Bond review: Dr. No
I was eight years old when I first met James Bond 007. It was December 31st, 1989, and as we were saying goodbye to the eighties, I was saying hello to a film franchise that would change my life. It was 8:30, and THUNDERBALL, Sean Connery’s fourth turn as Bond, was playing on ABC. I was absolutely mesmerized by what I saw onscreen, and by the end of the film I was a Bond fanatic.
Over the next few years, I saw every Bond film that had been made up to that point, and read every Ian Fleming book I could get my hands on. I became obsessed with the character, and fantasized about one day being as cool as Bond. Of course, I realize now that NO ONE is as cool as Bond, but still- these films have always been an escape for me, even when things are at their worst.
In honor of the upcoming release of the 22nd official Bond film, QUANTUM OF SOLACE, I’ve decided to write my own retrospective of the series, going film by film. Of course, we start where it all began: with DR.NO.
PLOT: Bond is sent to Jamaica to investigate a missing colleague. Once there, he uncovers a plot to topple the US space program.
REVIEW: In many ways, DR.NO is a dry run for the later, more ambitious installments of the series. While the filmmakers didn’t quite have to formula down pat, it still holds up fairly well- mainly due to Connery’s electrifying performance as Bond. The film starts off great- with the first appearance of the iconic gun-barrel logo, and the introduction of the incomparable James Bond theme. We then see a couple of fairly violent (for 1963 standards) murders, which leads to Bond being pulled out of a Casino for a late night briefing with M.
Once Bond gets to Jamaica, the film’s pacing really starts to lag- which is my one complaint for this film- that the filmmakers did not yet have the pacing down pat. Things do pick up considerably in the last forty minutes, once Bond finally meets the main villain- the titular Dr. No. The draggy middle section isn’t a complete write off, as it does contain a number of great scenes- including Bond’s brutal cold-blooded killing of a minor villain. Still, the film doesn’t really take off until he gets to Crab Key- which houses Dr. No’s lair- and also boasts some wicked production design from Ken Adam, which was good enough to get him hired to design the war room in DR. STRANGELOVE or HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB.
Connery is great in his first performance as Bond, and totally owns the film. It’s amazing how quickly Connery found his groove here, as you’d think by watching him in the role that he’d been playing the part for years.
Joseph Wiseman as Dr. No makes suitably colorful villain, but his role is surprisingly tiny. Nowadays, some people might be put off by his Fu Manchu-ish approach to the role, but it was par for the course in that era. His final showdown with Bond is pretty cool, and he sports a pretty bad ass set of mechanical hands.
Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder. While her wild-child persona is a tad cheesy, and he voice was obviously dubbed, Andress is mighty sexy. He entrance, emerging from the surf with a knife & a bikini is rightfully iconic, and forty six years later she’s still the Bond girl others are measured against.
MUSIC: Here’s where things get complicated. John Barry, the man most associated with Bond music, DID NOT score DR.NO. He was brought in at one point to re-work the James Bond theme, which led to years of legal battles, as both Barry and the film’s composer, Monty Norman, claimed authorship of the song. To this day it’s listed as a Monty Norman composition. The rest of the score is light and pleasant, but lacks the gravitas Barry would lend later installments, and it’s no surprise that Norman was not asked back for FROM RUSSIA, WITH LOVE.
BODY COUNT: 8. This includes the coldest Bond slaying of all, where he shoots an un-armed villain after pumping him for information.
NUMBER OF WOMEN BOND SLEEPS WITH: A surprisingly saucy 3- and he even has one arrested immediately after bedding her!
BEST ONE-LINER: “That’s a Smith & Wesson, and you’ve just had your six”- right before pumping two bullets into a villain who just fired an empty gun at him.
BEST DOUBLE ENTENDRE: “I would, you know. Only "M" would have me court-martialed for... illegal use of government equipment.”- After Miss Moneypenny asks Bond why he never takes her out to dinner.
BEST GADGET: The Q we all know and love, Desmond Llewellyn doesn’t pop up until the next installment, but the character shows up sporting his name from the books- Major Boothroyd. The only gadget he gives Bond is a Walther PPK, which becomes his standard arm through the rest of the series.
RECEPTION: DR.NO was a fairly major success internationally- boasting an over $59 million gross, which would be $388 million nowadays, on a mere $1 million budget. The film was a medium size hit in the US grossing $16 million.
GRADE: 8/10- not as slick as later installments, but still an entertaining and classic entry.