23
Apr
16

The Doctor Will See You Now (James Bond 1)

The first James Bond film, Dr. No, was released in 1962. I imagine there was little fanfare considering it was the first in the series, and Sean Connery was not yet a household name. It’s fun to look back, over 50 years later, now that the franchise has exploded in popularity and seen several changes in actors and styles.

You can also see how differently movies were made back then. Bond shows up and immediately gets to work on his mission. Everyone interacts as if they have known each other for years. This is not an origin story in the slightest. It’s a bit jarring in a sense, but I think it’s only jarring because today Hollywood is obsessed with origin stories. The lack of an origin story is quite refreshing.

The origin of the film itself is interesting. The producers, Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli, wanted to start at the beginning, with Casino Royale. Unfortunately, they couldn’t secure the rights to the novel, as CBS had already made it into a one-hour television special. It was altered in several ways, including, most egregiously, turning the main character into an American named Jimmy Bond. Even though the TV special wasn’t a hit, CBS was interested enough to turn it into a full-fledged series. Ian Fleming was paid to write an additional 32 episodes comprising two television seasons. When the deal ultimately fizzled, Fleming took what he wrote and turned it into his book For Your Eyes Only.

Since Saltzman and Broccoli couldn’t get Casino Royale, they chose Thunderball next. Once again, they were met with difficulty. This time, the difficulty was a film producer named Kevin McClory. Fleming had already worked with McClory in the late 1950s on a script that was not based on any of his novels. All sorts of turmoil ensued, and Fleming eventually turned the screenplay he and McClory wrote into the Thunderball novel. McClory sued, and so the Thunderball script was unavailable for filming due to the then-ongoing lawsuit.

Finally, Saltzman and Brocolli settled on Dr. No. Working alongside screenwriter Richard Maibaum and director Terence Young, they punched up the story for the cinema. They added more humor, fleshed out some exciting action sequences, and updated events so they would occur in the present day. They worked with a miniscule $1 million budget, and had to cut corners everywhere they could. Its strange to think of a Bond film as being low-budget, but it worked in this movie’s favor. By having to work around a small budget, they were able to overcome obstacles in unique ways.

Casting Bond also proved difficult. The producers had wanted Cary Grant, but he would only commit to one film, and they had envisioned James Bond as a series. So, they needed somewhat of a lesser star who would agree to a multiple-film contract. Any number of people were considered, including Roger Moore, who would later become the second Bond actor. They ultimately chose the unknown 30-year old Sean Connery because he had the “macho, devil-may-care attitude” that the role required. Once he was hired, director Terence Young took Connery under his wing, and taught him how to live as a gentlemen: how to walk, talk, and even eat properly. Some have said that Connery’s style echoes Young’s personal style more than Fleming’s literary character. Connery’s performance would have been much different without Young’s training. Whatever he taught Connery clearly worked, as Connery appeared completely comfortable in the role on his first outing.

Connery is perfect as Bond from the get-go. He’s charming and handsome, but he manages to kick ass when needed. He is also a bit rough around the edges. He doesn’t ooze effortless suaveness the same way that Roger Moore would in later years. Connery’s Bond has a thuggish undercurrent to him that is slightly hidden under the tuxedo.

The opening scene turns out to be funny in a way I hadn’t caught before. Bond is playing baccarat with a young woman. She introduces herself as “Trench, Sylvia Trench” and then asks for her opponent’s name. Bond’s very first line in the entire franchise is his famous “Bond, James Bond.” But he doesn’t do it because it’s cool, he does it to mirror the girl, and poke fun at her a bit. I never realized this until my most recent viewing, even though I’ve seen the movie several times. At this moment, the music, the iconic Bond theme song, fades in, introducing us to a legendary screen character.

Bond takes a different tack in this film than in most of the others. He almost plays a detective as he is sent to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of a British agent. He saunters around, questions people, and sticks his nose where it doesn’t belong. Occasionally, a bad guy shows up for him to grapple with, but the investigation is fairly subdued. This way, it makes the big reveal of SPECTRE toward the end of the film a much better payoff.

People in the 1960s were pretty shocked when Bond killed a bad guy in cold blood and then uttered a cool one-liner. Now, pretty much all our action heroes do that. Schwarzenegger perfected it in the 1980s, but Connery was the first to do it really well. The scene is important because it tells us Bond isn’t a cowboy, he doesn’t really have a moral compass, and he’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done.

