50 Years of Bond: ‘Dr. No’ Review
Cast: Sean Connery, Ursala Andress, Joseph Wiseman, Jack Lord, John Kitzmiller, Bernard Lee
Plot: When a British agent is murdered by three assassins known as the ‘Three Blind Mice’ Double-0 Agent James Bond is dispatched to Jamaica to investigate. There he finds a wider conspiracy headed up by the enigmatic Dr. No.
Review: It’s unlikely that when the Broccoli and Saltzman signed the papers to turn Ian Fleming’s spy novel into a movie they didn’t expect us to eagerly awaiting the 22nd sequel being released fifty years later. No doubt they were hoping for a franchise,Dr. No being one of a series of novels focused on the worlds most famous spy, but a film series lasting this long and being this successful was completely unprecedented and has not been matched since.
In this cinematic debut of the character there were many factors that contributed to the eventual success of the series. The casting of blue-collar Sean Connery over better known actors plays a big role in this. Whilst today his attitude (especially towards women) has not aged well there’s no denying the rough charm that he brings to the role even when dressed in a tuxedo. Regardless of the situation he remains cool and in control, rarely dropping his lazy smirk and always with an edge of danger around him. The other contributing factor comes in the form of the films style. Filmed on a small budget director Young chose to create a highly stylized film with bright and colourful set pieces, most notably Dr. No’s base which is now a distinctive set-piece for the 1960’s art trends. Providing Dr. No with mechanical hands was a successful way to make the character distinctive as well – fortunately they didn’t go with Option B: Make Him a Monkey.
This first installment sees a notable lack of the trademark gadgets and stunts that is now expected in the series. Not that this is bad thing – a reliance on such things has tripped up some of the later films (more on those later), and it allows the character to rely on his wits and ingenuity which can make for some equally exciting viewing. Using simple tricks and careful banter to get the drop on his opponents is just as interesting as seeing what nifty tool he’s going to make use of, and it’s something the character could be doing more frequently. Part of the success of the more recent Casino Royale brought this trait back to forefront to great acclaim.
Scriptwise this is one of the better Bond films. Not going by the modern action approach of structuring the story around a designated number of set pieces to use in the trailers. The audience gets given some hints as to what’s going on before Bond arrives on the scene, and then we get given a bunch of questions without answers. Who’s the dude in the hat, the girl with the camera, the dodgy geologist? Answers to the questions are trickled out throughout the film, some contributing the solving the mystery, some not. Eventually we wind up on Dr. No’s island for some cool action and sets.
As a Bond film it may seem a bit plain compared to later adventures but it makes up for it with cool writing and Sean Connery being a smooth bastard. It’s engaging, it’s fun and it has a cracking, if abrupt finale. It’s hard to say how the film would’ve been remembered if it hadn’t kick-started cinema’s most bankable franchise but that achievement is notable enough.
Score: EIGHT outta TEN
Also, when Dr. No appeared in the animated seriesJames Bond Jr. he looked like this – a strange depiction that all Asian villains seemed to have at the time.