“Welcome to Jamaica, Mr. Bond.”
Dr. No could have been a disaster. Look no further than the first adaptation of a Fleming Bond novel, Casino Royale, a 1954 episode of Climax! which introduced audiences to Jimmy Bond, an American secret agent known for his card skills. But in the hands of producers, Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, and director Terence Young, Dr. No becomes a solid start to one of the most successful franchises in cinema history laying a groundwork that would result in repeated and higher successes rather than diminishing returns.
Sean Connery IS James Bond. Nearly sixty years from that first immortal “Bond. James Bond.” with a deft flick of the lighter, he’s still the man all successors try to and (sadly fail to) live up to. Brilliant casting created a Bond that’s a mixture of brute force and posh sophistication. He’s charming but can also rough and tumble with any number of heavies that come his way. But Connery also imbues Bond with a touch of humanity.
Dr. No is not afraid to show Bond as being susceptible to the forces around him. There’s a small scene where he returns to his hotel room and after checking his spy traps and pouring himself a drink, he sits down in a chair, holds his glass up to his forehead and closes his eyes. In that small moment we see the weight of being a secret agent: the constant vigilance, the exhausting hours and the all too brief moments of calm. Not soon after, having just escaped death from a tarantula, Bond becomes sick and heads into the bathroom. These moments show that Bond is not superhuman and are great touches to a pretty tight script.
Dr. No is a solid entry into the Bond canon. If it was not the first film, and since it introduces Connery as Bond, it’s slightly more elevated than if it had come later in the franchise. The story is good enough. You forget going back how versed in spy craft and Cold War machinations these early films are. Just wait until the next one! What elevates Dr. No is its innate sense of style. What is cliché now was new in 1962. The futuristic set design by Ken Adam working on a shoestring budget would only improve with successive films. The music is loud and thrilling, even if Bond walking through an airport is pretty mundane to break out the Bond theme. Ursula Andress rising from the ocean like a goddess and Jack Lord as the suave and stylish Felix Leiter help surround Bond with a great supporting cast. And then of course, there’s Dr. No himself. In his all too brief screen time, the film presents him as mysterious, deadly and determined. He’s memorable despite his physical absence. He’s not the best villain by far but he remains memorable because his presence hangs over the entire film.
I’m going to give Dr. No a 7/10. Again, it would probably be a 6 if it wasn’t the first and if Connery still didn’t provide chills so many decades later. Bond is at his most ruthless in these early films but Connery sells it. You admire the man and believe the stakes he’s in. The plot may have a few holes examining it later but the story is focused and never drags while watching it. I think this James Bond thing might just take off.
1) Dr. No