007 Music Part 1 – Dr. No
First I want to go over the structure of these articles. I’ll start by going over background information about the film, composer, or score. In this one, I focus on the origins of the iconic James Bond Theme. Next is the listening guide. It’s basically just the notes I took while watching the film. You can follow along while watching the film and I’ll highlight specific aspects of the music and sound that you may otherwise overlook. At the end, I’ll summarize my observations and conclusions.
1. Background Information
2. Listening Guide
Dr. No and the Controversy over the James Bond Theme
We start at the beginning with Dr. No- the first entry in the James Bond film series. It stars Sean Connery with music by Monty Norman, who isn’t really known for anything besides this film and the James Bond Theme, which was introduced to the world in this film. Although Norman was technically given songwriting credit for the Bond Theme, John Barry claimed for years to have written it. He certainly played a role in its creation, but it was never clear to what extent that was true. 50 years and two court cases later, we have a pretty good idea of what happened. Norman had written a Bond Theme, but the producers didn’t like it, so they called in Barry to fix it. He was paid, but the songwriting credit stayed with Norman. Now this was very early in Barry’s career. Although would go on to be one of the greatest film composers of all time, at this point, he was just happy to be paid. But Barry never saw a cent of the royalties which led to legal battles many years later. At that point, Barry was a very successful film composer with plenty of money, so I prefer to believe he was more concerned about adding to his musical legacy than he was about royalties. And fortunately, despite losing the court case, we now know most of the facts and give Barry the credit he deserves. Barry took some ideas from Norman’s original version, added new material and a jazzy feel, made all orchestration decisions, and recorded it with his orchestra. If you analyze the theme, there isn’t much to it. What makes it work is that it’s catchy and has a great groove. From what I understand, Barry is solely responsible for that.
The James Bond Theme would immediately become a sensation, and because of its popularity, music plays a huge role in every other film in the series.The Bond Theme is made up of three parts: the Guitar Part, the Trumpet Melody, and the Ending. For a full analysis of the theme, look here.
Guitar Part- dum badadat dum ba da da dum badadat dum ba da dap bwee ahh doo-dle looo. This part is rhythmic and just really classy.
Trumpet Melody- This is the main melody of the theme.
Ending- The end is signaled by stacked, ascending brass licks.
So now onto the film! Here are a few questions I’m thinking about before I start watching.
Sound is hugely important in all modern action movies and Bond films. How sound has changed over 50 years with budgets that are literally 230x greater (Dr. No- $1 million, Quantum of Solace- $230 million)?
Is the theme used throughout the film? Or is it only used in the opening and closing credits? If it’s used throughout it reappear exactly as it did in the intro? Or does it influence the orchestral score as well?
Was music immediately an important element of the Bond series?
I saw Quantum of Solace’s network television premiere a couple days ago, which reminded me that I wanted to do this series. The explosions in that are frequent and epic. What were they like in the beginning?
Obviously there will be spoilers. I think the ideal way to experience this part of the article is to watch the film and use this as a listening guide. These are just the notes I jotted down while watching the film with a little analysis layered on top. Don’t expect it to be entirely cohesive. And I will not describe the scenes in enough detail that you can make sense of it without watching the film. That’s not what I’m trying to do. And I apologize if my minute marks don’t line up with yours. They should just be used as a guideline to help you follow along.
3 songs- Bond Theme, bizarre drumming dance music, calypso song ‘Three Blind Mice’. Mashed together without transitions. The Bond Theme is a little weird. It takes a while before it actually starts, and once it does, it starts in the middle and doesn’t play that great, crunchy guitar chord at the end. Instead, it sloppily cuts straight into the next song. Really though, what’s up with that drumming song while colored silhouettes rub up on each other? I like the calypso song introducing Jamaica and TRANSITIONING into the movie. That’s right, there was actually a transition this time.
You can read my full analysis of the Bond Theme here, but here’s the essential information. The Bond Theme reappears throughout the film, and for simplicity, I will name describe each of its three main parts now.
Guitar Part- Starts at, ahem, 0:07. dum badadat dum ba da da dum badadat dum ba da dap bwee ahh doo-dle looo. This part is rhythmic and just really classy.
Trumpet Melody- Starts in the horns, but is in full trumpet glory at :54. This is the main melody of the theme.
Ending- Starts at 1:35. The end is signaled by stacked, ascending brass licks. Four instruments each play four notes. Ends with a crunchy guitar chord
4 min- Those are guns? They sound like balloons popping. The assassins use pistols equipped with suppressors which make almost no noise. That’s the opposite of modern film convention of making violent acts way bigger and louder than they are in real life. 5 shots in the back, then a car races on.
When the woman is attacked, it’s really clear that this is before the big, epic sound that Bond music is famous for. It just sounds like a typical 50′s film score inspired by the likes of Max Steiner and Alfred Newman. Listen to those flutes. I bet there isn’t another moment like that in the entire rest of the series. Brass is used, but not more so than any other instruments.
