My James Bond retrospective: Dr. No.

Fifty years ago, Harry Saltzman and Albert “Cubby” Broccoli began what is arguably the most lucrative franchise in film history. Little did they know what would come of their endeavors, but the road to this first 007 adventure on the big screen was not an easy one. Fraught with problems from the time Broccoli first attempted to purchase the rights to James Bond, it seemed the film would never see the light of day.

But this isn’t a history of the 007 productions, so let’s move on ahead, shall we?

Here’s a quick caveat: I’ll be limiting my journey through the James Bond films to only the films made by EON Productions. That means I won’t be writing about the 1954 episode of Climax! called “Casino Royale,” starring Barry Nelson as American secret agent Jimmy Bond. I also won’t be writing about the 1967 parody film Casino Royale. And I probably won’t write about the 1983 film Never Say Never Again starring Sean Connery as James Bond, but we’ll see about that when we get to the 80s.

For now, let us travel back to 1962.

Dr. No, the first of Eon Productions’ James Bond films, takes us on an adventure like few others of the time. In the opening scenes we discover that John Strangways, head of MI6 Section J has been murdered in Jamaica. Soon his secretary, Mary Prescott, is also murdered while radioing in to MI6 in London from Strangways’ office in Kingston.

From here we’re introduced to none other than James Bond, MI6 operative 007, a superspy with a license to kill. Suave, sophisticated, and deadly, 007 carries a heavy hand and an enormous amount of sexual prowess. Portrayed by then-unknown Sean Connery, Bond has a weight and seriousness about him while maintaining a certain level of playfulness betraying his love for what he does. Despite this, Connery’s performance is mainly somber; rarely does he crack a joke in this film, and when he does, it’s quickly dismissed and the story continues.

Every scene is brilliantly shot and is characteristic of the beautiful work done by cinematographer Ted Moore and director Terence Young (who is also credited with creating the many personality traits that Connery employs in his portrayal of Bond).

Our introduction to Bond in this movie is iconic. Polished and gallant, the first utterance of the phrase, “Bond. James Bond,” releases with such poise that the demand for its return is enormous. Interestingly enough, Bond doesn’t introduce himself like this of his own impetus. Sylvia Trench introduces herself as “Trench. Sylvia Trench,” to which Bond replies with his legendary phrase.

The film carries a fairly simple story which is unfortunately somewhat difficult to follow. I’m not sure if it’s a product of the time or that it’s unusually talky, using dialogue as a primary vehicle to carry the plot, but after multiple viewings, I still have some trouble figuring out exactly what’s taking place while Bond is in Dr. No’s lair. That doesn’t take away from the viewing experience, however, which is a testament to just how good the positive aspects of the film are.

Speaking of Dr. No’s lair, after Bond and his trusty sidekick Quarrel arrive on the island, Bond has a chance encounter with Honey Ryder (played by Ursula Andress), the beauty of the film. Another iconic moment in film history: as Ryder steps onto the beach in her white bikini and knife singing “Under the Mango Tree” James looks on in wonder.

Dr. No introduces us to a number of characters that would become members of the James Bond family: M, played by Bernard Lee; Miss Moneypenny, played by Lois Maxwell; and Felix Leiter, played this time by Jack Lord. There are quite a few elements that have yet to be established (and probably won’t be until 1964), but as far as Bond films go, Dr. No certainly sets the precedent and turns out to be a difficult act to follow.

The film remains among my favorite despite the talkiness and lack of action (in comparison to the other 007 films). Sean Connery plays an excellent Bond, the set-pieces are magnificent, and the cinematography is spot on. Lead on, 007, and audiences will follow.

Next up, From Russia with Love.

(Click here to go back to the list.)

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