Dr. No (1962)
“NOW meet the most extraordinary gentleman spy in all fiction!…JAMES BOND, Agent 007!”
Director: Terence Young
Cast: Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Bernard Lee
Synopsis: A suave and skilled government agent named James Bond, looks for answers about a missing colleague and the disruption of the American space program.
If Dr No teaches us anything, it’s that you can’t skimp when it comes to plans of world domination. Let’s face it, there’s no point spending squillions of dollars on a secret high-tech (for 1962) underwater headquarters if you’re going to install cheap grilles over your prison cell air vents which anyone can kick out. That’s how world domination slips through your fingers, that is.
Dr No, of course, is the first episode of the world’s longest-running movie franchise, and although it’s undeniably a little rough around the edges in some areas, it’s surprising how much of the familiar Bond iconography is already in place: the theme music, the gun sight credits sequence, M and Miss Moneypenny, the Berretta, even the Martinis shaken not stirred, are all in place. Q and his gadgets are noticeably absent, but otherwise Bond Mk 1 is remarkably close to the finished article.
The movie must have been something of an eye-opener for audiences back in 1962, arriving as it did in the years immediately preceding the Swinging Sixties and the Sexual Revolution. Britain had certainly seen nothing like 007, this ultra-suave Alpha Male who was seemingly impervious to pain and had only to cock an eyebrow in their general direction to have beautiful women falling at his feet. Even those who meant to do him harm weren’t immune to his charms. Unlike Britain’s clean-cut heroes of the past, Bond played as fast and loose with rules and protocol as he did with women, and his easy-going charm masked a brutal ruthlessness that sees him shoot an unsuccessful assassin twice in the back.
The choice of actor to play such a man was crucial to the success of the franchise, and producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman couldn’t have chosen better than Sean Connery (The Anderson Tapes, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), even though he was only selected after a succession of others — including Cary Grant, James Mason and Patrick McGoohan — turned down the part. Although he was only 32 at the time, Connery looked about ten years older, but he still looked good and had the coiled energy and sleek grace of a panther, and it was this mix of maturity and vigour that both male and female members of the audience found so appealing.
For a Bond movie, the plot of Dr No is unusually straightforward (which was one of the reasons why it was chosen to be the first). Bond is summoned to Jamaica to investigate the murder of the local British Intelligence Station Chief and his assistant, who were themselves investigating the disruption of rocket launches at Cape Canaveral by mysterious signals emanating from the region. Bond quickly tracks the source of both the assassins and the disruptive jamming signals to Crab Key, a small island off the Jamaican coast on which a bauxite mine is situated. However, the mine is actually a front for the base of the sinister Dr No (Joseph Wiseman — The Unforgiven, Stiletto), an urbane genius in the employ of SPECTRE.
Mad geniuses attempting world domination were clearly still a viable concept back in 1962, so the daft storyline can perhaps be forgiven as a product of its time, but the fact that this sort of plot has been mocked and lampooned so mercilessly over the last few decades means that Dr No almost feels like a parody of itself once the action moves to the bad Dr’s underground lair. Inevitably, the technology which was so shiny back in 1962 looks laughably outdated today (as do the attitudes towards blacks and women), but that’s what makes these Bond movies of the 1960s so much fun. They were never meant to be taken seriously, even when they were new, and the fact that the fun might now be derived from different aspects of the films to those which made them so successful when they were originally released takes nothing away from their entertainment value. It also explains why the spoofs that followed in Bond’s wake were mostly unsuccessful — it’s virtually impossible to make fun of something that doesn’t take itself seriously in the first place.
Connery is aided in his mission by Ursual Andress, an alluring distraction emerging from the sea in that iconic white bikini, whose sole purpose seems to be to give Bond someone to tug along with him as he runs around foiling the bad Dr’s dastardly plot. It’s ironic that Andress still ranks as one of the most memorable Bond girls while the insipid Dr No is one of his most forgettable villains. True, he has metal hands with which he can crush small statues, but he lacks both the kind of evil charisma we’ve come to expect from 007’s adversaries or any kind of meaningful plan other than some vague intention of causing a bit of mischief whenever America attempts to launch a rocket because its space programme wouldn’t give him a job.
(Reviewed 13th August 2014)