The 007 Collective is a bi-monthly column in which I revisit every official feature in the James Bond franchise and review how they hold up today. Along with a review of each film, each article in this 10-month-long series will dive into the historical place and production of each film in question. It will also feature a dossier i.e. a fact sheet with superlatives, ratings, rankings, best, worsts and other fun stuff in line with the format you’ve seen in my annual Year in Superlatives articles. This project isn’t meant to be the final word on the Bond franchise. It’s merely my take on the series. For previous entries, click here.
In this week’s edition of The 007 Collective, I revisit the first ever James Bond adventure. The one that started it all: DR. NO.
Mission Title: Dr. No
James Bond: Sean Connery
Release Date: October 5, 1962
Source Material: Based on the novel “Dr. No” by Ian Fleming
Tagline: NOW meet the most extraordinary gentleman spy in all fiction!…JAMES BOND, Agent 007!
The mysterious murders of MI6 agent Strangways and his secretary, both who had been investigating strange radio jamming signals coming from the Caribbean, leads MI6 to assign suave secret agent James Bond to the case. Agent 007’s investigation (with the help of CIA agent Felix Leiter) leads him to the island of Crab Key, which is said to be owned by a mad scientist known only as Dr. No.
This is it. This is where it all began. In 1962, neither Harry Saltzman nor Albert “Cubby” Broccoli could ever dream that their relatively low-budget production of Ian Fleming’s sixth James Bond spy novel Dr. No would be the start of one of the longest running and most lucrative movie franchises in cinema history. This was especially pertinent to Cubby who had just been declared bankrupt after the failure of his previous film, The Trials of Oscar Wilde. Having wanted to bring Fleming’s James Bond novels to the big screen for years, Cubby reached out to Saltzman, the man who had purchased the rights to the novels a year earlier but who had still not gone about making a film. Although Broccoli wanted Saltzman to sell the rights of the novels to him, he eventually settled on partnering with Saltzman. The partnership would produce the holding company Danjaq and the production company EON Productions – both which stand to this day.
Since Fleming’s first novel Casino Royale had already been turned into a cheesy episode on the American TV show Climax! a few years earlier, Broccoli and Saltzman decided to adapt Thunderball instead. But that novel was the subject of an ugly and expensive legal battle between Fleming and a one Kevin McClory. They quickly refocused their efforts to Fleming’s sixth novel Dr. No, especially since the novel’s plot called to mind recent rocket mishaps at Cape Canaveral.
With the source material in place, the two producers moved on to the crew. To adapt the book, they hired Richard Maibaum, a screenwriter who had worked with Broccoli on three low-budget films prior to the Bond movies. Maibaum would eventually write screenplays for 13 Bond movies. Collaborating with Maibaum on the script was Wolf Mankowitz, a writer who was adamant on making the James Bond adventure an out of this world adventure. Unfortunately, after reading the first draft of the script, Broccoli and Saltzman were appalled to learn that the screenwriters had turned Dr. No into a monkey. A fucking walking-talking monkey! As Broccoli would later state in his biography, “A million dollars was being invested. We didn’t think that a monkey, even with a high IQ, could in any circumstances be 007’s ‘merciless antagonist’.” Thus, to bring the next iteration of the script closer in line with Fleming’s source material, Cubby and Harry dumped Mankowitz and hired Johanna Harwood and Berkely Mather to help Maibaum with his next draft. Harwood, who had once worked as Saltzman’s secretary before becoming a screenwriter, would also go on to work on From Russia with Love.
To direct the film, Saltzman and Broccoli put out offers to a bunch of experienced directors, among them Guy Hamilton (who would go on to direct Goldfinger, Diamonds are Forever, Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun). In the end they went with Terrence Young, a director Broccoli and Maibaum had previously worked with on four movies. It proved to be a sound decision as Young’s vision of the world of Bond—one rife with gorgeous women, globe-trotting adventures, fast cars, martinis and exotic locations, with just the right hint of humor to balance out the Cold War era espionage and mystery—was one that would set the template for the next 50 years.
