Director: Terence Young
Cast: Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman, Jack Lord, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell
Plot: When British spy, John Strangways, is killed investigating rockets being disrupted by a mysterious radio signal, MI6 send in agent 007 (Sean Connery) to continue the case.
There is something very epic about this movie. This film doesn’t go out of its way to be epic. As a matter of fact, for its time, it is a very simple movie. A standard detective flick with a bit of action: a screenplay based on one of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. There is no single moment that knocks you back with an amazing twist or emotional revelation. It simply adapts a book worth being seen as a movie. Nevertheless, looking back at how the great James Bond franchise started, it is hard not to get excited about this film.
There is something just so subtly cool about this film. It’s not cool in the same way that a few modern movies have been recently. For example, ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ and ‘Fast and Furious 6’ have been ‘in your face’ cool, almost falling due to trying too hard. Bond just leans back, knows it’s cool and gets on with a game of poker, while everyone else kind of stares lovingly at Connery’s chest-hair. The best moment of this film is easily the opening few scenes, where we are introduced to the great character of James Bond. He gives off this aura of magnificence, without ever trying. Connery instantly cements his place as the character and some would argue that no other actor has quite managed to match this presence.
The film races along, summing up Bond’s personality with the quick seduction of Sylvia Day (a Bond girl who is always sadly over-looked, due to Ursula’s memorable performance), and a brilliant dialogue with Bernard Lee’s M. Then the tropical locations kick in. Another factor that makes it clear how unaware this movie is of its future fame is the fact that it is set in Jamaica, rather than several different countries, like most of the later movies. Personally, I think this keeps the movie more grounded and enjoy this little difference.
The midway point in the film is where the movie begins to slow down. It is important to note that it is hard to classify this movie as an action. It is definitely more of a detective movie, even in comparison to ‘Russia With Love’ and ‘Goldfinger’, the next two films on the list. The fight scenes are more to prove that Bond can fight, rather than to wow the audience. Even the scene with the tarantulas, in hindsight, is one of the worst assassination attempts in movie history. It is almost as if director Young was hoping that Connery’s charm alone would hold this movie up, and while the actor is terrific, you can’t help but wish the rest of the movie would meet him halfway.
Although I did say there isn’t a shocking moment throughout the film, there is one scene that comes pretty close. When Bond faces off against Dr. No’s middleman, Professor Dent, 007 cruelly shoots the bad guy multiple times in the back. It might seem tame now, but at the time, a movie hero was meant to be a symbol of purity and good. Not the kind of man that shoots an unarmed guy when he is down. This is what made Bond such a unique character. Along with the opening scene, this is one of the pivotal moments that lets the audience know the kind of protagonist we are meant to be rooting for and kudos to Connery for pulling it off.
Then of course there is the famous Honey Ryder scene, where Ursula Andress comes out of the ocean, wearing pretty much nothing. This moment has been diluted by age, yet the die-hard Bond fans should check out where the moment originated. Andress may not be the best actress in the world, but she is given good dialogue to work with and is the first person since Bond landed in Jamaica in the film to give Connery something worthwhile to work with. She is feisty and while her strong female side is constantly being undermined by the fact that she is wearing next to nothing, she is a welcome character to add to the film.
Joseph Wiseman is also pretty good as Dr. No. He ticks every box of maniacal villain that we expect from the early Bond era. Sadly, he isn’t quite as impressive, when put next to some of the more recent bad guys to come out of the Bond franchise. Despite having a strong character to work with, the movie gives him little more to do than say some evil things and look sinister. By the time he is introduced, it is already time to wrap up the film and by the time the film is over, we feel like the movie missed a trick with the actual character the film is named after.
Final verdict: While not as mind-blowing as we would hope, Dr. No still manages to succeed as a simple, stylishly cool way to kick-start a movie franchise.