Section: Reviews
Dr. No Movie Review

Now... Meet The Most Extraordinary Gentleman Spy In All Fiction... James Bond, Agent 007!

Title: 'Dr. No'

Released: 05/08/1963

Budget: $950,000

Gross (US; Worldwide): $16,067,035; $59,600,000

Producer: Albert R. Broccoli & Harry Satlzman

Writer: Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, & Berkley Mather

Director: Terence Young

Based On: Book 'Dr. No', written by Ian Fleming

Stars: Sean Connery as James Bond 007, Ursula Andress (as Honey Ryder), Joseph Wiseman (as Dr. No), Jack Lord (as Felix Lighter), John Kitzmiller (as Quarrel), Zena Marshall (as Ms. Taro); Also Starring Bernard Lee as M and Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny.


Commentary: The deliberate pacing and infrequent action sequences of 'Dr. No' may frustrate modern audiences or the most casual of Bond fans. The movie is so unlike most of the films that follow it, but that's what makes it so special. It is the first Bond, and works well as the introduction to the series, but also works in its own right as a smart, classy detective story that gets better and more thrilling with each viewing.

Like the rest of the movie, the beginning is wonderfully paced. The film starts with the Three Blind Men walking the streets of Kingstown. We have no reason to suspect them of anything. They seem unimportant, just a taste of Jamaica – until they kill Strangways, the British agent investigating the toppling of American rockets, and his secretary, who is just starting her daily radio transmission with the London headquarters. The filmmakers then take us to London, where the officials on the other side of the radio wonder why the transmission was interrupted. Looking for an MI6 agent to investigate Strangways' disappearance, a British government official walks into a classy London casino, where the camera takes us to a crowded baccarat table and focuses on the cards on the table and our first Bond girl, Sylvia Trench. The film teases us by not showing Bond right away – we get to know him better by seeing what he’s doing and with whom. Finally, the camera slowly pulls away from Sylvia's face and Bond is revealed – but still only from the side. Our patience is rewarded when, with the camera straight on Bond's face, we hear Sean Connery announce himself to the world as "Bond, James Bond."

At this point the film operates as a simple detective story. M, the head of MI6, instructs Bond that he is to fly to Jamaica early in the morning to solve the disappearances of Strangways and his secretary. When he arrives, Bond does indeed act more like a detective than an international spy with a license to kill – he pieces together the clues by visiting the scene of the crime and by interviewing those who knew Strangways. Bond quickly figures out, however, that this is not a simple disappearance. From the moment he arrives, Bond is followed from the airport. When Bond foils his driver's plan to kill him, the driver takes ingests cyanide rather than tell Bond who wants him dead.

The detective story starts to branch out into something larger than life, but it never becomes as outlandish as some of the later films in the series. But 'Dr. No' does start the tradition of the super villain, but what makes this villain so captivating is the way he instills such fear in those who work for him. Bond knows this the moment the driver kills himself, and again when the photographer would rather have her arm broken than talk, and Bond wonders aloud who could instill this fear. The filmmakers do something very clever next – a seemingly minor character in the film at his point, Professor Dent, a friend of Strangways, hops on a boat and takes us to the man behind it all, Dr. No. We don't see Dr. No in this scene (rather, we only hear him), but this scene works in two ways. We see how terrified Dent is of his boss, and by only hearing his menacing voice, we now fear Dr. No as well. Also, by not revealing too much too soon about the villain, we get to spend more time watching our hero catch up with us, as we now know more than he does.

It doesn't take Bond long. He's already suspicious of Dr. No, after hearing stories from Quarrel, a local fisherman and friend of Strangways, about how there's a dragon on his island, Crab Key, which scares away the locals (Quarrel included). Quarrel, wonderfully played by John Kitzmuller, also tells Bond that Strangways collected rock samples from Crab Key, which Bond suspects were radioactive.

