Review: 'Dr. No' (1962) Dir. Terence Young
Updated: Nov 19, 2020
From the literary world of author Ian Fleming, secret agent James Bond makes the leap from page to screen and begins a franchise like no other...
When a British Intelligence Station Chief is killed in Jamaica, MI6 agent James Bond (Connery) is dispatched to investigate, as he was working with the CIA to investigate space shuttle radio jamming launched from Cape Canaveral before contact was lost.
Landing in Jamaica, Bond soon finds that his arrival has caught the interest of a number of dangerous characters. After evading numerous assassination attempts, Bond meets CIA agent Felix Leiter (Lord) and local fisherman Quarrel (Kitzmiller) who prove to be key allies.
Finding a radio signal coming from the small island of Crab Key, Quarrel takes Bond to the island with warnings about the mysterious owner; Dr.No (Wiseman). Bond meets the beautiful Honey Ryder (Andress) as he discovers what Dr. No is planning to do...
Not only is this a fascinating look at the film that reinvigorated the love for spy thrillers, but it also is a wonderful analysis of how a film with only a $1m budget managed to triumph expectations and pave the way for 22 more films over 52 years. The foundations for the James Bond saga lie with ‘Dr.No’, and everything you see and hear is a wonderful work in progress of a system that would charm film audiences of all sexes and ages, with a few rough edges here and there, but that adds to the overall charm of a very important British film, and also a 007 film, often forgotten in the shadow of 1964s mighty ‘Goldfinger’.
While the pace rockets along brilliantly in the opening acts, really hitting home the espionage thriller genre as Bond investigates shady characters and dangerous locations, it only becomes a little slow towards the end, but only because there is a great deal of focus on talking and thinking rather than doing. It’s not a bad thing however, as we don’t meet our villain, the wonderfully simple and chilling Dr.No, played with memorable menace by the late Joseph Wiseman, until 1hr 24mins into a 1hr 50min film.
We feel his presence throughout the film thanks to intimidating shadows and hearing just his voice – less is more, and it works here for a faceless criminal mastermind.
No doesn't need truckloads of machine gun toting mercenaries to make his plan or his character more dangerous. He just needs a select few allies who are as cold, dangerous and crafty as he and that is enough to maintain the threat without blasting guns and blowing up everything. Take note Hollywood. Less CAN be more.
The late, great Sean Connery may not be everyone’s favourite 007, but there’s no denying his introduction as James Bond established the character for the 50+ year run. Cool, suave and dangerous. Uttering the immortal line “Bond, James Bond” in a smoky casino, cigarette hanging from his lips, dressed in a smart tuxedo in a luxury casino, THIS image was the stuff of fantasy for men and women.
It’s clear why men wanted to follow this dashing, smart and tough super-spy in his global adventures where he battled bad-guys, drove nice cars and bedded gorgeous women, and also why women wanted to see him looking suave and sophisticated, oozing sex appeal in being a man who knew what he wanted and how to get it. You accept everything about Connery’s Bond – form his charm, to his wry sense of humour and his cold-blooded judgement as a professional killer. There was no hero like him on screen before, and there hasn’t been since.
The characters aren’t outrageous and trying hard to be something memorable; if anything they are muted and simple, but it’s the way they are presented and delivered to the audience that is most memorable and made shockwaves. The beautiful Ursula Andress showing the beauty of the female body in a white bikini, stepping from the waves looking tough, sexy and in control. The chilling Joseph Wiseman, running a dangerous terror organisation intent on destroying the free world with lots of deadly resources.
The slick Jack Lord representing the cool, calm and collected nature of the CIA battling evil. The hard-nosed Bernard Lee who is the father figure to 007 and is the backbone to all of the adventures we are sent on. So many simple foundations laid for defining characters in a fantastical, exciting and dangerous world – the beautiful girl, the dangerous villain, the cool ally, the tough boss.
And let’s not forget the action. While on a very underwhelming budget, the action here is well presented and brutal in delivery. Short, sharp fist-fights that you really hear and feel along with a smattering of dangerous shoot-outs and exciting car chases. It’s the stuff of fantasy never seen before, and what young boy or old men doesn’t want to be part of this world where the lead saves the world in such an exciting, effortless and thrilling way?
It’s such an important film that launched the British craze for the spy film and introduced the world to Britain’s greatest spy himself.
There’s so much to love about this debut for 007 form the surreal opening titles, the over-use of that iconic Monty Norman James Bond theme (still sounding cool and exciting nearly 60 years on) whenever Bond does something remotely dangerous or macho, and the dry one-liners after killing a bad guy or slapping a woman.
It’s totally of it's day, but cutting edge for the era and fascinating to see where it all began for a small budget espionage film. It proves that the core content of ‘Dr.No’ really is 007 at heart.
'Dr.No' is an EON Productions production