Classical Film Reviews · Film Reviews

Classical Film Review: Dr. No [1962]

Mysoginistic and martini swilling, brilliant and brutish, he is, nonetheless… disturbingly charming. British spy James Bond first appeared on cinema screens in 1962’s Dr. No, in which he is sent to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of a fellow British agent. The trail leads him to the underground base of Dr No, a nefarious evil villain with prosthetic hands and stiff gait, who is plotting to disrupt an American manned space launch with a radio beam weapon.

Although it was the first of Ian Flemming’s Bond novels to be made into a film, Casino Royale was the literary debut for the character. It was made on a low budget and became a financial success that still independently makes money half a century later. Equally, whilst critical reaction was mixed upon release, over time the film has gained a reputation as one of the series’ best installments.

Dr. No launched a genre of ‘secret agent’ films that flourished in the 1960s and is obviously the base rock that established many of the iconic aspects of a typical Bond film- which then went on to be aped in all of these other secret agent films. And which, really, we can see in many of today’s supposedly unrelated ‘secret agent’ films; There is a grotesque and ingenious villain threatening the peace of the world; casual sex and sadism (not always at the same time); wisecracks in exotic locations and the fabulous theme music.

Thanks to its low budget Dr. No is a more down-to-earth affair than subsequent films in the series as Bond is forced to rely on his wits to get his job done… and actually be good at his job. No flashy gadgets and gimmicks here.

Dr. No was the sixth book in the James Bond series, marking the end of the realistic and well-plotted first half-dozen of the novels. After this book they became rather baroquely fantastical, with megalomaniacal villains. Of course, the film version was already headed that way but at its heart is a tough, stylish, and charming hero who is calmly brilliant at his job and enjoys pursuing women. It should be noted that unlike in later films her doesn’t actually attract women like knicker-dropping flies drawn to his magical magnetic honey. He works for it.

And we all remember the first Bond Girl, Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder.

Sean Connery playing Bond in this film is confident but not arrogant and a harbinger of major social change in class, fashion and behavior. He isn’t part of the aristocracy joining MI5 for fun or because it is what ‘the family’ has always done. It isn’t a knowing or selfconscious performance because there was no Bond before and he can do with the role as he darn well pleases.

During the film he shows fear, panic and disgust as he spends a large portion of time being captured, brutalized and humiliated. There is no campness here…

Which, personally, I find rather a shame. I happen to quite enjoy a Bond who knows exactly what is about to go down and throws out a witty one liner once he has inevitably won.