We start with the now iconic view down the barrel of a gun and we see a man walking in profile. Suddenly he turns and fires right at the camera and blood flows down the screen we hear the famous guitar riff that can only mean one thing – this is a James Bond movie.
After the titles we find ourselves in Jamaica where four men are playing cards. One excuses himself to check in at work and is shot in the parking lot by three “blind” men. Then we see a woman in a house getting on a hidden radio to communicate with someone. After she checks in she hears something from the other room and before she can investigate she is shot through the window by the same blind men. They then break in and break into her filing cabinets where they steal two files. One labeled ‘Crab Key’ and the other ‘Dr. No’.
Soon we are introduced to James Bond as he wins a fortune at a fancy casino and seduces the woman that he beat at baccarat. He is called away to work, though, and they must agree to meet at another time. Once at work we learn that Bond is a secret agent with a license to kill and that he’s being put on an assignment to track down a missing agent in Jamaica and his secretary. He’s also to look into trouble America is having with missiles and rockets that are getting diverted in the Carribean. We know, of course, that both the missing agent and his secretary are dead but Bond is off…after he has a quick love affair with the woman he met at the casino.
Once in Jamaica Bond is kidnapped and, after escaping, has multiple attempts on his life including two attempted assassinations, poisoned vodka in his hotel room, a car trying to push him off a cliff and a tarantula snuck into his bed as he sleeps. Bond is always one step ahead of the bad guys, though, and soon meets up with CIA agent Felix Leiter and his Cayman Island assistant Quarrel. Together they figure out that the trouble America is having with their missiles and rockets must be coming from Crab Key and Dr. No. Quarrel and Bond sneak onto the island at night and are awoken on the beach by a gorgeous woman that is hunting for seashells – Honey Ryder. After introductions are made they work together to evade Dr. No’s henchmen but soon they are cornered in the swamps and Quarrel is killed by a fire-breathing “dragon”. Bond and Honey are captured and taken to Dr. No’s lair where, for some reason, they are treated extremely well (except for being given coffee that is spiked with drugs that knock them both unconscious). Once they come to they are invited to dine with Dr. No but that goes poorly as Honey is taken off to be raped by the guards while Bond is beaten by goons and thrown into a prison cell. (So much for the warm reception!) Bond promptly escapes his cell via the ventilation shaft (note to bad guys – either secure the vents or make smaller shafts) and ends up in Dr. No’s control room where he just happens to be in the process of diverting an American rocket. He thwarts the attempted sabotage, kills Dr. No in the process and gets the whole facility to self-destruct. Thankfully he and Honey are able to escape in a boat and, after it runs out of gas, they are rescued by Leiter who was bringing the marines after not hearing from Bond and Quarrel. The film ends with Bond and Honey enjoying each others company in a boat at sea.
I’m going to tell you just what I know from the movie, not what I’ve learned from the books or further investigation. He’s a guy off the coast of Jamaica that is messing with American missiles and he’s got something wrong with his hands. They never make it clear what is wrong with his hands, all we know is that he’s wearing gloves and they are VERY strong as he crushes a metal Buddha statue. Beyond that, though, he is allegedly a Chinese man who doesn’t let anyone onto his island, who few people know of and who instills fear in the locals – two of which would rather die than betray him. Dr. No has a humongous lair, a VERY elaborate set-up (he’s got a 5-star hotel as part of his compound, apparently specifically to house people that get onto his island but whom he does not want to kill for some reason) and a huge staff. He must employ 1,000 people when it’s all said and done, both on Crab Key and on Jamaica.
We also learn that Dr. No offered his services to the West (America) and the East but that they turned him down and thus he decided he would make them pay. That, apparently, is his motivation to divert American missiles. But to what end? Just to mess with them? Is he going to profit from this in some way?
Finally, Dr. No reveals that he is a member of SPECTRE which, he explains, stands for SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion. Again, though, to what end? He’s running a mining operation off the coast of Jamaica, he’s diverting American missiles and rockets and he’s a member of a global terrorism organization. I’m still not sure what he was trying to accomplish and the way he is killed is unsatisfactory. We’ve spent over an hour and 40 minutes building this guy up to be a mysterious mastermind but the payoff is too quick and too easy. I think a longer fight scene between he and Bond or a more satisfactory death for him would have been more rewarding.
That said, Joseph Wiseman played him very well and gave him a creepy stoicism. He was working off nothing but the script and the book and he created a template for Bond villains that is used to this day. For that reason the rating is higher than it would have been.
