Published on October 19th, 2015 | by Michael0
Dr No: Where It All Began
When a British Intelligence operative and his PA are murdered in Jamaica, James Bond must go to the island to try and piece together what happened. The issue is complicated by the fact that NASA’s Project Mercury is due to be launched from the nearby Cape Canaveral, meaning the CIA also have a vested interest in uncovering the mystery. Bond teams up with Felix Leiter (Jack Lord) and local fisherman/CIA asset Quarrels to follow the murdered man’s investigations into the strange, radioactive rock samples he had found on a small, remote island in the Caribbean.
The Sequence & Bond Theme
Before the titles even properly being, Dr No gifts us the first hallmark of the James Bond series; the gun barrel shot. In fact, the man firing the gun at the camera is not Sean Connery, rather it is his stunt double, Bob Simmons. Designer Maurice Binder conceived this shot at the last moment and created it by having a pinhole camera look down an actual gun barrel. This scene serves as the only ‘pre-title sequence’ in the film, though the series would go on to have famous openings in future instalments.
The opening sequence was designed by Maurice Binder and animated by Trevor Bond and an uncredited Robert Ellis. Apparently the only entirely animated Bond title sequence, it features coloured circles and squares, perhaps designed to look like the blinking lights on a control panel. The title, Dr No, also appears on screen and changes colour rapidly. Eventually, the colours and shapes are replaced by dancing silhouettes, both male and female, also brightly coloured. Like so much in Dr No, it feels like a sequence not yet in a groove with how the franchise will be in the future.
The opening theme is a strange beast. It opens with the now very familiar Monty Norman Bond theme (with arrangement by John Barry) before changing to what sounds like a bongo solo. Finally, it morphs into a calypso version of ‘Three Blind Mice’ as the film proper begins, with three assassins posing as blind men before murdering Strangways, the British operative Bond is sent to find.
The Villains & Their Plan
Dr No is curiously devoid of villains for much of its screen time. Indeed, apart from one scene in which Dr No is heard over a speaker, the main villain does not appear until around three quarters on the way into the film. Instead, he relies on a bunch of incompetent lackeys to try and kill Mr Bond once he lands in Jamaica. First, Bond is picked up by an ersatz chauffer, whom he rumbles immediately. Then there is a failed assassination by tarantula attempt. Finally, Bond springs a honey trap by the unusual method of actually getting the honey and just carrying on from there. Actually, he uses the old ‘pillow in the bed’ trick to fool his would-be killer into emptying his Smith & Wesson into some goose feathers.
The bad Dr finally graces us with an appearance after Bond has infiltrated his small island lair. Bond and local girl Honey Rider (Ursual Andress) are captured by a ‘dragon’ which has been terrifying locals – in fact it is an armoured vehicle with a mounted flamethrower which kills poor Quarrels. Dr No, it turns out, is a brilliant scientist, the son of a German missionary father and Chinese mother. Financing himself with money he stole from the Tong crime syndicate, he attempted to work with both the East and the West but was rejected by both and instead works for SPECTRE, an organisation Bond has not heard of before (don’t worry James, I expect we won’t hear from them again). As ever, SPECTRE’s plan is to fuck things up just because, in this instance, they plan to fuck up the Project Mercury launch by ‘toppling’ the rocket using their own atomic powered radio signal. Dr No, incidentally, has metal hands, because all the best Bond villains have physical defects. Bond foils the plan in what will some become his regular manner: he lets the villain spell out his plan, breaks out a jail cell (rather than an elaborate death trap, admittedly), kills a scientist, disguises himself, sabotages the machine and kill the villain in his own device (drawing the Dr in the reactor’s cooling vat).
A simple one, this. Indeed, Dr No was chosen to be the first book filmed for its simplicity, including the fact that it had only one location, Jamaica. Apart from the early scenes in which Bond is given his mission, the entirety of the film is set either on Jamaica or on/below the small island just off the coast. In that sense, the film feels more like a traditional spy thriller, in which an agent is sent to a location to conduct an investigation, than the globetrotting, set piece heavy extravaganzas that would be the series’ calling card in the future. The island looks gorgeous and the pale blue sea is very tempting. There is one scene where Bond and his allies must hide from armed guards and do so by using reeds and hiding underwater. Due to the tropical setting, it looks like a fun way to relax rather than a life or death situation. Honey Rider is only swept up into the plot, incidentally, because she had come to the small island to collect sea shells, which tells you all you need to know about the setting.
Dr No features no gadgets whatsoever. What it does feature is Bond being armed with his signature Walther PPK, replacing his old Beretta, which M (Bernard Lee) and Quartermaster Major Boothroyd (Peter Burton) insist lacks the required stopping power. Seeing as how Bond still uses the PPK to this day, it to be assumed that he took to it.
Most Inappropriate/Politically Incorrect Moment
Given the political climate of the day, the film can be perhaps forgiven for its less than balanced view of the Soviets. ‘With your disrespect for the human life you must be working for the East’, Bond tells Dr No. Of course he isn’t he’s working for SPECTRE, a sort of independent terror organisation. Throughout the series, especially in the Moore years, the Russians are more shown as another, competing side rather than the enemy.
Less forgivable is Bond’s treatment of Miss Moneypenny. ‘You never take me to dinner’, Moneypenny pouts.
‘If I did, M would have me Court-martialled’ Bond replies. ‘Something about the illegal use of government property’, in an exchange that would set the tone for their encounters for decades to come.
One weird moment came soon after the film came out. There was a lot of effort put in during the 50s and 60s to make the heroes look great. In Dr No, the sets were undersized to make the already impressive Connery look even bigger. More unfortunately, Jack Lord was fired from his role as Felix Leiter because it was thought he looked ‘too cool’ and therefore made Bond look bad by comparison.
As for the film itself, a weird but nice touch is the presence of Francisco Goya’s Portrait of The Duke of Wellington in Dr No’s deep sea lair. The painting had been stolen in 1961, which is why Bond does a double take upon seeing it. It turns out that the painting had been stolen by an amateur, Kempton Bunton, who was outraged that the British Government would spend £140,000 on a painting. It was eventually returned in 1965, and Bunton was sentenced to three months in prison.
Best One Liner
James Bond: I admire your courage, Miss…?
Sylvia Trench: Trench. Sylvia Trench. I admire your luck, Mr…?
James Bond: Bond. James Bond.
How Good Is It Really?
Very good. The film is less cartoonish and ridiculous that later Bond films, without feeling dull. At only 109 minutes, it’s also one of the shortest films in a series that tends towards the overlong. The pacing is perhaps a bit off – it would be rare now for Bond to meet the villain so late in to the proceedings, but it makes sense given that the film is framed rather like a detective story. Ursula Andress’ introduction is one of the most famous images Bond history, though her character is far from the top tier of Bond girls. Jack Lord is good, too good apparently, as Leiter and Jack Wiseman stays the right side of ridiculous as Dr No, bringing real menace to a role that could have become overly campy. Some of the classic Bond touches are already in place – the girls, the theme, the willingness to kill and the villain’s lair, but plenty more hallmarks of the series are yet to debut, including the gadgets, different locations and an overabundance of stunts. Viewed more favourably now than it was at the time, Dr No is certainly one of the stronger Bond films.