Dr. No: Sean Connery’s hypnotic charisma ensures that the first James Bond film remains a most satisfying watch

Dr. No(1962) is the first of the glossy, action-packed spy thrillers featuring the character of James Bond created by Ian Fleming. The Bond film franchise would go on to become the most popular and durable film franchises in movie history. Sean Connery, who played Bond in a total of 7 films, would go on to become one of the greatest movie stars of all times.

Dr. No begins something like this:

Location: Queen’s club, Kingston, Jamaica

On the veranda of the club, four men are seated playing bridge. One of them [later identified as MI6 agent Strangways (Tim Moxon)] rises and excuses himself to make a regularly-scheduled appointment. While walking out onto the driveway of the club, he passes three blind men who appears to be beggars. Strangways drops a coin in the cup of the first blind man. As he reaches his car and opens the door, he slumps down, shot in the back five times by guns fitted with silencers, held in the hands of the three men; It seems that they weren’t blind after all, but assassins paid to take out the British spy. A black hearse roars into view – the men load his body into the back and then jump in as it speeds off.

Next: At Strangways‘ bungalow, Strangways‘ secretary is concerned with the disappearance of her boss. She contacts London through a ham radio set hidden inside a Book case. As she is conversing with the headquarters, another group of assassins invade the bungalow and kills her. They rifle through the cabinet and steal 2 files marked: Crab Key and Doctor No.

 In London, headquarters realizes that their Jamaican outpost is compromised. They decide to send their number one agent, 007 James Bond, to investigate. But first, they have to locate Bond. An emissary from the headquarters track him down to the fancy gambling casino, Le Cercle (Les Ambassadeurs, London) Club.

Thus, in just 3 quick scenes, the film skillfully sets up the introduction of the most famous character in the most famous film franchise in movie history, and what an introduction scene it is; The build-up is epic: there are over a dozen different camera angles before Bond’s face is actually seen. First, we see only his hands, handling the cards, and his back facing the camera. He is playing cards at one of the chemin de fer gaming tables against a beautiful, wealthy and sexy brunette named Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson). Trench can be considered the first Bond girl and she has the distinction of being introduced even before James Bond. Trench keeps on losing to Bond, and after every loss, she keeps adding to her credit at the club, and also increasing the limit. As she increases her credit yet again, we hear Sean Connery‘s voice for the first time as James Bond – he admires her willingness to continue playing against him (and losing elegantly) – as he picks out a cigarette from his case:

Bond (offscreen): I admire your courage, Miss…?
Sylvia: Trench, Sylvia Trench. I admire your luck. Mr…?
Bond (while casually lighting his cigarette and speaking the most famous line): Bond – James Bond.

The sequence is ingeniously shot and edited so that Sylvia’s opponent is not revealed until he utters those immortal words. Also, at this very moment, Monty Norman‘s twangy guitar theme reaches its crescendo, creating an unbreakable relationship between the theme and the character. As for Sean Connery, the moment forever embedded him in popular imagination as the greatest and ultimate Bond. This very moment more than illustrates why no actor who played Bond came anywhere close to him. He is butch and rather brutish in his appearance, in a manner suggesting simmering violence underneath that cool exterior; but his facial expressions and his voice are mischievous and seductive; his movements are smooth and his demeanor’s sophisticated; someone who projects both humor and seriousness at the same time; And as the film progresses, we see him transform from a charming playboy to someone who is equally convincing when he unleashes brute force and feral rage. Only Sean Connery has ever been fully capable of embodying these contrasting traits that made James Bond the most popular film character ever. Bond takes his job very seriously, but he does not take himself seriously, which is something that can be said about Sean Connery as an actor as well. Bond achieves his objectives mainly through a series of deceptions, seductions and ultimately violence. he is at once a thorough professional, a patriotic soldier, a cold-blooded killer and a charming seducer, and Connery, through his towering physicality – he was a Mr. Universe contestant once; his wry humor, his sexy Scottish accent, his catlike graceful body language, his insouciant attitude and his sexual charisma manages to embody these various aspects of Bond’s characteristics in one grand sweep. Every other actor who came after him only managed to lick either one or two aspects of the character.

