It’s been a long time, and James Bond has evolved yet stayed recognisably Bond even to this day. “Dr. No” holds the distinction of being the first James Bond film ever brought to the big screen. Any journey starts with turbulence and it ends with it too. Fortunately James Bond doesn’t look to be ending any time soon, but it had to start somewhere, and I found “Dr. No” to be slightly rocky but a promising effort nonetheless.
Sean Connery IS James Bond, or at least he will become him. You can feel him warming himself into the role of the suave British agent. He is interrupted in his poker game in which he delivers his eponymous line “Bond… James Bond” by MI6 who require his skills. Here we see him flirt with Moneypenny (lois Maxwell) before he leaves to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of a fellow secret agent.
“Dr. No” establishes much of what to come and feels familiar yet crude. The famous gun barrel intro feels limp, and even the pop art intro credits feel as though a child figured out how to use Microsoft powerpoint. One of the big problems I had whilst watching the film is that I couldn’t get out of my head how I would much rather be watching something like “Goldfinger”. Something that usually isn’t an issue but in this case is because they feel so similar and yet this one is so unrefined in comaprison.
Bond spends much of the film trying to figure out what exactly is happening and the trail eventually leads him to Crab Key Island where Dr. Julius No (Jonathan Wiseman) is residing. The lead up to this in which attempts to end Bond’s life fail time and time again are the most thrilling parts. When Bond lands in Jamaica and immediately senses the suspicion as he is asked to hop into a taxi highlights why he is the agent and we aren’t. Later when Bond realises he is being watched through a keyhole based off of what would seem to be merely an inkling is also eye opening.
When the film strays from this there are issues. The middle segment of the film is lacking in much intrigue and it feels sluggish. Dialogue is stiff and there just isn’t anything to keep us guessing. Only when Bond actually gets to Crab Key is there any real attempt at mystery and even this is ridiculous. Rumours of a dragon initially make us question how grounded James Bond really is but when it becomes clear that it is a flame-thrower mounted vehicle the silliness of the characters, admittedly excluding Bond himself, becomes annoying.
Ursula Andress plays the first Bond girl — Honey Ryder — and she does an average job. Her introduction is sufficient visually but I don’t see why this is seen as a brilliant scene. She does not explode from the water like Halle Berry in “Die Another Day”, she just walks out collecting shells. Maybe people enjoy harkening back to a simpler time, fair enough, but I don’t see what is so great. After the introduction Miss Andress’ acting chops are put to the test and they don’t hold up, sometimes she is downright laughable, but at least she never feels a burden. She does have some degree of charm.
Upon meeting Dr. No and discovering his scheme we are underwhelmed. The half-Chinese villain with robotic hands is a clear early attempt to instil Bond’s villains with physical trademarks but Dr. No is only memorable as the first villain. Little is to be said for how evil he really feels and he is dispatched with relative ease. Surely those robotic hands would have been useful in the fight against Bond? Apparently not, and this misuse of potential flare is one of the biggest problems with “Dr.No”.
It’s a stepping stone and it isn’t an all that bad one either. Just seeing James Bond operate is interesting enough on its own but it can’t really carry the entire film. “From Russia With Love” is the next instalment and it is obvious to what extent director Terence Young learnt what people liked and didn’t like about “Dr. No”. On its own though, this one is an underwhelming if not entirely forgone attempt at the formula.