James Bond- Revealed
7 min- This scene is fantastic. You see Bond’s hands and cards and hear his voice before finally seeing his face and hearing his name. We also hear where the famous “Bond. James Bond.” line comes from. That’s how Sylvia Trench introduces herself. And as soon as he says Bond, the Bond Theme comes in exactly as it appeared in the intro. By that I mean it’s the same recording, unaltered, that we heard in the opening, as opposed to an orchestral variation or something of the sort. Only one iteration of the Guitar Part is heard before it cuts out. It comes back when he starts making plans with his lady friend, and gets louder as we move into the transition, where the Ending is played loudly as a musical transition into the next scene, location, and woman. If you recall, the final guitar chord was left out of the opening, so this is actually the first time we’ve heard that chord! So they saved it for after our introduction to bond rather than giving away the whole theme in the opening.
10- When I mentioned the music back when the first woman (Robert Redford) was attacked reminding me of classic scores of that era and earlier, the score for The Maltese Falcon came to mind. I should have mentioned it since Bond has a lot in common with Sam Spade, private eye (which I just realized comes from the abbreviation for private investigator, PI, or private I, yada yada yada…). That score is by Adolph Deutsch, who also did Nobody Lives Forever (which is completely unrelated, but sounds like it ought to be the name of a Bond film). It’s interesting because this scene where he flirts with the boss’ secretary reminds me of Spade. There are many connections.
In the conversation with his boss, there is no music or notable use of sound. The focus is on dialogue. Or laziness. Not sure which.
As he prepares to leave the office, he hands over his new gun to the secretary. Bond refusing the latest gadget? Strange.
15- Transition into this scene. Really important moment here. Right at the beginning, some of the Guitar Part is played slower in the horns. This is a rare instance of the Bond Theme influencing the orchestral score. There is no dialogue in this scene. The music continues and functions to make the audience realize that Bond thinks there’s someone in the apartment with him. It builds suspense and fills sound space in the absence of dialogue.
The Bond Theme comes back as he leaves the airport, again in identical form. We are 17 minutes into the film and have already heard it three times. It’s a little much, but it succeeded in drilling the amazing theme into audience’s heads. They weren’t tired of it because it was fresh. And hearing it over and over ensured that everyone left the theater singing it to themselves. It is because of its frequency of use in the first film that it became an iconic theme.
19- Jumping ahead, Bond gets in the car with the man, knowing full well that he is an imposer. As they leave, another man who had been following him around the airport gets in a car and begins following him. It isn’t clear if these two are working together or not. Here, the orchestral score returns for a moment. Is it a transition? It isn’t clear if these two men are working together. These cars are the loudest sound we’ve heard so far. Louder than the music, and louder than guns. The music in this fight is more substantial than anything we’ve heard yet. It’s not the Bond Theme, but it again only lasts a moment.
The Plot Thickens
25- Interesting absence of sound when Bond is first in his hotel room. This draws attention to all the details of what he is doing because it is not immediately obvious why he is doing them. When he was sneaking around his place where Sylvia Trench was waiting for him, the music explained his motivation. But here, there is much more subtlety to his actions, and silence allows us to focus in on it. It’s also interesting because he’s not using gadgets. All of his techniques don’t require any special instruments. In fact, this Bond is not at all about gadgets. His boss had to pry his old gun out of his hands before he’d accept the latest model. He said his old gun had served him well for 10 years. The modern Bond would never resist change for the latest and greatest gizmo.
30- Those are some loud boxes
31- More calypso music
35- Some light music and cars.
43- Spider music. Provides the audible tension in what is otherwise a silent moment out of necessity. The impact here is in the juxtaposition of the big music against Bond laying perfectly still. Continues after he gets up, ending with orchestra hits synchronized with Bond’s swings of the shoe, crushing the spider. With the threat of the spider gone, we now hear the silence of the room. So the spider is gone, as is its music.
50- Bond Theme as he starts driving. This movie is more about cars than gadgets. When they really get moving, the music cuts out to focus on the sounds of the engine and tires skidding. The explosion is more audial than visual. It’s not terribly visually exaggerated, but it’s incredibly loud.
52- Guitar Part of the theme. Very soft. Plays as he’s talking to another female love interest.
56- Plays song on record player. First time we’ve heard Mango Tree.
Again, guns with silencers. What is this crap?
Fairly loud boat… this movie is about vehicles! Drumming in background.
1:01 – Mango Tree orchestral music. They’re on the island, local is drinking rum, but still only transitional
1:02- Woman singing Mango Tree, Bond joins in. That’s how we’re introduced to Honey, and this song represents her the rest of the way.
1:05 Boat comes by, orchestra comes in. Static strings, bouncy brass
Loud jungle sounds in transition, softer later
Orchestra enters as bad guys show up and protagonists have to be quiet, whisper
1:10 Another rare orchestral moment inspired by Guitar Part from Bond Theme
1:12 Loud music into transition
1:14- My favorite moment- “Do you have a woman of your own?” Bond thinking how to answer that, awkward silence. Quarrel interrupts. Hilarious.
1:24- Dr. No enters. You can’t see his face, but music plays.
