Unfortunately the exposition. We're never given any firm idea of Basehart's motivation, and his accomplices (including a younger Edward Asner) just seem like B-movie heavies. Dana Andrews hasn't enough to do as Maharis' brooding superior, while romantic interest Anne Francis' part is virtually superfluous. It badly needs some more interesting secondary characters. And, bafflingly, there's not actually that much action or pace either, though Sturges does build up the tension masterfully at the climax.
Enough remains to just about hold the attention. But it should have been better...
The characterisation is two-dimensional, the story plodding. But you forgive all of that for that single scene where the Creature swims underneath Adams, unaware of what's stalking her, in a surreal aquatic sexual ballet. It's quite uniquely Freudian. Elsewhere, the story only gets slightly more exciting when the hero confronts it in a hauntingly dank grotto.
The film spawned two rudimentary sequels. By now Universal was branching more into science fiction - alien invaders and atomic mutations - and Arnold became the film-maker most sympathetic to this sub-genre.
The script is decidedly weak, a common Corman failing, full of potentially intriguing, half-formed ideas that are never realised. Meanwhile the cast of unknowns never get any real chance to build up their characters into anything sympathetic or likable. It's as if the director isn't really interested in them.
It's an adequately stylish, and zippy enough production. But like much of Corman's later stuff for AIP, it also has an air of opportunism about it, riding the post-Easy Rider youth-counterculture boom while having only an outsider's empathy with it (Corman was 44 when he made this).
Still, if nothing else he does get a chance to say an ironic farewell to Edgar Allan Poe (the author of Corman's earlier celebrated cult film series), who here appears in period dress riding a Harley Davidson with a stuffed raven on his shoulder!
Lynch makes a downbeat but sympathetic protagonist, more thoughtful than the usual type of hero. Portman plays the clipped-moustache ex-military man-turned-swindler to perfection. Dors is just right, too, as a blousy divorcée ("Young enough to still want a husband; old enough not get the one I want").
Winner plays up the salacious sex element a bit, but a tight Keith Waterhouse/Willis Hall script touches on Lynch's Catholic guilt, and Currie's existential search for 'truth', just enough to give the story a modicum of depth. There's also an evocative score by Stanley Black, with Acker Bilk on sax.
Until latterly a neglected, even scorned, cinema sub-genre, these usually low-budget British film noirs, often superbly photographed, were violent by the standards of their day, and showed the rain-washed streets of cities like Newcastle (Payroll), Manchester (Hell Is a City) and Brighton (Jigsaw), as well as London, could be pretty mean, too.
Winner's next film, The System with Oliver Reed, was even better.
Tom Adams carries off the hero part with nice deadpan aplomb and gets good support from Michael Ripper as main baddie Mr Angel, Joe Baker as an oafish Labour minister, and a Sid James cameo as a mortuary attendant ("Business is perking up here," he says over the phone while ducking from a frenzied shoot-out). Cheesy organ music and locations that include a gasworks and sewer add to the threadbare fun.
By now, the anti-establishment Sixties was souring towards authority (compare the cynicism towards the police with, say, 1961's Jigsaw). But although initially Greene's telephoto camera-work gives the film a documentary feel, he proceeds to visualise Swinging London in almost David Hockney-like pictorial compositions (the shadow of a helicopter across the old Battersea power station, Susan George's kinky bedroom), all of which add to an unsettling air of unreality.
An oddity, but an original and arresting one.
The more cluttered script in Thunderball may lack the clean narrative line of its immediate predecessor Goldfinger, but there is plenty to enjoy. If the baddies are not quite so grotesque, Adolfo Celi has a powerful feral malevolence and Luciana Palazzo a voluptuous sexuality heightened by her refusal to succumb to our hero's charms (composer John Barry even awards her a musical legit motif of her own). She's got much more sexual electricity than Honour Blackman in the previous film, or indeed of main heroine Claudette Auger in this one. Young generally handles sex better than other Bond directors. Although the clichéd shots of Connery and Auger embracing underwater don't much work, the final shot in which they whisked into the blue yonder by a USAF rescue-plane has a rather magical quality.
