Connery Tribute: Dr. No (1962)–James Bond 1, Starring Connery in Iconic Role of Agent 007

Sean Connery, the brilliantly diverse, effortlessly charismatic Scottish-born actor, who was the first and the best James Bond, and won the 1987 Best Supporting Actor Oscar for The Untouchables, has died. He was 90.

Dr. No
In the foreground, Bond wears a suit and is holding a gun; four female characters from the film are next to him.

British theatrical release poster by Mitchell Hooks

Over the next week, we will run reviews of all seven movies in which Sean Connery played–actually embodied–the iconic 007.

The first James Bond movie, Dr. No, was such a huge hit that it went on to launch the longest film series in history.

It all began 58 years ago, on October 5, 1962, when the first Bond film, Dr. No, was released–with very low expectations by the producers or Ian Fleming, the author of the books.

Forever changing the genres of the spy thriller and adventure, Dr. No put on the global cinematic map a then relatively unknown actor, Sean Connery, who was not the first choice; both Cary Grant and David Niven had turned down the offer.

However, from his very first scene, Connery proved that he was the ideal actor for the role, and Dr. No. turned him into a potent sex symbol, a global icon, and household word, a star admired by both men and women.

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.  In many ways, that strategy set the tone for the rest of the popular series, which as of now is comprised of 25 films.

The 25th Bond feature, No Time to Die, has been delayed several times due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and is now scheduled for release in 2021.

For better or for worse (I think the latter), Connery set the standard by which all future Bonds would be measured, appreciated, and evaluated. He investing the role with an effortlessly charismatic appeal, and insouciant devil-may-care attitude, delivering his line in a wry and sardonic mode.

With the exception of one film, Connery would play the lead in the first seven Bond adventures.

As embodied by Connery, agent 007 was an amalgam of sexually voracious playboy and incredibly efficient and lethal secret agent.  Suave, confident, and sophisticated, he could charm any woman, of any age, yet when the situation called for (which was often), he could be ruthless, nasty and brutal with the females.

Remarkably, Connery’s Bond could morph quickly and effortlessly from a charismatic potent lover to a callous and lethal professional.

The screenplay by Richard Mailbaum, Johanna Harwood, and Berkely Mather, based on the Ian Fleming novel, is serviceable in its plot, containing such some witty lines,

Consider how the character introduces himself onscreen for the first time as James Bond to fellow gambler Eunice Gayson (Sylvia Trench):

“Bond, James Bond.”

In this particular story, Bond is sent to Jamaica to investigate the murders of a British agent and his secretary. During his interrogation, he encounters the evil Chinese scientist Doctor No.

The film’s title, Dr. No, is sometimes 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.

Premise:

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.  In the process, he hopes to blackmail the U.S. into getting their rocket launches restored to normal.

The female lead, who helps Bond and of course fall for him, is Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress), a shell diver who’s selling Jamaican seashells to dealers in Miami.

Upon encountering Honey, who emerges out of the water like Venus, clad in a sexy white bikini, Bond says, rather unconvincingly: “I can assure you, my intentions are strictly honorable.”  Really???

Among the likable characters is Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), with whom Bond carries on a flirtatious interaction:

Bond: “Moneypenny? What gives?”

Moneypenny: “Me–given an once of encouragement.”

There are also “bad” women in the film, such as Miss Tar (Zena Marshall), who almost kills Bond in her bedroom.

Eunice Gayson (Sylvia Trench) who Bond picks up in a London gambling house, turns out to be a more dangerous adversary than initially 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 encounters and verbal exchanges between M and Bond offer some of the movie’s fun moments:

M: “When do you sleep, 007?”

Bond: “Never on the crown’s time, sir.”

Later on, chastizing Bond for carrying a light baretta, instead of a heavier weapon, M says: “If you carry a double-oh number, it means you’re licensed to kill, not get killed.”

(The character became a female in the 1990s, played by the great actress Judi Dench, and then changed again to male, now played by Ralph Fiennes).

Attributes of James Bond Movie 1

There is no opening of bangs within bangs, and no pre-credit action in Dr. No. as would become the norm in future Bond pictures.

Nonetheless, the first ever gun-barrel sequence is impressive due to the creativity of Maurice Binder, who succeeded in establishing an iconic image by shooting the inside of a gun barrel with a pin-hole camera.  (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.

 

Title Credits

The title credits run over circles and rounded squares in primary and pastel colors against a black background.

When the Bond theme fades, it is replaced by a metallic calypso rhythm.  The imagery then changes to a view of 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.

