Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Dr. No: A Review Celebrating The 55th Anniversary Of 007's First Adventure

Source: MGM/Sony Pictures/EON Productions

Secret Agent James Bond 007- where should we begin? As I had mentioned in one of my previous posts, the 007 series is the top of my favorite list when it comes to film series. It is also one of the most popular and, at 55 years and counting, is the longest running series in movie history. Bond's introduction ("Bond...James Bond") was voted as the most famous line in the history of movies and his faithful movie followers grow in numbers every year. His choice of drink (Vodka Martini- shaken, not stirred) is world famous and his influence on the action and adventure films genre is ever present. James Bond's journey from a 1950's best selling series of spy thrillers written by his creator, Ian Fleming, to the silver screen was almost as disastrous as some of the evil plots he would foil in ensuing years to come, but nevertheless his string of box office success has proved that he is truly indestructible. I could easily dedicate a whole post just to telling the story of Bond's journey to the big screen but for now let's focus on answering the question posed at the beginning of the article- Where should we begin? Answer- at the beginning of course!

In October of 1962 moviegoers in the United Kingdom were treated to a brand new adventure that was not only exciting but also proudly presented a true British hero to the world. What they discovered was not only a homeland hero but the beginnings of what would become one of the most successful film series in the history of cinema. After a string of failed attempts to get his character brought to life in a full length feature film, James Bond creator Ian Fleming eventually met with a duo that had the vision and the right connections to get the series started, producers Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. The original intention was to make a movie of Fleming's novel "Thunderball" which was initially written as a film script and turned into a novel. However, some legal dispute issues raised from a previous potential producer concerning that book became a cause of concern for the producers. Additionally, the studio that was funding the project, United Artists, was offering a budget that was much too modest for a project as ambitious as "Thunderball". Fortunately Fleming had written nine Bond books by the time they were ready to being turning the book series into movies, so there were other options. The idea now was to figure out which story would be the easiest to shoot within the restrictions of the budget they were given ($1 million which, even in 1962, was not a large sum for a feature film production). In spite of the limited budget Broccoli and Saltzman were determined to make a film for the ages and finally decided that Dr. No was the best story to go with. They had a script treatment completed and began acquiring their production crew.

The first major step in the process was to hire a director that could fit the scope and scale that the producers had in mind for James Bond, but also someone who would be willing to work for a salary that was reasonable in comparison to their budgetary restrictions (Alfred Hitchcock was the original choice to direct). Enter Terence Young, who had previously worked with Cubby Broccoli on the 1953 film The Red Beret. Young's sense of style and tone were a perfect fit to set James Bond in motion, so the next step was to find the right person to be their leading man. Many names were brought up including Carey Grant, who had starred in some of Hitchcock's spy thrillers and was also a close friend of Cubby Broccoli. Grant was flattered to be considered but was not willing to commit to an ongoing series. Some other actors expressed the same issue, stating that starring in two or three films would be the most they would be willing to commit to. The decision was then made to find an unknown actor who would not balk at a longer term commitment. Fortune smiled on them when Sean Connery, who had also worked previously with Terence Young in 1957's Action Of The Tiger, expressed interest in auditioning for the part. According to stories told over the years Connery came in to visit the producers looking very unkempt and "scrufty". However he had a demeanor and a toughness about him that shone through the visual impression and upon seeing the stature with which he walked (Saltzman once said he "moved like a cat") they decided they had found their man. Once he agreed to take the role Connery was instructed to stay with Terence Young so he could be "polished" and shown how to present himself as a high profile, proper, British gentleman. With their director and leading man now in place, the producers rounded out the cast and traveled to Jamaica in January of 1962 to being filming.

Dr. No begins in with the murder of Commander Strangways, the British Intelligence agent stationed in Jamaica, and his secretary. Following the death of Strangways and his secretary the killers raid a filing cabinet in their office and take two files named "Doctor No" and "Crab Key" respectively. British Intelligence has been looking closely at Jamaica recently since the Americans have been complaining about "massive interference" with their space rocket program and they believe the disturbance is emanating from an area near Jamaica. Once the offices of British Intelligence fail to make contact with Strangways they request an investigation which is forwarded to the offices of MI-6, the secret service branch. The head of MI-6, known only as "M", requests that James Bond, Agent 007, be located with instructions to report right away. We find 007 casually enjoying a game of Chemin De Fer (a French card game) against a very lovely lady named Sylvia Trench (played by Eunice Gayson). After seeing Bond's unending luck with the cards Ms. Trench comments "I admire your luck Mr...?" "Bond....James Bond" he replies (masterly delivered by Connery). It only takes this moment to recognize that James Bond is the ultimate connoisseur and very much a ladies man. He exudes confidence and style which draws Ms. Trench to him more and more. Unfortunately their encounter is cut short when Bond receives his message to report but offers to meet up with Ms. Trench another time. Once Bond enters the offices of MI-6 (which includes his continuous interludes with the charming Miss Moneypenny played wonderfully by Lois Maxwell)  he meets with M to be briefed on his new assignment, the investigation of the disappearance of Commander Strangways. Discovering what happened to Strangways could also offer some answers about the issue of the rocket interference as well. Bond is issued his new gun, a Walther PPK, and his tickets to Jamaica. He runs home to pack for his trip and enters his flat to discover that Ms. Trench has found her way in. Not wanting to be "impolite" to Ms. Trench he lets her know that he has to leave "almost immediately", making sure there is time to make her trip a worthwhile endeavor (as only James Bond does).