Dr. No also set standards in other aspects of filmmaking; most notably in the production design, cinematography and editing. Ken Adams‘ elaborate, futuristic set designs not only set the standard for all the films to come, but also managed to distinguish Bond films from every other movie made at the time. One must realize that these early Bond films had a very limited budget- Dr. No had a budget of just over a million dollars which was a low budget even for 1962 – and so it was really up to Adams and cinematographer Ted Moore – who bathed these films in rich colorsto deliver maximum bang for the buck. Another path breaking aspect of the film was the editing; Editor, Peter Hunt, cut the film in an unusual manner to give pace and dynamism to the film without bothering about the existing rules of film editing. This was necessary to make the action scenes work as well as not to give audience too much time to think about the rather incredulous storylines that these Bond films operated on. The director Terence Young – who would go on to helm two more Bond films – brought a new level of glamor, humor, sophistication and nonchalance to the Spy thriller\ Private eye drama. One can trace the roots of Bond films to the private eye \Noir thrillers of 1940s like The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep – both starring Humphrey Bogart. But Dr. No infuses elements of modernism in both the character of Bond as well as the genre. James Bond could be considered the first modern action hero. Bond, along with Clint Eastwood’s “Man with no Name” from Sergio Leone’s “Dollars” Euro-western trilogy, established this new kind of action hero whose influence is felt even to this day. As opposed to the heroes that came before them, these two heroes where devoid of any sentiment, family or emotional attachments. They were blissfully amoral, cold professionals whose only commitment was to themselves and to their mission. They are also devoid of any inner psychology and exist more on an abstract level; They are just the sum total of their external manifestations, like their clothes, weapons, gesticulations, punchlines, attitude etc. So the actors who are called upon to play these roles has to “embody” them rather than “act them out” in the theatrical sense; they need to bring a lot of their own style and persona to these roles, and this explains why Sean Connery and Clint Eastwood became two of the biggest stars of all times; these two iconic characters and the wildly popular films involving them depended a lot on these two stars\actors for their success and not vice versa, which was the case with a lot of action heroes who came after them and who could not develop as stars beyond a certain film franchise. Connery’s portrayal of Bond has always been quite cold as he shows no hesitation in killing people and emotionlessly executes someone when he could have simply taken them alive for further questioning. As seen in Dr. No itself, where he kills Prof. Dent (Anthony Dawson) by shooting him in the back and mouthing the lines to mock him: “That’s a Smith & Wesson. You’ve had your six”; it remains one of the most chilling moments (lines) in any mainstream action film, especially when we take into account that this killing happens after he has coolly bedded down the duplicitous Government secretary, Miss Taro (Zena Marshall), who is Dent’s agent, and has lured him into a trap, at her house, so that Dent can barge in and kill an unarmed Bond. Such stark amorality from a film hero was very new in 1962, but there’s nothing psychopathic about Bond. Instead, there’s a curiously intense emotional satisfaction Bond always derives from such achievements as screwing the woman who tries to set him up, and giving his opponent Dent a chance to turn the tables on him and then, knowing very well he had no chance, coldly executing him for being stupid.

Bond is mainly characterized by his upper class taste in clothes, wine and women; His weapon of choice, Walther PPK, and his favorite drink, Vodka Martini, shaken not stirred, all add up to this surface aura that he projects. And as the films would become bigger and bigger, the number and size of these “Items” would increase; the fancy cars, the innovative gadgets, incredible action set pieces, the over the top villains, etc. But in Dr. No, Bond is devoid of any fancy gadgets and has to depend on his wits and fists to get the job done. The first person to feel the affect of both would be the enemy agent (masquerading as the chauffeur from the Government house) who tries to kill Bond on his arrival in Jamaica. Bond is quick to pounce on his deception and quickly dispatches him with his fists, but is unable to extract relevant information about the assassin’s benefactor; the assassin choose to kill himself by swallowing poison rather than divulge the name of the villain, who is pulling the strings from behind the scenes. This becomes a great set up for the introduction of the (all powerful, megalomaniacal) Bond Villain – another staple of every Bond film – in this case it is Dr. No, who makes his appearance for only the last 20 minutes of the film, but his presence is felt throughout, because of incidents like these. He gets a truly big buildup, as his henchman after henchman chooses to die or take extreme punishment rather than divulge his name\existence. The plot of the film is rather simple, but it is a tightly constructed and well crafted spy thriller, where the secret agent Bond has to infiltrate the villain Dr. No’s lair and destroy his plans for world domination. In that regard, the film is a nice throwback to a more simpler times when Bond films were just about the good hero overcoming the evil villain. There was no issues of existential angst or oedipal complexes that need to be resolved, which has become the case in today’s era of Daniel Craig Bonds.

