Review: Dr. No
Acting almost as a dress rehearsal for what was to follow, Dr. No is rough around the edges, yet all the more enthralling because of it. Whilst later stories would jet-set across continents, the majority of the action here takes place in Jamaica, with only a smattering of early scenes visiting good ol’ Blighty. As with all Bond films, it involves a Machiavellian villain of frightening intelligence, yet for the majority of the picture, the titular character takes a back-seat, allowing simple detective work, and a smattering of subdued violence to lead the action.
The template for Bond is laid out from the get-go, with Sean Connery absolutely nailing his performance as the charming secret agent investigating the disappearance of a local MI6 chief. It’s amazing to think that he was far from the first choice in the minds of head honcho Albert “Cubby” Broccolli and Bond creator Ian Fleming.. His Bond lives for the thrill of it all, able to beat beautiful women at card-games, win an enormous lump of cash without so much as a smattering of enthusiasm, and get them in his bed in double quick time. Ultimately, Bond is the ultimate man – in one scene even fighting free of a man it’s just been made clear wrestles alligators, as if to labour the point somewhat.
And that’s who Bond is in this first picture: a man who takes control. Later films suggest he is often lucky to make it out alive, yet the overriding image here is that of focus. As the years progressed, Bond would become far more open to temptation, but here even a beautiful double agent is no match for him. That is, however, until Dr. No turns up halfway through the picture, and immediately makes Bond look a tad foolish.
Sadly, No immediately dates proceedings thanks to two major setbacks – firstly, his announcement that his underground base cost him “One million dollars!”, which only serves to remind modern audiences of the similarly dressed Dr. Evil. The second, is that unfortunate side-effect of the period, with Joseph Wiseman playing No as half Chinese, despite being nothing more than a hint of stereotype with a funny voice. It’s not a flaw which is unique to Bond – indeed, a number of film and television productions relied on actors “blacked up”, but after the first half of the film acted as a beautiful tourist board advertisement for Jamaica, with a prominent role given to John Kitzmiller as islander turned operative Quarrel [who manages to pre-date Star Trek’s “red-shirts” by a good four years!] it is somewhat of a disappointment to then be trapped in the studio with a monotone caricature.
Perhaps the most famous image of the film, and potentially the entire series, is that of beautiful Honey Ryder emerging from the sea around the sixty minute mark. Ursula Andress, however, does little other than look pretty – her voice dubbed throughout, and her initial cageyness subdued almost in an instant, and it’s not long before she’s carted off for a lengthy period to allow Bond to rescue her from a flooding part of the villain’s giant evil lair, which, again, perhaps looks a little too close to Dr. Evil’s headquarters for comfort.
Ultimately, Bond saves the day as he always must – perhaps for the only time whilst wearing a pair of comfy slippers. And James, who has already added initial love-interest Sylvia Trench to his conquests, is seen making happy with Honey as the end credits roll. You naughty boy, you.
It wouldn’t be long before more familiar trademarks of the series would be introduced, and a definite formula would be established, but Dr. No, like its immediate follow-up, is an intriguing blend of espionage and charm where, rather oddly, the big plot to take over the world takes a bit of a back-seat. The result is not quite essential viewing, but never less than interesting.