DR. NO (1962)
Starring: Sean Connery, Joseph Wiseman, Ursula Andress, Jack Lord, John Kitzmuller, Lois Maxwell, Bernard Lee
Written By: Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, Berkely Mather, Ian Fleming (novel) Directed By: Terence Young
The world’s most famous secret agent finally hits the big screen.
Dr. No is the prototype flick for a lot of different things.
Compared to most of the Bond films that would come later, this is Dr. No Frills.
Though one of the more plausible Bond movies, it nevertheless conveys a real sense of adventure.
Dr. No is rock solid and almost infinitely rewatchable.
What Kind Of Cheese Is It?
JACK. MONTEREY JACK.
Shipped to your local market via the diplomatic pouch.
Pairs Well With…
Yeah, yeah; I know you were expecting something else. But this flick’s all about Jamaica, mon, and at that point, you toast with the island’s most famous beer. It’s tasty, too!
“Bond. James Bond.”
Once upon a time, there was a man who used to work for British Intelligence who thought it would be fun to write some novels. That man was Ian Fleming, and from the moment his fingers touched a typewriter, the world of popular literature would never be the same.
After a little wrangling and perhaps a false start or two, 1962 saw Fleming’s creation, James Bond, step off the printed page and onto the silver screen. From the moment he could be seen dealing a hand of Chemin de Fer, the world of cinema would never be the same.
Cue Monty Norman’s theme music; it’s time for the world to be shaken and stirred…
Our story begins in Jamaica, mon. A British Intelligence officer named Strangways is playing Bridge at his club. As he does every day at the same time, he informs his friends that he must step away for a few moments so he can report in to his boss. He never makes it; he’s gunned down in the parking lot, though it happens so quickly that no one sees what happened. Meanwhile, at his office, his secretary has just brought the radio to London online when she, too, meets with an assassin’s bullet.
The British government, of course, would like to know why its man in the field has suddenly disappeared just after a line was opened for routine transmission, so they assign their best agent to find out what happened, and why. The agent’s name is Bond. James Bond…
While Dr. No certainly wasn’t the first spy movie ever made, it definitely broke the mold and created a new one. It’s not that it does anything particularly new, mind; rather, it’s the way in which it’s all put together on such a larger-than-life stage.
Think about it. Though other secret agents and case solvers of all sorts had come before him, none had quite captured the imagination the same way that James Bond did. Though other mad scientists and megalomaniacs had preceded Dr. No (who is himself based on Dr. Fu Manchu) and indeed had plots more far reaching than his (all he wants to do is cause a moon rocket to crash after takeoff), none had seemed quite so dastardly and resourceful just the same. Other lovely ladies had captured a hero’s eye before, but there was a little extra swooning in the aisles when Ursula Andress stepped out of the water and walked onto the beach in that now-famous white bikini. All of it had been done before, and yet…
It’s called movie magic for a reason, folks. Sometimes the pixie dust lands on the film just right and everything clicks. That’s what happens with Dr. No. The whole becomes vastly greater than the sum of its parts, and when all is said and done, one of the greatest icons in motion picture history emerges: one who transcends time, transcends story, and transcends all of the actors who ever have played or who ever will play him.
Of course, there’s a reason why people keep comparing those other guys to Sean Connery, and it’s not because Connery went first. It’s because he portrays so well all of those idealistic qualities that audiences see in James Bond. He’s a manly man’s man (trying saying that quickly 007 times) in a way that’s not off putting to women, and devastatingly sexy in a way that’s not off putting to men. When Connery’s Bond wins a fist fight, the audience believes him capable of doing so and doesn’t chalk it up to dumb luck. (Sorry, Roger Moore.) Connery’s glib delivery of dialogue is disarming both to the ladies and to the boys at the pub. (You’ll notice that there are hundreds of Scottish actors, but only one that everyone tries to impersonate. That’s charisma, folks.) He can play both a physical and an intellectual ideal without seeming miscast as either. James Bond may indeed be able to live forever as a character on the screen and wear the faces of many actors in the process, but the start that Sean Connery gives him here in Dr. No is what assured the fact that he’d be given the chance to do so.
He’s also given a bit of a push thanks to the efforts of director Terence Young and the three gents who adapted the screenplay for Dr. No from Ian Fleming’s novel. The changes made to the major elements of Fleming’s novel are relatively minor in comparison to how things would turn out in later films (gosh, I cannot imagine why they’d change the cover for Dr. No’s operation from a guano processing plant to a bauxite mine), but it’s the tinier changes that make all the difference here. The literary Bond is cruel, sexist, and racist. This inaugural screenplay softens him up just enough to make him more palatable to the wider motion picture audience while still retaining the essence of the character. For those who have read Fleming’s original work, there can truly be no doubt that these adjustments contributed mightily to the success of the character on the big screen… much to the great surprise of many of the men backing the finances of this movie.
Stepping beyond the character, the story behind Dr. No is an extremely straightforward one; indeed, its overall simplicity along with the fact that it keeps to just one exotic locale (Jamaica) is what led to this particular plot being chosen as Bond’s first film effort. It is also, up until the very end, among the most plausible of any of the Bond adventures; indeed, the American CIA was honestly concerned about the possibility of the Cuban government (or at least the of Soviet government via Cuba) carrying out exactly the same scheme that Dr. No does here. Granted, once Bond decides to save the moon rocket by causing the meltdown of what amounts to being an open-air, uncontained nuclear power plant, well… modern audiences know that the shark has been jumped, but nuclear power wasn’t even twenty years old at the time, so we can give it a pass. Besides, even after you realize that’s what’s going on, odds are that it won’t occur to you again the next time you watch it.
And of course you’re going to watch it again. That’s the power of Bond, and Dr. No turns out to be almost infinitely rewatchable. It’s very well paced; always in motion while still maintaining the easy breeziness of its Jamaican location. At the end of the day, Dr. No really has only one thing going against it and it’s something many people don’t pick up on anyway. This would be the fact that for whatever reason, the producers of the early Bond films seem to be absolutely obsessed with overdubbing performers’ voices. For example, every female in this movie save for Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny is dubbed… by the same woman. There’s an island guard whose dubbed voice sounds like Groucho Marx and whose appearance suggests that he really sounds like anything but. And so on and so forth. Seriously, folks, what’s the point? However, as noted, as moviemaking sins are concerned, this is a pretty minor one.
Bottom line, Dr. No proves to be a rock solid inaugural effort for James Bond, 007. It may not have any gadgets more sophisticated than a Geiger counter or have Bond jetting off to four different far-flung locales, but part of the charm of Dr. No is that it proves that 007 doesn’t need these things to succeed where it counts. It’s just a damn good spy movie, and even coming up on fifty years later (amazing, isn’t it?), Dr. No not only stands the test of Father Time, but also asks the dear fellow to pour it another martini while he’s up
– Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, November, 2011
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To HEAR Ziggy & Eric talk about Dr No in detail, check out EPISODE 1!
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