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Film Review: The James Bond Series; Dr No

Title: Dr No

Directer: Terence Young

Writer: Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood & Berkely Mather

Genre: Spy

Released: 1962

Starring: Sean Connery, Joseph Wiseman, Ursula Andress, Jack Lord

Running Time: 109 minutes

Thoughts: In 1958, author Ian Fleming released the novel Dr No, the sixth novel in the series, having begun in 1953 with the novel Casino Royale. It was in 1961 that Harry Saltzman, a Canadian film producer, first read a novel about James Bond, being the book Goldfinger. The thrill and excitement of reading the novel led him to launch bidding for the film rights to the character. He paid a then-vast sum of $50,000 for a six-month option for the film rights, confident he’d be able to obtain financing. Being an unfortunate outsider at the time, he found it difficult to gain distributors. At the same time, another film producer, the more infamous but independent Albert R. Broccoli, became interested in the series. The novice but enthusiastic Saltzman, would propose to the more well-connected Broccoli, that they form a partnership.

Using Saltzman’s connections, they raised a budget of $1 million dollars. $1, 000, 000.00, at the time a massive amount of money, being bet on a mildly popular book series, whose reputation suddenly lifted when in Life magazine, President John F. Kennedy named a Bond novel as one of his top 10 favorite novels. With the bid set, they had to decide what novel to go with first. The first novel in the series, Casino Royale, had already been sold as a production, so that was passed on. The next option, Thunderball, developed an ongoing legal dispute between the original author, Ian Fleming, and the co-author of the screenplay, Kevin McClory. So, they chose the option, of Dr No.

Being the first in the series, it was extremely important that the director they chose for the series would get them off to the right start. Approaching several known directors, Guy Green (Cinematographer for David Lean’s classic rendition of Great Expectations), Guy Hamilton (Director of the 1954 An Inspector Calls), Val Guest (Director of 1955′s The Quatermass Xperiment) and Ken Hughes (who directed the award-winning 1961′s The Trials Of Oscar Wilde), all of whom turned the job down. Finally, they approached Terence Young, who had a long working career with Broccoli. Young accepted.

Finally, they had to cast the role of James Bond. Firstly, Broccoli and Saltzman discussed approaching the infamous Cary Grant, but had to discard the idea, as he would be unlikely to agree to more than one movie. So then, they discussed Patrick McGoohan, who had previous experience of playing a spy in the popular TV series Danger ManMcGoohan passed on the opportunity. Another potential option was David Niven, but would never get too far. There are discussions that possibly Roger Moore was approached, but was felt to be too young for the role. In the end, they approached a mildly known Scottish actor, the 30-year-old Sean Connery, who accepted the role for the series. Fleming himself viewed Connery as uncouth, unrefined, and the wrong choice. Saltzman and Broccoli, felt Connery had the “requisite sexual charisma”. Connery offered a more possible rugged interpretation of the role.

With the main areas decided, and production running mostly smoothly, the film debuted on 5th October 1962, earning a collective box office of $59.6 million in total. The reviews themselves at the time, were mostly mixed, and in fact it would be in retrospect that the film would gain popularity. But how did the film itself, measure up, at least in my eyes?

As the first in the series, I truly believe that I don’t think you can get off to a stronger beginning. The movie is quickly set into motion by the death of an agent, and this is what causes James Bond, a British secret agent and holder of a 00-licence, code-named 007 , is sent there by his superior, M, the head of the British Secret Service, to investigate the death of the Agent.  This is in actuality, a much simpler storyline in comparison to future examples that would arise in the series, but is a good example of starting off small. By starting off small, it allows the creators to utilize their minimal budget to focus on a solid story and vital setting of a character. It could be due to this need, that they could create an iconic scene that introduces the protagonist, the infamous “Bond. James Bond.” casino scene.

Sean Connery plays it as a very cold, professional James Bond in this film, a more cold and callous character. I love how he coldly kills people if they have nothing to offer him anymore, it helps make him seem more believable as 007. You do notice that his attitude to women is mildly uncouth and sexist, but it seemingly is of the time. What he does have is the feel of a detective in early scenes, finding clues and building up a road to the the villain, using his intelligence and natural ability, which I, again, liked, as it helped build up James Bond as an adequate spy. Where in future films, he would sometimes be told of how good an agent he is, here, we see the actual methods he possesses. He also is very physical in several scenes, helping to make his character look capable within fight scenes, again building up a formidable character.

Ursula Andress is an okay Bond Girl, back then, the Bond Girl was mostly eye candy that the producers looked for, not really basing the choice of actress on their dramatic ability. They also include dubbing, Andress’ natural accent seemingly difficult to interpret. However, she is quite beautiful as Honey Ryder, who has one of the most memorable entrances in history. She does tell a good story of her character and her supposed story arc, in order to make her seem strong and independent, but it is all dialogue, no action, and her supposed independence is never really shown; she mostly just looks good.

Joseph Wiseman, I think, is a brilliant villain, he possesses a barely contained cold anger, violent barking out instructions to his henchmen and talking in a clipped manner to 007. Almost defined as purely arrogant and vain, Wiseman creates an intellectual villain who has the interesting appendages of metallic hands. I do think that Wiseman’s Dr No would help to inspire future villains, in terms of plans, characteristics, and location. As the first villain in the Bond series, Wiseman sets a strong standard, and has a surprising amount of impact within the movie, despite the fact he doesn’t appear until the third act.

The film may seem more subdued in comparison to other Bond films, but I do quite like the more cerebral style in this one. As a first movie in the series, I feel the methods of the director and actor helped create a distinctive style very early on, the smart suits, the alcohol intake, the womanizing  and also the beginning of the film, with the inclusion of the “barrel gun”. The film does also mostly hold up, the acting is solid on a large scale, the supporting cast that debut who would continue in other movies, such as M and Ms Moneypenny, instantly have a good rapport with the protagonist. The movie is also quite fun and enjoyable, as a detective movie, a spy movie, and a Bond film. However, the slightly misogynistic attitude of Connery as Bond can seem a bit shocking to those not expecting it, and the more stripped down mentality of the movie may be the antithesis of the audience’s expectations. However, I definitely enjoyed it, especially as the introduction to the Bond universe.

Thumbs Up, 7 out of 10.

James Bond, Will Return, In From Russia With Love

About The Author

Post-Graduate from Falmouth University, having taken "English with Creative Writing". 22 years old, based in Plymouth.

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