Dr. No is the first cinematic foray into James Bond. A lot is missing. No Q, no pre-titles sequence. Even the gun barrel sequence features some chubby chap who is very obviously not Sean Connery. But for all that it is also setting in place a template which will run for better and for much much worse through twenty four more films.
The Maurice Binder title sequence is as good a place to start as any. Electronic and abstract, it features ping pong balls of light and a score that goes from the Monty Norman 007 theme - orchestrated by John Barry to the extent that he practically rewrote it - which then segues into some Jamaican pop. The film shifts then to silhouettes of three blind mice - the three assassins - and there's a sense that even at the very beginning it hasn't quite worked out its style and wants to go back and forth. The Jamaica setting is established very early on before we're whisked back to London to be introduced to James Bond.
It's true that Ian Fleming wanted David Niven and the casting of Sean Connery was a long shot, but from the very first scene he establishes a lazy insouciance that will mark his entire film career. There's charisma here in the fact he never really tries to be likeable. Connery plays Bond as an assassin, wryly amused by the opportunities for sex he gets but a quite openly cynical man. He sleeps with a woman he knows is going to betray him - a hate fuck basically - and shoots a man with an empty gun, rubbing it in with the line 'That's a Smith and Wesson and you've had your six.' He's quite narky at times and strangely joyless when not killing people.
The plot of the film involves a mad scientist Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman), a Chinese German half-breed in the easy racism of the film, who is 'toppling' American space rockets from his Jamaican island base. Bond discovers the plot quite easily and his spying has a rudimentary careless feel. He plucks a hair from his head to put it across the wardrobe door to make sure he knows if it has been screwed with in his absence. The car chase suffer from ridiculous back projection and like many films from the early sixties everything is overlit. When Bond meets M in his office in London one evening, it's like they're sitting under flood lights. Director Terence Young was responsible for training Connery in the high life, so he acquired an ease, making him sleep in his suit to get him comfortable in the clothes, but he doesn't do much with the action. The strength of the film comes in using Jamaica as a location, creating some beautiful shots and getting away from the flimsy looking studio sets of Pinewood. The real life exotic locations would become a defining attraction of later travelogue Bonds.
Ursula Andress and Eunice Gayson would feature as the first Bond girls. The latter we meet across the casino tables at the very beginning of the film and the first creates perhaps the only real iconic moment of the first film, emerging from the surf like a magnificent goddess. They were both dubbed by Nikki van der Zyl, who would overdub a number of actresses throughout the Bond series. She even partly dubbed Jane Seymour in Live and Let Die and worked on Moonraker. Andress also introduces the ludicrous names that Fleming enjoyed attaching to his fantasy sex girls - Honey Ryder - which Connery quite rightly stifles a guffaw at.
The story is relatively predictable and some of the acting is appalling, especially of the smaller parts, but overall Dr. No holds up as a great introduction to 007. The ending gives the requisite explosions - some very obvious miniature work but who cares - which Bond manages to pull off by just twisting the wrong wheel at the right moment. Dr. No is dispatched with alarming ease. The Americans show up in the form of Kennedyesque Jack Lord too late, while Bond is enjoying a post explosion canoodle. Again, this will become a comic coda to almost all of the films.
John Bleasdale is a writer, novelist and screenwriter.