★★★1/2 The first James Bond movie produced by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. US release date: May 8, 1963. Budget: $1 million. Worldwide box office gross: $59.6 million (US domestic gross: $16.1 million; international gross: $43.5. million). Running time: 111 minutes.
British Secret Service operative John Strangways (Tim Moxon) has been murdered in Jamaica, and James Bond (Sean Connery) is summoned from a posh London private club to receive his briefing from M (Bernard Lee). M informs Bond that Strangways was working with the Americans to track down the source of massive interference that is disrupting their latest rocket program—and there is a possibility that the source of that interference is in the Caribbean. Bond is then sent to Jamaica to investigate—a trail that leads to a mysterious island called Crab Key and the equally mysterious man who runs it: Dr. No.
Behind the Scenes
In the beginning, there was Dr. No. Long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Fast and the Furious, Jason Bourne, or the Mission: Impossible film series, secret agent 007 appeared on the scene and ushered in an ongoing series of high-tech thrillers, loaded with sex and violence. James Bond may not have introduced sex to the cinema—moral codes had begun to relax toward the end of the 1950s, thanks to such pioneers as Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, and Marlon Brando—but no film series presented sex on the big screen quite like the Bond movies. And it started with Dr. No.
Sylvia Trench, Miss Taro, Honey Ryder—they were extremely desirable women, filmed in various states of dress and undress, all in big-screen color. The scene on Crab Key in which Ursula Andress emerges from the water in a skimpy bikini is one of the most famous introductions of a new performer in screen history, paralleling Omar Sharif’s arrival on a camel in Lawrence of Arabia the same year. However, producers Broccoli and Saltzman were shrewd enough to maintain a suggestive rather than an explicit approach to sex, which guaranteed that their film series would be embraced by family audiences. Like P. T. Barnum, the producers were selling the circus to everyone in town.
But it wasn’t just the hint of sex that guaranteed the success of the first James Bond movie. Dr. No (and From Russia with Love, which followed) tells a realistic story—one that begins innocently enough with a bridge game in Jamaica. What remains fascinating about the first 007 adventure is its almost documentary-like approach and, at times, deadly seriousness.
You also see the last trappings of the 1950s reflected in the conservative clothing of the Secret Service communications personnel (sweaters and bow ties), the elegantly dressed women (evening gowns in major motion pictures were on their way out), and the businesslike approach to investigating a crime in the tropics. Helping flesh out the film’s world are a group of colorful, extremely interesting background characters: Strangways, Professor Dent, Quarrel, M, Boothroyd, Leiter, even Sylvia Trench.
And Joseph Wiseman brought to life Dr. No—the first megalomaniac supervillain of the atomic age. No’s sinister modus operandi reflected the archvillains of the past—Fu Manchu, Professor Moriarty, Ming the Merciless. But his high-tech island fortress, with its ruthlessly efficient garrison, were trappings of the modern world. America had invented the bomb and other superweapons, and Dr. No was the first in a gallery of supercrooks who were prepared to abuse them.
To defeat this threat required a new kind of hero as well. Dr. No introduced international audiences to Sean Connery—the perfect actor to bring Bond to life. He was handsome, enormously charismatic, and when he punched someone, they stayed down. For US audiences, such a two-fisted approach to the character was a key ingredient in the film’s success. Producers Broccoli and Saltzman had been pushing all along for a tough main character in the style of hard-boiled American detectives like Mike Hammer or Philip Marlowe. With Connery in the role, they got it.
Credit Broccoli and Saltzman for also assembling a fine creative team to put the first adventure together. Director Terence Young was mostly a B movie director until the Bond series. With 007, he found a character with whom he had plenty in common. Young himself was a dashing tank commander with the Irish Guards during World War II. A contemporary of Ian Fleming, Young had his own stylish savoir faire that blended perfectly with the author’s work. Young was also friendly with American director John Ford, who influenced Young’s filmmaking style, particularly when it came to action scenes.
Working with Young was screenwriter Richard Maibaum, a talented, extremely witty ex-playwright who could perfectly capture the essence of Fleming’s character—but with a touch of humor that wasn’t present in any of the books. That Maibaum wrote with a light touch guaranteed that the Bond films would never be spoofed into oblivion (the fate of many adventure series).
Also on the Bond team was editor Peter Hunt, whose urge to bring commercial cutting styles to the feature film business would be a tremendous boon to the production. Ted Moore’s camera work, Bob Simmons’s stunt arranging, John Barry’s plucked-guitar opening theme, Monty Norman’s Caribbean-flavored score, Maurice Binder’s colorful titles, John Stears’s special effects—everything added up to a powerful debut.
Still, due to the reluctance of United Artists to give the film a big splash in the United States, the film opened in America with no premiere and little fanfare. If you’d have called a San Fernando Valley theater in Los Angeles in the spring of 1963, you would have been told that the picture was called “Doctor Number” and the star was “Seen Connery.”
Despite its halfhearted release, Dr. No made a tidy profit and guaranteed the production of a second Bond film, From Russia with Love. After the success of Goldfinger in 1964–1965, Dr. No and From Russia with Love were rereleased and became the most successful second-run double feature in film history.
|James Bond||Sean Connery|
|Dr. No||Joseph Wiseman|
|Felix Leiter||Jack Lord|
|Professor Dent||Anthony Dawson|
|Miss Taro||Zena Marshall|
|Sylvia Trench||Eunice Gayson|
|Miss Moneypenny||Louis Maxwell|
|John Strangways||Tim Moxon|
|Girl Photographer||Margaret LeWars|
|Mr. Jones||Reggie Carter|
|Major Boothroyd (Armorer)||Peter Burton|
|Sister Rose||Michele Mok|
|Sister Lily||Yvonne Shima|
|Mary, Strangways’ Secretary||Dolores Keator|