CINEMA CLASSICS: Dr. No (1962)

With James Bond coming back soon, Joe opens up a dossier for Sean Connery’s debut as Ian Fleming’s superspy. 

Who made it?: Terrence Young (Director), Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, Berkely Mather (Writers), Harry Saltzman, Albert R. Broccoli (Producers), Eon Productions.

Who’s in it?: Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman, Jack Lord, Bernard Lee.

Tagline: “007. The double ‘O’ means he has a license to kill when he chooses… where he chooses… whom he chooses!”

IMDb rating: 7.3/10.

In spring of 1961, producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli purchased the James Bond film rights with fellow producer Harry Saltzman, and set about assembling the perfect team to bring author Ian Fleming’s espionage thrillers to the big screen. The search for a director was a short one, as Broccoli’s first port of call was to his collaborator Terrance Young (Broccoli had produced Young’s war drama Red Beret), who gladly accepted the challenge. The same could not be said of the search for the novel’s protagonist; the arduous quest for James Bond would take the producers from big-name stars to “find Bond” contests. Saltzman called the role “the acting plum of the decade,” and as well as possessing the right appearance and characteristics for Bond, it was decided early on that the chosen actor would be an unknown. Step forward former Scottish bodybuilder Sean Connery, who would give Bond a macho physical presence.

Broccoli and Saltzman had given life to the ultimate masculine hero, and originally intended to unleash their creation onto the world in Thunderball, the most recent of Fleming’s novels at that time. However, having agreed on a budget of just under a million dollars with United Artists, the ambitious, underwater adventure seemed implausible and the idea was scrapped. They plumped instead for the stripped-down and more violent thrills of Dr. No. It being the sixth in Fleming’s literary series, James Bond is already a seasoned pro by the time he is sent to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of John Strangways, a British Intelligence representative.

However, from the opening scene we know that Strangways has in fact been assassinated, but by whom and to what end? The film begins almost as a detective narrative, with Bond interrogating Strangways’ associates and tracing his final movements. Bond thinks he has the case sewn up when he discovers a connection between Strangways and a mysterious figure known as Dr. No, the owner of an off-limits island just off the Jamaican coast. As Q would testify, 007 rarely obeys the rules and therefore sets a course for the Dr’s secluded hideaway in order to uncover its secrets. From then on, Dr. No lays the groundwork for what has become the Bond formula: Bond meets completely unattainable and exotic female with ludicrous name (Honey Rider in this instance), Bond infiltrates villainous lair and discovers plans of world domination, Bond meets even more ludicrously named evil genius and defeats him, destroys his lair and saves the world… oh and, of course, gets the girl. The ultimate male fantasy played out on-screen, or the “same old dream” as Bond says to Dr. No at one point. Indeed, Mr. Bond.

Although the final third of the film descends into overblown spectacle that we are now used to seeing in Bond, the first two-thirds are short on gimmickry. Gadgetry also goes amiss; when a Q-like character appears (not portrayed by the late great Desmond Llewelyn), he simply equips Bond with his trademark Walther PPK pistol. No jetpacks or underwater cars just yet. Most of 007’s fighting is done with his fists, and the darkness of Fleming’s writing certainly comes out in the film’s violence. For instance, Bond’s calm and calculated murder of Professor Dent, who he suspects of conspiring with Dr. No, is as shocking and brutal as anything in 2006’s Casino Royale (excluding the infamous torture scene, of course).

Dr. No clearly sets out to illustrate Bond’s menacing capabilities, as well as being irresistible to women. In our first moments with 007, he defeats the beautiful Sylvia Trench at Chermin de Fer, and immediately seduces her back to his hotel room. Connery nails the duality of the character, and finds the perfect balance between charming, British gentleman and cold-blooded killer. Add to that its uniquely vibrant opening titles, accompanied by John Barry’s iconic score, and its no wonder the film grossed almost sixty million dollars worldwide. The film is not perfect by any means, but is the most important in the 007 canon, as it introduced Bond as Fleming intended him to an adoring worldwide audience. And as we eagerly await the release of Spectre, the twenty-fourth Bond outing, Dr. No obviously got something right.

Best Scene

This is certainly the most iconic scene. Ursula Andress’ introduction in Dr. No has been imitated and parodied so many times that its easy to lose sight of the original, especially when it was referenced by Halle Berry in Die Another Day (2002) and Daniel Craig himself in Casino Royale (2006). People tend to picture voyeuristic slow-motion shots of Honey Rider as she ascends from the sea. It’s actually slightly more subtly done then that, but we’re certainly not looking at her sea shells, as Bond says himself, we’re “just looking.”

Useless Trivia

  • At first Eunice Gayson was to play Miss Moneypenny and Lois Maxwell was to play Sylvia Trench, but they switched roles.
  • This is the only James Bond movie to feature SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) without showing its supreme commander Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
  • This was chosen to be the inaugural film in the James Bond series as the plot of the source novel was the most straightforward. It had only one major location (Jamaica) and only one big special effects set piece.
  • Although there are persistent rumours that Ursula Andress was nude in the shower scene to clean her of radiation, closer inspection reveals that she is wearing a flesh-coloured one-piece bathing suit.
  • Producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli were adamant that the film be directed by an Englishman, someone cultivated enough to understand the world of 007.
  • Strangways (played by Tim Moxon) is shot at the beginning by the “Three Blind Mice,” one of whom is played by Moxon’s dentist.

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