Ursula Andress got the part of Honey Ryder because the producers of the film saw a picture of her that her husband, John Derek, had taken. They thought she was so beautiful they offered her the part without making her audition. She took the part at the urging of friend Kirk Douglas and was cast just a couple of weeks before filming began. She had very pale complexion so she had to be given a fake tan with make-up from head to toe. While she was getting the make-up applied she was fully nude and says that many people from the crew stopped by to deliver breakfast to the make-up artist and that by the time they were done they had 20 breakfast trays.
If you watch the movie you’ll see that she does many of her own stunts, which is impressive and rare for a Bond Girl. Particularly look for the scene at the end of the movie when they are escaping Dr. No’s island and watch the stunts she does and ask yourself if today’s actresses would even be allowed to try those, much less pull them off.
Andress is still the gold standard for Bond Girls, in my opinion. She was a terrible actress, by her own admission, and her lines had to be dubbed because of her thick accent. She also is one of the most useless Bond Girls in the sense that she does not help Bond in any way but rather is a hindrance to him as he tries to hide from Dr. No’s henchmen. But…her scene coming out of the ocean is iconic and set the bar high for all Bond Girls that would follow. If she could act, or provided her own voice, or was more important to the plot, she’d have gotten a perfect rating.
She’s not the only Bond Girl in this movie, though, and that’s another tradition that was established in this movie and would be repeated throughout the life of the series. We first see Bond playing cards against Sylvia Trench and later she lets herself into his apartment and is wearing nothing but his pajama shirt while she oddly putts towards a hat on the floor. It’s about 4am when he comes back from MI6 with his assignment to leave immediately and as he enters his bedroom he knows someone is in there so he throws the door open and points his gun into the room. She doesn’t even flinch. She was invited to this guys’ room, he doesn’t show up until 4am and when he does he points a gun at you and you don’t even flinch?
Bond and Trench end up having relations before he heads off on his assignment and I learned that the character of Trench was originally intended to comeback throughout the first six movies as a recurring love interest. She’s a beautiful woman, of course, and she seems not to be intimidated by Bond in the slightest while also being his equal at the card table. This is a rare Bond Girl that does nothing to advance the plot and is not in league with the villain.
Finally, there’s Miss Taro. She’s the secretary at Governor’s House in Jamaica that, as we find out later, is working for Dr. No to spy on the British government. She invites Bond up to her place with the intention of having him killed along the way. When he shows up she’s stunned to see him and quickly contacts Dr. No to have someone sent to kill him. She’s told to keep him there for a few hours so they end up in the sack and have more than one go at it. Bond is on to her tricks, though, and has her arrested. When she gets into the police car and Bond leans through the window to talk to the officer she spits in his face. She’s a more typical Bond Girl in that she is in league with the villain, is gorgeous and sleeps with Bond as a ruse to try and kill him or get information out of him.
All three women are very attractive and all combine to make an impression that will become a standard feature of Bond movies.
This is a bit unfair because there is no Q Branch in this movie and thus there are no Bond gadgets. The only gadget he gets from his job is a Geiger counter which is sent to him to check for radiation on the boats that have been to Crab Key (Dr. No’s island). If the only gadget you have is something that is readily available to anyone then you really can’t get graded highly.
Has to be the first time we see/hear James Bond on screen. When he replies to Sylvia Trench with, “Bond. James Bond” you are immediately aware that this is a man who is very confident in his own skin, who is great at cards, who is smooth with the ladies, who is the coolest guy in the room and who is also a very good looking man. That scene set the tone for the character of James Bond and is something that became a trademark of the movies.
The fish that are seen in Dr. No’s lair were a forgotten part of the set until the day before they were going to film the scene. Set designer Ken Adam found some footage of small fish swimming about and used that to project on a screen but of course it looked ridiculous as they were obviously small fish magnified to enormous size. Director Terence Young saw this and said, “We have to add something to the script to explain this,” so they had Dr. No say that it was 10x magnification of what was allegedly swimming in the ocean out the window and Bond added the line, “minnows pretending they’re whales” and that was supposed to explain it all away. It doesn’t and that moment is ruined a bit by the absurdity of having magnification glass in a villain’s lair, well under the ocean, doesn’t ring true at all. This would have been a much better scene had they not forgotten about it until the last minute and were able to get good underwater footage.
Having watched the movie from start to finish in one sitting, then watching all of the bonus features available on the Blu-Ray disc, then reading through the 20+ pages about Dr. No in ‘James Bond Archives’ by Paul Duncan and then watching the movie again with commentary from over 20 people involved in the production of the movie…I feel I have a very good understanding of this movie from all angles.