In Dr. No, Bond arrives in Jamaica to investigate the death of his fellow agent and immediately discovers a conspiracy involving the German-Chinese scientist Dr. No and his island of “Crab key”, which is dense with radioactive material. Bond deduces that fellow agent, Strangways, was murdered because he was in possession of the information that the island is been used to disturb American space launch from Cape Canaveral and Dr. No, who is a member of the international criminal organization SPECTRE, is behind it. Bond visits Crab Key for further investigation, and with the help of a mysterious, voluptuous island girl/diver, Honey Ryder, he manages to thwart Dr. No’s army for a while. But in the end they are both captured by Dr. No’s forces and brought to his underwater lair.

Honey Ryder, played by Ursula Andress, is the official Bond girl of the film- the one that winds up with Bond at the end of the film. Like Bond, she too gets an iconic introduction sequence: after reaching Crab Key in the night, Bond beds down on the beach. Come morning, he awakens to the sound of a girl’s voice singing “Underneath the Mango Tree.” And then on the beach rising Venus-like from the water with giant seashells, Bond has his first view of Honey Ryder, wearing a sexy, white bikini and hunting knife. His own appearance from the undergrowth startles her: she warns him not come near her or try to steal her shells, but Bond convinces her that his intentions are strictly honorable. They start talking and we soon realize that she has a score to settle with Dr. No as well – her father was killed by the doctor for snooping around on the island. Soon enough, their life too is put in peril, as a high-powered motorboat roars along the beach, spraying the entire area with machine gun fire. As they make their way across the island, Honey, like a female Tarzan, guides and teaches Bond how to be evasive – by showing him secret hideouts in the island and breathing through reeds from underwater, but soon the situation becomes hopeless, and Bond and Honey has to surrender to guards wearing fire-protective suits. Once they reaches Dr. No’s lair, they are put naked onto a conveyor belt through a series of showers, to further reduce the dangerous radioactive levels on their bodies. Lighted signs before each shower spray indicate the decreasing level of contamination as they pass down the conveyor belt. Finally, garbed in light blue towels, they are ushered into a bank vault-like door set in a rock, and then taken to meet Dr. No.

So more than 80 minutes into this (approx.) 110 minutes movie, we get the introduction of Bond’s ruthless arch-enemy; Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman) appears in a plain white Nehru jacket with a pair of shiny black, plastic hands –  the result of a “misfortune”, as he puts it.  At their meeting, Bond persists in provoking Dr. No by referring to his evil, blackmailing plan for world domination by deflecting and altering the flight paths of Cape Canaveral’s nuclear rocket launches towards the US itself. This scene also introduces the concept of the Bond Villain as a “Big talker”: rather than killing Bond he wastes time by describing his hi-tech lair, his life-history, his plans for world domination etc.., though in the context of this film, he has some ideas of seducing Bond into joining his organization. Once he realizes Bond can’t be brought over, he has him beaten up and imprisoned (not killed !). Bond being Bond escapes from his confinement, infiltrates Dr. No’s hi-tech space center and foils his plans for disturbing yet another space launch. Seeing his well laid plans spoiled by Bond, Dr. No charges at him and indulges in a a mano a mano fistfight. The final raw clash between Bond and No ends near the boiling waters over an atomic pile; Dr. No, due to his metal hands, is unable to climb out of the pile and is drowned, while Bond, in spite of being battered and bruised, manages to climb out to safety. This is one significant theme that is persistent in all earlier Bonds that would come to be undermined in latter movies, when Bond becomes equipped with more and more hi-tech gadgets. Bond, despite his sophisticated veneer, is very much a primal man, who depends on his human toughness and ingenuity to outsmart the villains who are all obsessed with technology and hardware. In Dr. No, we see Connery is bloodied and his clothes are tattered by the end of the film; but this will cease to be the case in future Bond films – especially the Roger Moore ones – were Bond would remain immaculately dressed, and would depend upon fancy gadgets to bring down the villains, who appear to be as sophisticated and Techno-savvy as he is. This makes Dr. No less dated, more timeless and enjoyable than a lot of the Bond films that came in the 70s and 80s.

