Dr. No (1962) Director: Terence Young
Although there was an early television series focused on Ian Fleming’s James Bond stories, Dr. No is the first Bond picture to grace the big screen. In addition, Dr. No (published in 1958) was not the first novel by Fleming, that was Casino Royale. Dr. No was actually the sixth novel (at this point Fleming’s novels had become increasingly baroque, and the villains grew increasingly flamboyant). Originally Fleming’s ninth novel, Thunderball, was chosen to be filmed, however a legal battle ensued so they settled on Dr. No. Terence Young is best known for directing these first three Bond films.
At the start of the film, a British agent, John Strangways, is murdered in Jamaica by men disguised as blind beggars. He was playing a game of cards with Dr. R.J. Dent and others. His body is dumped into a getaway car, and back at his flat his secretary is also killed just as she is attempting to make contact with central. The three men steal secret files on “Crab Key” and “Dr. No.” MI6 orders James Bond to investigate as it may be connected to issues facing NASA and the CIA. Bond is busy playing cards in an iconic scene with Sylvia Trench who flirts with him and they agree to meet the following day for lunch. But then Bond is sent immediately to Jamaica by M (Sir Miles Messervy who goes by “M” as the head of MI6). Bond is given a new gun by Q (the head of the research and development division of MI6). When he arrives in Jamaica, Bond is greeted by a fraudulent driver but Bond turns the tables only for him to kill himself with a cyanide capsule hidden in a cigarette. Bond goes to his hotel room and sets a trap to see if anyone has entered his room (he places a thin hair over his closet door so that if someone opened it, Bond would know). He then goes out and tails a local fisherman named Quarrel who Strangways knew and asked to take him to an island called Crab Key (an island that the natives fear for having a dragon and all the men who have disappeared there). Bond then interrogates a local scientist who is familiar with Crab Key, Dr. R.J. Dent, who was one of the last people to see the Strangways alive. Dr. Dent denies rumors of radioactivity of the rocks on Crab Key (Bond realizes he is lying). Bond also meets with the head of colonial authority in Jamaica, and he realizes his secretary is listening in on their conversation (Miss Taro). Bond goes home to realize his trap has been sprung and he narrowly escapes a poisonous spider in his room that night. He goes to visit Miss Taro’s apartment at her invitation but he is tailed by a car that he evades. That night, Dr. Dent arrives and Bond cleverly devises a decoy and interrogates and kills Dent. Bond gets Quarrel to take him to Crab Key where he encounters the beautiful, Honey Ryder (played by Swiss actress Ursula Andress who spoke highly broken English)- a local diver and shell collector. She is singing a memorable “underneath the mango tree” song. They are ambushed by a security vessel so they hide and venture inland into the island, narrowly escaping security forces by hiding underwater until they are attacked by a flame-throwing vehicle that kills Quarrel. Bond and Honey Ryder are taken to a secret lair and they are decontaminated. They meet Dr. Julius No (played Joseph Wiseman) who describes the nuclear capability of the facility (his plot is to disrupt an American space launch) and that he is a member of SPECTRE. Dr. No is the first Bond film to reference the evil organization that continually reappears called SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counterintelligence Terrorism Revenge Extortion). When Bond refuses to join, he is locked in a prison cell, but Bond quickly escapes through a vent. He knocks out a henchman, takes his suit, and then sabotages the nuclear operation before it can launch (they are running a test to takeover a Cape Canaveral rocket). Bond sends the project into a meltdown and he kills Dr. No, whose metallic hands prevent him from climbing out of a grate that is lowered into the fissile material. Bond rescues Honey Ryder and they escape together in a boat that runs out of fuel, but they don’t care and they kiss as it floats away.
The film is shot in London and Jamaica, and Crab Key (an island off the coast of Jamaica). There is an amusing bit in Dr. No when Bond enters Dr. No’s dining room and stares for a moment at a Goa portrait of the Duke of Wellington. This was an inside joke as the painting had recently been stolen in London. It was later recovered in 1965. Many of the female voices were dubbed over in the film, especially Ursula Andress who had a thick Swiss accent.
Dr. No was a cult success. It was produced on a low budget and became a financial success. It contains the classic James Bond music theme at the outset, and the stylized intro credit scene ending with Bond aiming the barrel of his gun at the audience and firing. Perhaps the most iconic scene in the film, aside from the Bond girls, maniacal villain bent on world domination, car chase scenes and so on – is the introduction scene where we meet Bond playing cards in London: his name is “Bond. James Bond.” There was a large search at the time for the right actor to play the role of James Bond – they considered Cary Grant, James Mason, Gregory Peck, Peter Sellers and others. Apparently Ian Fleming was not a fan of “country boy” Sean Connery, as he needed help learning how to be suave (Director Terence Young gave Sean Connery many pointers). Fleming wanted his cousin, Christopher Lee, the now famous actor, to play the role of Dr. No. Monty Norman was credited with writing the famous Bond theme song (and he received royalties all his life for it) but John Barry was the true arranger of the famous tune for many of the Bond movies during his lifetime.
In all, Dr. No remains mostly true to the book – however Sylvia Trench was created just for the film, the books do not have the playful banter between Moneypenny and Bond (Moneypenny was played by Lois Maxwell in the next thirteen Bond movies), and the books never had Bond cold-heartedly killing someone (as with his killing of Professor Dent in the film). The role of Q is played by Peter Burton (the role will be taken up Desmond Llewelyn in the next film From Russia With Love. He will reprise this role in a total of seventeen James Bond films, until John Cleese takes over the role during the Pierce Brosnan era). In the film Dr. No works for a criminal organization called SPECTRE, but in the novel it is a Russian organization called SMERSH.
Is it dated? Cheesy? Slightly uncomfortable at times? Sure. But Dr. No is a classic film, one of the best Bond movies, and it reinvigorated the spy genre for years to come. Sean Connery is surely the best actor to portray Bond and these early films are excellent. Ursula Andress is likely one of the most memorable Bond girls of all time, as well. The tone of Dr. No is mysterious and exotic, as if we are uncovering some hidden plot on a strange island alongside James Bond.