Dr. No: The Beginning of An Era

NOW… MET THE MOST EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMAN SPY IN ALL FICTION… JAMES BOND, AGENT 007!

It opens with that famous shot of someone having the world’s most renowned spy in his sights, and then being shot and killed by him. This is the very first James Bond film and that introduction segues into the main title sequence where Monty Norman’s unforgettable music theme is featured – no other tune is able to tell you directly what kind of thrills you’re in for.

Ian Fleming’s novels may have a great following but the eventually stagnant series of movies surpassed any commercial expectations anyone could have had in the early 1960s. Fleming had some experience from the intelligence community but when he created the character of James Bond, a British Secret Service agent, and the universe he inhabits, he didn’t let reality bother him too much. James enjoyed his cigarettes and martinis (shaken, not stirred) a bit too much and humped anything with a bra, but still found time and the capacity to save the world from mad supervillains who were itching to start World War III. He was a perfect man, as long as you want your men incapable of commitment and able to kill people in cold blood. Even those of us who love him must admit that James Bond is a bit of a psychopath, but as Carly Simon would tell you, nobody does it better… In this first adventure, agent 007 is shipped off to Jamaica where a colleague of his has been murdered. Maybe he found out a little too much about a mysterious, Chinese scientist called Dr. No who allows no one to come near his home at a small island outside of Jamaica. It turns out that Dr. No is trying to destroy the U.S. space program and that he’s an operative working for S.P.E.C.T.R.E., a terror organization about to make James Bond its prime enemy.

Rough, blue-collar image
All the familiar faces are introduced here – M, Bond’s long-suffering boss, Miss Moneypenny, M’s secretary who dreams of an adventure with the wily gentleman spy, Q (who is actually played by someone else than Desmond Llewelyn, and never referred to as “Q”) and Felix Leiter, the CIA agent who was to be played by many different actors over the years. It was really rather odd that Sean Connery was chosen to play the suave, very English 007. Not a very well known actor in those days, he had a somewhat rough, blue-collar image and was not even English but a proud Scot. But a strange thing happened when he donned a tuxedo; his persona gave the character some depth. In Connery’s guise, Bond was an elegant gentleman but with a hint of brutality that was barely noticeable – until you crossed him. Joseph Wiseman played the villain of this piece, the mad but equally sophisticated and soft-spoken scientist whose hand had been destroyed in an experiment and replaced with a prosthetic one that could smash anything. He’s one of the best Bond baddies ever. You would have to say that Ursula Andress is also one of the best Bond girls. Her first scene is spectacularly memorable, as she rises from the ocean wearing little else but a bikini and a hunting knife, singing “Underneath the Mango Tree”. No wonder Bond joins her in the singing. Wouldn’t you?

A few of the set pieces are quite inventive, especially a sequence where a man who’s visiting Dr. No is shown into a room containing nothing but a chair, a cage with a spider and in the roof above the chair a hole covered by iron bars. As rays of sunshine hit the chair and the person sitting in it, the impression is that of a man caught in a spider web. There’s some smart thinking here; the series may have been lacking in creativity as it progressed, but Dr. No, the beginning of an era, certainly was not.

Dr. No 1962-Britain. 111 min. Color. Produced by Harry Saltzman, Albert R. Broccoli. Directed by Terence Young. Screenplay: Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, Berkely Mather. Novel: Ian Fleming. Music: Monty Norman. Cast: Sean Connery (James Bond), Ursula Andress (Honey Ryder), Joseph Wiseman (Dr. No), Jack Lord, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell.

Trivia: ”Thunderball” was supposed to have been the first novel filmed. Roger Moore was offered the part of 007; when Noël Coward was asked to play Dr. No, he famously replied, ”Dr. No? No! No! No!”. Followed by 23 sequels, beginning with From Russia With Love (1963) – Bond movie Never Say Never Again is excluded as it was made by other hands.

Last word: “[Connery] didn’t look like James Bond; it was kind of a rough, uncouth character. But there was something about him I was looking for. At that time he was living in a trailer and was quite badly dressed. We made a deal, but United Artists was not in agreement with us. They wanted us to find someone else. But we had looked at a lot of actors, and Sean was the best.” (Broccoli, MI6-HQ.com)

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