Terence Young, UK, 1962, 110 min.
I have few memories of watching this movie, in fact, I hardly remembered any of it when I sat down to revisit this movie.Which made me both excited and apprehensive at the same time.
In Dr. No, Bond is in search of a British agent who has disappeared in Jamaica. In the process, he discovers the fiendish Dr. No, a Chinese/German criminal mastermind who is trying to disrupt an American Space Launch with his atomic radio beam.
I tried to picture myself as a person watching this movie (or just James Bond) for the very first time, without comparing it to the subsequent movies. The movie is long (or at least feels excruciatingly long, it’s just short of two hours), boring and pretty much devoid of the action we’re used to. Scenes are drawn out and I have to admit the plot was a bit difficult to follow. I had to re-watch scenes at times to figure out what exactly was going on. Bond played more detective than spy, which while interesting, was very different than what I was expecting. I mean, come on, the man kept giving out his card. WHY DO SPIES HAVE BUSINESS CARDS?!?
Character choices aside, let’s talk about these long, drawn out scenes, shall we? There were a number of scenes that just felt like an eternity but there is a scene in particular that stuck out to me. Bond is in his Jamaican hotel room and he booby traps the room. Never mind the fact that these are booby traps I learned (and tried) from reading old Ghostwriter books when I was a kid. The camera follows Bond through every step of the trap setting, and when I say every step, I mean EVERY step. The movie is just under two hours and they spend almost 10 minutes on this scene. That’s just too long on a scene that isn’t really that important, and this wasn’t the only one. There are so many scenes like this throughout the movie, as if the filmmakers thought the audience would just not be able to handle jumps in time. Montage, people, montage.
I was also very taken aback by the amount of offensive Chinese jokes that were made in the movie. I’m sure it was a product of the time, which is always something I like about Bond movies, but I was a tad bit uncomfortable every time someone made a disparaging remark against the Chinese in the movie.
It may sound like I’m just complaining about this movie but there were some really good things about Dr. No worth noting. The first time we see James Bond actually took my breathe away in just how cool it was. It almost feels like the reveal was the first thing written and shot and the rest of the movie was shot around it. It’s the perfect mix of a good reveal and great musical timing, as they play the Bond theme over the scene and it instantly bonds the man and the song together in your head. Even after spending a lifetime watching Bond movies, it was this scene where I understood why this series endured after Dr. No, why so many people want to be Bond, and why Sean Connery is most peoples’ quintessential James Bond. Does it fix the rest of the cinematography mistakes? No, but it definitely sets up the legend and it makes you want to keep watching.
Also, I really like the supporting cast. Felix Leiter and Quarrel are likable and fun characters, and as strange as it was, I actually kind of liked that Bond plays more detective than spy in this movie. I also liked that Bond himself is more rugged than in other movies, though we’ve gone back to that with Daniel Craig. He’s bloodied, ragged, beat-up and at one point admits he’s scared. I thought that was pretty cool, and a bit more realistic (and closer to the books) than what I think about when I think of Bond movies.
Now, let’s break down the fun stuff:
Theme Song/Intro: I was immediately taken aback by the intro of Dr. No, and how, while it does open with gun barrel scene we are now so used to, it feels so raw and more like the opening to a Peter Sellers wacky comedy than a Bond movie. The theme song is the basic James Bond song, written by Monty Norman, so that’s a plus, but it’s so…..basic.
Notable Cars: There are generic american finned cars (mostly Ford’s) but no quintessential “Bond” car. Lame.
Fun Gadgets: Does the Walter PPK count as a fun gadget? Cause that’s all you get. In a strange scene, an MI6 operative (technically Q) gives Bond his trademark Walter PPK after mocking him for his Beretta, calling it a woman’s gun. Cause I’d want to piss the guy off you just handed a gun to. That’s really the only gadget in the movie. No fun watch, no fun car things, just no fun.
Best Q Moment: There are none, in fact, there is no Q, which made me incredibly sad. Well, technically the guy that gave Bond his PPK is Q, but he’s not really Q and I don’t remember him being named so let’s just move on before I get sad again.
