Double-0 Christmas - Doctor No

James Bond

It's nearly Christmas so there's bound to be a James Bond film on TV somewhere. This week, we're looking back at Stuart Mulrain and Barnaby Eaton-Jones' series of articles on the 007 films. Here, Stuart Mulrain looks back at the very first one, Dr. No...

“World domination. The same old dream. Our asylums are full of people who think they're Napoleon. Or God.”

You have to wonder if Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman had any idea of the size of the phenomenon they were releasing on the world when they began production on Dr. No. Both saw the potential of Bond on the big screen and knew that it would be popular, but could they have foreseen a 50 plus year legacy for the character? One thing is certain, they bet everything they had on making sure Bond’s debut would leave a mark on the world.

In hindsight it’s easy to see that it was a risk worth taking, but we’ve also seen over the years that there are times when it’s easy to get Bond very wrong. The fact that we are willing to forgive the lesser Bond films is largely down to the strong foundations that EON laid in those first few Bond films. If they’d made something like The Man With The Golden Gun as the worlds introduction to Bond, it could have been a very different story.

Securing the movie rights to all of Flemings James Bond novels except Casino Royale meant that they were unable to adapt Bonds debut novel for Bond’s big screen introduction. Instead they settled on Flemings 6th Bond novel as a suitable story for Bond’s cinematic entrance. It’s a smart choice as the book contains a James Bond who is recovering from an injury (sustained at the climax of From Russia With Love), presenting us with a Bond who is both fully formed yet finding his feet again.

The film (like many of the first few Bond films) sticks fairly faithfully to the source novel and contains many of the elements that we’ve come to expect from the Bond films. There are a few notable exceptions, like the lack of a pre-credits sequence and the absence of Q (we have Major Boothroyd, but he’s not very Q like in this one) or gadgets, but the basic template is there.

The main key element to get right though was always the casting of Bond himself (if you can find it, take a look at the teleplay version of Casino Royale for an example of how to cast Bond very wrong!). Many names were thrown around – most notably Cary Grant – but it’s difficult to see any of the potential names bringing the kind of raw and ruthless charisma to the part that Connery did here. You believe that he is capable of doing what Bond does in the film.

It possibly helps that the film doesn’t contain any of the outlandish stunts that the series became famous for later on (or maybe it does and my cynical and spoilt eyes have become used to something more spectacular in my stunts). In some ways, the film feels a little flat -compared to later films in the series – when it comes to the action side of things, but it more than makes up for it with a sharp story and dialogue.

The other key ingredient to get right was the villain and in Joseph Wiseman they found the perfect antagonist for Bond to go up against. Although he doesn’t fully appear onscreen until the last act, you feel his presence throughout the film and get the sense that something terrifying is coming. What makes him truly chilling is just how much Wiseman underplays the part, giving him a detached and chilling presence.

We’re presented with three Bond girls (it was the 60’s) in the film, although they are presented as little more than conquests for Bond. A lot has been made, in the years since, of the significance of Ursula Andres’ Honey Rider as the quintessential Bond Girl, but when you watch the film, you see that there is very little about the character that is memorable or iconic beyond her emergence from the ocean (something so iconic the series paid homage to it in three future films – with a Lotus Esprit, Halle Berry and Daniel Craig).

To be fair, a lot of the faults with Dr. No only come about in retrospect. It’s a solidly entertaining film that moves along at a brisk enough pace to keep you interested and engaged, achieving what it set out to do by laying the ground work for a 53 year old franchise that has been unrivalled by any other.

Image - IMDb.