Dr No Review - by Jake

"You've had your six."

Dr No is the first James Bond film and was originally released in 1962. It was directed by Terence Young and designed by Ken Adam, two men who did as much as anyone to establish the sense of style and fantasy that made James Bond such an enduring part of popular culture in the following decades. An exotic cocktail of sex, sadism and fantasy, it changed cinema forever. The plot of Dr No concerns a loss of communication between MI6 and their Jamaican operative John Strangways (Robert Rietty). James Bond is sent to investigate and ends up in the middle of a globetrotting mystery that stretches from Kingston to Crab Key.

The trail will lead 007 to eccentric and vengeful megalomaniac Dr No...

When producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman prepared to bring Ian Fleming's famous secret agent to the big screen the biggest concern was finding an actor with sufficient style and panache to play the literary hero and bring him to life. Names like Richard Johnson, Cary Grant and Patrick McGoohan were considered but proved unavailable for a variety of reasons. In the end a young unknown Scottish actor called Sean Connery came onto the Eon radar and won the role. The rest is history. When you see Connery's classic introduction as James Bond ("I admire your courage, Miss...?") during a high-stakes game of Chemin de Fer with Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson) you can see immediately why they picked him. This man IS James Bond.

Dr No has a modest budget in contrast to later Bond entries and was made relatively quickly. It perhaps lacks the gloss and lavish production values that you associate with the 007 series but it's certainly a colourful romp with great use of locales like Jamaica. James Bond films should never just be action films but stylish adventure films and Dr No fits this criteria. This is not a film with massive set-pieces or too much action. It saves its more fantastical elements (and big explosion) for the final part of the film.

There is much to enjoy in Dr No and we can see many of the franchise staples taking shape - like Bond's banter with Lois Maxwell's Moneypenny and a dry quip or two to offset the violence, the latter being something Eon have apparently forgotten how to do. Dr No is a surprisingly violent film at times and Bond is required to be very cold-blooded on occasions. The general tone though is a tad inconsistent, almost as if they weren't quite sure whether or not James Bond was supposed to be taken seriously or not. Sometimes the film is surprisingly ruthless and at other times it's just enjoyably daft.

Highlights include a good car chase and Bond's encounter with a tarantula spider in his bed. Although achieved in a simple way it does generate a good bit of tension because we can see a huge tarantula crawling up Bond and you fear for him more than you would if he was being chased by several goons on skis. It's a simple, effective moment. The most famous sequence in Dr No of course involves Ursula Undress walking out of the sea murmuring 'Underneath the Mango Tree' and finding Bond on the beach. "Are you looking for shells too?" asks Honey. "No," replies Bond. "I'm just looking." It's quite strange to watch a Bond film made before double entendres were the most vital component of this type of scene.

The film is a faithful recreation of Fleming's novel and is helped a great deal by Peter Hunt's editing and Ken Adam's amazing production design. Adam's Laboratory set is relatively modest compared to his later work but still a wonderful piece of design. The music by Monty Norman is somewhat dated it has to be said but the Bond theme still sounds timeless. John Barry's eventual contribution to the series cannot be overstated.

Sean Connery sometimes seems slightly unsure of quite how to play Bond here but would quickly settle in the role and make himself an impossible act to follow. To be fair to him the film varies in tone quite a bit with moments of spare cruelty and sci-fi elements like a b-film. Connery's required to be very ruthless here at times but is also quite playful and never too earnest. Connery never played Bond too seriously. In "Goldfinger" and "Thunderball" he looks like he's having a lot of fun and in "From Russia With Love", a quite tense film in places, Connery could comfortably be in a sixties Morecambe and Wise "Riviera Touch" style caper at times. Connery is essentially a fun, confident Bond who commands the screen rather than a too serious one. Whether lounging around a casino or driving a sleek car with the wind in his hair or saying things like - "I prefer the '53 myself..." - Connery is James Bond.

Ursula Undress is probably the most famous Bond girl of all time and you can see why. She doesn't have an awful lot to do - and was dubbed - but her entrance from the sea is an endurably iconic moment. Joseph Wiseman is not a bad first villain for the series and seems to be enjoying himself. He plays Dr No in a slightly robotic way with a weird voice and does those Bond villain things - like little moments of anger - quite well. Wiseman has quite a good presence here and his refined battle of wits with 007 in his elaborate lair is the type of scene that has been spoofed to death in subsequent years but still remains good fun. ""World domination...same old dream," says a weary Bond, quite amusingly seeing as this is his first film! Clearly, this Bond is no novice and has been foiling master villains for a while.

Jack Lord, of "Hawaii 5-O" fame, is arguably the best Felix Leiter of all time. Eon have a tendency to cast older or slightly tubby Leiters (presumably so as not to take the attention off the actor playing Bond) but the dapper Lord is a believable equal of Bond. You could imagine that the two men have shared adventures together and formed a real friendship. Eunice Gayson is memorable as Sylvia Trench too - especially when Bond finds her in his flat playing golf with very little on and Anthony Dawson is suitably dour and untrustworthy as Professor Dent, a 'metallurgist' in Kingston. Dent has a classic confrontation with Bond in the film. 

Any review of Dr No must also mention John Kitzmiller's exuberant performance as Quarrel, a friend/contact of Bond and, elsewhere, Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell slip comfortably into what would become regular roles as M and Miss Moneypenny respectively. There's no Desmond Llewelyn but Peter Burton makes an appearance as Major Boothroyd and attempts to persuade an unconvinced Bond to swap his Beretta for a Walther PPK. "Walther PPK, 7.65 millimeter, with a delivery like a brick through a plate-glass window. The American CIA swear by them."

Terence Young's direction is very stylish with a good sense of colour. The film certainly doesn't benefit from a Thunderball style budget and seems a bit raw here and there but Young does a great job overall. He essentially amps the world that James Bond lives in up a few fantastical notches from the books in order for it to be more cinematic. Young also apparently played a key role in deciding what Connery should wear and helping the young actor to be convincingly suave and elegant as 007. In Dr No Bond does more simple investigating, spying and thinking than many later films and this element remains a strength of the film.

While Goldfinger was probably the film that established the Bond series as a cultural phenomenon, Dr No is a fascinating first attempt to translate James Bond from page to the big screen. While parts of the film have obviously dated it remains a colourful and highly entertaining debut for the world's most famous action hero with a real sense of glamour.

- Jake

c 2009 Alternative 007