UK - 1962
Directed by - Terence Young
Starring - Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman, Jack Lord
Color / 110 Min / Rated PG
“The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.” - Ian Fleming, Casino Royale (1953)
The opening line of Fleming’s first spy novel is ingeniously recreated by Terence Young in Dr. No, and serves as the introduction to one of the greatest adventure heroes in cinema history. Surrounded by rubbernecking would-be gamblers, the voluptuous vamp in red loses another hand of baccarat to the dark haired man across the table. She continues to play, despite the odds being firmly stacked against her. The man comments: "I admire your courage Miss..?"
"Trench, Sylvia Trench. And I admire your luck, Mr..?"
The man has a cigarette firmly in the corner of his rather cruel mouth. He finishes lighting it, then answers the woman in his own time, gently mocking her introduction.
“Bond, James Bond.”
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While you typically don’t hear of Dr. No being bandied about in discussions concerning the best Bond movies, you rarely hear anyone say a bad word about it either. While there were certainly big-screen thrillers featuring elements of espionage before this, Dr. No was undoubtedly the progenitor of ’spymania’. This was the film that set the template for all the adventures to come for 007, and also launched dozens of imitators who would come and go throughout the rest of the 60’s and beyond. Many contemporaneous critics simply didn’t understand what the fuss was about, with one famously referring to Sean Connery as a "great, big, hairy marshmallow" who consistently looked like a blundering lout. Your average cinemagoer obviously thought different. Never had they seen an on-screen hero quite like James Bond. He was ruthless, witty, and charming; equally cavalier about sex as he was killing in cold blood. I can only imagine how the character must have scandalized audiences in ‘62 and ‘63, and yet at the same time they couldn’t get enough of him.
The plot of the film, which sees 007 sent on assignment to Jamaica to investigate the sudden disappearance of British operative Strangways and a possible connection to Cape Canaveral rocket launches being disrupted by radio jamming in the vicinity, is fairly faithful to Ian Fleming’s novel version of Dr. No, save for a few omissions that probably wouldn’t have worked out very well on-screen (Bond’s epic battle with a giant squid anyone?), and a few stylistic changes, most of them for the better. (Dr. No’s original cover story in the book was that he was running a guano quarry! That‘s just batshit crazy.) The criminal SPECTRE organization, who would return to taunt Bond in subsequent films, was a new addition added exclusively to the film. The semi-recurring character of CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jack Lord) was also plucked from Fleming’s novels and placed in the film despite originally playing no part in this particular story (and it shows in the film; Leiter really doesn‘t do anything of note). A cynic might be inclined to believe adding a popular American star to the cast was a means of gaining an ‘in’ with audiences in the States.
|"East, West, just points of the compass, each as stupid as the other."|
We can't talk about originals in Dr. No without mentioning the original 'Bond girl', Swiss beauty Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder (not quite as goofy a double entendre as Pussy Galore, but still proof that Fleming loved his juvenile gags). Unlike the masses, I don't share the opinion that Andress is the best of the Bond girls just because she was the first. The character just comes across as too much of a damsel in distress for me, which seems to clash with certain aspects of her backstory. For instance, I have a hard time buying the seemingly guileless Honey as a person who could put a poisonous black widow spider in a man's bed and then watch him die slowly over the next few days as revenge for raping her. Actually, that's... pretty fucking dark for a Bond film when you really think about it. Still, the lovely Andress made a huge impression on the impending sexual revolution of the 60's, no doubt about it. A lasting impression too. The bikini she wore has its own friggin Wikipedia page for crying out loud.
|"Are you looking for shells too?"|
But at the end of the day, it all comes back to Sean Connery and how he would go on to define the role of 007. So much ink has already been used up in discussion of the James Bond series, particularly in the initial casting of the character. A number of potential candidates were offered the part or tested before Connery came along - among them big names of the day such as David Niven, Patrick McGoohan, James Mason, and Cary Grant (not to mention up-and-comers at the time like future Bulldog Drummond portrayer Richard Johnson). While any of those actors could have done a respectable job as Bond, the producers without question made the correct decision in gambling on the still relative unknown Sean Connery as their man. Terence Young deserves an equal share of the credit, as it was thanks to his tutelage that Connery flourished and became the suave Scot we came to know and love over the next forty years on the big screen (Zardoz notwithstanding). Young took Connery under his wing and showed him what it was like to live the playboy lifestyle, and Sean never looked back.
Dr. No is certainly worthwhile viewing if you've never seen it before, though if you're completely new to Bond I might suggest easing into some of the more well-known entries first and then coming back to Dr. No to see how it all began.
4 / 5