In these self-righteous times when everyone’s going affirmative with cheesy taglines like ‘Yes, we can!’, the death of actor Joseph Wiseman this week marks a sad moment in the delicate balance maintained between twee goodness and cool badness. In the latter category, fell the character that Wiseman so memorably played: Dr Julius No, the arch-villain in the first James Bond movie, Dr No, and importantly the first of only two Bond films titled after its villains (the other one being Goldfinger).
Like iconic baddies that include Gabbar Singh, Darth Vader and, most recently, the Joker, the character of Dr No overwhelmed the actor who played him. That was the true sign of Wiseman’s success. In Ian Fleming’s original 1958 novel of the same name, Dr No was born in Peking to a German missionary and a Chinese lady. He entered the life of crime when he moved to Shanghai and then expanded operations from an island he bought off the coast of Jamaica. In Fleming’s book, Dr No helps the Soviets by sabotaging American missiles. In the 1962 movie, his services as an ‘evil genius’ are rebuffed by both the Soviets and the Americans and he joins the criminal organisation, SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion).
Wiseman was born on May 15, 1918 in Montreal, a distance away from the balmier climes of Dr No’s island in the Bahamas. He moved to New York and hit the stageboards both on and off Broadway. His first big film break came in 1951 in Detective Story, where Wiseman played a memorable, small-time gangster. It was this role as Charley Gennini that landed him the role of Dr No more than a decade later. In a way, Wiseman played the first multinational corporation villain so loved-to-be-hated by today’s anti-WTO, Obama-loving types. After all, it was Dr No who used Wiseman to say, “East, West, just points of the compass, each as stupid as the other.”