License to Review #1: Dr. No (1962)

James Bond will return to cinemas this November with his twenty-fifth adventure, No Time to Die. In preparation, David Alkhed will take a look at all the previous entries in the franchise and see which ones are deserving of praise and which ones aren’t.

Few film franchises have been as impactful and long-lasting as the James Bond series. Adapted from Ian Fleming’s source material about the suave and attractive yet effective British secret agent has thrilled audiences for nearly sixty years, with various different actors and directors making their stamps in their installments, and marking distinct changes in the times. But we will begin with the film that started it all, Dr. No from 1962.

Following the disappearance of a British agent in Jamaica, MI6 operative James Bond, codename 007, is sent there to find him. Well there, he hears about a mysterious Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman), who it turns out works for the secret organization SPECTRE. Bond hooks up with CIA agent Felix Leiter (played here by Jack Lord), local islander Quarrel (played by John Kitzmiller who sadly passed away a few years later) and the notorious Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress).

If truth be told, Dr. No has aged surprisingly well. Yes, there are some moments where the film goes a little over-top and ridiculous (some of the one-liners, some unintentionally hilarious moments and Bond killing a spider) but this is a surprisingly confident film for the franchise. It’s more story-driven and focuses more on tension and suspense rather than action scenes, in a way more like what one would expect from a more realistic spy film such as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Although one shouldn’t mention realism in relation to James Bond, it should be noted it isn’t nearly as over-the-top and ridiculous as later installments. It’s also well shot by Ted Moore, with some almost Kubrickian one-point perspective shots. Speaking of Kubrick, he was apparently so impressed by Ken Adam’s terrific and groundbreaking production design that he hired him to do the sets to his dark comedy classic Dr. Strangelove. Connery also makes for a terrific Bond, fitting the role like a glove with his suave charisma.

Not everything is positive though. I suspect, and forgive me if I seem crude and cynical, that Miss Andress was hired for her looks more than for her acting ability. It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever seen and there are definitely worse performances in the coming Bond films, but it’s something I picked up on. Also as I mentioned, there are moments when it gets a little silly, but compared to some of the coming installments in the franchise they’re relatively mild and not really worth mentioning. Perhaps the biggest letdown is the climactic fight between Bond and No. It’s not terrible, just a little anticlimactic and surprisingly brief considering the reputation this franchise has of killing its villains in a violent fashion.

I think, in the end, the most remarkable thing about Dr. No is how it establishes a number of the tropes we’ve come to expect from any Bond film. There’s the first utterance of the “shaken, not stirred”, Moneypenny and M, Bond’s sleazy and borderline sociopathic behavior towards women, the elaborate and over-the-top villains. And of course, how could I forget Bond’s iconic introduction. Playing baccarat in a nightclub opposite Sylvia Trench, lighting a cigarette, introducing himself as “Bond. James Bond” as Monty Norman’s iconic theme plays. Even if the franchise had died down, that moment would’ve remained iconic in pop culture forever.

For these reviews, I shall be giving them the final ranking by saying whether or not they’re “shaken” or “stirred.” “Shaken” means it’s good and I recommend it, “stirred” means it’s not very good or at least not good enough to recommend. With that said, Dr. No is most certainly ‘shaken’.

Also, just a fun fact: the studio’s Japanese affiliate originally translated the title as “We Don’t Want Doctors!” This is nothing significant, I just thought it was funny.
James Bond will return in From Russia with Love, and so shall I. Until then, I hope you all will take this review shaken, not stirred.

Published by davidalkhed

Co-creator, critic and columnist for A Fistful of Film.

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