Dr. No, penned by Maibaum/Mankowitz and directed by Terrence Young, laid the foundation for the James Bond franchise. Yet, in retrospect, the movie does not feel part of the franchise. As the Ur-Bond, it lacks the familiar formula of the subsequent entries. There is an opening title sequence, but it does not carry the punch of Monty Norman’s iconic score. Ken Adams’ production design is impressive yet the low $1 million budget shows through the seams. And the script owes much more to a traditional spy thriller than the action-driven spectacle the series would craft into a global brand.
Dr. No almost feels like a series prologue, an introductory chapter. It is easy to glance over, but crucial to know for what comes next. While it merely teases many of the future conventions of Bond, it also created long-lasting snapshots of the series’ famous iconography. One of them is the image of Ursula Andress emerging out of the water, dressed to kill. The producers would later pay homage to this timeless scene in Die Another Day (Lee Tamahori, 2002) and Casino Royale (Martin Campbell, 2006).
The other is Bond’s introduction. To this day, the scene registers a strong impact. The camera initially focuses in on Sylvia Trench seated at a poker table, and the shot feels like a POV. The camera then gradually tracks back to reveal Bond’s profile in the right corner of the frame. It is a smooth and elegant way to align the audience with Bond’s perspective, if only briefly. It is a strategic move to create a between between viewers and the character. A few close-ups and medium shots follow before Connery takes control of the frame. His delivery of “Bond, James Bond” set an iconic standard, to be iterated in every single film. Connery lights a cigarette, then closes lighter to punctuate the line, just as the Bond theme comes on the soundtrack. It is a classic scene, and a highlight in the canon.
Overall, Dr. No is still an interesting movie to behold, but it takes a long time to dive into the action. Connery’s swagger is enjoyable, especially lines like “Both hands on the wheel, Mr. Jones, I’m a very nervous passenger.” Everything was in place, but the subsequent entry would add some more complexity to Bond as a movie franchise.
This postscript series will return with … From Russia With Love.