What I have gleaned from all of that is this – this was a remarkable accomplishment and a triumph. I will do my best to concisely recap what I found interesting through all of this and why this Bond movie is so unique.
Let me start with the restoration process and the look of the movie. For a movie made in 1962 it looks spectacular. The colors, the clarity and the depth of the shots are all fantastic and it really brings cinematographer Ted Moore’s work to life. Moore, who was an Academy Award winner, did a wonderful job of shooting the movie – particularly in Jamaica where the scenery is another character in the film. As they say in the feature on the restoration process (‘007: License to Restore’), this movie now looks like a movie about the 60s rather than a movie made in the 60s. If you can get the Blu-Ray version of the film I would highly recommend you do so.
The only way I can tell the story of this movie, and my thoughts on it, is in a linear fashion so let’s start with how the movie came to be. All of the information below comes from my notes from the materials I mentioned earlier so if there are inaccuracies please let me know.
In 1961 Harry Saltzman bought the rights to the Ian Fleming novels and had a six month option on them. Cubby Broccoli was very interested in making a James Bond movie but couldn’t get the rights to the books. Wolf Mankowitz was working on a script with Broccoli when the topic of Bond came up and Mankowitz essentially told Broccoli, “I know the guy that has the rights to them; if you want I can set up a meeting between the two of you.” Broccoli of course jumped at the chance.
When Broccoli and Saltzman met it became clear that Saltzman viewed the Bond books as something he could use to finance other projects he was more passionate about. He kept asking Broccoli to partner with him on other ventures and films and Broccoli kept coming back to the Bond books. Eventually the two agreed to become partners, 50/50, on the Bond movies and other projects.
Once they became partners they set up a meeting with United Artists and their President at the time, David Picker, was very interested in making the Bond books into movies. He didn’t know the meeting with Saltzman & Broccoli was about Bond but as soon as they said “We have the rights to the James Bond books” he said he knew he was not letting them leave the room until they had a deal in place. United Artists agreed to give them a $1 million budget and gave them complete control over the cast, crew and production.
The first step was to come up with a script. Saltzman and Broccoli commissioned Richard Maibaum and Wolf Mankowitz to write the script and their first draft was quickly dismissed because they literally had Dr. No as a monkey. Broccoli yelled at them to stick to the book as closely as possible and come back with something else. They did, along with Johanna Harwood and Berkely Mather, but the final product was one Mankowitz couldn’t stand. He asked Broccoli to remove his name from the script if that was the one they were going to go with. Later, after Mankowitz saw a screening of the movie, he asked to have his name put back onto the script but Broccoli refused to do so.
The most important decisions would, of course, be casting James Bond and hiring a director. Saltzman and Broccoli asked many directors to do the film but were turned down time and again as most viewed the movie as either niche, small time or unworthy of their talent. Broccoli had worked with Terence Young before on a film called ‘The Red Beret’ so they offered the movie to him and he accepted. Young, as almost everyone who knew him recalled, was essentially James Bond personified. He had impeccable taste, loved to live the high life, was very smooth with the ladies and was former military. He was, without a doubt, the most important person to the Bond legacy for reasons I will explain later.
Once they had a director they needed a leading man and they cast a wide net. They offered the part to Cary Grant who agreed to do it, but only for one film, so they kept looking knowing that they intended on making a series of movies based on the books. They wanted Roger Moore but he was committed to a TV series called ‘Maverick’. They wanted Richard Johnson but he turned it down because he was a religious man and objected to the sexual promiscuity the role involved. Eventually they saw Sean Connery in a movie called ‘Darby O’Gill and the Little People’ and thought he would be perfect. United Artists did not like the choice but left it up to Saltzman and Broccoli and they went with Connery.
While Connery’s size and look were right for the role, his fashion and the way he conducted himself were not. Terence Young took it upon himself to basically teach Connery how to be classy and sophisticated. He bought him tailored suits and told him to live in them, even sleeping in them, to get used to the feel. He showed him how to walk a certain way, how to hold himself and how to appreciate the finer things in life. How to order in a restaurant, how to order wines, etc. Again, Young was the living embodiment of James Bond so he took his life and put it into Connery as much as possible.
The rest of the cast was fleshed out very casually. Here’s a brief recap of various roles and how the actors wound up with them:
- Ursula Andress was cast as Honey Ryder because Saltzman and Broccoli saw a picture of her that her husband John Derek had taken and they offered her the role without even making her audition.
