Eye For Film >> Movies >> Dr No (1962) Film Review
Reviewed by: Stephen Carty
When a British Secret Service agent is killed in Jamaica, MI6 chief 'M' (Bernard Lee) sends special Double-O agent James Bond (Sean Connery) to investigate. After teaming up with CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jack Lord) and a local fisherman named Quarrel (John Kitzmiller), the clues lead Bond to the dubious Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson), an island called Crab Key and the mysterious Dr Julius No (Joseph Wiseman).
Though unthinkable now, back in the early Sixties hardly anyone knew who James Bond was. While today he’s one of the most easily-recognisable film characters at the heart of the most popular franchise in movie history (22 movies over 46 years at the time of writing), back then he was nothing more than a fictional spy in British author Ian Fleming’s novels. Lucky for us 007 fanatics then that producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R Broccoli saw potential for years of tailored-tuxedos, sinister villains and sidekicks you know won't survive.
One of the first things you notice about Dr No is how low-key it is compared to the glossy, spectacle-ridden instalments of later years. With a small budget (the studio 'only' lent $1 million), there’s a rougher, more realistic feel that - unlike the hollow volcanoes and invisible cars to come - makes you believe this yarn could actually happen.
Here, Bond uses his wits and intelligence instead of fancy gadgetry (the scene where he intruder-proofs his hotel room is among the series' best) and is far from an unbeatable superhero who saunters through proceedings unharmed. Connery might not get a carpet duster to his manhood, but he still gets captured, brutally beaten up and humiliated.
However, Dr No still sets out a lot of the iconic standards to which most of the following Bonds would rigidly follow. We have the Walther PPK, vodka martinis that are shaken and not stirred, that distinctive theme tune, exotic locations, quips after killing, Maurice Binder's famous 'gun barrel sequence' (which interestingly features stuntman Bob Simmons, not Connery), Ken Adams’ production design and the whole “Bond… James Bond” introduction-method (which Connery nails). Though every few years following would see a new identikit version being conveyor-belted out, the formula in Dr No feels as fresh as Ursula Andress emerging from the sea.
Speaking of the lead, Connery simply inhabits James Bond. After a tricky casting process which saw Cary Grant, Patrick McGoohan, future-choice Roger Moore, David Niven (who would later play an unnofficial Bond in 1967 spoof Casino Royale) and the winner of a 'find James Bond' contest all considered, the unknown Scotsman defined the role with raw charisma and a dominant presence.
Though Fleming doubted his "overgrown stuntman" appearance and some thought he was simply impersonating director Terence Young (co-star Lois Maxwell noticed Young took him under his wing, took him out to dinner, showed him how to act), Sir Sean's blend of masculine charm and cold professionalism make him the perfect 007. Personally, I can't think of a time when gunning down an unarmed man has been cooler.
In support, Lee and Maxwell make effective starts to their long-running roles as 'M' and Miss Moneypenny respectively, Jack "Book 'em, Danno!" Lord shrugs off a white suit to be a decent Felix Leiter and Joseph Wiseman gives credibility to an evil German-Japanese genius with metal hands. As for the first ever Bond girl, Ursula Andress, she might have her voice dubbed twice (her dialogue and singing) and lack acting ability, but when she comes out of the water, you won't care.
One of the only Bond movies to stick closely to the source material, Dr No is an excellent start. Since it was apparently titled We Have No Need Of A Doctor in Japan as their promotional materials mistakenly read ‘Dr? No’, I have thought of a better name. The name's Debut… Impressive Debut.Reviewed on: 29 Nov 2008