Notable Ladies/Gents: I originally wanted to have a Bond Girl section but this poses a personal problem later on with The World is Not Enough, so in a brilliant move I just decided I’d talk about just the important guys and gals (not including the Villain) in the movie. This one has a few notable sorts:
Sylvia Trench: Is she a Bond girl? Is she not? I’m not sure, it depend on your definition on what makes a Bond girl, but she’s definitely memorable in a number of ways. She is the first significant female character in a Bond movie and holds the distinction of being one of the few females to show up in more than one movie (From Russia with Love). I find her an interesting character, though underutilized. She is obviously wealthy, since she’s playing at the Baccarat table, and she’s confident, but she ends up being woman fodder, putting a golf ball in Bond’s room dressed only in a pajama top.
Miss Moneypenny: Our first introduction to Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny. Also, the first introduction of Bond throwing his hat onto the coat-rack. I love Moneypenny as a character. Her and Bond have some serious flirting in this movie and it’s fun to see Moneypenny actually being on par with Bond’s witty banter. She may be smitten with Bond but she’s also obviously not someone to mess with.
M: M is just kind of there in his first showing. I did get a bit excited about the red leather door but M’s job was simply to give Bond his case and send him on his way. It’s interesting how M’s role as shifted and changed as the movies have gone on.
Felix Leiter: First of all, I would like to shout-out to Jack Lords’ cat-eye sunglasses. They are amazing. Second, while Lord is not my favorite Leiter, he is the first and overall fan favorite version. Felix Leiter is the American equivalent of Bond and he shows up in a few movies to help out from time to time. He’s got a lot of cool scenes in this movie, from following Bond around the airport to his big reveal in a little Jamaican bar. This version of Felix is definitely hip and fun.
Quarrel: I’m not sure if Quarrel belongs on this list but I like him. He’s a really funny character and just pretty likable. He helps Bond out as well and provides some useful information.
Honey Rider: Personally, to me, a Bond girl has a few defining qualities: strong, independent, and beautiful. A Bond girl always felt like Bond’s equal, at least, until they slept with him. Honey Rider is definitely those things, although Ursula Andress’s acting (and her dubbing) leave little to be desired. She definitely must be more memorable because of her bikini than anything else because she does an adequate job in the movie, but nothing that stands out. She somehow also loses her pearl pink pants when they are escaping Dr. No’s lair, and that really bothered me. Where are your pants, woman??
Villain: Dr Julius No was an interesting villain. He shows up about 20 minutes from the end of the movie, which was great for building suspense but odd because the movie was just so long that I didn’t care when he actually did show up. He is also a very bland villain. Not in story, that was pretty interesting, but he has no personality, so he isn’t as memorable as other villains. What is does have, is metal hands, and apparently the inability to blink (Blink, damn you, blink!). He also does a weird butt bump to push his chairs back in when he could just…you know, use his metal hands to just push the chair in. But that’s neither here nor there, what makes him cool is that he is the first villain to mention SPECTRE, which is a really cool acronym for a REALLY stupid and convoluted name: SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion. Seriously? Let’s just give away all of our plans, shall we?
As far as the villain lair goes, Dr. No’s lair is pretty cool, like a weird mash-up of British and Chinese culture. I personally would like that rock outcropping and space age fireplace. Just saying. The booby traps aren’t so great though. Vents with scalding hot pipes? Really? A vent that explodes once and then has no other trap on it? Amateur.
I will say that while watching the movie, there were pieces that felt familiar. I could have sworn that Dr. No’s desk area was also used by one of the Blofeld’s. Do all the members of SPECTRE just borrow each other’s furniture? “Hey Dr. No? This is Blofeld. I have James Bond coming in today for a routine capture, reveal plot, escape, die in a fiery death, you know the deal. Can I borrow that imposing desk you have, I feel like it’ll just make the room. Great, thanks.”
Construction Worker: [Hearse chasing Bond drives off a cliff] How did it happen?
James Bond: I think they were on their way to a funeral.
All in all the movie is not a strong showing in the Bond universe. It’s plodding plot and lackluster action (save for a few karate chops and flips from Connery) was really a slog to get through and there were a few times where I questioned if this project was a good idea. Frankly I’m a bit surprised another movie was made but perhaps these audiences saw the potential, of which there definitely is some. Or they just were excited at this new spy film……or they just wanted to like what JFK liked. Regardless, it was enough of a financial success that they continued the series.