But the final and most important piece was the casting of James Bond himself. Broccoli and Saltzman had wanted Cary Grant to play Bond but knowing that Grant would only play the role for one movie, and that they wanted someone who could grow into the role over multiple films, they took him out of the equation quickly. Among the others considered were Paul McGoohan, James Fox, David Niven (who would star as Bond in the 1967 spoof Casino Royale), Trevor Howard and even Roger Moore, who Broccoli found to be too young at the time. Eventually, per Broccoli, “One face kept coming back into my mind. He was Sean Connery, a tall, personable guy, projecting a kind of animal virility and just the right hint of threat behind that hard smile.” Saltzman even shared footage of Connery with his wife for her opinion. When she gave him her resounding approval, the deal was done. After he was hired, Young came in, took him under his wing, and knocked him into shape, showed him how to be suave, debonair but above all: The essence of cool.
Everything that Young taught Connery made it up on screen. In his first outing as cinema’s most famous spy (an oxymoron if there ever was one), Connery oozes suave, sexy, sophisticated, and yes, cool. He’s charismatic and polished but still brandishes a hard edge that alerts you that he’s not someone to be messed with. Connery wasn’t just playing Bond. He became Bond. Although his performance here doesn’t wield the same confidence he displays in Goldfinger or Thunderball–his best performances as 007, this may be his coldest and most ruthless performance.
Watching Dr. No again, especially in the context of this series, it’s incredible how striped down and modest it feels compared to many of the Bonds that would follow it. Although the intimacy and small-scale nature of the story is partly due to the low production budget, there’s a conscious decision on the filmmakers’ part, Young in particular, to adhere closer to the novel’s Cold War setting, and to emphasize espionage, suspense and mystery over action-oriented thrills. This is a movie that has more in common with espionage thrillers and Hitchcock dramas than action extravaganzas. As such, many who aren’t familiar with the older Bond movies may find themselves perplexed by its leisurely pace and icy tone. The pacing may not be up to par with the comic book-like entries that would soon follow it but Peter Hunt’s remarkable editing of the film ensures that the plot always moves at an even keel. Even the comedy, which would become the most overbearing element of the campy Roger Moore era, is barely here. Young’s emphasis on menace and intrigue also ensures that although Dr. No’s nefarious plans and appearance are in line with the megalomaniac villains of the rest of the series, he never feels cartoonish or silly.
Another aspect that I found refreshing for a Bond movie is its surprising lack of gadgets and action sequences. The only gadget that Bond receives is his Walther PPK. The action on the other hand is limited to a climactic fist fight in Dr. No’s lair and a thrilling car chase through the mountains. This is a movie whose most thrilling moment is a scene in which a tarantula walks unto a sleeping Bond’s arm! Perhaps because of the absence of action scenes and gadgets, we get to see a Bond who relies more on his wits, ingenuity and survival skills. It makes the character more grounded in reality and more believable. It also works to emphasize the smarts of the character instead of his brawn.
Despite missing many of the elements that would come to define the series, Young, Broccoli and Saltzman include enough material in here to allow the film to stand out from other spy movies of the era. Ken Adam’s gargantuan sets—Dr. No’s lair is the epitome of opulence—work as statement pieces while Ted Moore’s glorious Technicolor cinematography makes the exotic Caribbean locations look even more exotic. Among the Bond standards that make their debut are the opening gun barrel and the colorful opening credits sequence (both designed by Maurice Binder), the initial briefing with M (Bernard Lee), Bond’s flirtation with Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), his quick briefing session with Q (who isn’t played by Desmond Llewelyn but by Peter Burton), and his caddish relationship with CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jack Lord). We also watch as he orders his Smirnoff vodka martini, “shaken, not stirred” for the first time, and are handed front row seats to all the stunning beauties who we’d soon dub “Bond girls,” including the most famous one of all—Ursula Andress’ Honey Ryder. More importantly, this is the first time we hear the immortal phrase “Bond. James Bond.”
