24 Weeks of Bond: Dr. No

I’m a big fan of James Bond, have been since I was a kid. Having recently repurchased the complete Criterion collection of all 24 films, I thought I would do a rewatch of them all and break them down a bit, one blog post at a time.

A couple caveats: I have only read a couple of Fleming’s original novels, and so I won’t be doing any direct comparisons of the films to their literary counterparts. I’ll also only be covering the Eon films, so that means no spoofs, spin-offs, and no Never Say Never Again.

With that said, let’s get into it!

The Movie: Dr. No. Released in 1962, this movie sees Agent 007 James Bond traveling to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of a fellow British agent. Upon arrival, he finds that he is not the only government agent with a keen interest in the goings-on in the area, and before long he becomes tangled up with the mysterious Dr. No and his privately-owned island, Crab Key. The film was directed by Terence Young, and was made for just over a million dollars.

The Bond: Sean Connery, who is notoriously very Scottish, leading to Ian Fleming’s initial disapproval of the casting. Connery donned a dark hairpiece and affected a passable English accent for the role. In Dr. No, he is both charming and effectively dangerous. “That’s a Smith & Wesson, and you’ve had your six.” There are a lot of nice little touches throughout the film that show Bond’s spy expertise: a hair across the closet doors to see if they’ve been opened, choosing an unopened bottle of liquor upon returning to his room instead of the opened bottle in case it was poisoned, his investigative work at the home of the missing Strangways.

The Girls: “Bond girls” are as much a staple of the franchise as anything else, ranging from love interests to femme fatales to damsels in distress. There are three women of note in Dr. No that could be suitably considered Bond girls. Eunice Gayson as Sylvia Trench is the first woman we meet, and its through her love of gambling that we also first meet James Bond, as he cleans her out playing baccarat against her. Zena Marshall plays Miss Taro, an eavesdropping secretary with ulterior motives that Bond seduces all the same. But, of course, the star woman of the film and the first recognized “Bond Girl” is Swiss actress Ursula Andress as the shell-collecting blonde bombshell Honey Ryder. At the time of her casting, she spoke almost no English, and so all of her lines (spoken and sung) were dubbed over by Nikki Van der Zyl.

It’s worth noting as well that all three women survived the film, although Strangways’ briefly seen secretary did not.

The Villain: Dr. Julius No, who is Chinese, as played by Joseph Wiseman, who is not Chinese. But! Wiseman does lend a fantastic amount of gravity to No. No is megalomaniacal but is muted about it, reveling in his actual scientific genius and what he perceives to be his superior sophistication. He also has metal hands. This not only makes him immediately memorable, but his ability to crush items (and people) with his prosthetic strength grants him some physical deadliness in addition to his brilliant mind.

The film also includes the “Three Blind Mice”, a trio of Jamaican killers, a corrupt scientist, and the criminal organization SPECTRE gets namedropped, a hint of grander villainy to come.

The Locations: Aside from a brief appearance in England (a casino, MI6 headquarters), the film takes place almost entirely in Jamaica. We see resorts and beaches, jungles and marshes. This was actually the first feature film to be filmed on location in Jamaica, and it was still a British territory at the time, right up until just about when the film released in theaters.

Dr. No’s mountain lair on Crab Key is also a notable location as it’s absolutely ridiculous. Part mine, part nuclear rocket station, and subaquatic, it is utilitarian in look and function with the exception of No’s own apartments and dining arrangements, which look downright luxurious by comparison. It truly set a standard for supervillain bases.

The Cars: There were several different cars in the film, including a Chevrolet Bel Air, an El Camino, an Impala, a Cadillac Eldorado, a Cadillac Fleetwood 60 Special, and plenty more, including a custom-made marsh buggy contraption rigged to look like an armored dragon.

Most notable is Bond’s car. Instead of the Bentley’s book-Bond is fond of and the Aston Martin’s movie-Bond would become known for, Connery’s Bond drives a 1961 Alpine Sunbeam Series II in Dr. No.

The Gadgets: Dr No has his mechanical hands, of course, replacements for the ones he lost working with nuclear power, but Bond is relatively light with gadgets of his own for his first outing. He really only gets a Walther PPK to replace his favored Beretta. There are also Geiger counters, hidden communication devices, and cyanide cigarettes in the film, as well as the multi-tide of high-tech features in No’s lair.

The Music: Dr No is relatively light on music, although we get to hear the first occurrence of the iconic James Bond theme, written by Monty Norman and arranged by John Barry. Also heard are a Calypso version of “Three Blind Mice”, “Jump Up” by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, and “Under the Mango Tree”, which is the first and only song to be sung by James Bond in the films.

The Support: And finally, we come to the remaining players in the film. Bernard Lee plays M, Bond’s no-nonsense handler who gives Bond his assignment and makes sure he leaves with a more reliable weapon “The CIA swears by”. Lois Maxwell plays the ever reliable Miss Moneypenny, and her chemistry with Connelly’s Bond is delightful. Peter Burton makes a one-and-done appearance as Major Boothroyd (effectively Q’s role). Jack Lord plays Felix Leiter, Bond’s CIA equivalent who will eventually become a close friend and ally. And John Kitzmiller plays Quarrel, an islander who works with both the CIA and Bond to uncover the dark secrets of Crab Key.

Final Thoughts: I had remembered Dr. No feeling overlong (it’s actually among the shortest three), and wasn’t looking forward to kicking off this project with what I expected to be a dull affair. I was pleased to find that it’s a much more charming film than I remembered. I did find that I wished Joseph Wiseman had more screen time as Dr. No, but all in all it was a strong first outing, and Connery really carried the charisma and danger of Bond. Jamaica is beautiful, No’s lair is stunning in its scale, and Bond managed to switch from stealthy spy to man of action effectively. All in all, a good movie, and I’m excited to be doing this.

Other Bond Breakdowns:

From Russia With Love

Goldfinger

Thunderball

You Only Live Twice

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Diamonds Are Forever

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