Should I Watch..? 'Dr. No'
What's the big deal?
Dr No was an action spy film released in 1962 and is an adaptation of Ian Fleming's book of the same name published in 1958. It marks the cinematic debut of his most famous creation - the British secret agent known by his code number 007, James Bond - as well as launching its star Sean Connery into the spotlight. The success and demand for more Bond films meant that the series continues to be made to this day more than fifty years later with actor Daniel Craig currently playing Bond. It also proved hugely influential to a whole generation of filmmakers, sparking a flurry of similar spy films in the 1960s, as well as introducing a number of elements that would become the hallmark of the series - the famous gun-barrel introduction, the heavily stylised opening credits, the iconic set design of Ken Adam, the Bond theme and arguably the most famous movie one-liner in history.
What's it about?
The British Intelligence Station Chief in Jamaica, John Strangways, is ambushed and killed by three men known as the Three Blind Mice. In order to investigate whether his murder was linked to Strangways' work with the CIA, British agent James Bond is sent to Jamaica by his superior M to dig deeper. He quickly finds evidence that suggests Strangways had discovered a case involving the jamming and disruption of rocket launches from the nearby Cape Canaveral.
Arriving in Kingston, Bond works with CIA representative Felix Leiter and local boatman Quarrel to investigate Strangways death. Despite the failed assassination attempt on his life, Bond firmly believes that the answers lie with the mysterious Dr No who is guarded by tight security on his island, Crab Key. Bond and Quarrel sail to the island seeking answers but encounter the beautiful Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) instead...
Honey Ryder *
Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood & Berkley Mather *
Release Date (UK)
5th October, 1962
Action, Spy, Thriller
What's to like?
Nobody at the time would ever have suspected that this film would spark a global phenomenon that continues to generate huge interest to this day. And naturally, it is much smaller in scale than the sort of production you associate with Bond - no volcano lairs or orbiting space lasers here. What you do get is a quietly efficient thriller, one that doesn't need enormous set pieces or explosions. The script makes the film a decent thriller and Bond a unusually restrained character - he's an extraordinary man, of course, but not the bullet-proof superspy stereotype that he would become in later films. His quips are also absent, making this Bond feel more dangerous somehow.
Of course, Connery's performance is on another level. He inhabits the character so completely that Ian Fleming adapted the Bond in his novels to fit Connery's portrayal, introducing 007's Scottish heritage in the 1964 novel You Only Live Twice. His presence and charisma dominate the movie, giving the film not just a memorable lead but a character impossible to resist. Equally as important is Andress as Honey Ryder whose memorable introduction in the film would come to symbolise the 'Bond girl' role for the rest of the series. Opposite the pair of them, Wiseman's performance as Julius No would also come to define the very essence of the classic Bond villain.
- The famous pose of Connery with the gun being held over his chest had to be redone at the last minute. On the day of the shoot, the Walther PPK was left behind at the studio but the photographer had an old air pistol in his car, which ended up in the final shot.
- Although Casino Royale was the first book, Dr No was chosen to be the first film as it only had one location (Jamaica) and only one big special effects piece, meaning it would be cheaper to make.
- The film's entire budget was £1'000'000 (just under £20 million today). Of that, just £14'000 (£280'000) was allocated for Adam to build his iconic sets.
What's not to like?
For modern viewers, it's quite a shock to see a Bond film this basic. We're all used to the gadgets, the fancy cars and the exotic locations and while Jamaica still looks pretty and inviting, it's the only location used in the film besides Bond receiving the mission in London. At times, it looks almost amateurish - even the great Ken Adam's sets, whilst still looking incredible, actually make you wonder why they were looking like that. Take the scene when Professor Dent is speaking to Do No off-screen - it may be visually arresting but not exactly befitting of the situation.
The soundtrack, comprising mainly of the iconic Bond theme and various versions of Under The Mango Tree, feel quite dated and obviously, the effects are rudimentary like the hilarious aquarium dining room in Dr No's lair, the clunky menace of the fire-breathing 'dragon' or Andress' clumsy dubbing by the uncredited Nikki Van der Zyl. But it's so easy to forgive its faults, partly because of its age but mainly because this is the beginning of Bond, Genesis for an entire genre of movies. It's fascinating to see the filmmakers experiment in the way they did - they would not have a clue that the elaborate opening credits would become a staple of the series or that Bond's introduction in the casino would be endlessly imitated and parodied in countless other films.
Should I watch it?
For fans of Bond, it's essential viewing - because it's stripped free of all the baggage that Bond films carry these days, it feels more exciting and thrilling than it should. Taken as a solo movie, it's still a great film with Connery defining the essence of cool as 007. There are naturally some rough edges but this is a darker, more simplistic Bond and I enjoyed it very much.
Great For: Bond fans, film historians, Jamaica's tourism industry
Not So Great For: fans of the later Bond films, Nikki Van der Zyl
What else should I watch?
The next Bond film - From Russia With Love - shares the same emphasis on story and character but you can start to see the gradual inclusion of more action scenes. It's still a good film and in many ways, a better one although it still hasn't got all the traditional Bond elements in place just yet. For that, we have to watch Goldfinger where all the pieces came together in one glorious movie that still excites today.
Modern Bond fans will be aghast at the lack of violence and explosions in Dr No and will hurriedly rush to watch the likes of Skyfall, Spectre and GoldenEye which are entertaining blasts through the Bond Book of Clichés but lacking some of the more traditional spying elements. And if you prefer Bond as a more comedic star (and there are some) then the Roger Moore-era has a few hidden gems - The Spy Who Loved Me is a rare example of balance between Moore's light-hearted interpretation and a gripping spy story that ticks all the right boxes.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox