Dr. No

Dr. No shows off his collar, Honey Ryder shows off her shells — which will get more of Bond’s rapt attention?

WHO IS JAMES BOND?  He’s a gambler.  He smokes.  He drinks (but not to excess).  He’s charming, mischievous and occasionally bossy (when dealing with civilians).  Straights bore the pants off him.  He has sex with nameless women, while his boss’s secretary pines for him.  He knows the rules of Chemin de Fer, he knows how to kick and punch, he knows judo, he knows how to wear a suit, he knows how to spot an assassin and how to burglar-proof his hotel room, he knows how to lose a tail, he knows his wine (he would never use a bottle of Dom Perrignon ’55 as a weapon, even against a madman bent on world conquest).

WHAT DOES THE BAD GUY WANT?  Dr. No is a member of SPECTRE, an international think-tank of criminal geniuses.  He’s been put in charge of “toppling” US rockets, sending them off course and crashing.  This nefarious scheme will, somehow, lead to SPECTRE ruling the world.  What SPECTRE plans to do once it rules the world is not discussed.

WHAT DOES BOND ACTUALLY DO TO SAVE THE WORLD?  Dr. No is not a detective story.  There are no twists or turns, no shocking revelations, no monumental tasks.  Bond is sent to investigate the death of a British intelligence officer.  He finds a receipt in the dead man’s files, the receipt leads to a scientist, the scientist starts acting fishy, and that leads Bond to Dr. No’s private island.  Easy Peasy.  Late in the story, Bond flips a switch that screws up all of Dr. No’s plans.  The detective elements of the story could barely fill a two-reel short; most of the movie is taken up with Bond dealing with all the people who want to kill him.

HOW MANY WOMEN? Three: a brunette sophisticate, a slinky exotic (read: nonwhite) femme fatale, and the blond, international Honey Ryder.  Oddly, it is only the “bad girl” who actually contributes anything to the plot, in a delightful switcheroo where she has sex with him to stall him while she waits for an assassin, and he has sex with her because he has nothing better to do while waiting for an assassin.

HELPFUL ANIMALS?  Two: American CIA guy Felix Leiter and Jamaican working-stiff Quarrel.

LIFE LESSONS: If time allows, it’s perfectly okay to have sex with a woman who’s setting you up to be killed.

TORTURE?  Not much — a couple of guys punch Bond, and then he’s tossed into a holding cell (in a completely different outfit for some reason) with an enormous air duct leading out of it (and into a drainage pipe, which leads to another air duct — Dr. No needs a better contractor).

HOW COOL IS THE BAD GUY?  1 point for living in a Ken Adams set, 1 point for being a spooky disembodied voice to your employees, 1 point for super-strong metal-crushing hands.  -1 point for tacky “dragon” that’s really a painted truck, -1 point for trying to kill Bond by having an employee put a tarantula in his bed (bad plan — you have no idea if the spider will want to bite him, and tarantulas aren’t poisonous enough to kill a 200-lb Scotsman — come on, Dr. No, my five-year-old knows this!)  Total: 1.

NOTES: During the titles, the now-classic “James Bond theme” suddenly comes to an abrupt halt, giving way to a bit of forgettable dance music and then abruptly again to a calypso version of “Three Blind Mice.”  The “music-changing-in-mid-titles” trick is one I have not seen repeated until Pulp Fiction in 1994, to similarly thrilling effect.

The photography is gorgeous, especially in the new transfer.  The whole thing looks like a Norman Rockwell painting come to life.  I mean that as a compliment.

Connery is as good as everyone has always said he is.  He really sells the part, which in retrospect could have just as easily not worked at all, and then where would we be?  He is effortlessly sexy, charming, charismatic, classy, roguish and just a little bit homicidal.  On the other hand, he is completely unnerved by the sight of a harmless tarantula crawling up his arm.  He doesn’t just brush it off, which would easily take care of it — he clubs it to death with his slipper, then recoils in horror, finally clutching his stomach and heading off into the bathroom.  Apparently James Bond does not like spiders.

There is a strange and affecting beat toward the beginning where Bond has his “favorite gun” (a Beretta) taken away from him and is given a Walter PPK instead.  The switch makes him sad and reflective — aw, gee, that was my favorite.  Much is made of this, for reasons that elude me.

There is a terrific beat where a fiery young female freelance photographer takes a picture of Bond at the airport, then licks the flashbulb as she prepares to take another.  The look on her face is jaw-dropping.  Similarly, there’s a moment later on where Bond removes a towel from a just-bathed woman and then tastes the towel.

There’s a punch-up in Act I, after which Bond is shown to actually have red knuckles, a bit of verisimilitude rarely seen in action movies.

