1962’s Dr. No is the first adaptation of Ian Fleming’s work, bringing to the screen his iconic super spy character James Bond. The first time we see Bond (Sean Connery) in this film, the stage is already set for Connery to set the precedent for how the spy is meant to look and act on screen. He puffs casually at a cigarette as he gambles and flirts with his female competitor (Eunice Gayson). His look is suave, his mannerisms subtle and laid back. Connery immediately embodies Fleming’s sharp-witted and womanizing Bond.
The film is littered with retrospective moments in which we can see precedents being set for the franchise. The iconic score blares in right off the bat, as we stare down the barrel of a gun. This theme repeats itself many times throughout the film. Bond and M (Bernard Lee) discuss the merits of a quality pistol, particularly the Walther PPK and Beretta, both Bond standards. A “Bond girl” (Gayson) is promptly established. The second–and more famous–Bond girl (Ursula Andress) comes later on.
In retrospect, the film can also be easily criticized. It doesn’t pace as well as later Bond films do. Fight scenes are lamely choreographed. There is an aged quality to it all. But it is unfair to make such linear comparisons. One only need to look at the ’90s-era Bond films to see how Dr. No better-utilized the cinematic opportunities afforded to it at the time.
The real shine of the film comes from Connery. He is the spitting image of the franchise spy. The charisma of the character is constantly evident. Even when he encounters a deadly tarantula crawling up his arm, he looks on with an arched, unfazed eyebrow. Connery lays the groundwork for decades of other incarnations of Bond–some enhancements, others simply imitations.
The eponymous villain of Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman) may not be rightfully introduced until the final half hour of the film. However, he is the cold and robotic character that can be found in many future spy film villains. The film could have benefited from an expansion of his character, but, once he and Bond go toe-to-toe, it is almost worth the prolonged wait.
For what it’s worth, Dr. No started a billion dollar franchise. It may be slow, and it only just starts to chip away at the marble statue that is the famous protagonist. But Connery sets the stage with a strong performance. Many heavily imitated tropes of the spy film begin with this film. Bond is the gold standard for the spy thriller, and it’s all thanks to the success of the franchise’s inaugural film.
I don’t usually attach to my reviews a scaled grading system. For the sake of this James Bond retrospective, however, it might be helpful to attach letter grades to each film for the sake of comparison. So, here we go:
Dr. No: B
As always, thanks for reading!
Dr. No is currently available to rent/buy on Amazon Video here.
Have you seen Dr. No? If so, what did you think? What is your favorite Bond film? Let me know in the comments!
–Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)