Western influence on our society is so effective that it takes no time to see our urban population emulating the western ways. We were once colonized by the British whose closest ally was the United States and most of these influence came from these two countries. It began as early as western headlines began to transmit its news to various parts of the world including Malaya. At the north-western tip of the southern state of Johor in Malaya was a very small town inhabited by its small population who were as anxious as others to ape the western ways.
Those who lived during my time gladly showed-off each of their individual talent as well. When the Lone Ranger rode alongside Tonto, Muar boys began to ride their bicycles as if they were galloping. It was Tarzan’s calling from the tree top that filled many tree branches with shirtless boys swaying like monkeys shouting Tarzan’s wailing tune puzzling every birds that flew by. The Three Musketeers too had their share of influence if even though we called them ‘The Three Mosquitoes’. Nobody wanted to be the Red Indians because they were villains who always gave trouble to the good cowboys. That was how effective western propaganda had on our youth.
Elderly youths emulated the west with style. When George Chakiris appeared with a purple-coloured shirt in the 1961 movie ‘West Side Story’, white long-sleeve shirts were immediately sold and later dyed to a purple colour. In the evening many “George Chakiris” began to fill Muar town all wearing a purple-coloured shirts with pride. They even walked the way George walked and smiled the way he did. The hair style of Spartacus played by Kirk Douglas made many barbers practiced to perfection to satisfy the long queue. Now it was James Bond’s turn and this time he was coming to Muar town via the Rex cinema.
We knew who he was through the newspaper and the monthly movie magazine called ‘Movie News’ costing fifty cents per copy. To our minds he was a British spy who had a license to kill and so he could kill anyone he disliked. Our English was not too good and we speculated many things and most were wrong.
The flyers were sent to all housing areas with the picture of Sean Connery holding a gun pointing upward. Next was a picture of Dr. No the villain but it was the picture of Ursula Andress wearing a bikini that thrilled many men and watching her picture at the beach was more exciting than watching James Bond, it made them glued to the flyer for hours. The flyer was printed in spot colour with a bold caption…”Next Change at the Rex cinema — DR. NO featuring Sean Connery as James Bond but we pronounced the name as Seen Koneri,
‘Next Change’ could be in two or three days’ time and that gave us ample time to look for money.The few front rows cost forty cents per seat, the middle row was sixty cents and the ten back row seats was one dollar. For those having extra cash could truly enjoy the movie upstairs costing one dollar and forty cents per seat. We were still school kids receiving thirty to fifty cents for school and now it looked likely that we had to skip visiting the school canteen in order to save. For a James Bond movie we wanted to have at least the back row seat to really enjoy the show. Those thinking of bringing along their sweetheart need to think and plan double particularly when her parents’ approval had been granted and they had better not miss this great opportunity.
The most likely solution to get the extra cash was to look for empty bottles and resell them to the junk collector who would pass by every afternoon. We called this guy ‘apek sia”. A used bottle of soda could give us five cents and the bigger bottles that filled the stout brew would give us an earning of ten cents. So we began going around the back yard of every houses in our area hoping to collect as many empty bottles as we could and more often we bumped into each other. Another source was to collect old newspapers and the apek sia’ could only determine the price after weighing them using the ‘timbang’. Old exercise books too were sought but only the Kacang Putih seller would buy. Discovering an empty kerosene container was a real bonus because it could easily fetch forty cents. In total we needed two dollars, the extras were for buying junk foods and drinks.
Dr. No is the first James Bond movie released in 1962 and reached Muar town approximately six months later. Those days we didn’t have the opportunity to go to many exciting places and when a movie like James Bond was to be screened, the Rex cinema became the focal point where boys and girls could exchange their smiles innocently. When that day arrived, we were ready for James Bond even the Kacang Putih seller was ready with a larger amount of stocks.
The day it began screening, my close friend Halim came to my house as early as 8am as we had planned it last night to buy our tickets early. The counter would open at 9am and we had better be there at least half an hour earlier. It was a Saturday morning and Saturday morning in Muar town of 1962 was quite crowded because it was like a Sunday in big cities except that we would not be caught in a traffic jam as cars in 1962 were still few and furthermore we would be cycling. We reached the Rex cinema around 8.15am and very likely we would not be able to buy the tickets as the crowd had spilled to the main road. We should have employed the service of Mat Rop the famous ‘Mat Rempit’ of Muar town but we had earlier assumed that he would be extremely busy himself getting tickets for some others. We had another option to buy our tickets; the black market.
Every time a box-office movie came to town, some people would be making money. The ticket sellers would form a consortium of touts selling tickets at inflated prices. In most cases a one dollar ticket could go as high as double the original price and after some bargaining it could reduce to a dollar and fifty cents. We needed four tickets and that would cost us extra four dollars but finally succumbed to one dollar and seventy cents to those gangs of daylight robbery. While these ruffians made their illegal earnings, one or two fellows would lose their extra income and that would be the cinema ushers who would normally allowed late comers without tickets to enter the hall and filled the empty seats for ten cents per seat.
The show began at 7.30pm but we were there at 7.15pm with our best dress. We could hardly walk as the Rex cinema was too crowded. We bought our kacang putih from the grinning Indian seller and few packets of kauci and drinks from the usual Chinese hawker. Business was brisk that he had to employ an extra worker to cope with the continuous demand. We went into the cinema at 7.20pm.
It was dark and we had to wait for the usher with his torch light. The screen was showing some advertisements for products like soap detergent ( Those days it was OMO, Fab and Breeze came much later ), brylcream, ovaltine and many other products. The music played were all the latest by Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard and Connie Francis. Looking for our seats was like looking for durians in the undergrowth during the night.
At exactly 7.30pm the movie began and that was the first time we heard the James Bond theme and it was electrifying. Everyone was obviously excited because there was complete silent when the credits were rolling. Then James Bond appeared and the entire audience gave him a thunderous welcome with their clappings. These audiences surely deserved merits for cautioning Bond whenever an enemy appeared and would groan when Bond seemed defeated. The scenario changed when Bond managed to thwart his enemy and there was thunderous applause in every corner with some even stood up still clapping to express their complete satisfaction.
When Ursula Andress came out from the water approaching the beach, men in the audience showed their appreciation and excitement with a variety of whistling tunes. She seemed aggressive at first but when Bond managed to subdue her, the men waited for the kissing scene, upon which their whistling reached a crescendo. As for Dr. No, it was humiliation throughout with almost everyone hurling disparaging remarks at him.
The movie ended around 9pm and by now the Rex cinema was even more crowded with the second show audience waiting outside the building for their turn to greet Bond. That day the economic graph of some people improved tremendously. The Kacang Putih seller need not sell during the day, the Chinese hawker could have a grand supper after the show, the Mee Bandung delight kept filling every empty tables and the Wak Satay nearly got a cramp in both his hands. Even the becas (trishaws) peddled non-stop.
Over the next few days and even weeks, in every coffe-shop conversation James Bond was the main agenda with some accredited him with ‘well deserved’ titles. At the Muar Bazaar, the James Bond bags began to appear on every shelf and new stocks kept pouring. The fakes took the opportunity most timely. Some men began to walk like James Bond and even practiced the way he smiled. New car registration ending with 007 were immediately booked with few people making some money from this. Few others adopted a new ‘nom de plume’ to their names. My close friend Halim till this day is known as Halim Bond.
That was the day when James Bond came to Muar town.