Dr. No Movie Review: Introducing James Bond

Welcome to the first assignment of Operation: BOND as Cinema Sentries celebrates the 50th anniversary of the James Bond franchise with a review of each film up to the release of Skyfall, and other surprises.  So without further ado, let’s get started.

Although the sixth novel in the series by Ian Fleming, Dr. No is James Bond’s debut on the silver screen and turned Sean Connery into an international star. It serves as a template as so many of the signature elements found within are repeated throughout the series, from the Maurice Binder’s opening gun-barrel sequence to Monty Norman’s Bond theme music, and of course, Bond ending up with the girl in the film’s conclusion. The major element missing here is Q the gadget man.

British agent John Strangways is on assignment in Jamaica to discover what is disturbing the tests conducted at Cape Canaveral, the United States base in Florida. After Strangways’ death, Bond is sent by M (Bernard Lee, who played the role in eleven films) to investigate. Upon his arrival, Bond quickly makes the acquaintance of friends, like CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jack Lord), and enemies.

The clues lead Bond to a nearby island and its main resident, Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman). Once on the island, Bond crosses paths with seashell collector Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress whose voice was dubbed by Nikki van der Zyl). They both get captured and at dinner Dr. No, in typical villain fashion, reveals his plans and announces he is a member of the international terrorist organization known as SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion). Naturally, Bond saves the day.

While Bond fans may enjoy Dr. No‘s historic significance and there are a number of good scenes, the film doesn’t hold up in modern times. Its old age is apparent from the almost sluggish pacing, the filmmaking techniques, and the attitudes. Long stretches go by with characters talking. There’s not a lot of action and what there is isn’t very impressive. The sequence in Miss Moneypenny’s office is poor. The lighting casts shadows every which way from the multiple lights, and the set looks hastily thrown together like a high school production. Bond walks around like he’s in an Axe bodywash commercial as nearly every woman falls under his spell just from looking at him. It’s such a pathetic male fantasy it’s hard to take seriously.

The worst decision is white actors playing main characters who are Chinese. Dr. No is Eurasian but they should have gotten someone who looked the part because the actor’s eye make-up is terrible. The choice for Miss Taro (Zena Marshall) is even more ridiculous as they use eyeliner to augment the shape of her eye. Besides, it’s not like Marshall was a major star so surely a Chinese actress could have played the part.

One of the sillier moments in Dr. No is an attempt on Bond’s life involving a tarantula. It’s not clear how this was supposed to work, but at the very least the villain had to sneak into Bond’s room while he slept and place the tarantula in his bed, if not on his person. Bond awakes to find the creature crawling on him and remains perfectly still to avoid its dangerous bite. Considering how close he got, why the tarantula wrangler couldn’t have killed Bond while he slept is inexplicable. They had already killed one agent, so Bond’s death would have caused the arrival of more agents regardless.

Regardless of its flaws, which likely weren’t as glaring to movie-goers of 1962, Dr. No went on to become a worldwide box office success and launched the 007 franchise.

Operation: BOND will return with From Russia with Love.

Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site.

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