The Simplicity of Dr. No
By Eric Jones
(Bond fan since 1992)
Dr. No is not the first James Bond film I ever saw. As a child growing up in the late 80s, early 90s before the release of GoldenEye, it was one of the last movies in the series that I saw. It is however my favorite movie in the franchise. Are there better movies in the canon? I certainly believe so. Do some of them have better stories or characterization? Absolutely. Dr. No is more known for a watershed moment in film history than it is as a watershed film in general. This is where we are introduced to Agent 007. And boy is it an introduction.
Dr. No is both a James Bond movie and not at the same time. Being the first big screen version of Ian Fleming’s literary spy there no one knew how this would go. If it would be a success or a failure. It certainly has elements of all the movies, the theme, the gun barrel, his briefing with M, flirting with Moneypenny, exotic locations, women, villain. But it wasn’t meshed together like in later movies. For the most part, the movie feels like a 2 part episode of Hawaii Five-O, only set in Jamaica. It sounds as if I am nitpicking but these are exactly the things that make this movie my personal favorite.
As I said earlier, this is both a Bond film and not. It does not play out like the standard formula we came to love over the years. It plays out like a 1960s spy film. Or more so like a detective story. When Bond arrives in Jamaica, everyone knows his name. Heck he uses it himself. We establish who he is and what he does. On the flip side, and this is what I really feel works to the benefit of the film, is that we know nothing about the character who the movie is named after. From the moment of his arrival on the scene Bond is continually made aware that he is not welcome here. This builds a level of suspense that really isn’t seen in later films. Typically Bond meets his nemesis early on and the rest goes from there. Yet in Dr. No, we only know his name, he is not even revealed until about 30 minutes of the movie remain. In such a brief role, the late Joseph Wiseman plays the despotic doctor with such a cool and commanding presence that I dare say he rivals Sean Connery in his first outing as 007. Hearing him talk to Professor Dent his especially chilling as we only hear a voice. It is so soft spoken. No aggressiveness whatsoever. Yet it clearly shows this is not a man to be reckoned with. I will say though hat he looks kind of silly in his all white Nehru suit.
Oh and how could I forget, this film has Bond with 4 absolutely gorgeous women. Eunice Gayson as Sylvia Trench, the woman Bond plays cards with during his legendary introduction. Marguerite LeWars as the photographer trying to snap a shot of him. Zena Marshall as the seductively exotic Ms. Taro. Last but certainly not least is the beautiful Ursula Andress as that Aphrodite of the cinema, Honey Ryder.
Although this is a British-made film, I love that it has some elements that you normally would see in American films of the 30s and 40s. Sometimes it feels like a film noir with the hard boiled detective, or secret agent in this case, trying to figure out the case of a colleague’s disappearance. I also love how Bond just keeps coming upon danger after danger. And each time he is able to spot it and avoid it. Except when he and Honey are in Dr. no’s lair and he decides to freely drink coffee. But I think we can forgive 007 one dumb decision.
Being made in a simpler time, and made with the simplest budget and possessing a simple story, Dr. no resonates with me more than any other Bond film. I love the movies in general and I think what makes this stand out with me most is because of it sort of being one of those last movies made before we come upon new filmmaking techniques like the New Hollywood era. In the pantheon of 007 resume, Dr. No may not be the Goldfinger or Spy Who Loved Me, but if there were no more 007 after 1962, I would definitely be please with it as an engaging, well paced 1960s spy thriller.