So I’ve decided to take my posts on the Bond films and turn them into an ebook (Martinis, Girls and Guns), which I’ll self-publish. But as some of my posts weren’t detailed enough, I’m rewatching some of the films, starting with the original, Dr. No (1962) [all rights to poster image with current holder]
Dr. No sets up many of the elements that would become staples in the series. At the same time, it feels like a completely different world from the Craig films. Although the creative team have talked about how they structured it with a faster, more driving pace than other films of the day, it’s unbelievably slow by comparison with Craig’s Casino Royale—not dull, not leaden, but much slower. For instance, when Bond takes out a chauffeur in the pay of Dr. No, it’s over after just a couple of blows, with none of Royale’s chasing and rapid cuts.
Sean Connery’s Bond is also hard, even more cold-blooded than Craig. When he interrogates a female photographer in the pay of Dr. No, he’s ready to have his sidekick Quarrel (John Kitzmiller) break her arm to make her talk. He sleeps with treacherous Miss Taro (Zena Marshall)—they make love twice in a row—even though he know he’s going to arrest her when she’s done. Another agent empties his gun into Bond’s bed (Bond isn’t in it) while 007 watches. Bond then cold-bloodedly executes him.
Rather than the female figures who’ve been a staple of the opening credits since Goldfinger, this has an abstract pattern of dots. And Bond is very much a soldier of empire here: when a British agent in Jamaica is assassinated, M sends Bond to investigate (ironically Jamaica would leave the empire before the end of ’62). The CIA’s Felix Lighter (Jack Lord) emphasize that Jamaica is British soil so he’s deferring to Britain’s man on the scene, even though the villains are targeting American rockets at Cape Canaveral (disrupting the space race was a stock spy-thriller plot in the 1960s). Eventually Bond and Quarrel hit Dr. No’s Crab Key where they meet Honey (she’s scavenging rare shells on the island to sell). Dr. No’s flame-throwing tank, disguised as a dragon, kills Quarrel, then takes Honey and Bond to No’s elegant underground fortress (the staff wait on the captives as if it were a hotel). Wiseman’s Dr. No, who has powerful prosthetic hands due to damage from radiation, reveals that SPECTRE (“Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Revenge, Terrorism and Extortion.”) is going to destroy America’s next moonshot with a ray from the base, as a demonstration of its power. Bond, of course, puts a stop to that.
It’s a very good film overall, and Wiseman’s turn as the icily calm Dr. No ranks with Gert Frobe’s Goldfinger as the best villain of the Connery years. However in addition to the inevitable sexism, it’s also racist in its treatment of Quarrel. Although he’s a CIA asset, Bond treats him like a flunky. Worse, he’s written as a superstitious darky who like other locals believes the tank really is a dragon and refuses to accept the white guy’s rational explanations (even when Bond points out tank tracks, Quarrel insists they’re dragon footprints).
Despite the differences, there are lots of series elements set. SPECTRE. The Bond girl. The villain’s impregnable fortress. The villain not immediately taking Bond out (rationalized by No wanting someone to brag to, and hoping Bond might switch sides). M giving Bond his orders. Bond flirting with Moneypenny. Felix Lighter. Bond and Honey making love at the end. Sex with other women (you can see the poster emphasizes the eye-candy aspect). The humorous elements, from the absurdity of No’s elegant hospitality to Bond’s quips: when a pursuing car goes off a cliff, Bond tells someone “they were on their way to a funeral.” The jokes and absurdity are downplayed enough that the film doesn’t come off as a comedy the way some of Roger Moore’s films did.
One element that was meant to become part of the series was Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson)) whom Bond meets and beds early on (though she takes the initiative when he doesn’t move fast enough). She was meant to be a recurring character, but wasn’t available after From Russia With Love.