Ian Fleming introduced the world to a character that would become one of the most famous, instantly recognizable characters in literature-film-pop culture history. That name....Bond, James Bond. Fleming would write 14 007 novels, starting with 1952's Casino Royale, but it took 10 years for the British super spy to make it to the big screen. It was worth the wait, and one of the most successful franchises in film history was born. It all started with 1962's Dr. No.
A station chief and his new secretary working for British intelligence in Jamaica has gone missing without a trace, leaving London scrambling to figure out what happened. The station chief, Strangways, had been investigating possible interference with American missiles but all his files have been stolen as well. In steps another agent, James Bond (Sean Connery), dispatched to Jamaica to investigate. He's quickly stone-walled wherever he goes, finally receiving some help from a CIA agent, Felix Leiter (Jack Lord), and a local fisherman, Quarrel (John Kitzmiller), who had worked with Strangways. What little evidence Bond can find -- among several attempts to kill him -- is an isolated, mysterious cove, Crab Key, owned by the equally mysterious, Dr. No., who no one knows much about. What's waiting out there? And is Dr. No behind these wayward American rockets? Maybe only Bond can find out.
All successful franchises have to start somewhere, right? This is an excellent jumping off point for my all-time favorite franchise. Producers debated over which Fleming novel to use as the first film, finally settling here on Dr. No. It immediately resonated with fans, propelling Connery to stardom basically instantaneously. It isn't one of the best 007 movies, but it's pretty damn good. You see all the groundwork being laid out for what was to come from the one-liners to the diabolical villains, the girls to the gadgets, the exotic locations and effortless style. And of course, that main theme, maybe the most famous movie theme of all-time. An excellent starting off point. Listen HERE to the theme but shame on you if you haven't heard it by now. No Bond song here, just Monty Norman and John Barry's perfect theme to play over the stylish 1960's credits.
When he was cast to play 007 himself, James Bond, Connery was a young actor who'd worked regularly in films and television but was far from a star. That kinda sorta changed with this film. Just a bit. This is a rare example of perfect casting. Connery was born to play Bond. It's the style, charisma, confidence, it all flows so effortlessly. Maybe not physically, but Connery brings Fleming's Bond to life as well as anyone with Daniel Craig knocking on the door in that department. He's a killer, brutally efficient with his license to kill, but he's also smooth and suave, an impeccably dressed ladies man. Connery finds a rhythm immediately with the character. There's no sense of an actor feeling out what works and what doesn't work. He just knows what he wants to do and goes for it. There were better Connery/Bond entries -- From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball -- but Connery is and always will be 007. The maiden voyage with an iconic character, and the young Scottish actor hits a home run with ease.
The rest of the cast lacks huge star power, but that ends up being a positive. It's cool to see Lord in a pre-Hawaii Five-O part and he's got some good chemistry with Connery, as does Kitzmiller in their scenes together. But what about those Bond villains and Bond girls?!? The franchise is off to a good start with Joseph Wiseman as Dr. No and maybe the most iconic Bond girl of all-time, Ursula Andress, as Honey Ryder. Who hasn't seen the famous shot of her in a white bikini coming out of the water? She actually isn't introduced until the hour-mark, but her appearance is definitely an idea of things to come. The same for Wiseman's Dr. No, and he's not introduced until there is less than 25 minutes left in the movie! He's intelligent, foreboding and gets the franchise started off right. Now, if he had just killed Bond on the spot rather than let him waste away in a cell....oh, the possibilities.
Also look for Bernard Lee as M and Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny, introduced in the early goings. Anthony Dawson plays a potential lead for Bond once he arrives in Jamaica while Zena Marshall and Eunice Gayson play two more Bond girls.
I think what's most alarming about this first James Bond movie is how calm it is. It is self-assured and confident, hitting a groove pretty quick, but it barely resembles what the franchise would become (for good and bad). This is more of a detective story than a secret agent story. It isn't necessarily low-key because of all the chases, Bond girl-seducing, perfectly-timed one-liners and all, but it's certainly in that territory. Director Terence Young simply isn't trying too hard -- that would come later in the franchise -- in introducing 007. It's a good intro and not a great one, but it is an excellent film just the same. The next venture, From Russia With Love two years later, is a true classic and one of the series' best.
Dr. No. (1962): ***/****