The first of the never-say-die franchise, James Bond is sent to Jamaica to investigate the death of a fellow British agent. The trail leads him to the base of Dr. No, who is plotting revenge on the West by disrupting the US space programme.
Post-Austin Powers, and given its age, parts of Dr. No inevitably look clichéd and the dialogue can appear clunky. But for all that, this is still a slick and polished affair, despite the fact that this is James Bond still in short pants. It’s amazing how many of the JB trademarks established in this film are still with us now, 22 films on: the second line is “Bond, James Bond”; moments after that he’s lobbed his hat perfectly onto Moneypenny’s hat-stand (not a euphemism, as much as she wishes it was); we see him getting his first Walther PPK and minutes later, he’s bonking a random.
Desmond Llewellyn is missing, not to appear until Bond no.2 From Russia with Love, but the theme tune is in situ along with the gun barrel sequence, SPECTRE, a luscious backdrop, Felix Leiter, and a super villain with weird physical trait (metal hands) and secret underground lair. And of course, the now iconic image of Ursula Andress in the white bikini; imitated, but never bettered (except maybe by Daniel Craig in tiny pants in Casino Royale).
Yes, Dr. No himself is a slightly ridiculous villain and barely on screen for any time at all, but that’s not important. According to this, without Bond-James-Bond, America would never have put a man on the moon. Brilliant.
Roger Moore inhabited the role for so long and in such a cheesy fashion that it’s easy to forget that the original James Bond of Fleming’s novels was a violent man with a large scar on his face and a “cruel mouth”. Sean Connery’s version, while not entirely inhabiting the literary creation, is still almost shockingly callous at times, never averse to killing unarmed men or using people (mainly pretty young girls) for his own, or rather, her Majesty’s ends.
Talking of Mr Connery, it’s well known that Ian Fleming wanted Cary Grant for the role and was not happy with Connery’s casting, famously saying “I’m looking for Commander Bond and not an overgrown stunt-man”. He changed his mind after the success of Dr. No, even going so far as to give his fictional hero a half-Scottish, half-Swiss heritage in the later novels. Besides, anyone who can look macho in head to toe powder-blue whilst running along a beach gets my vote.
Now the highest grossing film series of all time, the James Bond franchise wouldn’t fully reach its pinnacle until Goldfinger, but Dr. No is a more than worthy debut for a character who shows no signs (legal and money wrangles aside) of turning in his licence to kill any time soon. All together now: “Underneath the mango tree, my honey and me…”