Over the coming weeks and months, our brother, Richard, will be reviewing every (mainline) Bond film in chronological order. Enjoy!
Theme by John Barry – The first James Bond theme song is slightly different to all the others that followed in that it is essentially the original theme that would go on to be heard in the background of all official James Bond movies, and is not a song sung by a top selling musical artist of the time. Written and composed by Monty Norman & the legendary John Barry, the theme itself is undoubtedly one of the most iconic film tunes of all time.
8/10 (not so much for the music itself, but for the legend it helped to create)
So, onto the film itself.
Starring Sean Connery – the first man to don the tuxedo for the official film franchise – Dr No. is set amidst the stunningly beautiful scenery of Jamaica in the Caribbean, where Bond is sent on a mission to investigate the disappearance of a British MI6 station chief name Strangways, and whether this was linked to a joint operation he was conducting with the American CIA looking into the possible jamming of US rocket launches, from the area around a mysterious island known as Crab Key.
Following the initial musical intro, the film begins with the aforementioned Strangways being shot dead by hitmen known as ‘The Three Blind Mice’, who then go on to murder Strangways’s secretary, who’s in the process of signalling London; this sudden loss of communication the event that prompts MI6 to assign 007 James Bond to investigate.
Our first glimpse of the man himself – and the first time we hear the famous line “my name is Bond…James Bond” – is in a casino; a place we would see 007 frequent a lot over the course of the franchise. In this scene, as in every other set in a casino, Bond is taking everyone to the cleaners, notably, in this case, a beautiful woman named Sylvia Trench (Eunice Grayson) – no prizes for guessing what happens afterwards: the first of what would become an insane amount of romantic if, shall we say a little pushy, trysts with stunningly hot women.
It’s a very gentile beginning in terms of pace. We’re introduced to various characters during the first half an hour or so: 007’s boss (the person simply known as M); Q (although, in this particular film, he’s referred to as Major Boothroyd), portrayed for the first and only time by Peter Burton – the role later, of course, defined by the late, iconic Desmond Llewelyn; CIA agent Felix Lighter (Jack Lord) whose mission is the same as Bond’s; and local fisherman Quarrel (John Kitzmiller), who had previously been working with Strangways.
But, even after Bond arrives in Jamaica to begin his investigative work, things never really get going until the end of the movie; we don’t even meet creepy-voiced antagonist Dr. No – played by Joseph Wiseman – until the last knockings of the film.
As we slowly but surely progress through the film, we eventually meet bungling geologist/henchman Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson), who tries and fails a good few times to dispose of Bond, using everything from ‘The Three Blind Mice’ (the unfortunate trio who cop it in the spontaneously combusting car shortly thereafter) to a ‘man eating’ Tarantula that he secretes in James’s hotel room, wherein it meets it’s end via the butt of Bond’s soon-to-be famous Walther PPK (poor spider). Unfortunately for the good professor, his final abortive effort to kill 007 costs him his life.
At this point, having found traces of radioactivity in rock samples retrieved by Strangways from Crab Key, Quarrel reluctantly agrees to ferry Bond over to Dr. No’s highly fortified island to investigate further. And it’s here that we witness one of the most iconic moments in cinema history; buxom blonde beauty Honey Rider (Ursula Andress) emerging from the warm Caribbean Sea; a moment so incredible it inspires Bond to sing for the first and only time in the franchise’s history.
Conveniently connected to Dr No. via her father, Honey accompanies Bond and Quarrel as they traipse through the island’s radioactive swamp looking for a way into the nefarious doctor’s secret hideout. Before they’ve gone very far, however, they’re assaulted by an armoured, flame-thrower-equipped tractor; Quarrel is incinerated due as much to his own stupidity as anything else, while James and Honey are taken prisoner.
In typical James Bond fashion, after being de-contaminated and then drugged (I’m honestly not sure why this is done; to pass the time is the only reason I can deduce!), Bond and Honey join Dr. No for dinner which, like I said earlier, is actually the first time we see the film’s antagonist on screen. During this incongruous meal (perhaps, shortly after the fish course), we’re given a full account of the evil ne’re-do-well’s backstory; not just his motivations for disrupting the US’s plans for space exploration (because he works for a secret terrorist organisation known as Spectre; you know, the evil conglomerate that would provide the backdrop for most of Sean Connery’s adventures), but even why he has weird tin hands.
After a frankly amusing exchange during which Bond continuously irks Dr. No with disparaging comments about his sanity and goals of world domination, Bond is beaten by the guards and thrown into a holding cell, whilst Honey is taken away to an undisclosed location. Being the world’s greatest sleuth/luckiest human being ever to walk the Earth, it doesn’t take Bond long to escape his prison cell (via a conveniently placed and easily accessible ventilation shaft), and gain access to the main control room. Once there, Bond swiftly thwarts Dr. No’s masterplan by overloading the reactor, killing the Dr. in the process by submerging him in his own radioactive pool.
With the world safe and Bond’s mission complete, our randy hero finds Honey and escapes the island (with a little help from Felix), stopping halfway to safety for one final quicky. Ah, romance.
All in all, I would say this is a solid if unspectacular first outing for 007.
Sean Connery makes the title character his own, while the supporting cast do a decent job – particularly Kitzmiller and Jack Lord. However, though Ursula Andress certainly provides some eye candy, her performance is not particularly strong. Moreover, Dr. No is, in my opinion, one of the weakest in the entire Bond franchise, not helped by Joseph Wiseman’s lacklustre performance, with nothing to distinguish him from so many other megalomaniacal villains save his tin hands.
The plot isn’t anything to write home about either, and, as I mentioned at the very start of this review, the pace is rather slow. That being said, it certainly delivers some truly memorable moments, including the aforementioned Honey Rider emerging from the ocean, and some cracking one-liners.
And, though it’s admittedly a rather minor grievance, there are some rather conspicuous mistakes and production issues. First and foremost, there’s a very ‘of its time’ car chase which ends with the car chasing Bond somehow blowing up after falling down a hill, but there’re smaller things too, such as femme fatale Miss Taro seemingly mutable address or that highly amusing moment during one of the earlier fight sequences, for instance, which sees Bond swing with his right hand, only to end up connecting with his left.
Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh; the film was done on a very small budget and was shot in 1962, and yet is, in general, pretty well done.
Overall, I think a slightly above average rating is fair, due mainly, it has to be said, to its being the first in the series and thus the starting point of cinema’s longest-running franchise.