Once arriving in Jamaica it does not take Bond long to see that his presence there is not a welcome one. He is constantly followed, potentially kidnapped, and has numerous attempts made on his life, all of which he foils with suave and panache as audiences would come to expect in ensuing years. One particularly elaborate, and unsettling, attempt to kill Bond occurs when he is awakened in his bed by a large tarantula spider crawling up his arm. The scene is very tense and makes the viewer cringe upon sight of the massive arachnid. As Bond continues his investigation he is drawn closer and closer to the mysterious character named Doctor No who inhabits a small island of Crab Key. Despite some claims that Crab Key does not hold the clues that Bond is looking for he is convinced that the island is exactly where his answers lie. Luckily Bond has two allies with him - an American CIA agent named Felix Leiter (brilliantly played by Jack Lord of TV's Hawaii 5-0 fame) and Leiter's local contact Quarrel (played by John Kitzmiller). Bond convinces them to assist him in sneaking into Crab Key to have a closer look. While Bond is snooping around the island with Quarrel he encounters Honey Rider (played by Ursula Andress), who is visiting the island to look for seashells (this encounter sets up one of the many classic Bond one liners. When Honey tells Bond she is looking for shells she asks if he is doing the same. He replies, "no...I'm just looking"). It must be said that Ms. Andress' beauty is stunning and her emergence from sea when she is first introduced in the film is also an iconic moment of cinema.

Bond and Honey are ultimately captured by Dr. No's henchmen and are taken to the villain's lair (magnificently designed by Ken Adam who would go on to create some of James Bond's greatest set pieces) where they are confronted by Dr. No himself (played by Joseph Wiseman). Dr. No confesses to admiring Bond's abilities and foolishly hopes to coerce him into joining forces with the evil organization known as "S.P.E.C.T.R.E" of which Dr. No is a part. Naturally Bond dismisses the offer and reminds Dr. No that his plan is doomed to fail. Our hero is subsequently beaten up and thrown in a cell while Dr. No plans to take out another American rocket following his encounter with Bond. It's up to 007 to escape and to destroy Dr. No and his lair to prevent a war that could ignite between countries if space rockets continue to be tampered with. As expected, we know that 007 will succeed but the exciting way it unfolds is what makes it so much fun.

In my opinion, Dr. No has become more unique in recent years just as much as it was when it was released back in 1962. Upon it's release it was quite unlike most movies of its kind due to it's blend of brutal violence, inherent sexual overtones, style and sophistication. But as the years have gone on and the Bond series continues to grow and prosper (there have been 24 films released by EON Productions and one "non-official" film in 1983 released by Orion Pictures) one must give great admiration to Dr. No because it was solid totally on its own merit. The future Bond films would establish and rely on a formula of exotic locations, clever gadgets, witty one-liners, amazing stunts, etc., but Dr. No did not have the luxury of a formula to lean on. It had to be daring and original and lean on the strength of the story and its characters to gain its audience. Yes there was great action, beautiful locations (the Bond films served as literal travelogue in it's early days when people did not have the luxury to travel all over the world or search the internet), and a timeless theme James Bond theme (composed by Monty Norman and performed by John Barry's Orchestra), but not quite to the level that future films would be able to deliver. Yet the film holds up remarkably well in comparison to the other entries in the series. One cannot say enough about Sean Connery's performance as Bond. He so perfectly personified the character of Bond that following the release of the movie creator Ian Fleming started to alter the character in the books to be closer to Connery's interpretation. This was significant when you consider that Fleming was totally against the casting of Connery, believing that he lacked the class and sophistication that was needed to play the part. The remainder of the cast was also very good- Joseph Wiseman was masterful as Dr. No (he remains my favorite Bond villain to date), Ursula Andress is sultry and dangerous as Honey Rider, Jack Lord is a perfect Felix Leiter, and John Kitzmiller gives a genuine performance as the often superstitious but loyal friend Quarrel. We are also introduced to Bernard Lee as "M" and Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny who would both become reoccurring regulars in the series.

Ultimately the producer's vision of turning James Bond into a successful film series paid off. Dr. No would go on to gross nearly $60 million dollars at the box office and spawn a global interest in the character of James Bond. The studio green lit another film right away and the rest as we know is now movie history. Connery would go on to star in five more "official" Bond films as well as one "non-official" film two decades later. By the present time it is estimated that over one quarter of the world's population has seen at least one James Bond film and he is forever embedded as a staple of popular culture. With the exception of the die hard 007 loyalists Dr. No tends to be one of the more overlooked entries, the sort of "oh yeah, that was a good one too" titles that lives in the shadow of Goldfinger and some other favorites. But it is an injustice to forget the importance of Dr. No's contribution to the series and the deep roots it would spawn through its great acting, direction, and overall creativity. Highly recommended viewing, for Bond enthusiasts as well as film lovers in general.

I hope you enjoyed this first review of the James Bond series. Much like the series itself, Roy's Reel Review will return...

Reel Rating (Out Of a Possible Four):

 Internet Movie Database
Pfeiffer, Lee; Worrall, Dave (1998). The Essential Bond.


  1. Hello Roy good to see you pushing your passion a little further .. great blog . Peter

  2. Hello Roy good to see you pushing your passion a little further .. great blog . Peter