Dr. No (1962) / Action-Adventure
MPAA Rated: PG for violence and sensuality
Running time: 110 min.
Cast: Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman, John Kitzmiller, Jack Lord, Bernard Lee, Anthony Dawson, Zena Marshall, Eunice Gayson, Lois Maxwell
Director: Terence Young
Screenplay: Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, Berkely Mather
Review published October 1, 2007
The first film in the long running James Bond series, Dr. No proved to be a smashing success, not only at the box office, but in building a legion of fans ready for more adventures for British Secret Service Agent 007. It's based on the Ian Fleming novel, which was, interestingly, not the first of his adventures, but rather the sixth. Nevertheless, outside of some of the film titles, most Bond adventures only tenuously adhered to Fleming's original work, although Dr. No does adhere a bit more faithfully than others.
The story kicks off with the killing of a British secret agent stationed in Jamaica, with James Bond (Connery, Marnie) called in to investigate the cause. The original investigation had been tracking the source of what has been making guided systems for missiles go haywire, particularly in Florida's Cape Canaveral. Digging up information proves to be difficult, as those who seem to know the answers would rather kill themselves than divulge any information on who they are working for. Bond's fact finding eventually points him to a mysterious island in the area that none dare go to, lest they vanish mysteriously like those who went before.
Far from filled with the humor, gadgets and stunts that would become a staple in future James Bond efforts, Dr. No did establish a few of the visual components that would become standard -- the gun barrel opening and the lengthy musical title sequence being the most obvious. We also establish early that Bond is a man's man, and a ladies man -- the kind of man men want to be and women want to be with. He is hedonistic and self-absorbed, but always with a sense of duty. He also has the upper hand when it counts, especially with the women out to seduce him. The stunning Bond girls are a fixture for any 007 movie.
The casting of Connery, a relative unknown at the time, proves the film's biggest asset, exuding all of the strength, charm and intelligence required to give such a character appeal, even if there isn't much in character development and almost nil in background information as to who he is and how he became the world's leading super spy. Interestingly, while most people think of Bond coming out of scrapes without a scratch, he gets pretty scuffed up throughout Dr. No, which does add to the feeling of peril.
Looking back on Dr. No today, it remains refreshing for being one of a select number of Bond adventures that emphasize the plot more so than the bells and whistles of the sex and violence, although they all have their share. Repartee is preferred over death-defying stunt work, and Bond gets his man through his intelligence more so than his gadgetry. It is also less lavish than future entries, although the sets involved with Dr. No's lair are impressive considering the budget, even if it seems silly for them to have easily understood control mechanisms that allow Bond to figure out how to use them at a glance (in English, no less, given the all-Chinese staff). Dr. No (Wiseman, Viva Zapata) is a bit on the cartoonish side, but a memorable foil for Bond. Bikini-clad Ursula Andress (Clash of the Titans, Casino Royale), whose voice was dubbed by another actress, provides the requisite female eye candy.
Although eclipsed in reputation by the next two Connery Bond adventures, Dr. No remains the blueprint from which all others spin off of, with only minor alterations here and there from successive movies to add to the formula. If you've never seen a Bond flick and want to know the first to try, there's no better choice than the one that started it all.
-- Followed by From Russia with Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967), On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), Diamonds Are Forever (1971), Live and Let Die (1973), The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Moonraker (1979), For Your Eyes Only (1981), Octopussy (1983), A View to a Kill (1985), The Living Daylights (1987), Licence to Kill (1989), GoldenEye (1995), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), The World is Not Enough (1999), Die Another Day (2002), Casino Royale (2006), Quantum of Solace (2008), Skyfall (2012).
©2007 Vince Leo