Bondathon #1: Dr. No (1962)

Posted: March 3, 2016 in Movie Review
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Dr. No (1962)

Director: Terence Young

Starring: Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman, Jack Lord

I find it impossible to imagine a world without James Bond in it. For more than a half-century, Agent 007 has been a part of our popular culture. As with all long-running series, the Bond franchise has seen its share of ups and downs. With “Dr. No,” it is beginnings of which we speak. Though the films of 007 have become known for their elaborate gadgets and explosive stuntwork, “Dr. No” by comparison presents a much more subdued story, one befitting a secret agent.

When the British Intelligence Station Chief in Jamaica is assassinated, agent James Bond (Sean Connnery) is assigned by M (Bernard Lee), the head of MI6, to investigate the matter. Bond’s job is to determine whether the killing had anything to do with the victim’s involvement with a CIA-led investigation into the disruptions of rocket launches in Cape Canaveral (SPOILER: It does!). Bond must be on the right track, because people are trying to kill him now at seemingly every turn. This includes a harrowing encounter with a tarantula, a scene which is sure to scare the hell out of anyone who suffers from arachnophobia. One person who is tailing him Bond mistakes for another assassin. In fact Mr. Quarrel is assisting CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jack Lord), who explains that he and Bond are on the same mission.

Everything points to the island of Crab Key, owned by the mysterious Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman), a scientist of German and Chinese descent. Bond persuades Mr. Quarrel to take him there by boat. Upon arrival at Crab Key, Bond meets Honey Rider (Ursula Andress), a bikini-clad collector of sea shells. Both Ms. Rider and Mr. Quarrel express their fears of a legendary dragon said to dominate the swamps of Crab Key. Bond dismisses these tales as nonsense, as dragons are purely mythical creatures. Sure enough, the “dragon” is nothing more than a tractor with flame-throwing capabilities. Sadly, Mr. Quarrel is barbecued, and agents of Dr. No capture both Bond and Honey Rider.

Inside the compound, Dr. No formally introduces himself and displays total confidence in the chances of his scheme’s success. No outs himself as a member of the criminal organization known as SPECTRE, and makes it known that he means to disrupt the scheduled Project Mercury rocket launch in Cape Canaveral with his radio beam, powered by the nuclear reactor inside his compound. On top of being birdshit crazy (a little in-joke for fans of the Bond novels), Dr. No is also a physically formidable opponent with his mechanical hands, capable of crushing solid metal objects (to say nothing of what they could do to bone). For Bond to escape confinement, rescue Honey and foil Dr. No’s plans, he has to be extra sneaky about it. To that end, he disguises himself as a worker so that he can overload the nuclear reactor. As the compound begins to tear itself apart, Bond fights with Dr. No, eventually pushing him into the react coolant and killing him.

A very good, if at times a slow-moving film, “Dr. No” put all the right pieces in place to set up what would become one of the most sustained film franchises of all-time. Such a feat could never have been accomplished with a lesser actor in the lead role. Sean Connery, believe it or not, was at the time a controversial choice for the part of James Bond. But Connery’s natural charisma brings the character to life far better than anyone else could have at the time, and he is still one of if not the greatest actor to play the man with a license to kill. Also well-loved is Ursula Andress as Honey Rider. In her case, I must go against popular opinion by saying that, while undeniably beautiful, Honey Rider is given so little to do in “Dr. No” that the movie could do everything it sets out to accomplish if she never makes her now-iconic entrance.

Speaking of iconic entrances, what would the James Bond movies be without that gun barrel sequence that serves as the opening to nearly every one of his adventures? Accompanied with strikingly visual main title sequences, this has long served as a great way to get the audience geared up for James Bond’s latest mission. The one that kicks off “Dr. No” seems pretty standard in retrospect, but that’s due to how creative they’ve gotten with the first few minutes of each subsequent film.

James Bond was quite the trend-setter in his early years. A host of similarly-themed films and television series came about as a result of the popularity of 007. Even Bruce Lee drew inspiration, with the villainous Mr. Han from “Enter the Dragon” being an obvious clone of Dr. No. Who could guess, unless they were informed enough about the source material, that Ian Fleming’s original novel “Dr. No” comes not at the beginning of the series but right in the middle of the sequence of twelve (fourteen if you count the two collections of short stories)? If your only interest is the movies, this discrepancy shouldn’t alarm you. As a spy story, “Dr. No” works well. As an introduction to the character, it works VERY well. If you’re like me and you find the action just a tad bit lacking, no need to fret. You’ve got twenty-three other films that more than make up for that!

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Good review, especially the last paragraph about the films leading to other movies and TV series.

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