Dr No and James Bond is the property of MGM
Director: Terrence Young
Cast: Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Jack Lord, Joseph Wiseman
The last time I saw this movie was over 20 years ago. I remember thinking it was awkward and different. This time, I watched it with the full realization that this was the first Bond film, the genesis, the place where a franchise was imagined into existence. From that point of view, this film is extraordinary. I was shocked at how many classic Bond elements are here from the beginning: The gun-barrel scene, the theme music, M, Moneypenny, The walther PPK, Felix Leiter, the femme fatale, SPECTRE. They're all here.
There are other classic elements that have yet to be born. There is no teaser action sequence. Q (or Boothroyd as he is referred to here, as in the book, is played by Peter Burton, not Desmond Llewyn.
The most iconic line, the introduction is here in all it's glory. Connery, lazily and cooly lighting his cigarette, letting it dangle in his mouth, pause. Monty Norman's theme music plays and then "Bond... James Bond." Instant classic, thus born one of the most iconic and most repeated three words in history.
Let’s talk about how this movie got made
Dr No was not Ian Flemming's first novel, it was his fourth. Flemming had sold the rights to Casino Royale to the CBS television series Climax!, and if you have not seen this black and white, low budget movie, the entirety of which takes place in one scene, it is worth it just to see a distinctly American James Bond. Take a break from reading this and youtube "1954 Casino Royale" and try to sit through more than 5 minutes. Trust me, it's worth it. Harry Saltman acquired the rights, and along with Cubby Broccoli, in 1962 they were given an ultra low budget of $1 million to make this movie. To put this in perspective, the other hit from 1962, Lawrence of Arabia was made for $15 million.
For director, they asked Guy Hamilton (who would later direct Goldfinger) but he turned it down. Ultimately they hired Terence Young who had directed some of Cubby Broccoli's other films. Terence Young was known for being suave, well-read, sophisticated, and a playboy with a reputation for being a lady's man who always dressed in expensive suits tailored at Savile Row. From this discription, we can see his influence on the image of James Bond, especially considering that Sean Connery was a blue-collar truck driver. It was Young who decided to inject humor into the film Dr No and make it campy. He felt, correctly I believe, that if James Bond were to be played completely straight, he would be too dispicable and offensive to a mass audience. However, played "tongue-in-cheek" could be fun, while helping it get past the censors.
For the role of James Bond, Broccoli and Saltzman wanted Cary Grant, but he was already a big star and could only commit to one picture. Their second choice was Richard Johnson, but he couldn't be released from his MGM contract. Their third choice, Patrick McGoohan, turned down the role. I did know that they considered a fairly unknown actor named Roger Moore, but decided to turn him down because 1) he looked too young, and 2) he looked too pretty. Ironically, he was hired for the TV series "The Saint" which aired on October 4, 1962, one day before the release of Dr No. The producers set up a "find James Bond contest" and every amateur in show business applied. After interviewing thousands of men, the winner was ... Peter Anthony, a male model who looked the part but could not act. The job went to the runner up, a young, rough and scruffy unknown named Sean Connery.
Producers liked the rugged and macho look of Connery, but was worried he would be unable to portray the aristocratic aspects of Bond. Director Terrence Young made Connery his project, took him to his tailor and basically introduced him to the upper class high-life of expensive restaurants, casinos, and partied with the high class women of London. Bond historians credit Terrence Young as adding the suave and wealthy image of Bond to Connery's already masculine and roughed demeanor. It was the synergy of Connery and Young that created the perfect storm of what we now think of as the complex duality of James Bond.
The film itself is fun. A lot more fun than I remember when I saw it as a kid. The first half, while campy, is very grounded in reality. It takes place in Jamaica, and we are treated to gorgeous scenic views. Thus beginning the tradition of being swept away to exotic locales. The story is pretty straightforward, almost ridiculously simple bordering on juvenile. Dr No's men kill British agents and Bond goes to Jamaica, finds out there is an island, and goes to the island. Terence Young thought the plot so simple, so full of holes, that he hoped he could distract the audience with a fast pace and lots of action to keep the audience from noticing. He succeeds.
At the midpoint, Bond arrives on Crab Island and is captured by Dr No. The film turns into a technicolor dream, as if Bond has gone through the looking glass and into Wonderland. We see a luxury hotel with exotic aquariums, and fine wine, superimposed with military equipment. The effect is interesting now, and must have been dizzying at the time. Here we get to witness another duality of Bond films, the synergy between reality-based spy-drama, and over-the-top cartoon camp. It works well.
There are some ridiculous scenes that do not hold up. I'm sure the tarantula scene was terrifying at the time. Film trivia records that the production staff was utterly terrified of it. They used a stunt man and a plate of glass to separate him from the spider. Now, in the age of pet tarantulas, and knowledge that that tarantulas are safe and non-poisonous, the scene is almost laughable. Especially the moment where a truly shaken Bond smashes the poor beast four times with his shoe.
Bond's femme fatale, Honey Rider, played by Ursula Andrews is presented here, destined to become the quintessential "Bond girl". She is sexy, and looks right next to Bond. When this movie came out, audiences fell in love with her, and the white bikini became a fashion sensation. She doesn't quite hold up to a modern audience. She is fairly useless to the plot, and some of the things she says seems childish. It made me think her character may have had a developmental delay. Still, she apparently had impact on the world in 1963.
Other elements stick out as well. The scene where he guns the professor in cold blood, shooting him in the back, apparently in the ass, once he has fallen, is solid Bond moment. It was apparently controversial at the time. The feared "dragon", a small jeep with a mouth painted on it, seems idiotic at best. When Quarrel looks at the tire tracks and says, "look, the dragon's foot prints" I cringed. Overall, we chuckle now and forgive these cinematic mishaps, and say, "hey, it was 60's film-making".
The film was a huge hit in 1962, making it's money back in 2 weeks. It made $6 million in its debut, and was considered a financial success for it's $1 million budget. It later went on to make a staggering $60 million. History was being made.
My grade: Fun and campy, some elements don't hold up, but most of them surprisingly do. A solid entertaining film on it's own, absolutely a must watch for it's historical impact.