But it's also the first film where the gadgets begin to intrude. The protracted hijack and ditching of the Vulcan bomber, and the climactic underwater battle, means Connery is either not on screen or is semi-recognisable in a wetsuit, reduced to merely an operator of the propeller-back-tank.
Other scenes - such as the Shrublands health farm and M's office - are pretty mundanely handled by Young. The fleeting reappearance of the Aston Martin, shot from only one angle in the short chase with Lippe's car, suggets there wasn't enough covering footage for the editors to assemble into something better. Meanwhile, clumsy continuity and poor colour grading intrude (Young only just escapes a disastrous lapse with Connery pictured in long shot with Rik Van Nutter's Felix Leiter at the casino before the script has them meeting next day).
But Ted Moore's photography makes good use of the Bahaman location, all hard azure sea and white beaches. His handling of the Junkanoo carnival chase (one of the best sequences in the series) is a riot of exciting vibrant colour. Apart from the main theme, Thunderball boasts some of John Barry's wittiest music, notably his pounding calypso score for the Junkanoo chase, repeated for the climatic fight on board the hydrofoil. Only designer Ken Adam is constrained by a screenplay that doesn't call for a single large elaborate set, although the MI6 conference room is rather elegant. The traction-device in the health clinic, although even more sexually allusive, lacks the outré frisson of the laser-beam in Goldfinger.
And the climax certainly delivers. Even if the matte shots used in the fight in the hydrofoil's cabin – as it skims precariously between the reefs - are quite blatantly speeded-up the resulting action is as vicariously exciting as Connery's battle with Robert Shaw in From Russia with Love, a furiously cramped bout of kicks, scuffles and bone-breaking blows, with music and editing used to maximum effect.
Right from the start you know it's something different. The multi-coloured computer-dots of the title-sequence dissolve into writhing calypso dancers, suggesting an espionage thriller with a science-fiction lining. It's London premiere was the same month (October) as the Cuban Missile Crisis. There's the pastel colours of the decontamination chamber (with its the sexual undercurrent as the naked Connery and Andress are forced through it) and the luxury bedrooms, contrasted with the harsh swamp where they are captured, sealed off by the clamp of metal doors. Then there's the weird gushing echoes on the soundtrack as Connery edges along the circular ventilation shaft with its surreal sexual symbolism, and the sense of sterile super-technology seen later in the reactor set.
Dr No set the scene for all the Bonds which have followed. The exotic locations, the impossible plots, the megalomaniacal villains, and, of course, the alluring heroines. An instant success, in the UK at least where it was top British money-maker at the box-office that year despite opening in mid-autumn, it would still be coining it in, double-billed with other Bonds, a decade later.
Plenty of fans prefer the gaucheness of Dr No to the slickness of the later, more inflated Bonds. There's a fresh feel to Bond and to the action, of Eon Films capitalising on the uncertainty of a new star and formula. The early Bonds had yet to become parodies of themselves. Bond here is still recognisably human (he is distinctly nauseous after killing tarantula). Contrast his basic precautions against intruders (a strand of hair, talcum powder) to the later technological gimmicks. And the location work in Jamaica and the glistening Caribbean is vivid.
Dr No, meanwhile, is the least seen of Bond villains. Wiseman's intense performance is so seemingly impassive even his rage seems measured.
It's not quite the best Bond film. Connery escapes rather too easily from his prison cell, while not enough is made of the climatic fight, there's no bravura editing by Peter Hunt. Monty Norman's music is too Dick Barton-ish (one particularly pedestrian passage is used again in the helicopter chase in From Russia with Love). John Barry would have made more of the beach encounter between Connery and Andress, and highlighted more subtly the menaces within Dr No's lair. And there's no interesting subsidiary villains, certainly not Professor Dent (later Bonds might have made something of the 'three blind mice' assassins).
Dated only by the 'space age' costumes, trouser turn-ups, and dark red lipsticks, Dr No acts as a very effective overture for the subsequent series.