From the completion of his first 007 novel, “Casino Royale“, in 1952, 41-year old author Ian Fleming believed that movies and television would be the best ‘forum’ for James Bond. But deals usually fell through (one that didn’t, resulting in an American TV adaptation of “Casino Royale”, in 1954, was a flop), and failed screenplays would be rewritten into best-selling short stories and novels – which would lead to further heartbreak for him, as in the case of Thunderball, where he had to surrender the film rights to Kevin McClory. But soon enough, interest would peak for the novels, not surprisingly, since they possessed cinematic sweep and potential. Two of the producers, American Albert (Cubby) Broccoli, and Canadian Harry Saltzman, would become the key players in bringing Dr. No to the screen. Saltzman had managed to obtain an option to most of Fleming’s work, but the move left him too financially strapped to produce them. Broccoli had wanted to produce the Bond novels, himself, but didn’t own the rights. When Saltzman offered a partnership, Eon Productions was born, and the studio, United Artists, impressed by both men’s enthusiasm and vision, agreed to bankroll their proposed “Bond” series. The rights of Casino Royale was not part of the Saltzman\Broccoli deal, as it was already sold to producer Charles K. Feldman , who will later make it as a Bond parody in 1967. Hence, Dr. No was chosen as the first to be filmed, and, after several directors passed on the project, Terence Young, as smoothly elegant as 007 himself, signed on. In making the films, the main problem the producers faced was:” Who would play James Bond?” . Everyone from Cary Grant to David Niven to Richard Burton were considered for the roles, but the prospect of signing a lengthy 6 film contract dissuaded several stars from committing. Then, independently of each other, both Broccoli and Saltzman heard about 31 year old Scottish actor Sean Connery; greatly impressed with him after a one on one interview, Connery was hired. Director Young, a very charming, sophisticated man of great taste, took it upon himself the job of teaching the ‘rough-edged’, working class actor some style and sophistication. Connery was a quick learner, and soon became so impressive that even Ian Fleming would call him perfect, and would, in fact, incorporate elements of Connery into the Bond of his future novels by giving the character a Scottish ancestry. Connery would go on to become an international superstar and he would play Bond 6 more times (once more unofficially in Never say Never Again (1983)).

Dr. No was a big hit (grossing close to $60 million worldwide), particularly in Great Britain, and it received a huge boost in the U.S. when it was discovered that President Kennedy was a 007 fan; From Russia with Love was chosen as the second film, in part, because it was a favorite novel of JFK). Dr. No contained several elements that would be subsequently repeated in following Bond films. like the ‘gunbarrel‘ introduction scene, created by title designer Maurice Binder; But the credit scene of Dr. No. featured Connery’s stunt double Bob Simmons, rather than Connery, as it was added after shooting was wrapped. The other repeating elements being Bond’s strict, crusty superior ‘M’, played by Bernard Lee and his secretary ‘Money Penny’, played by Lois Maxwell, with whom Bond shares a (harmless) flirtatious relationship. Not present in the film is an extended pre-credits title sequence, where we get to see Bond indulging in some action, Also not present is Desmond Llewelyn as the quartermaster ‘Q’, who supplies Bond with innovative gadgets. As already mentioned, the film lacked the ‘overabundance’ of gadgets and style elements of the later Bond entries,  but it has a hypnotically charismatic star\actor working at the peak of his powers that ensures that this is a remarkable debut, and thus allowing Bond to return again and again.