James Bond #1 : Dr No
Terence Young’s Dr No was quite literally the prototype James Bond film, providing the blueprint upon which all subsequent Bond movies would be built. It may not yet quite be the finished article, for me that came with third outing Goldfinger, but plenty of the franchise’s recognisable themes and motifs trace their roots back to this picture. There’s the gun-barrel intro coupled with the “James Bond Theme” music, Bond flirting with Moneypenny, the plot formula involving an arch villain with a needlessly elaborate lair, and the presence of a beautiful woman for Bond to seduce, thrust into danger and then rescue.
It’s noticeable that compared to latter day Bond movies, the plot of Dr No is extremely light. This does not by any means work to its detriment however. Bond’s mission is to travel to Jamaica and investigate the death of a British Intelligence chief, Strangways, who was aiding the CIA in their case looking into possible disruption of space launches at Cape Canaveral. Once there, his investigation leads him to the reclusive titular character who owns a mineral-rich island nearby. It’s a tight and simple story and one that is set almost entirely on one location, The globetrotting adventures of later Bonds are still some way off.
The film has plenty of memorable scenes but perhaps its finest moment comes in the form of our introduction to James himself. After the camera has led us through the ostentatious surrounding of a fancy private members club, we close in on a game already in progress. We catch glimpses of the players at the rest of the table, but the focus of their admiration remains obscured. Then, once a sultry female player offers her name to the unseen card player, we see a cigarette being lit, a pan upwards and a suave figure purrs at the screen, “Bond, James Bond”. With that, a million bad impressions were born.
Another iconic moment that has gone down in pop culture history is Ursula Andres’s stunning emergence from the ocean in that white bikini. Andres’ Honey Ryder serves pretty much entirely as a straightforward damsel in distress but despite her limited role, she still undoubtedly set the bar for all Bond girls who followed her.
At the centre of it all of course is the character of James himself. Sean Connery was the perfect fit for Bond, graceful and rugged, tough yet charming. However he was far from producers Albert R Broccoli and Harry Saltzman’s first choice. That honour actually went to Cary Grant who was unfortunately a no-go from the start as he would never have committed to a multiple picture deal. However after a contest set up to find the perfect Bond yielded no suitable candidate. Connery eventually won the part and thus a legend was born.
Critical reception at the time of release was far from unanimous. While some reviews enjoyed this tout spy thriller with its swaggering hero, some felt it was bordering on parody with a “blithering bounder” as its main character. The film did receive two particularly notable negative reviews, from both Soviet Russia and the Vatican. Two critical lashings which in reality did the film’s word of mouth no harm at all.
The movie is by no means explicit or excessively violent by today’s standards, but there are two dead bodies in the first few minutes, and Bond coldly gunning down his own would-be assassin as he quips “That’s a Smith & Wesson…and you’ve had your six”. Clearly this is a movie hero who is an unremorseful killer and yet also somehow someone who still doesn’t take life too seriously. He makes international espionage look like ripping good fun.
Dr No remains today a thoroughly enjoyable action adventure movie but it is not however without its flaws. For example, as a villain, Dr No feels a little undercooked and never really provides much of a believable threat. It was also clear that the franchise as a whole was still finding its feet in terms of what exactly a Bond movie could involve in terms of plot and character development. Of course the film has also unquestionably dated poorly in some regards, with the portrayal of foreigners and the attitude towards women both being highly questionable. However criticising 1960s James Bond for being a misogynistic elitist is like criticising John Wayne’s character in a Western for being too butch. He was very much a product of his time.
Despite these minor blemishes, and at over 50 year of age, Dr No remains one of the most entertaining outings in the series as a whole. Bond had arrived and no henchman or scantily clad female would ever truly be safe again.
Best Scene: Has to be that iconic introduction at the gaming table as Bond slowly lights his cig, and announces himself to the viewing public for the first time.
Honey Ryder: Are you looking for shells?
James Bond: No, I’m just looking.