- Lois Maxwell was cast as Miss Moneypenny because she had worked with Terence Young in the past and had told him she needed work to help pay the medical bills for her ailing husband. She was offered her choice of roles – Sylvia Trench or Miss Moneypenny – and chose Moneypenny because she did not want to do a scene in nothing but a pajama top.
- Marguerite Le Wars was cast as Dr. No’s photographer because she was working the ticket counter for an airline in Jamaica and Terence Young thought she was gorgeous. She was – she was the reigning Miss Jamaica at the time.
- Timothy Moxon was cast as Strangways because he was English and happened to be in Jamaica working as a crop duster.
- Delores Keator was cast as Strangways Assistant because she agreed to let them use her house for the production.
- One of the ‘Three Blind Mice’ that kill Strangways and his assistant was Timothy Moxon’s dentist.
- Band in the club scene was actual Jamaican band “Byron Lee & The Dragonaires”
As you can see, the roles were not nearly as sought after as they are now nor was a lot of thought put into who would play which role or why. Again, United Artists left these decisions up to Young, Saltzman and Broccoli and did not interfere.
The rest of the cast was Joseph Wiseman as Dr. No (they originally asked Noel Coward to play the role but he turned them down), Jack Lord as Felix Leiter, Bernard Lee as M and Eunice Gayson as Sylvia Trench. They intended for Trench’s character to be in the first six Bond movies as a recurring love interest. Many of the roles were re-dubbed by other actors (Honey Ryder, Sylvia Trench, the photographer and most of the Jamaican actors) and Nikki van der Zyl did the voice for both Trench and Ryder.
They started production of the movie in January of 1962 and they released it in October of that same year. They budgeted only $60,000 for the sets so Production Designer Ken Adam had his work cut out for him. As you watch the movie there are basically two parts. There’s the scenes they did in Jamaica on location and there’s the scenes they did at Pinewood Studios in England. Almost all of the interiors were done a Pinewood Studios so keep that in mind as you watch it and realize just how much Adam was able to do with that $60,000. Dr. No’s lair, the room where he is diverting the missiles, M’s office, Miss Taro’s home, Governor’s House, Bond’s hotel…it’s very impressive and United Artist President David Picker said that Ken Adam was the most important person in the crew because he created the world in which Bond came to life.
Once production began it was brisk. In order to take the edge off of the death of characters, and in an effort to please the censors, Young and Connery came up with the now trademark pithy lines that Bond has on the set. The first was after Bond’s would-be kidnapper kills himself with cyanide rather than betray Dr. No and drives up to Governor’s House with the corpse in the back seat. Bond gets out of the car and tells the guard out front, “Make sure he doesn’t get away” and the tone was set for a character that was clearly not bothered by death and who was as quick witted as he was with his fists.
This movie was, for obvious reasons, filled with firsts for James Bond but the significant ones are still part of Bond movies to this day. They include:
- Gun barrel opening with Bond turning to shoot at the camera
- “Bond, James Bond” introduction
- Pithy lines like, “They were on their way to a funeral” after a hearse full of would-be assassins drives off a cliff
- Bond tossing his hat onto the hat rack as he enters Moneypenny’s office.
- Elaborate, absurd methods that villains use to try and kill Bond (a tarantula slipped into his bed while he sleeps?!?)
- Bond playing Baccarat
- Bond having a vodka martini shaken, not stirred
- A femme fatale working for the villain that seduces Bond
Clearly the movie not only introduced us to the character and world of James Bond but it did such a good job of it that it became the standard for how all subsequent Bond movies would be measured. It set the tone and established things that survive to this day and which are iconic in film.
One thing I found interesting while reading through the ‘James Bond Archives’ by Paul Duncan was that stunt coordinator Bob Simmons made it a point that James Bond never attacks anyone, he waits for them to attack and then he counter-attacks. I found that to be very interesting as a reflection of his character and is something I will look for in the rest of the films to see if it remains consistent.
Overall, this is not the best Bond movie but it’s also far from the worst. There are a lot of things missing from the movie like gadgets, elaborate stunts and a villainous plot that makes sense or has a global scale to it but even without them this is a very good movie to watch and quite enjoyable. Knowing how little money they had, how little time they had, how haphazard the casting was and how independent people like set designer Ken Adam and director Terence Young were it’s amazing that it all came together as well as it did. It set the tone for all the Bond movies that followed it and for that alone it’s a classic movie.