This may surprise some readers, but I am actually a fan of superheroes. I know; I’m sure this is a truly shocking revelation. However, even I feel that I am beginning to write too much about them.
So, let’s try something different. The James Bond films hold a unique and prestigious place in the annals of film history. This is a franchise that spans over half a century, with 23 movies (24 in November) and six men all sharing one instantly recognisable role.
With this in mind, I have set myself a challenge. I will (gradually) review every single Bond film, in preparation for the upcoming release of Spectre and what better place to begin than the first, official, Bond film?
Dr. No came to movie theatres in 1962 and introduced the world, not just to James Bond, but also to a young Sean Connery. While Connery had a few parts in films before this, Dr. No was the film that catapulted him to superstardom.
The plot of the film is ultimately very simple; an agent of MI6 goes missing in Jamaica. In response to this, M, the head of MI6, assigns James Bond to investigate the agent’s disappearance, and discover if this is related to a case the agent was investigating, involving the sabotage of an American rocket launch.
It had been a long time since I had last watched Dr. No, so it was interesting to go back, and view the film with fresh eyes. While I did ultimately enjoy Dr. No, I did find that there were some things that bothered me about it. Some of these things are simply a case of the series finding its footing, or common film practices of the time. However, others problems are somewhat more severe.
Dr. No Trailer
One of the biggest problems with this film is its usage of rear projection. For those who are unaware of what this is, rear projection is a technique of having film being played behind the actor, to make it seem as if the actor is somewhere else.
While this does date the film somewhat, it is not just its usage that bothers me. It is the fact that it is used poorly. The footage does not blend well with the acting going on in front of it. This is particularly apparent in Dr. No’s car chase. The distance of the car in the background does not match up with Connery in the foreground.
The film’s music can be very jarring at points as well, going from very traditional Bondian music, from composer John Barry, to pop music of the time. Both of these musical styles would work fine separately, but together they create a disjointed mess.
Finally, there is the direction of the scenes that take place indoors. While I feel Terence Young is a solid director, I feel that many of the indoor scenes in this film feel like sets. When I was watching this film again, these scenes looked like something shot for TV.
Dr. No’s Director, Terence Young
However, I do not think this was entirely his fault. The film did not have the world’s biggest budget, so I feel that this may have been a problem with the set sizes having to be kept within reason. This feeling seems to be confirmed with the next film, From Russia with Love, as Young returns to the director’s chair and this problem seems to have been addressed.
While these problems did bother me, the film does do a lot right. From the moment Connery appears on screen and utters the words, “Bond, James Bond”, he instantly becomes the character. One particular moment that stands out for me is when Bond is waiting for an assassin to come and kill him. He sits in the dark alone playing solitaire. Upon his arrival, Bond shoots the assassin at point blank range. It is a moment that is quintessentially Bond.
The cast give a solid performance all around. Ursula Andress sets the standard for all Bond girls to follow, in the role of Honey Rider. The scene of her emerging from the sea goes on to become one of the series most defining scenes, and is paid tribute to at multiple points as the series goes on.
Joseph Wiseman leaves quite an impression as the villainous Dr. No, which is particularly impressive, as he doesn’t appear in the film until the final act. His character is mentioned frequently throughout, building up this mysterious figure. When the moment comes, Wiseman delivers a memorable performance.
Bernard Lee as M and Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny do not have a lot of screen time, but with the time they do have, they make the audience feel that these are people Bond has known for a long time. Maxwell, in particular, deserves a great deal of credit, creating more of a romantic chemistry with Bond in just a few minutes, than some Bond girls have in an entire film.
Jack Lord has the role of the CIA agent Felix Leiter. Lord doesn’t leave much of an impression in the role, which is disappointing; considering that Leiter goes on to become somewhat of a staple of the Bond franchise.
While I did mention that I had problems with Terence Young’s indoor direction, his outdoors scenes are solid, with some truly beautiful shots showing off Jamaica’s beauty.
Is Dr. No the best Bond film? No. In all honestly, it would not make my top ten. However, I feel that it is a solid beginning to what would become one of the greatest franchises to grace the silver screen, and does a fitting job introducing us to the greatest agent ever to serve on Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Written by James Campbell