Bond Pretitle Sequences: Dr No
Simon Pitt |
Monday 26th August
I’m watching all of the Bond pre-credit teasers one after another.
I’ve been looking at this image of each Bond actor firing at the camera (above) for two months now. Each article I’ve written in this series, charting the opening sequence of James Bond films, features this at the top. I realised the other day it reminded me of something. As the Bonds move across the screen, they seem to straighten up. It’s like the famous Evolution of Man drawing. Only poor old George Lazenby should be bottom ape, and not Connery. I suppose Connery was hairier though.
But, nevertheless, here we are, at the original James Bond film, the one that started it all: Dr No. Unlike every other Bond film, Dr No doesn’t have a pre-title sequence.
Although that’s not true. Dr No does have a sequence before the credits. In fact, it has the most famous pre-title sequence of any film ever made.
An off screen assassin is watching Bond as he walks slowly across a white room, the gun barrel centring on Bond. Suddenly, Bond jumps and turns, shoots towards the assassin. Blood dribbles down over the gun, which wobbles and falls to the bottom of the screen as the assassin collapses.
Many people, including the authors of the Wikipedia article, think that Bond suddenly becomes aware that someone is watching him and then fires. I like to think this is the first twist in the Bond series. Bond knew all along that he was being watched, and was just waiting for the right moment to turn and shoot. As we see many years later in the opening Quantum of Solace, while villains often try the scatter gun approach, shooting wildly, Bond waits for the perfect shot, fires and his one shot counts. As Bond walks across at the beginning of Dr No, it’s the first time we see him on screen, and this sets up what will become a continuing theme for the rest of the series.
Years later, in Casino Royale, the gun barrel surrounds Bond’s first kill. I pondered at the time whether this sequence is Bond’s memory; a sort of post-traumatic flashback to the first time he killed someone. That would explain the abstract nature of it: why Bond is in an entirely white room, and why it’s so separate from the rest of the story.
It was Maurice Binder’s idea to add the gun barrel before the opening titles:
That was something I did in a hurry, because I had to get to a meeting with the producers in twenty minutes. I just happened to have little white, price tag stickers and I thought I'd use them as gunshots across the screen. We'd have James Bond walk through and fire, at which point blood comes down onscreen. That was about a twenty-minute storyboard I did, and they said, "This looks great!"
The idea of the shooting may have come from the 1903 film The Great Train Robbery. The film ends with Justus D Barnes staring straight at the camera, then raising his gun and firing several times. Interestingly, the connection doesn't end there: he also has the initials JB.
Part of the success of Bond as a series, I think, is because of this sequence. It’s a fantastic bit of imagery, but the decision to keep this sequence and include it in every subsequent Bond film is almost more important that the decision to create it in the first place. Binder saw it as the beginning of the Dr No titles, but Saltzman and Broccoli realised that it was more than that: it was the beginning of James Bond.
On Dr No, it catches you by surprise. There are strange electronic noises and discordant sounds. It’s like we’re listening in on an encrypted communication. And then we see the figure, in an abstract environment in the sights of the gun. What’s going on, who is this, what are we looking at, where are we? But before we can find out, the action has started, a gun has been fired, and Monty Norman’s “big” tune has kicked in.
The gun barrel sequence is one of the most iconic and recognisable elements of this, or indeed, any franchise. It’s frequently used in marketing and advertising for the series. Media historian James Chapman suggests that the sequence "foregrounds the motif of looking, which is central to the spy genre.” I don’t agree though. What’s powerful about the motif, other than the strong, simple visuals and neat narrative is what it has come to stand for. It stands for the whole Bond franchise, for excitement, and unexpected twists and turns, for the extravagant gadgets and set pieces. It’s a microcosm of the whole series. The plot of The Man With the Golden Gun is essentially the gun barrel sequence, stretched over two hours.
The sequence has been parodied many times. One of the silliest is the Monty Python “Pantomime Horse”, which begins with a man in a pantomime horse doing the gun barrel walk, before working his way through a series of Bond clichés. Some of the late scenes are rather reminiscent of Skyfall. Admittedly, with two people in pantomime horse costumes chasing each other. Pantomime horses featured quite a bit in this episode of Monty Python. In many ways, this one made the most sense.
Robot Chicken features a great parody of Casino Royale, with Santa turning up in the bedroom of a bad child. Santa gets to shoot the child and deliver the line “considerably”, before appearing in the gun barrel from Casino Royale. I’m not entirely sure if this is funny or not. I really like the idea of evil Santa though.
One that did make me laugh is the parody of the gun barrel in American Dad. “Wait you’re a gun?” he says, as it shoots at him. “I always thought you were like an eyeball or something.” Strangely, it’s one of the few parodies I’ve seen where the gun barrel comes in from the left hand side of the screen. In many ways, the sequence is like a cross between the gun barrel sequence and the beginning of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, where an unseen figure shoots (very badly) at Captain Scarlet, before he raises his hand and shoots them.
I wonder if James Bond would be so successful without the gun barrel. The value of iconic images is sometimes underestimated, I think. Would Doctor Who be so successful without the Daleks or the police-box-shaped Tardis? Would Star Trek be still popular without the Enterprise and the Transporters?
This is why I’ve got so irritated in the past when it isn’t included, or included at the end. The gun barrel sequence is what makes Bond films Bond films. Every long running series has a few simple components that grab the imagination and stand for the values of the series. The pre-credit action filled sequence, the gun barrel walk: these are Bond’s. Would Bond be Bond if the film went straight into the credits and the story just started? I don't think so.
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- Bond shoots the off-screen assassin.
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