As stylistically transgressive Dr. No might have been compared to other spy and action films of the era, it nevertheless remains a product of its time when it comes to its depiction of women and minorities. The Bond franchise’s long and embarrassing history of misogyny and casual racism begin with the title character himself. Dr. Julius No was written by Ian Fleming as a gentleman of Chinese and German heritage, yet he is played in the film by the Jewish Canadian Joseph Wiseman who the filmmakers deck out in embarrassing yellow-face makeup to look “more Chinese.” Equally offensive is the casting of British actress Zena Marshall as Dr. No’s Chinese agent Miss Taro. Like Wiseman, Marshall is also made to look “more Asian” with slanted eyes, and having her dress in cheongsam. Then there’s the problem of Bond’s Jamaican fisherman friend and CIA acquaintance Quarrel who is depicted as a drunk, ignorant, superstitious fool who Bond consistently condescends to. At one point, Bond even asks him to go fetch his shoes! As for Honey Ryder – apart from the sexism of her name, the filmmakers depict her as a naïve and dim-witted damsel-in-distress who cannot survive without Bond being there to rescue her.
Regardless of these issues, most of which are embarrassing hallmarks of a bygone era, Dr. No continues to resonate as a terrific motion picture today. Barring its archaic sexual and racial politics, the movie has aged extremely well – especially compared to the majority of the entries from the 70’s, 80’s and even the 90’s. It may not feature all the hallmarks that would come to define the franchise as yet—Goldfinger would streamline all of that two years later—but as far as introductions go, it’s stellar!
Dr. No is the only Bond movie to not have a cold open. It jumps directly from the gun barrel sequence to the opening credits sequence.
Title Designer: Maurice Binder
Title Song: “The James Bond Theme” and “Three Blind Mice” performed by the John Barry Orchestra
Famous Quote: N/A
In addition to being the only Bond movie without a cold open, Dr. No is also the only entry of the franchise that does not have a song sung by a famous recording artist. Although neither From Russia with Love nor On Her Majesty’s Secret Service have title songs sung during their opening credits either, both have songs that appear elsewhere. The tradition of having a title song sung by a popular artist over the credits only began with Goldfinger, the third film of the franchise. Instead of a song, we get John Barry’s orchestration of Monty Norman’s iconic theme. This eventually segues into a calypso tune before that too segues into “Three Blind Mice.”
As for the title sequence itself… It’s nothing to write home about. Maurice Binder kicks things off with a cocktail of red, green, yellow and blue dancing dots before allowing that animation sequence to morph into a trio of dancing women and men. It’s colorful but not very memorable. Still, Barry’s theme tune holds it all together.
The Big Bad: Nuclear physicist, mad scientist and SPECTRE agent Dr. Julius No (Joseph Wiseman). Dr. No lost his hands while being careless while conducting radiation experiments, and subsequently had them replaced with black metal bionic hands. Dr. No describes himself as of “German and Chinese” ancestry and explains that he made a name for himself after becoming the “treasurer of the most powerful criminal society in China” and escaping with more than $10 billion of their funds. Dr. No funds his operation of terror at his massive and state-of-the-art headquarters on the island of Crab Key in Jamaica. The base functions as his home, experimental lab and mission control for his terrorist activities.
Inept geologist Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson) who works for Dr. No, and by extension, SPECTRE. After Bond begins to suspect Dent as the primary man responsible for the death of MI6 agent Strangways and his assistant, Dent tries to assassinate Bond by hiring three hitmen, also known as the Three Blind Mice, but to no avail. After they fail to kill him on more than one occasion, he tries to kill Bond using a tarantula – once again, to no avail. His final attempt to kill Bond by using Miss Taro as bait ends when Bond coolly shoots him in the chest, and then in the back… simply as a way to put him out of his pathetic misery.
Miss Taro (Zena Marshall), who invites Bond for an afternoon of fun at her place, in the hopes that he’d be killed on the way to her apartment. When the Three Blind Mice fail to kill Bond, she sleeps with him as a way to distract him until Dent arrives at her apartment. Instead, Bond foils her plan by having her arrested before Dent can arrive at her apartment.
