it was released back in 1962. Upon it's release it was quite unlike most movies of its kind due to it's blend of brutal violence, inherent sexual overtones, style and sophistication. But as the years have gone on and the Bond series continues to grow and prosper (there have been 24 films released by EON Productions and one "non-official" film in 1983 released by Orion Pictures) one must give great admiration to Dr. No because it was solid totally on its own merit. The future Bond films would establish and rely on a formula of exotic locations, clever gadgets, witty one-liners, amazing stunts, etc., but Dr. No did not have the luxury of a formula to lean on. It had to be daring and original and lean on the strength of the story and its characters to gain its audience. Yes there was great action, beautiful locations (the Bond films served as literal travelogue in it's early days when people did not have the luxury to travel all over the world or search the internet), and a timeless theme James Bond theme (composed by Monty Norman and performed by John Barry's Orchestra), but not quite to the level that future films would be able to deliver. Yet the film holds up remarkably well in comparison to the other entries in the series. One cannot say enough about Sean Connery's performance as Bond. He so perfectly personified the character of Bond that following the release of the movie creator Ian Fleming started to alter the character in the books to be closer to Connery's interpretation. This was significant when you consider that Fleming was totally against the casting of Connery, believing that he lacked the class and sophistication that was needed to play the part. The remainder of the cast was also very good- Joseph Wiseman was masterful as Dr. No (he remains my favorite Bond villain to date), Ursula Andress is sultry and dangerous as Honey Rider, Jack Lord is a perfect Felix Leiter, and John Kitzmiller gives a genuine performance as the often superstitious but loyal friend Quarrel. We are also introduced to Bernard Lee as "M" and Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny who would both become reoccurring regulars in the series.

Ultimately the producer's vision of turning James Bond into a successful film series paid off. Dr. No would go on to gross nearly $60 million dollars at the box office and spawn a global interest in the character of James Bond. The studio green lit another film right away and the rest as we know is now movie history. Connery would go on to star in five more "official" Bond films as well as one "non-official" film two decades later. By the present time it is estimated that over one quarter of the world's population has seen at least one James Bond film and he is forever embedded as a staple of popular culture. With the exception of the die hard 007 loyalists Dr. No tends to be one of the more overlooked entries, the sort of "oh yeah, that was a good one too" titles that lives in the shadow of Goldfinger and some other favorites. But it is an injustice to forget the importance of Dr. No's contribution to the series and the deep roots it would spawn through its great acting, direction, and overall creativity. Highly recommended viewing, for Bond enthusiasts as well as film lovers in general.

I hope you enjoyed this first review of the James Bond series. Much like the series itself, Roy's Reel Review will return...

Reel Rating (Out Of a Possible Four):

 Internet Movie Database
Pfeiffer, Lee; Worrall, Dave (1998). The Essential Bond.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Saturday Night Fever: A 40th Anniversary Retrospect

Source: Paramount Pictures
  In celebration of its 40th anniversary I wanted to offer a retrospective review of Saturday Night Fever, a film that I not only consider to be one of my favorite films, but also one that still stands as one of the great contemporary dramas of all time. Throughout the history of film there have been movies that not only tell a great story but also connect so strongly to their audiences that they leave an influence on popular culture that is seldom forgotten. Saturday Night Fever not only resonated with its audience, it became an iconic symbol of 1970's culture that made disco the musical sensation of the world and disco clubs the place to be in practically every corner of the globe.

   In 1955 James Dean's Rebel Without A Cause became the celluloid embodiment of the youth movement of it's time. Shortly following the movies release people were wearing their hair like James Dean and trying to dress, walk , and talk like him too. Fast forward to 1976 when entertainment entrepreneur Robert Stigwood was inspired to develop a film treatment of an article written by Nik Cohn in New York magazine entitled "Tribal Rites of  the New Saturday Night", a story about the underground disco nightlife. Stigwood saw a tremendous opportunity to turn this story into a successful movie and knew the perfect face to sell the picture to the public- John Travolta, star of TV's "Welcome Back Kotter". Travolta met with Stigwood about the movie and after reading the script he was confident this could be his big break into feature films.Travolta immersed himself into the project by training to get in shape as well as spending countless hours working with dance instructor Danny Terrio to become the silver screen's ultimate disco dancer. His hard work and effort were rewarded in spades. Saturday Night Fever turned Travolta into an international sensation, Golden Globe winner, Academy Award nominee, and the face of an entire generation. Like James Dean before him, he became the image that everyone wanted to be.

 Saturday Night Fever tells the story of Tony Manero from Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, New York. Tony is a relatively immature young adult who lives a simple life working at a paint store and spending his nights hanging out with his friends who proudly call themselves "The Faces".  While most of his friends are happy with living their day to day lives Tony is convinced that there is more to life and he believes his ticket to a bigger and better world lies on the other side of the Verrazano Bridge in Manhattan. Tony's problem is he has not yet figured out what he can do to make the leap into this better life he envisions, but what he does have going for him is his dancing. At the local disco, named 2001, Tony is the king of the dance floor and the guy everybody comes to see. Women are constantly throwing themselves at him, especially his old flame and current dance partner Annette (played by Donna Pescow), until the night he encounters Stephanie Mangano (played by Karen Lynn Gorney). Tony is intrigued by Stephanie and once she makes it clear to him that she is not going to be one of the women swooning over him he can't resist the urge to get to know her. Tony's persistence eventually convinces her to meet up with him for some coffee. During their sit down he senses right away that she is the epitome of what he wants to be- someone from the blue collar part of town that got a break on the other side of the tracks and is succeeding in life. He eventually builds up the courage to ask her to be his dance partner in an upcoming dance contest at 2001 with the hope that dancing together will bring them closer as a couple. His plan finds some success as Stephanie slowly sees herself becoming more drawn to Tony than she previously thought, but unfortunately for Tony each time she gets closer to him his immature, and reckless, lifestyle manages to rear up and remind her that he represents everything that she has worked hard to leave in her past and avoid in her future. For Tony, the harder he tries to pursue the life he has dreamed of and strengthen his relationship with Stephanie, his current reality pulls him further away from his dream and eventually he is forced to make a choice between continuing with the life he is living or walk away from everything and everyone in order to take a chance at the life he hopes to have.

 Saturday Night Fever is superbly cast and each actor provides a wonderful sense of realism to their characters. John Travolta gives the performance of a lifetime as Tony and he is so powerful on screen that he makes everyone around him even better than they are on their own. Director John Badham, who was not even the original director chosen to make the film, gives the film the right amount of grittiness with an equal amount of sensitivity when the scenes call for it. The soundtrack, a multi-platinum selling sensation, provides a whole other layer of narrative to the story and adds flavor and excitement at all the right times. The opening credits sequence alone perfectly sets the connection of music to story and it never loses pace. David Rawlins editing is spot on and Ralf D. Bode's cinematography puts the viewer front and center of the disco dancing experience unlike anything else (the line dancing sequence that runs with the Bee Gee's hit "Night Fever" is breath taking).

 The film does have some disturbing elements when viewing it for the first time- the dialogue is loaded with profanity, slandering racist attitudes, as well as some harsh, cruel and insensitive behavior towards women (most of these elements were a sad by-product of the time the film was made). While a lot of these attitudes and actions are not a reflection on the actors who portrayed them, they do contribute to the gritty realism within the context of the story that gives this movie a harder edge that initially might not be expected of it. To the unknowing viewer this movie can easily be dismissed as a mindless, music blaring dance movie that was only meant to promote record sales (just reference 1978's Thank God It's Friday to drive home my point). But the story that drives Saturday Night Fever, Tony's dream to become something more than he is forced to accept, is it's strongest attribute that has been sadly overshadowed over the years by the constraints of the films identity as the benchmark of the 1970's disco craze.

 I strongly encourage you, if you have never watched Saturday Night Fever, take the time to watch it. If you are someone who has let years go by without seeing it again, I equally encourage you to revisit it and enjoy a true triumph of drama, dance, romance, and tragedy. Additionally, if you want to avoid the disturbing elements of the film previously mentioned, there was a re-released, PG rated version that did find its way to home video but maybe a little harder to find.

