Dr. No (1962, U.S. release 1963)

Dr. No

  • Year:  1962 / 1963 (U.S.)
  • Director:  Terence Young
  • Series Rank:  #8
  • Year Rank:  #20  (1963)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Original Score, Visual Effects, Sound Editing
  • Bond Girl:  Ursula Andress (Honey Ryder), Eunice Grayson (Sylvia Trench)
  • Bond Villain:  Joseph Wiseman (Dr. No), Anthony Dawson (Professor Dent), Zena Marshall (Miss Taro)
  • Bond Support:  Bernard Lee (M), Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny), Peter Burton (Q), Jack Lord (Felix Leiter)

The Film:  For someone raised on the later James Bond films, especially 1995 and later, it must be something of a shock to watch Dr. No.  This film was made on a budget of only £1,000,000.  The production almost didn’t get the extra money it needed for the explosion at the end because it was over budget and the studio feared it wouldn’t make the money back.  This may seem laughable today, especially when you consider the success that the books had already achieved, but the spy genre wasn’t really a big deal at the time.  That all came afterwards.  It all came from here.

The iconic first moment we lay eyes on James Bond.

The iconic first moment we lay eyes on James Bond.

Which actually brings me back to my first line.  Yes, this must be somewhat of a shock – there is no big opening action sequence, most of the actual action scenes in the film are fairly low budget and the finale is rather sudden and truncated.  To look at that view though, means ignoring all of the thing that were instantly established by this film and continue to flourish through the Bond films.

For Bond to be at least somewhat true to the books, they needed someone who could be believable as a spy (and former Naval officer), someone who would be attractive to women and yet, someone who had a hard, cold edge to him.  They found all of that in Sean Connery, of course.  They needed a good introduction to him, and his first shot, lighting the cigarette, introducing himself (“Bond.  James Bond.”) set the standard for what was to come.  Even better, they already had composed the perfect music for him.  Like with “Doctor Who”, which would debut a year later, the Bond music, while played with some different instruments and at different tempos, has essentially remained unchanged for over 50 years, for good reason.  It’s the absolute perfect theme for this man and it has become instantly identifiable with him.

andressIf they weren’t going to have a huge budget to work with on Dr. No, then they needed to make certain they had a good story and they had some good locations.  To that end, most of the exteriors were actually filmed in Jamaica (“That’s what Jamaica looks like in January and February,” I told Veronica as we watched the film – her for the first time).  They gave enough twists (and enough double agents) to keep the story moving quickly (and to allow Bond his signature moments – sleeping with the girl only to hand her over, or killing a man he could have simply disarmed – but after all, he does have a licence to kill).  They got the casting right, and by that I don’t just mean Connery.  Though Connery made the perfect Bond some of the other cast members would be around long after he was gone, like Bernard Lee, who would continue to play M until 1979 and Lois Maxwell who would stay on as Miss Moneypenny until the final Roger Moore film.  There was also Ursula Andress, who doesn’t give much of a performance (her voice was dubbed and her attempts at emoting are not exactly impressive), but who wasn’t there to give much of a performance – she was there to come out of the water in that white bikini and establish what a Bond girl looks like and she did that with gusto.  Though some of the later women in the series would blow her away (especially in terms of acting), there wouldn’t be a comparable moment until Halle Berry similarly emerged from the surf 40 years later.

There is a plot in all of this, of course.  At the beginning of the film, in a rather effective scene, a British agent is killed.  Bond is sent to Jamaica to investigate and winds up dealing with an elaborate plot where Dr. No is going to mess with the U.S. space launch (this was a big deal at the time – remember, this is 1962 and when this was filmed John Glenn hadn’t even yet orbited the earth) on orders from SPECTRE, a shadowy organization that will return to trouble Bond time and again and nothing will stop the two from facing off, or at least nothing less powerful than the copyright lawyers who will eventually get involved (more on that in later reviews).

All in all, Dr. No is a good start to the series.  I don’t quite say “very good”, because I rank it at the highest range of ***, which classifies as “good.”  But as good a start as it is, it wouldn’t take long for it to get better – the next three Connery films, all blessed with considerably bigger budgets, are better films.  But, especially given the budget constraints, when you listen to the music, see Connery in action, first surprising a driver who’s supposed to kill him, then fighting him, when you see the way he takes command in every scene, you know that this series was in the right hands from the very start.