Written by Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, and Berkeley Mather
Directed by Terence Young
Growing up, and growing older, I never quite got into the whole James Bond phenomenon. However, after much cajoling by my friends and so many positive reviews. I have watched them several times now and always enjoy the escapist fantasy.
Dr. No was the first film in what has become the longest running – and most prolific – series on the silver screen. The series was launched at a time when the Cold War was at it’s height. This provided a backdrop of tension which translated nicely into the films about British super-spy James Bond.
Bond (portrayed here by Sean Connery) works for a secret agency known as MI6. When another MI6 agent and his secretary are killed in Jamaica while investigating interference with rocket launches at Cape Canaveral, Bond gets the assignment. He immediately departs, leaving behind a beautiful woman whom he met across the poker table.
His investigation into the agent’s death leads back to SPECTRE, a conglomerate run by the evil Dr. No, who is set on world domination. Bond is hot on the trail and battles a series of adversaries as well as dodging traps set out for him. He also hooks up with the first “Bond Girl”, Honey Rider (portrayed by Ursula Andress). All of this set to the backdrop of beautiful Caribbean islands makes for a glamorous and thrilling film.
That’s not to say Dr. No isn’t without faults. The franchise was in its infancy here, and it shows. Some of the various staples of later bond films are missing or only showed in a limited way. The infamous gadgets he has to battle his enemy is restricted to an exploding bag and a gun with a silencer. There’s also a problem with the car chase scene. It hadn’t been done much, so Directors weren’t polished in the art of crafting a car chase the way we take them for granted today in action films.
Director Terence Young did a terrific job, however. The pace of the film is excellent and feels like a roller-coaster rides with momentum building into scenes I could feel myself waiting for. Part of it is how he sets it up. Bond does certain things during the course of the film that I knew were going to have a payoff later on and it works quite well. This seems different than many films today where they dumb-down for the audience, leading them through intricate plot twists step by step. Dr. No seems to take for granted that its audience will be smart enough to put all of the pieces together in the end.
Sean Connery is superb and in my opinion the best man to ever portray the super-spy. He’s got a suave exterior and casual manner that make him seem unflappable. Connery gives Bond a certain degree of intelligence and craftiness that makes him work very well in this plot, even without all of the gadgets. In fact, after watching this first film, I would say the gadgets took away from the main character a bit too much as the franchise wore on.
I loved the banter between Bond and Miss Moneypenny (portrayed by Lois Maxwell). It provided a sequence which was a relief from the fast pace of the rest of the film and gave a good sense of the ties Bond has back at MI6. Maxwell does a terrific job here and will hold her own against him all the way into the mid-1980’s. Joseph Wiseman does a good turn as the title character. The minor characters are all convincing and bolster the leads’ performances, making the movie come together quite nicely.
Dr. No holds up well even sixty years later. There are some sequences that look dated, and compared to the super-glamorous resorts of today, some of the settings aren’t all that impressive. I imagine they were in their time. The beautiful setting and intriguing plot make for a terrific film.
• Inside Dr. No
• Terence Young: Bond Vivant
• Audio Commentary with Director Terence Young & members of the cast & crew
• B&W 1963 Dr. No Featurette
• TV Spots
• Radio Spots
• The Dr. No Gallery