Note: Given that this is the first of my reviews, each blog post will cover the following: plot synopsis (spoiler-free) as well as my impressions of the pre-title sequence, music, characters, gadgets, stunts and special effects.
I was eleven when I saw Dr. No (Terence Young, 1962), the first of the long-running James Bond franchise from Eon Productions.
To eleven-year-old me, Dr. No felt ancient. The music was pretty corny (the score is arguably the worst of the Bond franchise, even if the iconic “James Bond Theme” plays at every conceivable moment); the performances mostly over-the-top (so much dubbing!); and the pacing pretty slow. However, I still enjoyed the experience. And I did again upon my recent rewatch.
First, Dr. No still works because it’s our introduction to the Bond franchise. We see most of the series’ hallmarks (the opening gunbarrel sequence, the aforementioned “James Bond Theme”, the problematic misogyny, and scenes – such as the briefing with M and Bond’s flirtation with Moneypenny) that would be reiterated in later films. Second, the plot is one of the least convoluted in the series, with the eponymous villain working for the criminal organization SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-terrorism Revenge and Extortion) to topple American rockets. What does Dr. No plan to do after these rockets are toppled?
I don’t know, but what I do know is that Sean Connery is excellent in this film as James Bond, a role he would play in another five official Eon films, one unofficial film, and one video game (From Russia With Love [Electronic Arts, 2005]). Following the gunbarrel sequence and opening credits, we meet Bond, in an introduction seemingly inspired by that of Rick Blaine in Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942). Immediately, Connery seems comfortable and confident in the role. His performance in Dr. No as the English James Bond gets bonus points because it’s most effort Connery puts into suppressing his Scottish accent.
The only other actors who make much of an impression are Hawaii Five-O’s Jack Lord as Bond’s CIA ally Felix Leiter (check out those sunglasses) and Ursula Andress from Clash of the Titans (Desmond Davis, 1981) as Honey Ryder. Her introduction stands as the most memorable image from the film and one to which future Bond films (specifically Die Another Day [Lee Tamahori, 2002] and Casino Royale [Martin Campbell, 2006]) would pay homage.
Perhaps the best that can be said for Dr. No is that it lays so much of the foundation upon which later installments would build. Sure, there’s little action to speak of, the gadgets and quips are kept to a minimum, and the scope is fairly small, but Connery’s assured performance, the real-world Jamaican locations, and the series’ origins make the film a fascinating watch.
Should Dr. No be someone’s first Bond film? As I said in my initial post, my introduction to the series was through GoldenEye (Martin Campbell, 1995), and I wouldn’t have wanted to seek out the others if it had been through Dr. No instead. Furthermore, I’m watching these movies with my girlfriend – someone who has never seen them before – and fortunately she had already seen two of the more recent Bonds, Casino Royale and Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012). Her reaction? I was surprised that she liked Dr. No, a feeling she attributed to the campiness, the 1960s fashion, and the opportunity to see how the Bond series started.
Dr. No is definitely a movie you shouldn’t say “no” to.
This blog will return with… From Russia With Love (Terence Young, 1963).