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BlogalongaBond: Dr. No

A series of white dots move across a black screen, freezing only to present the words “Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman present”. Suddenly the dots turn into the insides of a gun-barrel with a well dressed man wearing a hat walking along, the gun-barrel following his steps. Suddenly the man turns and fires a gun towards the audience, blood flowing down the inside of the gun-barrel just as a soon to be iconic piece of music begins to play. This of course is the iconic opening of the first James Bond movie Dr. No nearly fifty years ago. With Dr. No, a movie that cost a little more then a million dollars to make and featured a cast of relative nobodies, a movie franchise was launched. Looking back nearly fifty years, and twenty-two movies later, how well does this opening hold up?


Perhaps the thing that holds up the most is Sean Connery's debut as James Bond. From the moment he says his first line leading into perhaps the most famous introduction in movie history, the then unknown actor becomes James Bond. Connery's Bond is a Bond who can be believable in a tuxedo at the beginning of the movie, fine suits throughout much of the rest of the movie yet beaten and roughed up towards the end. This is a Bond who is seductive and charming towards any woman he meets yet cold-blooded with a sharp wit. As a result, this is a hero who is utterly believable yet somehow fantastic at the same time and Connery gives the part that quality.


This is all the more important since Connery is without two Bond movie elements for much of the movie: the Bond girl and the villain. Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder finally appears 62 minutes into a 109 minute movie while Joseph Wiseman as the title villain, Dr. No doesn't make an onscreen appearance until there's only 25 minutes left in the movie (and that's in a shot of his hands and legs!). While neither role is particularly large, both Andress and Wiseman make the most of their appearances. These range from Honey's now iconic introduction coming out of the ocean clad only in a white bikini to Wiseman's sparking dialogue with Connery's Bond. Both of them set the standard for all those who follow both for the 1960s and beyond.


The supporting cast does a fine job as well. Making their debuts in the franchise are two later stalwarts of the series: Bernard Lee as M and Lois Maxwell as the ever faithful Miss Moneypenny who both firmly establish their character's in the space of a few minutes. Helping out Bond on this first adventure is future Hawaii Five-O star Jack Lord as CIA agent Felix Leiter and John Kitzmuller as Quarrel, a role that seems both a bit racist and dated fifty years on but one that Kitzmuller does a pretty good job with nonetheless. Rounding out the supporting cast are Anthony Dawson as Professor Dent, Eunice Gayson as Sylvia Trench, Peter Burton as Major Boothroyd (aka Q, the role that Desmond Llewelyn made famous), Louis Blaazer as British diplomat Pleydell-Smith and Zena Marshall as the mysterious Miss Taro. All around Dr. No is blessed with a fine supporting cast.


Given that Dr. No had an effectively low budget, the movie looks splendid for its time. Ken Adams production design, even in the most insignificant of sets, gives the movie a larger then life quality that perfectly suits the movie, even if it does get the design of a nuclear reactor just slightly wrong. The production design is aided immensely by the cinematography of Ted Moore which not only shows off Adams sets (such as the single shot that shows off Doctor No's dining room) but also gives the movie a strong sense of menace throughout. The editing of Peter Hunt keeps the movie moving in what could otherwise be dull moments. Even the limited amount of action sequences in the film (which amounts to a few fights and a car chase) are well staged and stand up fairly well even now. There are also some good special effects in the form of model shots, those some of the back projection shots are just a bit too obvious. The score from Monty Norman also seems to be a bit lacking, especially with its repetitive use of the James Bond theme, though it has some effective moments such as the tarantula scene or the final confrontation between Bond and Doctor No. All of these elements, under the supervision of Terrance Young make for a film that stands out production value wise.


Which brings us to the script. Adapted from Ian Fleming's sixth James Bond novel, the script is for the most part faithful to the original novel though it does lose perhaps the most cinematic sequence of the novel. The plot and the villain's plot are perhaps simplistic compared to some of the world threatening ones of later movies of the series: agent 007 is sent to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of a British agent who was investigating the potential sabotaging of American rocket launches (keep in mind this was 1962 and the space race was still in full swing). It is the script that also dates the film most heavily. It is the casual racism used towards the Jamaican character's, especially with Quarrel and Bond's interactions with him, that do that the most. Those moments, like Quarrel's belief in a dragon on Doctor No's island or taking Bond's command to “fetch my shoes”, are cringe worthy today and help to show how far not just Bond but perhaps the world has come in nearly fifty years.


Despite some flaws, Doctor No holds up well. From Sean Connery's perfect debut as Bond to the effective performances of the rest of the cast and good production values that hold up well decades later. While the script and plot may seem dated today, for their time they were good though it's hard to excuse the racism throughout the movie. All told though, James Bond was off to a good start and the best was yet to come...