It’s Day Two of MoM’s Our Word Is Our Bond series, and today Jonathon Dabell looks at Dr No (1962) starring Sean Connery, Ursula Andress and Joseph Wiseman.
Originally, the plan was to make a film of Ian Fleming’s novel Thunderball. However, due to the ongoing dispute between Fleming and Kevin McClory about who exactly had created the story outline of Thunderball, the film proved impossible to make at that stage. Instead, the wheels were set into motion to adapt Dr No into a movie. Dr No was actually the sixth in Fleming’s increasingly popular and well-regarded series, but for movie-goers – many of them unfamiliar with the Bond books – the screen incarnation of the character is introduced during a memorable sequence at a casino. With a flick of his cigarette lighter, Connery introduces himself with the legendary line: “Bond. James Bond”. And in that instant a cinematic icon is born.
Given the ineffectualness of Barry Nelson in the earlier TV production of Casino Royale (1954), Connery’s total command over the role from the very first moments of Dr No is supremely impressive. Various actors were considered to play Bond – including Cary Grant, David Niven, Patrick McGoohan, Richard Todd and Richard Johnson – but it was Connery (who turned up for his audition unshaven and wearing scruffy unpressed clothes) who won the part ahead of them all. And he doesn’t disappoint. There is a swagger, an arrogant sexuality, an aura of confident masculinity about him, which makes Bond instantly alluring. Make no mistake – this stroke of genius casting is at the very root of why Bond has lasted so long as a cinematic phenomenon. If the wrong man had been given the part, this series would have lasted one, perhaps two, entries before fading into obscurity. But Connery makes such an indelible impression that he (unknowingly at the time) paves the way, creates a template if you will, for every actor that followed.
The producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman sought the services of several notable directors at the time – including Ken Hughes, Val Guest, Guy Green and Guy Hamilton (the latter would eventually go on to direct four Bond films of his own) – before settling upon Terence Young. Again, this proves a stroke of inspired hiring, as Young establishes a tone, style and look which set the footprint for the many movies that followed. It’s interesting to note that Young made more than his fair share of clunkers during his career (including such critically savaged catastrophes as The Klansman and Inchon), but these early Bond entries find him completely on top of his game – in truth, he barely puts a foot wrong.
Following the death of an operative in Jamaica, James Bond (Connery) of the British Secret Service is dispatched by his boss M (Bernard Lee) to investigate. Almost from the moment he arrives in Jamaica, he finds himself trailed and threatened by mysterious types.
Bond eventually hooks up with CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jack Lord) who tells him that suspected interference with American rockets launched from Cape Canaveral may be originating from somewhere in Jamaica. So far, attempts to find the source of the interference via aerial photography have come to nothing. Bond hears about an area called Crab Key, allegedly a bauxite mine (although it is patrolled by heavily armed guards), and he wonders if this could be the place from where the problems are originating. Accompanied by superstitious boatman Quarrel (John Kitzmiller), Bond heads for Crab Key to delve further into the mystery.
Here, he meets Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress), an innocent diver who collects sea shells to sell. Bond, Honey and Quarrel are fired upon by an armed patrol, further heightening Bond’s suspicions about the place. They flee into the neighbouring swamp to evade capture. Later, Bond and Honey end up in the lair of the villainous Dr Julius No (Joseph Wiseman), a meglomaniac working for a sinister organisation named SPECTRE. No reveals that he is the one responsible for sabotaging American rocket missions, and it is left to Bond to escape from captivity and prevent the elusive bad guy from bringing down yet another rocket.
Dr No works for a whole combination of reasons, some of them happy accidents, others the result of smart thinking by the director. Monty Norman’s theme is utterly inspired. Now an instantly recognisable jingle, Norman’s catchy tune manages to convey everything about Bond in less than two minutes – it’s dramatic, pacy, edgy and adventurous all at once, and simply oozes ‘cool’. Maurice Binder’s inventive titles sequence is also fantastic, so much so that the titles of every Bond movie ever since have become almost a separate feature of interest for the audience to look forward to. Ken Adam’s set design is also splendid. Over the course of the series Adam would create some incredible sets (few things in the annals of cinema are more impressive than the volcano lair in You Only Live Twice, for example), and here in Dr No he works wonders on a very modest budget. In fact, the total budget for Dr No was a mere $1.1 million, making its $60 million box office haul a truly staggering return.
Performance-wise, the film comes up trumps across the board. I have waxed lovingly about Connery already, but special mentions are in order too for Andress as the archetypal Bond girl, Wiseman as the wonderful villain, Anthony Dawson as a slimy henchman, Kitzmiller as the reluctant boatman and Lord as Bond’s long-time ally Leiter (interestingly, Leiter does not feature in the original novel, but is a regular in many of Fleming’s other series’ entries).
There are several classic sequences – Bond introducing himself at the casino, Andress emerging from the sea, Bond luring a treacherous professor into a trap before coldly assassinating him, etc. But nothing tops the brilliant scene where Bond discovers a deadly tarantula crawling across his bare chest as he lays in his bed. Stuntman Bob Simmons described this scene as the most terrifying stunt of his entire career. It is among the most celebrated moments in the entire Bond canon.
Although it can be validly argued that some Bond entries are technically better, or more richly written and developed, Dr No actually remains to this day my favourite of them all. It is just so fresh and ballsy, and Connery still has that rugged appeal and new-found enthusiasm which began to slip as his dedication to the role waned. Let’s face it, from this starting point the series has continued to go from strength to strength for more than fifty years.
Any film which can spawn that kind of popularity, box-office success, cultural identification and sheer entertainment, must be a pretty special movie. And Dr No is just that!
MoM Rating: 10/10