Bond does some more investigating into Dr. No, but Strangways' files are missing, so he goes to the Governor of Jamaica to see what he knows. Bond catches the Governor's secretary, Miss Taro, eavesdropping in on their conversation, suspecting that she's a spy for Dr. No. Our gentleman agent sets up a romantic evening with Taro, agreeing to meet her at her house, but on the way, a car tries to run him off the road. The car chase is thrilling and short enough (unlike car chases in modern action films) so that it doesn’t wear out its welcome. The only real problem with the sequence is that Connery's physical actions, especially how he turns the steering wheel, do not correspond with the actions of the car.

When Bond arrives at Taro's, she's surprised to see him, as she set up the assassination attempt, and the look on her face when she opens the door is priceless, as is Bond’s next course of action: to sleep with a woman who wants him dead. When they finish having sex, Bond sends her on her way, knowing that she called in another assassin. In comes the mousy Professor Dent, who shoots the pillows in the bed Bond set up to look like a human body. When Bond informs Dent he’s out of ammunition, we get a good idea just how cool, collected, and intelligent 007 is under pressure.

What comes next is the simple but tense midnight boat ride to Crab Key. Quarrel guides Bond to the island, while CIA agent Felix Leiter (the iconic Jack Lord), will stay behind in case anything goes wrong. Quarrel and Bond spend the night on the beach, and awaken to the beautiful singing of one of the most beautiful Bond girls of all, Honey Ryder. The shot of Honey coming out of the ocean in her white bikini is gorgeous and deservedly one of the most famous images in the entire franchise. Honey has a back-story that is interesting, filled with little details that make her and the movie more captivating.

The beach vacation is short lived, as some of Dr. No's goons shoot up the beach and come back with dogs, and later, a truck made to look like a dragon, to track down Bond. The 'dragon' isn't very well designed, and that's either the fault of the filmmakers – anybody with a brain should be able to tell that dragon runs on gasoline -- or a demonstration of Dr. No's sense of intellectual superiority. The dragon kills Quarrel, and some goons round up Bond and Honey. After a thorough, if less than personal shower, Bond and Honey are placed in a luxury prison, which is well designed, but one must wonder why Dr. No would even build it in the first place. After being knocked out from a drug in their coffee, Bond and Honey go to sleep, and then we get our first glimpse at Dr. No – but just his body and deformed hands. The decision to not show his face at this point was a wise one for the filmmakers to make, as it gives the audience another reason to anticipate a meeting between Bond and Dr. No.

That meeting soon takes place, and Dr. No comes across as a deeply insecure man seeking the approval his parents never gave him because of his handicap. He’s almost proud to have been caught, telling Bond, "You're the one man I've met capable of appreciating what I've done." When 007 responds that he doesn't appreciate terrorism, Dr. No quips, "Unfortunately I have misjudged you. You are just a stupid policeman whose luck as run out." He tells his goons to rough up Bond a little but not to kill him yet – Dr. No wants to do that himself, but he has other, more pressing matters to tend to. Unlike many times later in the series, Dr. No doesn't try to kill Bond in some ill-conceived, too-elaborate-for-its-own-good torture chamber. Bond simply manages to escape from the cell the goons threw him into.

Once he escapes, Bond steals the uniform of Chang, one of Dr. No's assistants helping him topple American rockets. The only problem with this sequence is that Chang has absolutely no reason to step outside the control room, except to serve as a convenient way for Bond to find his way into the control room. Once inside the control room, Bond interrupts the rocket toppling, causing the entire facility to explode (how this happened isn't exactly clear). Dr. No and Bond engage in a short but sweet physical fight, and honestly, no fight between a physically able spy and a handicapped madman could last much longer anyway, and the fights ends with the great shot of Dr. No's crippled hands trying to clutch onto something to save his life.

After a cool, gigantic explosion, Bond and Honey escape, and Felix comes in with the British Marines to whisk them away. The film ends with the fun shot of Bond letting go of the rope connection his and Honey's raft to Leiter's boat.

'Dr. No' is a film of sharp storytelling and character development, slowly building from a simple detective story to a thrilling climax. There are no major plot holes, and though the film isn't the best in the series, it is just about the perfect introduction.


Also in the Dr. No dossier:   Allies | Gadgets | Girls | Pictures | Reviews | Villains
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