Welcome to the first entry in a new column, one looking at each of the James Bond films, individually. The goal is this – one movie and therefore one article a week which should, if I’ve done the math correctly, mean that I write about “Skyfall” the week “Spectre” is released.
There are of course challenges to this entire thing including vacations, family, life in general, work, etc., etc., but the challenges are not insurmountable. In fact, I think they’re very surmountable. I also don’t plan on necessarily doing traditional reviews of the movies here either, much more a discussion surrounding the movie, and that broadening of the scope will alleviate some of the pressure.
But, without further ado, here we go.
I always find it amazing with “Dr. No” just how many pieces were in place that would be come hallmarks of the franchise… and how many weren’t. For instance, while Connery’s Bond does do the gun barrel walk across the screen at the beginning of the movie, there is no pre-title sequence and the titles themselves are mostly very 1960s colored dots moving around the screen to the lyric-less theme (and, more than one song is used), eventually there are some silhouetted dancers, but that portion almost feels like an afterthought. Bond does drink vodka martinis and does introduce himself as “Bond, James Bond,” but only does so because a woman just introduced herself to him as “Trench, Sylvia Trench.” He actually says it to her in a ribbing manner, as an acknowledgment of the odd way she introduced herself.
One of the things I really like about the movie is that, unlike “Casino Royale,” they let Bond play his traditional card game in the movie, baccarat. Poker was used in “Casino Royale” due to the game’s increased popularity/visibility at the time, and probably due to its accessibility as well, but there are no concerns about the latter here. In fact, one of the things I think is great is that we know Bond is winning the game, but unless you know the rules for baccarat, you have no idea whatsoever how he’s doing that – it’s an effortless victory, one that doesn’t require him to ask for any more cards than he initially deals. It is the exact opposite of the sort of thing that we’ll see later in the film as he squares off against Dr. No.
No, too, is fascinating because he’s barely in the movie. There isn’t a lot of back and forth with this supervillain. We hear his voice once in the first half of the movie, but don’t actually see him until we’re almost 90 minutes into the film. Then, that first time we do see him, we don’t get his face and he doesn’t speak.
“Dr. No” is much more of Bond unraveling a mystery and fighting a series of battles against an unseen enemy’s henchmen than it is a head-to-head sort of thing. Our hero doesn’t even do anything to slow or stop the supervillain’s plans until the climactic scene – it is merely Bond’s investigation that troubles No.
The film introduces SPECTRE, even if we don’t get much of a look at the organization, and the first image of Honey Ryder emerging from the water on Crab Key became iconic. More than one Bond film would actually go on to reference it, most recently with Craig stepping up onto the beach instead of a woman. There are no Bond gadgets used in the film and Q is not identified as such, simply as the Armourer, Major Boothroyd. Desmond Llewelyn doesn’t play the character either, it’s Peter Burton’s only appearance in the role.
Some would argue that the Bond films eventually became too formulaic, and it’s certainly easy to look at them as a whole and see where that argument originates. “Dr. No” offers up a first look at a lot of what would become the ingredients in that formula, but it works. “Dr. No” is incredibly fun, Connery’s swagger is enjoyable, and there’s just enough gunplay, nefarious villainy, car chases, and oversized sets to make it all work.
That, simply put, is why there’s a formula – it all works.
“Dr. No” went out, took this character from a series of books (as well as elements of the books), and established the basic framework for a movie franchise that is still going strong more than 50 years later. And, unlike some movies that establish a franchise today, this one isn’t just world-building for use in a later movie, “Dr. No” is a good movie on its own. It doesn’t even offer a “James Bond will return in…,” as later movies do.
As for me, Josh Lasser will return in a discussion of “From Russia With Love,” a film which may not just be my favorite Bond, but my favorite movie.
photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment