I’m not sure if I’ve ever discussed this on this page, but for the last 15 years, I have been a big fan of the James Bond series. I started watching them as a nine year old and even though some aren’t so great, they are usually at least pretty entertaining. I remember how proud I was of myself when I memorized each of the movies in chronological order… again, I’m a dork. So with the arrival of Bond’s next outing, No Time to Die, finally hitting theatres next month (as a Bond-aholic, November is a more fitting month, but it’s whatever), it seemed like an ample time to stroll down memory lane.
Terence Young’s Dr. No marked the first cinematic outing of Ian Fleming’s beloved James Bond. Surely, when this film was released in 1962, they couldn’t have imagined that the franchise would carry on for nearly 60 years. Yet, maybe they also did. This wasn’t the first Bond movie I saw- my memory fails me as to which one was- but I’ll tell you it’s not one that I often revisit. Until revisiting it, it felt like a slower outing. Yet to a nine year old, yeah, a movie like Dr. No probably isn’t going to grip. Not enough pow pow or boom boom. Yet I could still admire it as a movie.
Revisiting Dr. No as an adult, my opinion is still sort of the same. The movie does build slowly, and once you’ve seen about ten Bond films (No Time to Die will be the 25th), the film feels like a pretty drastic change of pace. We don’t see our villain- the friggin’ title character (Joseph Wiseman, who I believe is playing an Asian man?)- until the last 25 minutes or so, and when we do, not a tremendous amount is done with him. We don’t get our main Bond girl, one Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) until there is about 40 minutes left to spare. All of this sounds as if I’m speaking negatively, but… there is one thing that just cannot be denied: it’s pretty damn iconic.
This was, indeed, the first Bond film. The first of Fleming’s novels was Casino Royale, which wouldn’t get a proper cinematic treatment for over 40 years (but boy, is it worth the wait). Truth is, re-watching Dr. No, it’s pretty plain to see that the filmmakers were testing the waters with this film. Nearly all of the major pieces that are necessary for a Bond adventure are indeed here (minus gadgets, Q will come along later), but with this film, it seems as if they were still working out the kinks. The film opens with Bond shooting at the gun barrel, set to his theme music, followed by a small (albeit random) musical interlude. We get action sequences, lavish production design, beautiful women, and so on. As for a movie though, it just might have missed its mark if it just didn’t burn in the memory so well.
Sure, the pacing burns in the memory. Yet think of what an adventure this film would’ve been like in theatres in 1962. That’s not to say that there weren’t spy movies before this one, but this one does do it as well as it could for its time. There is an explosion near the end of this film that honestly looks pretty amazing, so the film has aged well. In terms of how iconic it is, we might not get too much of Joseph Wiseman’s Dr. No… but we do remember him no less. We remember his outfit (which, Mike Myers’ Dr. Evil is partially to thank), we remember his plot to disrupt the American space program (honey, all good things come to those who wait). I will say though, I totally forgot how somewhat anti-climactic his death scene was, but again, they were still working on the pieces. Yet Dr. No is memorable in the end because he was Bond’s introduction to Spectre, the evil corporation who Bond faces up against in multiple movies, led by that dastardly… well, we’ll get to him in You Only Live Twice.
Adding to the fabulousness is Andress. Who in their right mind could forget her introduction in this film? Coming out of the ocean in that bikini, holding those sea shells. It’s so iconic, Halle Berry recreated it in the not-so-iconic Bond outing Die Another Day, and even Daniel Craig, a future Mr. Bond himself, got to take his own stab at it in Casino Royale. As for a character, well, she’s not very dimensional. Yet she doesn’t need to be, really. Andress is basically just here to look the part, and lordy, what a look.
Yet Dr. No should really be thanked for skyrocketing the career of the late, great Sean Connery. There have been plenty of great Bonds over the years, but it’s kind of difficult to deny that Connery was the best of them. It’s not just because he was the first, and laid out the groundwork for the others- he did, but every Bond has a different feel. It’s that he did those things, but he also just played the part beautifully. He’s so suave, he’s so cool. There are images and shots of him in this movie that, when thinking about James Bond, come to mind. When thinking about my man JB, it’s kind of hard not to picture SC. He is the Bond that the Bonds after strived to be, and unless you were George Lazenby, they succeeded. In fact, I might just write my review of the next Bond adventure, From Russia with Love, in his voice. We’ll shee.
In my eyes, Dr. No isn’t a great Bond outing. Yet it is a good one- flawed, but memorable. It walked, so then a good chunk of the other films could run, and for that reason, credit must be paid.
James Bond, and I, will return with From Russia with Love.