When Saturday Night Fever was released in 1977 the poster campaign's slogan was "Saturday Night Fever- Catch It"- I hope you do the same.

Reel Rating (Out of A Possible Four):      

Roy's Reel Of Fame Selection 

*Editor's Note- This review is affectionately dedicated to the late Gene Siskel, co-host of the hugely successful movie review television series "Siskel & Ebert" (the show ran from 1986-2010 but sadly Gene passed away in 1999). Gene proudly proclaimed Saturday Night Fever as one of his favorite films of all time and there's no doubt that his glowing review of the film upon it's release played a part in it's positive critical reception back in 1977.*
Gene Siskel is pictured her (on the right) alongside of his co-host and longtime friend Roger Ebert
Source: PBS via Photofest


Thursday, February 9, 2017

Roy's Favorite Films (And Film Series)

Hello Again!! As previously promised here is a quick list of my all time favorites that have hit the silver screen. While I have many, many more films that I could add to the list I thought it best to focus on what I consider a top 12. Also note that this list is not in any particular order with the exception of number one which is my all-time favorite. I loved these films so much it was too nerve-wracking to try and rank them!! 😣 Following the top 12 individual films I have also made a list of my favorite film series as well. Enjoy and let me know what you think!


Top Ten Films:

1) Rocky (1976)
2) Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)
3) Star Wars (1977)
4) The Godfather (1972)
5) Casablanca (1942)
6) Carlito's Way (1993)
7) The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
8) Batman Begins (2005)
9) Blade Runner (1982)
10) Saturday Night Fever (1977)
11) Rebel Without A Cause (1955)
12) Forbidden Planet (1956)

Favorite Film Series:

-James Bond 007
-Star Trek
-Indiana Jones
-Star Wars
-The Nolan Trilogy of Batman Films
-The Terminator (Up To Part III)
-The Man With No Name Clint Eastwood Series
-Lethal Weapon
-The Expendables

Welcome To Roy's Reel Film Review!!!

Welcome! Welcome! Welcome! It is a HUGE honor and privilege to welcome you to my new website, Roy's Reel Film Review! This has been an idea a long time in the making and I finally decided to make the time to get the "reels" in motion.

 For starters allow me to offer you some background to get a little bit of a better perspective about me.  After all, if you are checking out this page and you don't already know me then you are probably asking yourself "who is this guy Roy anyway?"The first and most important thing to tell you is that, like most of you, I have been a movie buff from the first moment I sat in front of a theater screen (the film was Star Trek: The Motion Picture to satisfy anyone's curiosity). I also must confess that I am old enough to remember a time before home video was commonplace and catching a movie in the cinema or during it's television premiere was a major event. Fortunately for me my passion for film was inherited by my father who has also been a movie buff for most of his life. As a youngster I was able to see the original Star Wars Trilogy, the Indiana Jones films, Blade Runner, and many others just to name a few. I still remember experiencing the total phenomenon that was Tim Burton's Batman in 1989, but as big as that was the definitive highlight in my fandom was having the privilege to attend the Royal Premiere of two James Bond films, Die Another Day (2002) and Casino Royale (2006).

 Just based on some of my favorite movie memories that I mentioned you should be getting an idea of what types of films I like, but to make sure this introduction was not too long I will also be posting a list of my favorite films (and film series) to give some more insight. As the years have progressed my passion and interest for film has continued to grow as well as my appreciation for all of those who bring us great movies year after year.

 In the weeks and months to come I will be writing some reviews of some my all-time favorite films as a great way to get things going (and hopefully start some good conversations to go with it). In addition to reviews I would like to add in some ed-op pieces, polls, and other fun stuff based on topics and feedback suggested by you the readers. Your input and support is invaluable and the chance to interact with readers and friends makes everything worth while. Finally, if you have any suggestions or ideas it would be great to hear them, just email me at reelfans@roysreelfilmreview.com. Until then, thanks again for your time and support and I will catch you on the next reel!