It’s also interesting to see just how little Bond has really changed over the years. Sure, the actors have rotated in and out, and the style has changed from campy to deathly-serious, but the core character has stayed the same. Bond beds beautiful girls, kills bad guys, flirts with Moneypenny, quips, dresses smartly, and saves the world.

They even managed to have a memorable villain with a bizarre disfigurement, which has become a staple of the series. Dr. No has metal hands which he acquired after losing his real ones from handling radioactive materials. He can easily crush anything in his way. It was sadly underutilized. Bond dispatched him pretty quickly, and they didn’t have a suspenseful standoff.

Dr. No’s nefarious plan is the weakest part of the film. He is involved in some kind of plot to interfere with U.S. satellite launches. For what reason? Eh, it’s not exactly clear. Maybe Dr. No thought it would be fun? Probably, they were trying to extort the U.S., but none of it is spelled out. A little more spelling out might have been a good thing.

The production values are quite good despite the limited budget. Most of the film was shot on location in Jamaica. You almost start to perspire yourself under the island’s sweltering heat. Dr. No’s secret lair was huge and impressive, a technological wonder hidden on a ramshackle jungle island. Care and attention to detail was taken in all the settings, and the film is directed with a sure and steady hand by Terence Young. The film has a breezy rhythm to it, and the running time flies by, because it is so much fun to watch.

Audiences took note of the film immediately. It was a hit at the box office, pulling in $6 million, and easily recouping its budget. People wanted more of Bond, and the sequel was rushed into production for the following year. Never before had such an amalgamation of fantastic villainy, over-the-top action, and a cool yet ruthless hero graced the silver screen. While it might have been shocking, it was exactly what audiences were looking for. And so, the cinematic James Bond legacy was born.

Overall, Dr. No was an auspicious start to the franchise. It was solidly directed, and had all the elements the series would use over the years. The surprising part is that nothing feels prototypical. Everything is fully fleshed out from the character to the theme song to the opening gunbarrel. The Bond series has had plenty of ups and downs over the years, and it’s nice to see that the first movie holds up so well.

Verdict: Good

My other James Bond posts:

A Spectre of My Former Self (James Bond 24)

James Bond Pre-Title Sequences, Ranked

The Sky is Falling (James Bond 23)

Movies > Books: Casino Royale

Bond…James Bond 15-22

Bond…James Bond 8-14

Bond…James Bond 1-7

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10 Responses to “The Doctor Will See You Now (James Bond 1)”


  1. April 29, 2016 at 6:39 am

    Perfect review of Dr. No. I even learnt a few things from it!

    Sean Connery’s Bond has a lot more similarities with the Daniel Craig’s Bond – a little bit rough, cavalier and a bit of a thug. Sean Connery was a great Bond.

    Hollywood does have an obsession with origin stories, you’re totally right. And right now, there’s nothing I hate more than having to be spoon fed origins in any kind of story. Heh, thinking back to Wild now with its sort of origin story. I love getting thrown into a film, feet first. Needs to be done more often these days.

    • May 1, 2016 at 9:43 am

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I was beginning to think no one was going to comment, because this movie was just too old for most people to have seen it. Even though it’s James Bond, it’s from the 60s, and a lot of viewers probably would dismiss it outright. It’s fun, though, and it really holds up, even by modern standards.

      • May 1, 2016 at 9:54 am

        This is the kind of shit I grew up with. Some of my earliest memories are me at my uncle’s house watching VCR tapes of James Bond. James Bond was like a British institution when it came to public holidays – they’d always be one on TV. At least. Always surprises me just how old Dr. No is, like you say, it holds up really well. It’s got that 60s cool you can’t replicate now.

      • May 2, 2016 at 10:44 am

        VHS and TV re-runs were my introduction to James Bond, as well. Great stuff. Even as a kid, I didn’t noticed the age of the early films since they were so well executed.

  2. 5 g
    May 5, 2016 at 12:52 am

    dr noooooooooooooooooooooo

  3. 7 Paragraph Film Reviews
    May 11, 2016 at 5:10 am

    I’m always impressed that so many things from this film ended up sticking and defining the franchise over the years! If you dig background Bond knowledge my Mrs got the the Taschen James Bond Archives book – it’s beautiful and CRAMMED with phenomenal photos, stories and information on every film.


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