World Domination Plan: After the U.S., the Soviet Union and China all ignore his services, Dr. No joins SPECTRE. No plans to use his radical nuclear radiation radio signal technology to prevent the launch of a U.S. space rocket, thus sabotaging the country’s space program.
Primary: The iconic Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) who emerges from the ocean in one of the most famous introduction sequences in the Bond franchise. The introduction is so iconic that the franchise paid homage to it not once but twice (Die Another Day and Casino Royale). Still, the introduction pales in comparison to Bond’s even more iconic introduction in this very movie. Although Ryder states that she’s read the majority of the encyclopedia and tells us that she is very strong-willed, her naïve behavior and over-dependence on Bond to rescue her prove that she’s little more than a pretty face. Probably the most over-rated of all Bond girls.
Others: Silvia Trench (Eunice Gayson), who has the unique distinction of being the only woman who 007 sleeps with in two different movies (this and From Russia with Love). A charming, sophisticated woman who admires the finer things in life (among them, suave MI6 agents), Trench is also the first woman Bond sleeps with in the movies. She’s also the woman who he’s playing cards with during the movie’s most famous sequence. Indeed, it’s her introduction as, “Trench, Sylvia Trench” that prompts Bond to introduce himself as, “Bond. James Bond.”
Miss Taro (Zena Marshall)
Felix Leiter (Jack Lord): The Bond franchise’s long and unsuccessful attempt at holding on to a single actor to play CIA agent Felix Leiter began with Dr. No. Jack Lord, who would later go on to star in the extremely successful Hawaii Five-O TV series, was the first of seven actors to play the character in nine appearances! Leiter rendezvous with Bond in Jamaica and works with him in identifying the source of the radio jamming signals coming from the Caribbean. Lord would have continued playing Leiter in the series had he not demanded a significant raise and equal billing next to Connery for appearing in Goldfinger. The notoriously stingy Broccoli and Saltzman balked, and swiftly replaced him.
Quarrel (John Kitzmiller): The Jamaican fisherman and covert MI6 ally who aids Bond and Leiter on their mission to Crab Key. He transports Bond to the island and accompanies him on the island, despite being a comically superstitious man.
M (Bernard Lee): Lee’s first appearance as the MI6 chief is a rather brief one, limited to just two scenes. In his first scene, he advises an agent to find Bond. In his second, he briefs Bond on his mission.
Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell): Who flirts with Bond for the first time.
Q (Peter Burton): In his first appearance, gadget master Q—referred to as Major Boothroyd—was played by English actor Peter Burton. Burton wasn’t able to reprise his role in From Russia with Love because of a scheduling conflict. This conflict allowed Desmond Llewelyn to take the part. In Dr. No, Q introduces Bond to the Walter PPK, which would replace the Berretta, a gun that Bond was very reluctant to part with.
Walther PPK: Which Bond starts using after MI6 declares that Bond’s Berretta was prone to jamming, and sending him on long trips to the hospital. The Walther becomes Bond’s weapon of choice and, to date, is the gun most closely associated with the character.
ODDS & ENDS
Most Memorable Quote:
Can it be anything else?
[Bond is playing a game of cards at a casino with Sylvia Trench. After Sylvia loses a couple of rounds, Bond, whose face we haven’t seen as yet, states]
James Bond: I admire your courage, Miss…?”
Sylvia Trench: Trench. Sylvia Trench. I admire your luck Mr…?
[Lighting a cigarette]
James Bond: Bond. James Bond.
Most Embarrassing Quote:
[When Bond tells her that there are no such things as dragons, Honey retorts with this ridiculous line.]
Honey Ryder: How do you know there aren’t? Anyhow, what do you know about animals? Did you ever see a mongoose dance, or a scorpion with sunstroke sting itself to death, or a praying mantis eat her husband after making love?
