James Bond is a staple of British cinema, a fact that I acknowledge despite my lack of familiarity with the character. Aside from the recent reboot of the franchise starring Daniel Craig, I had only seen one Bond film, Connery’s You Only Live Twice, which I don’t remember much of at all. With the success of Skyfall, the 23rd James Bond film produced by Eon Productions, I thought it appropriate to return to the character’s roots with the very first Bond film, Dr. No, starring Sean Connery. Though this film just celebrated its 50th anniversary this past year, Sean Connery’s portrayal of the classic spy is just as entertaining as Daniel Craig’s…possibly even better, depending on your tastes.
Dr. No follows 007 as he investigates the disappearance of John Strangways, the Secret Intelligence Service Chief in Jamaica. He soon bumps into Felix Leiter of the Central Intelligence Agency, who had been working with Strangways on finding the source of some mysterious radio jams that have been disturbing rocket launches from Cape Canaveral. Bond’s sleuthing eventually leads him to Crab Key, a local island owned by a mysterious man known only as Dr. No, a man who may end up being more than Bond bargained for.
Unlike the modern films featuring the character, this one presents Bond as more of a man of words than of action; he relies on his intellect to gather information and survive, making him a sort of present-day Sherlock Holmes. He shows his intelligence in many ways: he powders the lock of his briefcase and places a hair over the crack of a door in order to know whether they have been tampered with,; he sets a trap by fooling an attacker with pillows placed under bed sheets; and he counts the bullets of the men he fights with so that he has the tactical advantage (this latter example made me quite happy, as many times the bullet count is ignored). That’s not to say, however, that he doesn’t throw a few punches, shoot a few people, or participate in one or two car chases…he certainly does all of these things, but the only action present in the film is that which is necessary to further the story, rather than the films of today that use action scenes to show off a large budget or to add a few extra minutes to the total run time.
Connery’s Bond is also more suave than Craig’s. His initial introduction as the character with the now-classic “Bond, James Bond” appears to be more of a witty response to the woman who just introduced herself as “Trench, Sylvia Trench.” Dr. No is filled with quick quips and clever responses like this, including a joke to a woman he’s about to sleep with (who actually works for Dr. No) about how she “believe[s] in living dangerously…sitting around with wet hair, [she]’ll die of pneumonia” – which is funny because he had just overheard a phone call in which she promised to keep Bond from leaving her house, though she doesn’t know that. His humor certainly helps him with the ladies…of whom there are three in this film. He certainly gets around, doesn’t he?
Connery isn’t the only actor to brag about…Ursula Andress plays the very first “Bond girl,” Honey Ryder, with an air of innocence; instead of throwing herself at Bond as a love interest straightaway, she plays the character as someone who is wary of his charms before eventually falling in love with him after they’ve been through near-death experiences together. Andress’ performance is even more impressive when you consider that she is essentially a puppet; her voice was dubbed over by Nikki van der Zyl, which I only knew by reading – a true testament to the talents of Andress, Zyl, and to the sound crew for lining everything up so well. Of course, the title character, Dr. Julius No, played by Joseph Wiseman, is appropriately sinister in first his disembodied voice (we hear him before we see him) and later in his straight-faced, no-nonsense performance.
As much as I may rave about this film, I certainly had my qualms with it, most of which can be taken for a grain of salt. For starters, what happened to the “Three Blind Mice” murderers who kill two people in the beginning of the film and later try to kill Bond himself? They’re completely forgotten in the hunt for Dr. No. Also, while the idea of having a rumor of the existence of a “dragon” as a scare-away tactic for Crab Key makes sense, the way this rumor is presented is done poorly. Quarrel, a man helping Bond with his mission, identifies “dragon tracks” that are obviously tire tracks, and the “dragon” itself (a fire-spurting tank) looks nothing like something that could even be mistaken for a dragon. My last major complaint is over the ending…Bond is beat up and locked away, but within five minutes he has climbed through a vent, dressed as a worker, overloaded the nuclear reactor, and defeated Dr. No. It’s just a bit too easy for my tastes, and it certainly feels rushed.
Despite those small complaints, my first real experience with Connery’s James Bond is a pretty fantastic one. Sure, his abilities/luck might be a little over-the-top, but I think that M justifies this with a quote early on in the film: “If you carry a double-0 number, it means you’re licensed to kill, not get killed”…a theme that continues to stick with the character of Bond even today. This film introduces characters and concepts that remain prevalent in today’s installments to the franchise, such as Felix Leiter, Miss Moneypenny, M, the Aston Martin sports car, the Walther PPK gun, and SPECTRE as an organization. The musical score and main theme by Monty Norman are well-composed and appropriate to the scope of the story and character, and the classic feel of the film remains timeless. For a more intellectual, polished James Bond than Daniel Craig’s, you need look no further than Sean Connery’s wonderful performance here in Dr. No.
Rating: 4 (out of 5)