Welcome to my review of Dr No, the first part of my challenge to review all of the James Bond films. Over the course of the next couple of months, I’ll be watching each film in turn and trying to figure out which one is my favourite. For more information, see my introduction here.
(dir. Terence Young, 1962)
Considering it was made 50 years ago on a shoestring budget, Dr No is as exciting and suspenseful as any action film made today, and serves as a grand introduction to 007. Sean Connery nailed his role as the top British agent, and it’s not surprising that so many people still hold him up as the definitive Bond. He is the very definition of suave and charming and he brings a surprisingly brutal edge to his character that fans of the newer films in the franchise might not expect.
James Bond is sent to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of a British agent, who has been assassinated as part of a vaguely nefarious plot by Dr Julius No (played by Joseph Wiseman), a Chinese-German madman with an inferiority complex. Notwithstanding the low budget (the studio assumed the film would bomb and so gave it a little over $1 million), the film looks great, although a few of the special effects are now a little dated and I’m pretty convinced Connery doesn’t know how to drive a car, judging by his acting during the ever-so-slightly ropey car chase scene.
Despite his name being on the poster, Dr No only appears for maybe 20 minutes and spends most of that time explaining his slightly dappy plan to ruin the US space program (that’s right: a Bond villain who doesn’t want to conquer the world, or even to rob it) and randomly revealing his connection to SPECTRE, whose presence is otherwise unfelt in this film. It’s a pity, because the first time we meet him—or, at least, hear his voice as he gives orders to a scientist to murder Bond—he seems genuinely intimidating. Afterwards, however, he doesn’t do much aside from have a perfunctory scrap with Bond.
Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) introduced the world to the concept of the Bond girl-with-a-stupid-name, and gave us that iconic sexy scene when she emerges from the sea. Following that, however, her character is generally annoying throughout the remainder of the film; she comes across as a wet blanket, even taking into account the gender politics of the day.
Flaws aside, you can see the legend of Bond already emerging in Dr No, even in the absence of now-established tropes of the series (there’s no intro song, Q and his gadgets are nowhere to be seen, and none of the cars have built-in weapons). This might not be the greatest of the series, but it still stands the test of time and is well worth a watch.
Title song: Doesn’t really have one, unless you count the James Bond theme or Three Blind Mice.
Greatest moment: Bond is set up to be killed en route to a liaison with Miss Taro, a double agent working for Dr No. He kills his pursuers (“I think they were on their way to a funeral!”) and turns up at the home of a confused Miss Taro, who sleeps with him regardless. And then he has her arrested.
Worst moment: The ‘Dragon’. Everyone in this film has seen a car—hell, even Honey Ryder mentions that she goes to Miami to sell her shells. How are they all taken in by the badly painted truck masquerading as a dragon?
Best gadget: There aren’t any proper gadgets in Dr No, unless you think a rather chunky Geiger counter qualifies as one. That said, the quartermaster (Major Boothroyd, not Q) does introduce Bond at the start of the film to what will become 007’s signature weapon: the Walther PPK.
James Bond: For me, Crab Key’s going to be a gentle relaxation.
Felix Leiter: From what? Dames?
James Bond: No, from being a clay pigeon.
Most obvious product placement: Red Stripe beer. 50 years before people would get up in arms about Heineken featuring in a Bond movie, a fight scene has a giant pile of Red Stripe boxes acting as a crash mat.
Verdict: Okay, here’s how this is going to work. I’m not going to rate each film in the franchise, because (a) there are too many films for anything as simple as a 5-star or 1-10 system to work and (b) I’m not a huge fan of rating systems anyway. Instead, I’m going to construct a league table based on my own enjoyment of the films as I go through the series. This is the first film, so right now it’s not a very exciting table (Dr No is in first place!), but as of the next review (From Russia With Love) I’ll start putting it all into order. See you then!