007 The double “O” means he has a license to kill when he chooses…where he chooses…whom he chooses!
Having not seen any of the vast Bond back catalog in some time, I sat down to view Dr. No for the first time in perhaps ten years. Somehow along the way my view of this film got distorted by the skydiving fights, invisible cars, and silly (substitute insipid if you prefer) comic relief we’ve gotten used to in some of the more recent entries in the series.
The story is pretty straightforward and we even at this early stage begin to see the Bond formula being put together. Bond is in Jamaica attempting to thrwart the evil Dr. No who plans to electronically interfere (“topple”) with America’s rocket launches from Cape Canveral (remember at this point it wasn’t yet called Cape Kennedy).
“Dr. No” isn’t the first novel in the series on which the films are (for the most part loosely) based. It is actually the sixth in the series but was picked because it presented the fewest difficulties in production. An attempt was first made to bring Thunderball to the screen first, but issues with the film rights made this impossible. Throughout Bond is in only one exotic locale (Jamaica) and only the finale has what one would term big production values and special effects. Casino Royale, the first novel, had already been made into a TV production and the rights were not available until recently.
Harry Saltzman and Albert (Cubby) Broccoli put the picture together with a predominantly English cast, as would be expected. As an added luxury, the producers had author Ian Fleming on hand- although in failing health Fleming would live to see the first two films- Dr. No and From Russia with Love made the following year.
And what a cast. For the most part spot on and definitive to this day. Most became institutions in the series. Sean Connery, although relatively unknown at the time, was and is for many the best Bond ever. Connery brought the right toughness but very dry humor that the part required- Scottish brogue be damned. Character actors Bernard Lee and Jack Lord come in as section leader “M” and Felix Leiter, respectively. Lois Maxwell (actually a Canadian – gasp!) is the ever flirtatious Moneypenny. And for Bond’s love interest we get Ursula Andress, the then wife of photographer John Derek, who wasn’t even interested in acting at the time. (According to some sources it was only at the urging of Kirk Douglas that she took on the role). She still has perhaps the most memorable entrance of any of the Bond girls.
Also many of the names that bondphiles recognize are here from the start. Production designer Ken Adam does an outstanding job on a limited budget- achieving great things in Dr. No’s lair. Director Terence Young makes the first of his three directoral appearances in the Bond saga. He also directed From Russia with Love and Thunderball. Maurice Binder’s gunbarrel sequence is here, although not with Connery- he didn’t film the sequence until Thunderball.
Of course, some of the characters have their lines dubbed in- Ursula Andress by two different ladies (one for the brief song she sings and the other for regular dialogue)- but this is pretty much a staple of early Bond films – Goldfinger himself is dubbed for example.
On of the key figures in almost all Bond films, “Q”, is absent. Instead we get the armorer, Major Boothroyd- which is much more faithful to the novels but not nearly as quirky as Desmond Llewelyn would become. And we won’t mention the ultimate degredation of the “Q” character during the Pierce Brosnan era.
But what is it about Dr. No which gives it such timeless appeal? First and formost, it follows no preset formula. This makes the first three Bond films stand apart from and above from rest. After the mammoth success of the third picture, Goldfinger, Eon Productions pretty much remade it fifteen or so times.
We see a hard Bond, as witnessed by his killing of Dent- pumping a bullets into his body well after he’s left for the world beyond. (This is somewhat recreated in the opening of the recent Casino Royale.) We see some dry wit, but not the irritating silliness which Roger Moore later brought to the role. You’d never see Connery’s Bond dressed as a clown.
There are no gadgets and the entire plot is plausible- there are no underwater cars, special watches, etc. We actually see Bond employ some wits and some spycraft- blowing talcum into the locks of his briefcase, booby trapping his closet, and checking behind pictures for bugs. In later films Bond would most assuredly have the Bugometer 500DX to do this for him.
Special effects are pretty tame. The only really poor one is the tarantula climbing up Connery’s body (the novel features a centipede). It is all to clear that the long shots were done with Connery literally under a piece of glass- although the recent release does seems to make this less noticeable. A few car chases and a big fight at the end- including the now de rigeur destruction of the evil lair – is about it.
Bond’s rescue of Honey Rider (Andress) is a let down, as she is merely tied to a boat ramp as the tide slowly creeps up. A far cry from the book where she is left to be eaten by a squid. (At least the original script has her eaten by crabs, but when the crabs arrived on set most were useless.) And Dr. No? Well of course his demise is different than that of the book- I mean, death by burial under tons of bat guano a good picture does not make.
And the villain? Well he isn’t such an ogre compared to later incarnations. Granted, he’s an American playing an Asian, but his dream isn’t to take over the world-just interfere with rockets. As for his disability- (for all Bond villains have a disability or disfigurement somehow) it is relatively tame – metal prosthetic hands, replacing his real ones which were lost during his experiments with radioactivity (no carnivalesque hooks as per the novel). And beyond that, Dr. No isn’t even the ringleader or arch-villian, he is merely a lieutenant of (presumably) Blofeld, the leader of SPECTRE.
I guess what makes Dr. No one of the best of the Bond films is the reality of it all- reality which has really only been approached by the Daniel Craig Bonds. Bond is fallible and actually has a personality beyond daydreaming and sleepwalking through one action piece after another. Yes, there have always been flirtations with reality (about every 3-4 films or so). On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (oh, if only Connery was in that one), For Your Eyes Only, and License to Kill are good examples of this.
Doctor No – in it’s most recent release on DVD (and now blu-ray) has never looked better. It’s hard to belive that this is a film made over forty years ago on a shoestring budget. The image is crisp and the sound is immersive. If you don’t have it-get it. Even if you have a previous DVD release the additional special features and improvements in the feature quality make it well worth the investment.
The only thing lacking on the DVD is any recent material with Connery and, although disappointing it is understandable given the distance he likes of late from the Bond scene. There are a few archival pieces with him however which is some consolation. And MGM and Eon have put about everything in here in terms of extras that one could want. Several featurettes, galleries, etc. More than even most die hard fans want.
As usual, you can get the film either individually or as part of a multi-feature package. Just be forewarned, the pairings of films is different for standard DVD and blu-ray. Bondphiles should go for the sets for sure.