1:27- In the whole scene of dinner with Dr. No, there is no music. This is the first time we’ve seen the face of the villain after whom the film is named, and there is no music to accompany it. It’s a fine decision, as once again it keeps the focus on him- what he looks like and the details of what he is saying. But it just isn’t Bond.
1:34- He is crawling through tunnels trying to escape, and we still haven’t heard music in ages. It works great here because again, this is what he’s experiencing. Overwhelming silence, then a sudden, powerful rush of water.
1:39- The scene where bond has on the radiation protection suit reminds me of The Time Machine (1960, two years prior). That white, clean, minimalistic picture of the future with whirls, hums, bleeps and bloops. We haven’t heard any music since 1:24.
1:44- Music finally returns here. As Bond increases the power of the machine, the sound the machine makes gets louder and louder. When Bond throws the first punch, the manliest act he’s done in the past hour, music returns, albeit hidden under the sounds of the machine and everyone yelling.
The juxtaposition of the building getting ready to explode and the rocket taking off as well as the sounds of machines at danger level against the man on television describing the launch is incredible. Music is still playing here. It’s impossible to hear it clearly, but it definitely adds to the cacophony of sound and facilitates the chaoticness of the scene. This is the coolest use of sound in the film.
1:47- Then of course the whole building explodes at the end. Let’s keep track of explosions as the series goes on. In this film, there is one small car explosion, and one huge building one. I have a hunch that explosions will not be this scarce again.
Music suddenly resumes when the American rescue boat arrives. Why are the American’s greeted with such heroic music? Bond does all the dirty work and saves the day, but when the CIA shows up, the orchestra gives them all the credit. I’m only half joking. After the hero music, we go back to the Mango Tree inspired orchestral music as he kisses Honey.
Now here’s a goofy thing. The end credits start while they’re still showing the boat and playing Mango Tree. Then the orchestra fades out and has a very sloppy jump straight into the Bond Theme. It jumps to a black background and plays a very short version of the Bond Theme. The end of the credits is shown with silence. The end credits last 30 seconds- plenty of time to do a full run of the theme. Another interesting thing is that when the Bond Theme was used in the opening, it didn’t end with that great guitar chord. They didn’t finish the theme. They saved it for the end, providing real closure to the film.
Unlike later films, the Bond Theme is used in the opening credits, rather than a theme song for the film. It comes back at the end, but neither time in its complete form. At the beginning, it gets cut off part way through and never ends. In the end credits, it starts in the middle and the film ends with the iconic final guitar chord.
Bond has not yet become the hero we know and love. He doesn’t have any gadgets and refuses to replace his trusty 10 year old gun with the latest model. Guns are quiet and explosions are not exaggerated.
The famous James Bond Theme is introduced to the world in this film. The Bond Theme is used only in its original form. It rarely and minimally influences orchestral moments. And the music throughout the entire film is just that- moments. It highlights important moments, fills in transitions and scenes that would otherwise be silent, and then when there is silence, such as , it is very noticeable. But the film lacks the iconic big brass and epic orchestral scores of its successors that John Barry is responsible for. Tomorrow I’ll be looking at the next film in the series, From Russia with Love, which is Barry’s first score.
At the beginning of the film, the Bond Theme is played every time he’s on screen. Later, it’s only when he’s chatting up/seducing women, sneaking around, driving (this movie is all about CARS), or doing something else especially Bondsy. It seems like overkill, but it’s also partially responsible for the Bond Theme catching on as much as it did.
This movie is about vehicles more than gadgets. Mostly cars. Thundering engines, car chases, boats, and a small explosion. It’s also interesting because he’s not using gadgets. All of his techniques here don’t require any special instruments. In fact, this Bond is not at all about gadgets. His boss had to pry his old gun out of his hands before he’d accept the latest model. He said his old gun had served him well for 10 years. The modern Bond would never resist change for the latest and greatest gizmo.
Explosions are not a big part of the film. Let’s keep track of explosions as the series goes on. In this film, there is one small car explosion, and one huge building one. I have a hunch that explosions will not be this scarce again.
The best scoring of the whole film is in the spider scene. There’s a great juxtaposition of the big music against Bond laying perfectly still. It continues after he gets up, ending with orchestra hits synchronized with Bond’s swings of the shoe, crushing the spider. With the threat of the spider gone, we now hear the silence of the room. So the spider is gone, as is its music. The room has returned to stillness, and the sound has returned to silence. All instruments are moving in half steps, just like the Bond Theme. Half steps are prominent in the entire orchestral score, providing a little cohesion to an otherwise jumbled mess.
Mango Tree is Honey’s theme song. She is singing it when we first see her, and it frequently influences the orchestral music when she is around.
This is a strange Bond film. He doesn’t use gadgets. The focus isn’t on violence. It has more in common with older films than later Bond films. And the music is used lightly and sparingly. The Bond Theme is used excessively, but not creatively. Silence can be an effective tool, but it is overused here. Dr. No was a successful experiment, but not yet a refined project. I’m really looking forward to starting John Barry films because I think he’ll fix a lot of what this one was missing.