Every great movie franchise starts small and as the decades pass by, its place in history will be marked and revisited.
This is my review of the first-ever James Bond movie Dr. No.
Released in 1962 based on the sixth novel written by James Bond creator Ian Fleming, Dr. No brought Agent 007 to the big screen worldwide and its success led to a series of big moneymaking sequels, merchandise, novels, comic books, video games and other forms of contributions to pop culture. This movie also marked the beginning of Sean Connery’s journey towards becoming a cinematic icon as, arguably, the best cinematic James Bond ever.
The movie begins when British agents in Jamaica get killed off by henchmen who eventually retrieved highly confidential files. In England, the secret service sends Agent 007 to Jamaica to do detective work and he gets armed with a Walter PPK. Once in Jamaica, Bond starts talking to people, gathering clues and traveled to different places to find out who is responsible for killing his fellow British intelligence operatives. If you want to know more, you just have to watch the movie.
If you are a newcomer to the James Bond franchise or if you never saw this movie before, then you have to keep in mind that this very old movie is NOT an action film but rather it is a detective story laced with suspense and some action that follows James Bond performing his mission for Queen and Country.
Chances are, you must have seen many other James Bond movies that are heavy on action, stunts and explosions. As it was the first of the film franchise, Dr. No is nothing like those other movies of Agent 007.
Being a detective story, Dr. No is character-driven and laced with mystery and suspense. To describe it without spoiling the story, the narrative shows Bond searching for answers and as the suspense builds up, something or someone gets revealed which adds to the deepening of the plot. There is some action, stunts and explosions to spice up the movie which were pretty enjoyable for the early 1960s. However the car chase is very outdated and never believable. Naturally, the spectacle is tame by today’s standards but still, this movie is not boring at all for me.
The movie is nicely paced and makes clear what is going on. There is sufficient build-up leading to the next revelation or the next part of the chain of mystery or the next twist. By the time James Bond encounters Dr. No himself well after the 60-minute mark into the movie, I became oriented with both characters as their conflict finally starts. This will work for you if you take time with the movie’s pace and pay close attention to details.
Sean Connery as Agent 007 is charming, cool and cruel. The filmmakers and Ian Fleming himself really oriented the actor on how to portray the literary Bond in cinematic form. Connery’s Bond is charming and the filmmakers make it very believable on-screen that ladies would fall for his charm which in turn would give him the opportunity to advance in his pursuit of accomplishing his goals in the line of duty.
Ursula Andress, who had to be dubbed in post-production due to her accent, caught the world’s attention wearing the bikini on the big screen (in color, no less) as Honey Ryder who came out from the water with her equipment and sea shells. This was a daring scene to show back in the early 1960s. Of course, Honey is not just a pretty face but also a brave lady with a history of adventure and exploring. This makes her believable as a Bond girl who has what it takes to keep up with Agent 007 in the story, even going face to face with Dr. No.
Joseph Wiseman‘s performance as Dr. No is subtle and yet he remains creepy as a cinematic villain. When compared to other villains in the James Bond film franchise, he does not do much action but his portrayal as a very powerful sinister human being who controls a loyal group of personnel still makes him a competent franchise villain in by today’s standards. Having seen all the James Bond movies, I find Wiseman’s Dr. No a more engaging villain compared to Col. Moon (the dreadful Die Another Day), Hugo Drax (Moonraker), Kamal Khan (Octopussy), Alec Trevelyan (GoldenEye) and the 21st century Ernst Blofeld (Spectre) to name some.
In terms of production values, Dr. No is a mixed bag. There are some props that looked fake and cheap. The rear projection in the car chase is so fake looking. Ironically, the film shines with the sets designed by Ken Adams. The big room visited by Professor Dent to communicate with Dr. No, the hotel-like lair of the villain (where Honey and Bond are treated like special guests) and the elaborate room of the table meeting with Dr. No all are visually striking.
When it comes to presentation, Dr. No marked the beginning of many things that would later become cinematic traditions – the gun barrel opening, “Bond, James Bond”, the James Bond theme music, the mission meeting between Bond and M. (plus the nice chat between Bond and Moneypenny), the appearance of Felix Leiter during the mission etc.
The screenplay written by Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood and Berkley Mather has quality in it not just with the narrative but also with the dialogue.
I love this exchange of words between Bond and Dr. No.
Dr. No: I’m a member of SPECTRE.
James Bond: SPECTRE?
Dr. No: SPECTRE – Special Executive for Counter Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, Extortion. The four great cornerstones of power headed by the greatest brains in the world.
James Bond: Correction – criminal brains.
And there was also this exchange.
Dr. No: The Americans are fools. I offered my services; they refused. So did the East. Now they can both pay for their mistake.
James Bond: World domination. The same old dream. Our asylums are full of people who think they’re Naploeon. Or God.
Overall, Dr. No is a classic movie and it is the kind of film that filmmakers today don’t make anymore because they know people won’t be satisfied without excessive action and spectacle. It is a James Bond flick in the form of a detective story which has a good amount of mystery, suspense and some action.
For sure, people who have gotten used to action-heavy James Bond movies won’t feel engaged with Dr. No. The best way to enjoy this film is to treat it the way it is meant to be – a piece of cinematic history that built the James Bond film franchise in the very first place.
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