Bikinis and Martinis

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 heavily (the cigarettes were, of course, sans filter), and he favorite drink was Vodka Martini, when the conditions allowed, and straight Vodka, when they did not.

The image of Andress emerging from the Caribbean surf in a tight white bikini became immediately iconic.  Not since Brigitte Bardot, the French sex symbol of the 1950s (And God Created Woman), has any actress succeeded in creating such an indelible impression with a single image.  The vision of the sexy Andress marked yet another level of on-screen eroticism, and male spectators of various ages responded favorably.

Jewish-Yiddish Actor Joseph Wiseman as the Villain

It may be ironic that the first of a long line of outsized villains in the Bond films was played by Joseph Wiseman, a Canadian born actor then known for his work in the Yiddish and then Broadway theater. Fleming’s original choice for the part was the savvy and worldly (and gay) British playwright and actor, Noel Coward, but the latter quickly refused.

In the novel, No is described as ageless and incredibly tall–six foot, six inches. Yellow skin, black eyes, thin mouth, and where hands should be–steel pincers. No was born in Peking, the son of a German Methodist missionary and a wealthy Chinese woman.

In the movie, however, Dr. No. was the former treasurer of the Chinese Tong Society, embezzling $10 million in gold and escaping to the U.S.  Moreover, No operated a bauxite plant, instead of processing bird dung. And while in the novel, his work at space sabotage was for the benefit of the Soviets, in the picture, he worked for SPECTRE.

Describing the organization that employs him, Dr, No says: “Spectre. Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, Extortion. The four great cornerstones of power, headed by the greatest brains in the world.”

Looking down on Bond, upon seeing him grab a bottle as a weapon, Dr. No says sardonically: “That a Dom Perignon ’55. It would be a pity to break it.”

Sizing Bond up and down, the unimpressed Dr. No says: “Unfortunately, I misjudged you. You are just a stupid policeman whose luck has run out. I never fail, Mr. Bond.”

Wiseman was encased in the first of the brilliant designer Ken Adam’s curving chrome and arching steel lairs.  As a heavy, he presented Bond the kind of threat that prompted him to deliver one of his most quotable lines: “World domination–the same old dream.”

Cooler and smarter than his adversaries, Bond tells Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson), when the latter tries to shoot him with an empty gun: “That’s a Smith and Wesson, and you’ve had your six.”

A Rough Cop and a Well-Dressed Playboy

The late critic Andrew Sarris has observed that, from the first chapter, the Bond series has 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.”

Indeed, Connery played convincingly a tough macho guy, who also could look (and behave) as a suave and sophisticated gentleman, when a desirable female was around.

Box-Office Bonanza

Made on a modest budget of $1.1 million, Dr. No. was a global smash hit, earning $59.5 million at the box-office.

 

Credits

MPAA: PG.

Running time: 111 Minutes.

Directed By: Terence Young.

Written By: Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, Berkeley Mather.

Released in Theaters: October 5, 1962.

Production company: Eon Productions

Budget $1.1 million
Box office $59.5 million

DVD: October 22, 2002

 

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Cast
Sean Connery, James Bond, a British MI6 agent, codename 007
Ursula Andress, Honey Ryder, shell diver selling Jamaica seashells to Miami dealers*
Joseph Wiseman, Dr. Julius No, a reclusive member of SPECTRE
Jack Lord, Felix Leiter, CIA operative sent to liaise with Bond while he is in Kingston.
Bernard Lee, M, The head of the British Secret Service.
John Kitzmiller, Quarrel, Cayman Islander employed by John Strangways to go to Crab Key to collect rock samples
Anthony Dawson, Professor R. J. Dent, geologist in Kingston, secretly works for Dr. No.
Zena Marshall, Miss Taro, secretary to Mr. Pleydell-Smith at Government House in Kingston
Eunice Gayson, Sylvia Trench, woman who Bond meets during game of Baccarat at the London club Le Cercle
Lois Maxwell, Miss Moneypenny, the secretary to M.
Peter Burton, Major Boothroyd, head of Q-Branch, brought in by M to replace Bond’s Beretta M1934 with a Walther PPK.
Reginald Carter, Mr. Jones, henchman of Dr. No sent to pick up 007 at Palisadoes Airport.
Yvonne Shima, Sister Lily, prison warden working at Dr. No’s lair
Michel Mok, Sister Rose, another warden working at Dr. No’s lair
Marguerite LeWars as Annabel Chung, photographer, one of Dr. No’s operatives
Louis Blaazer, Pleydell-Smith, Chief Secretary at Government House in Kingston

*Andress’ dialogue was dubbed by Nikki van der Zyl, and her singing voice by Diana Coupland