The first James Bond movie, “Dr. No” is certainly not one of the best. But it launched the longest series of adventures in film history, 50 years ago, October 5, 1962.
Forever changing the genre of the spy thriller, “Dr. No” put on the map a then relatively unknown actor, Sean Connery, turning him into a potent sex symbol, global icon, and household word.
Based on Ian Fleming creation of the cool Secret Agent 007, “Dr. No” was directed by Terence Young in a fast-paced, tongue-in-cheek style, which set the tone for the rest of the popular series, which now comprises 22 films. The 23rd Bond feature, “Skyfall,”again starring Daniel Craig, opens in the U.S. November 9.
Connery set the standard by which all future Bond would be measured, investing the role with an insouciant, devil-may-care attitude. With the exception of one film, He would play the lead in the first seven Bond adventures.
As embodied by Connery, agent 007 was an amalgam of sexually voracious playboy and efficient (even lethal) secret agent. Suave, confident, and sophisticated, he could charm any woman, yet when called for (which was often), he could be ruthless, nasty and brutal.
Indeed, Connery’s Bond could morph quickly and effortlessly from a charismatic potent lover to a callous and lethal professional, as he showed in “Dr. No” in his encounter with Miss Taro (played by Zena Marshall).
The screenplay by Richard Mailbaum, Johanna Harwood, and Berkely Mather, based on the Ian Fleming novel, is serviceable, but not more. In this particular story, Bond is sent to Jamaica to investigate the murders of a British agent and his secretary. During his interrogation, he meets the evil Chinese scientist Doctor No (Joseph Wiseman).
The film’s title, “Dr. No.,” is abbreviated with a full stop, though the villainous character is called “Doctor No,” as is Fleming’s novel. The producers never explained this mysterious and arbitrary change.
Living on an island called Crab Key, Doctor No is hard at work in a nuclear laboratory, scheming to divert rockets being fired from Cape Canaveral off their charted course and, in the process, to blackmail the U.S. to get their rocket launches restored to normal.
Helping Bond is Ursula Andress, as Honey Ryder, who is clad in a tiny and sexy white bikini throughout most of the film.
There are also bad women, such as Zena Marshall, who almost kills Bond in her bedroom, and Eunice Gayson, who Bond picks up in a London gambling house, proving to be a more dangerous adversary than believed to be.
Bernard Lee is well cast in the short but memorable part of M, who would become a recurrent character in all future Bond movies. (The character became a female in the 1990s, played by the great actress Judi Dench).
There is no opening of bangs within bangs, and no pre-credit action in “Dr. No.” But the first ever gun-barrel sequence is impressive due to the creativity of Maurice Binder, who created an iconic image by shooting the inside of a gun barrel with a pin-hole camera. By the way, it’s stuntman Bob Simmons, not Connery, who does the walk. The James Bond theme song does not begin until after 007 has fired his first shot.
The titles run over circles and rounded squares in primary and pastel colors against black background. When the Bond theme fades, it is replaced by a metallic calypso rhythm and the images change to dancing women, followed by the silhouettes of three men walking from left to right across the screen, accompanied by the strains of “Three Blind Mice.”
As directed by Terence Young, “Dr. No” began the Bond phenomenon on the right track as a breezy, escapist adventure, a sampler of mass entertainment at its most commercial.
Connery as the official executioner of the West was introduced via a modest medium shot in tuxedo, lighting up a cigarette at a casino table and trouncing a beautiful lady. Connery’s Bond smoked filterless cigarettes and drank Vodka Martinis, when conditions allowed, and straight Vodka, when they did not.
For fantasists of the era, the image of Andress emerging from the Caribbean surf in a white bikini marked another level of screen eroticism—some said Botticellian chill.
It may be ironic that the first of a long line of outsized villains was played by Yiddish savoring Josef Wiseman as an outrageous Fu Mengele amalgam, part yellow peril and part bionic, basso precursor of Darth Vader.
He was encased in the first of designer Ken Adam's curving chrome and arching steel lairs, and he posed the kind of threat to which the blase Bond could reply, “World domination–the same old dream.”
Andrew Sarris has observed that, from the first chapter, the Bond series wisely ignored the modest realism of the Fleming novels and ingeniously transformed an international vice cop with a good tailor into a new definition of Playboy of the Western World.
Global Box-office: $59.6
Running time: 111 Minutes.
Directed By: Terence Young.
Written By: Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, Berkeley Mather.
Released in Theaters: October 5, 1962.
DVD: October 22, 2002