Then there’s this “dragon.”  Dr. No has painted a truck and outfitted it with a flamethrower, and that’s supposed to scare people off his island.  Which, miraculously, it does, at least until Englishman James Bond comes along to sort things out.  Now, I’m no dragon specialist, but I can tell the difference between a dragon and a truck.  Quarrel, Bond’s li’l pal, is spooked by it, which we are to take as “understandable” because he’s a simple-minded native and therefore easily spooked.  And I was about to say that Honey is educated and should know better, but then I remembered that she mentions that, while she has read the entire encyclopedia, she’s only gotten up to “T,” where she will presumably learn about “trucks.”

Dr. No’s private island is a real pip.  He has spent — you guessed it — one million dollars to fix the place up, and it’s got everything — a conveyor-belt shower, a bauxite mine, an underwater window, a luxury suite complete with charming staff for guests who drop by, priceless works of art, big light-up globe (just in case he forgets which planet he’s trying to take over, I guess).  Not to mention miles and miles of floor space — staging rooms you could play basketball in.  Strange, when you consider that he’s planning on blowing the whole place up soon.  If it was me, I’d have a simple barracks and maybe a folding table with some computers on it — that’s why I’m not a member of SPECTRE.

I have trouble understanding Honey Ryder.  She shows up late in Act II; she’s come to Dr. No’s island to hunt for shells.  Guards shoot at her and that “dragon” tools around, but hey, shells are shells.  She then is attached to Bond throughout the rest of the movie, until it’s convenient for her to be chained to a ramp somewhere for no particular reason.

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9 Responses to “Dr. No”
  1. goodtoast says:

    Actually, I’ve always rather liked the stupid spider fear. It’s what humanizes him for me, no matter how many people he will kill, and bad guys he will foil, he’ll be afraid of spiders. It also helps to remind me of the book character, which is, in my humble opinion, far more real than the caricature he’s become as of late.

  2. teamwak says:

    Every British schoolboys hero. You knew you were dealing with something new and cool when he blows something up in the opening, takes his wet suit off to reveal he’s wearing a tux underneath!

    James is still causually cruel in the first few movies, and a little bit bigotted too. Some of Roger Moores dialogue in Live And Let Die and Octopussy is plain racist; something about buying. He hands an Indian contact a large sum of money, and tells him that will keep him in curry!

    However Timothy Dalton in The Living Daylights is a personal favourite, and Daniel Craig was a revelation in Casino Royalle. Cant wait to see him next!

    PS. I have been ticking off James skills as the years go by. I can shoot, scuba dive, horse ride, ski, skydive, race cars, and play Baccarrat! Once my success with ladies improves I will be applying to MI6 for my new job (which I will be overqualified for).

    • Todd says:

      James is still causually cruel in the first few movies

      And yet, after he kills the poor sap in the hotel room, they take a moment for Bond to sigh and shake his head, as though to say “What a senseless waste of human life.” That one surprised me.

  3. serizawa3000 says:

    I take the Internet Movie Database’s trivia with a grain of salt from time to time, but the thing I read about Dr. No was that Sean Connery himself is afraid of spiders… according to the IMDB, of course.

    That might explain why the tarantula wasn’t actually crawling up Bond for real (that’s one wobbly special effect)…

    • black13 says:

      I don’t know if it’s mentioned on the trivia database, but there’s another little piece on Sir Sean’s career at the time.

      He had been approached by the owners of the Tarzan franchise to take over the title role of those movies. According to what I’ve read, he had told them he’s interested, and would like to do it after finishing that little spy movie he had just signed for.

      • serizawa3000 says:

        Hm? Hmmm. I knew that Connery was a villain in a Tarzan movie… but I forget the particulars… whether it was Jock Mahoney or Gordon Scott… it was in color, that was all I remember.

        • black13 says:

          Gordon Scott. The way the story goes, Scott’s contract was up, and the producers approached Connery as the replacement.

          My 2 cents? I like Connery in most movies he made, but I think he would have been miscast as Tarzan. (Just like Christopher Lee would have been miscast as Winnetou, and he had been offered that part. But that’s another story.)

  4. black13 says:

    One thing about Bond villains is that they always overspend on their secret bases. If I had a few hundred million to spend on the construction of a hidden volcano lair, I wouldn’t bother with crime. I’d be too busy being an international playboy or something.

    (The Beretta thing only makes sense if you know that Dr. No is the 6th novel in the series. The replacement gun scene is a pretty accurate adaptation of the same scene in the novel. The novel follows From Russia With Love, where Bond’s Beretta almost gets him killed. Which is the reason why he is told to get a better gun.)

  5. mikeyed says:

    “Just too silly”

    I can’t believe this series got past Dr. No’s collar. If I were executive producer of a big-budget movie and saw that collar, I’d probably have turned the whole project upside down and ruined what the series would become years later.