Alas the weakest link, amazingly, is Peter Cushing as Dr Who. Though the film mainly sticks to writer Terry Nation's original story, the producers understandably had to jettison the television serial's back-story (such as it was in 1965) if it was to appeal to the crucial American market. But here Cushing's Doctor is little more than a doddery old grandfather, with none of the crotchety antagonism of William Hartnell, the role's originator. And the Tardis interior is just a mess of overhanging wires and junkyard cast-offs rather than the wonderfully sterile, futuristic control room of the small-screen.
The Daleks, though larger, are more ungainly and don't have the streamlined menace of the TV ones (perhaps the only monsters on film to actually swivel with sheer pent-up malice). Worst of all, their exterminators just scoosh out rather pathetic white smoke. Was the original x-ray laser effect, turning the TV screen image negative, deemed too scary, even though most of its audience would have thrilled to it at home? There's not a great deal more to commend it. Roy Castle clowns around rather embarrassingly as the young male lead, while Jenny Linden barely gets a line of script as the heroine. All in all, eleven year-old Roberta Tovey walks away with the acting honours.
The producers also brought back director Guy Hamilton but the untidy screenplay doesn't allow for the polish of his earlier 'Goldfinger'. A tight shooting schedule, a contractual condition by Connery, explains the somewhat hurried look of 'Diamonds are Forever' (the drainpipe sequence, for instance, is so shoddily cut it seems assembled from discarded outtakes).
And yet all the elements of a great Bond thriller are here. A mysterious hi-tech desert installation, a hidden jungle surgery complete with bubbling sulphur-pit, a car-chase along the Las Vegas Strip (that admittedly seemed more daring then than now), a world-threatening plot, a wonderfully tense confrontation between 007 and two Blofelds in a stainless steel penthouse. Unfortunately, that's really the last interesting sequence in the film.
Despite the introduction of the laser-satellite, it loses what narrative verve it has and the subsequent events aren't charged with enough urgency. The final set-piece battle is a disappointment; a converted oil rig of the Californian coast hardly provides for a very spectacular climax or a memorable interior set to focus the action on. In fact, the satellite control-room must be about the least inspired set that designer Ken Adams has ever come up with. And some of the explosion effects are glaringly poor.
What a pity. Because John Barry comes up with yet another distinctively superb score, memorably the harsh discordant sax for the desert sequences that also acts as the recurring musical leit motif for the murderous gay couple Mr Wint and Mr Kidd, as well as that clamorous, piercing piece with piccolos that accompanies the fight scenes. And cinematographer Ted Moore well captures the neon-hard local colour and the arid starkness of the hinterland, noticeably in the very high angle shot of Bond's red Ford trailing Metz' minibus out of Las Vegas into the desert.
The real pleasure of the film is Connery, though. If the trim figure that began nine years earlier has gone, along with the muscle-tone, he's more relaxed and assured than ever in in a role that by now fits him like a glove, despite a five-year absence.
The role is his, absolutely, and he knows it.
The cast is exceptional. This was Winner's first collaboration with Oliver Reed, whose charisma and aura of watchful menace here is unmistakable. There was never another star in British cinema quite like him. Jane Merrow is just as excellent as the sympathetic but ultimately unattainable Nicola; she makes the character totally three-dimensional without any histrionics. Barbara Ferris also stands out among a talented young cast, especially in her final stoned lament at the evening beach-party.
Winner is helped immeasurably by a brilliant cinematographer, Nicolas Roeg (here in between lensing such notable Brit-flicks as The Caretaker, Nothing But the Best and Masque of the Red Death). His location work right from the title sequence gives a vivid sense of place of a jaded seaside resort in the last days of summer.
Directorial flair is surprisingly confident, borrowing just enough new-wave technique to languidly establish the film's youth pedigree without ever indulging in obtrusive effect for its own sake.
Winner's previous film, West 11, a lowlife murder suspensor, also made good use of a mainly young cast. After The System he moved on to bigger but not necessarily better things before Hollywood swamped what talent he had. A pity, because this film, never acknowledged as being one of the best British b-films of the time, really is pretty good.