I’ve done a few review marathons on here but never anything as big as this. Yup, I’m gonna review every single James Bond film. Now I won’t be doing this in one straight run. If the Harry Potter marathon taught me anything it’s that You’ll burn out reviewing multiple similar films without a break. So from time to time I’ll chuck in something different and then get right back to Bond. I should probably make a decision on if I should count the spoof version of Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again soon. Comment if you think I should. So, let’s get on with the show.
Dr No was released nearly exactly 50 years ago from the day this review is being posted. No think about that for a minute. How many other film franchises have managed to run for 50 years? Godzilla has, but is there anything else that has come close without an extended break? Think about how quickly the franchises around today run out of steam and get thrown away or, worse yet, rebooted after only a handful of films. Sure Bond gained different actors but barring the latest two they’ve all been part of the same continuity. It took Bond 45 years to have the reset button hit although even then you can argue that it’s still the same Bond. It’s not like technology and current events didn’t move along with the times in the previous films. This endurance of Bond like proportions is down to the simple fact that the Bond series manages to convey all the appeal of action, violence and sexy ladies with whom Bond likes to have sex with that the general audiences will always love. Throw in grand set pieces and cool gadgetry and you’ve got a franchise that has a basic framework that never goes out of fashion with a spy based setting that allows for the stories to always be about current events.
As a début Dr No is a great introduction to this world. In the film Bond (Sean Connery) has been called to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of another agent and his secretary. Despite it being the 60s they haven’t vanished for the reasons you’d usually expect a secretary and her boss to disappear for. Nope, they got straight up murdered. The first half of the film follows Bond doing something that’s been a little lost in some of the later films, he actually investigates like a spy should. He looks for clues, makes connections and rub antagonists up the wrong way as he goes. What the first half does is show us that Bond is not just a man of action, despite him offing a few miscellaneous henchmen along the way.
We’re introduced to him via a scene that has gone into the cannon of film iconography. A visually obscured man is playing Baccarat and, after being introduced to a lady that calls herself as “Trench, Sylvia Trench” we see a dashing man lighting a cigarette surrounded by smoke who semi-mockingly introduces himself as “Bond, James Bond”. And thus film history was made. It’s possible that “Bond, James Bond” is the single most well known line of dialogue ever uttered in a film. The early scenes manage, as all good scripts should, to show us each aspect of the main character so we can know sooner just who he is. We see his suave skills with the ladies, we learn of his slight leanings towards recklessness and, as mentioned we see his intelligence at work. Gradually we learn of his more violent nature which is especially clear in a great scene where Bond casually waits in a recent conquests for a villain to enter so he may off him in quite a cold manner. This scene caused a little controversy back in 1962 as it is one of the first times in mainstream cinema that a protagonist had been shown to be capable of murder. I love the scene and traits like that in Bo0nd rarely surfaced again until the Dalton era and more recently with the Daniel Craig films.
The villain of the film, Dr No himself (Joseph Wiseman), is gradually built up during Bond’s investigation but never appears until around half an hour from the films end. He’s a constant looming dread that we know little about other than he may be responsible for the deaths of many people who have stumbled onto his island of Crab Key. So much so many locals fear going anywhere near his island. Dr No’s plan involves using microwave radiation to foil attempts to launch manned space flights by the US. A plot that mirrored events in real life at the time when many attempts to launch shuttles were met with technical issues. He belongs to an organisation called SPECTRE that will gradually become a larger threat as we move through these films. As a villain he is a little wasted in the final scenes. We get that he’s dangerous but his one physically threatening trait, his mechanical hands that can crush metal, is never used beyond his brief demonstration. There’s nothing wrong with how he’s gradually introduced but it’s his pay off that fails to be all it could be. He could have done with a real henchman or two to be a foe for Bond to fight. There was a trio of assassin’s early on in the film called the Three Blind Mice but they just vanish from the story.
The films budget was relatively low for an adventure of this type but despite that every effort was spent making the film look great. The blu-ray remasters that have recently been released really make the film look better than it ever has. Exterior shots are now colour temp matched with the interiors, an issue many older films had. Rogue hairs on the lens have been removed and everything looks nice and crisp. You can even see a spider’s thread in the scene where Bond wakes up to find a Tarantula in his bed. Some of the sets have a little of the built for economy look to them but the film is shot so vividly that they don’t become an issue.
One thing that does still stand out is the slightly dodgy ADR used to dub over a few of the voices. The films Bond girl Honey Ryder may be played by Ursula Andress but that’s not her Swiss/Germanic voice. The voice belongs to one Nikki Van Der Zyl, who also provided the voice of Sylvia Trench. It’s not a major issue but when those, and other characters, talk the dubbing is noticeable. This wasn’t uncommon in older films to be fair though. There’s a hundred reasons why you wouldn’t use on set dialogue recordings all the time back then and even now the process is very very common. It’s a technical mark though and not something to worry about effecting your enjoyment of the film.
Dr No is a great début for Bond as it isn’t so over the top and action packed that you’d be left wondering where it could go from here but it is entertaining enough to keep you wanting more. The slower more investigative pace of the first half really helps to keep the films pace building in increments that really pay off when Bond reaches Crab Key and the real action can begin. Whilst it has a handful of failings it is a damned sight more engrossing than a lot of Bond movie imitators and managed to birth a legend of cinema in Sean Connery onto the silver screen. He’s a strong presence here and, like the franchise itself, he only goes on to improve as we move along.