Most Memorable Moment:
As much as Honey Ryder’s introduction is among the most iconic in cinema, James Bond’s introduction is even more iconic and memorable. So, sorry Honey, this one goes to James. Still, I’ll play the Honey clip since I’ve already included the Bond clip above.
Most Cringe-Worthy Moment:
Bond asking Quarrel to go fetch his shoes like as if he’s a slave.
[James Bond’s casual put-down of Dr. No after the later recounts his attempts to offer his services to the East and the West being rejected.]
Dr. No: The Americans are fools. I offered my services, they refused. So did the East. Now they can both pay for their mistake.
James Bond: World domination. The same old dream. Our asylums are full of people who think they’re Napoleon. Or God.
Most Shocking/Outrageous Moment:
I dedicated a whole paragraph to Dr. No’s casual racism. This is its most embarrassing moment, without doubt.
Best Pun/Double Entendre:
[After a hearse containing three assassins chasing Bond crashes off a cliff and explodes into a ball of fire]
James Bond: I think they were on their way to a funeral.
Best Stunt/Action Scene:
For a Bond movie, Dr. No is very short on action sequences so the winner, by default, is the finale in which Bond escapes from his prison cell, disguises himself as one of Dr. No’s scientists, overpowers the villain, and then escapes with Honey Ryder as the villain’s headquarters explodes.
Most Dated Reference:
Probably all the casual racism.
Number of Times Bond Has Sex: 4 (once with Sylvia Trench, twice with Miss Taro, and once with Honey Ryder)
Number of people Bond kills: 7
Hands down, Bond’s killing of Professor Dent – one of the best kills over the entire series. It’s a cold-blooded murder, delivered with ice-cold efficiency by Connery.
“That’s a Smith & Wesson, and you’ve had your six.”
Locations visited (In order of appearance): London, Kingston, Crab Key
Misogyny Meter: 7/10
As previously noted, the Connery Bonds weren’t exactly known for their positive depiction of women. Apart from the filmmakers’ treatment of Honey Ryder as a naïve and dim-witted damsel-in-distress, there’s also his brutally misogynistic treatment of Miss Taro (some of it validated since she’s a criminal out to kill him but that’s not an excuse).
Racism Rating: 8/10
This is a paragraph that merits repeating.
As stylistically transgressive as Dr. No might have been compared to other spy and action films of the era, it nevertheless remains a product of its time when it comes to its depiction of women and minorities. The Bond franchise’s long and embarrassing history of misogyny and casual racism begin with the title character himself. Dr. Julius No was written by Ian Fleming as a gentleman of Chinese and German heritage, yet he is played in the film by the Jewish Canadian Joseph Wiseman who the filmmakers deck out in embarrassing yellow-face makeup to look “more Chinese.” Equally offensive is the casting of British actress Zena Marshall as Dr. No’s Chinese agent Miss Taro. Like Wiseman, Marshall is also made to look “more Asian” with slanted eyes, and having her dress in cheongsam. Then there’s the problem of Bond’s Jamaican fisherman friend and CIA acquaintance Quarrel who is depicted as a drunk, ignorant, superstitious fool who Bond consistently condescends to. At one point, Bond even asks him to go fetch his shoes!
Box Office: $16 million ($158 million adjusted for inflation; the 18th highest grossing film of the franchise).
007 Chronological Listing: 1/24
Director: Terrence Young
Screenwriter: Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, Berkley Mather
Cast: Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman, Jack Lord, Anthony Dawson
Producer: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman
Running time: 110 minutes
Companies: EON Productions, MGM
The 007 Collective will return in:
FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981)
Previous entries in The 007 Collective:
- Goldfinger (1964)
- A View to a Kill (1985)
- Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
- The World is Not Enough (1999)
- Die Another Day (2002)
- Quantum of Solace (2008)
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
- Octopussy (1983)
- Thunderball (1965)
- GoldenEye (1995)
- The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
- The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
- The Living Daylights (1987)
- Skyfall (2012)
- You Only Live Twice (1967)
- Live and Let Die (1973)
- Moonraker (1979)