James Bond Retrospective: Dr. No (1962)
Back in 1961 nobody could have foreseen the success and longevity that James Bond would go on to enjoy in the years that followed…
As James Bond prepares for his 23rd official outing in Skyfall and to mark next year’s 50th Anniversary of one of the most successful movie franchises of all time I have been tasked to take a retrospective look at the films that turned author Ian Fleming’s creation into one of the most recognised and iconic fictional characters in film history.
Back in 1961 nobody could have foreseen the success and longevity that James Bond would go on to enjoy in the years that followed. At the time, film producer Albert R. Broccoli, who was reeling from being declared bankrupt after the box-office failure of his most recent picture The Trails of Oscar Wilde, was on the lookout for an idea for his next project. When asked by his wife Dana what he really wanted to do, he replied “I have always wanted to film the Ian Fleming James Bond books”, but unfortunately the rights to the novels had already been acquired by Harry Saltzman. After holding a meeting with Saltzman, together they formed a partnership that spawned the production companies EON Productions Ltd. and Danjaq S.A. and with the financial assistance of United Artists work began on the first James Bond film.
As Casino Royale, the first Fleming novel had already been filmed as a live television play for the US series Climax! in 1954, it was decided that the first official film would be an adaptation of the sixth book in the series, Dr. No. To direct the film Broccoli called upon director Terence Young with whom he had already made a number of action adventure films including Zarak and Safari. The former paratrooper would go on to direct a total of three Bond films and was instrumental in the creation of the character’s screen persona. With a crew and modest budget of $1million in place the search began to find a star to fill the lead role.
“I admire your courage, Miss….?”
“Trench, Sylvia Trench. I admire your luck, Mr….?”
“Bond, James Bond”
Initially Broccoli offered the role to the best man from his wedding, Cary Grant. However he was conscious that Grant would see it as a one film deal and not be interested in playing the role after Dr. No whereas Broccoli and Saltzman always viewed the film as the beginning of a series.
After a screening of the Walt Disney film Darby O’ Gill And The Little People, Broccoli was so impressed by the tough yet graceful Sean Connery that he knew he had found his Bond. The 31 year old former lorry driver and milkman from Scotland had been acting for almost a decade making appearances in films such as The Longest Day and Hell Drivers after turning down an opportunity to become a professional footballer.
Connery brought a self-assured confidence to the role. He was the perfect choice to convince that the character was equally capable of using his brains and his brawn drawing inspiration from Fleming’s own charm and reputation as a womanising jet setter. Connery was officially confirmed in the role on 3rd November 1961 exactly 50 years to the day before the Skyfall press conference and so began Bond’s journey to the big screen.
Pre-Credits & Theme Song
Dr. No is the only James Bond film to not have the signature pre-credits sequence that has become one of the defining characteristics of the series. The film does however open with Maurice Binder’s now famous gun barrel sequence which for the first three films features stuntman Bob Simmons dressed as Bond turning to shoot down the barrel. The opening titles of the film also feature more of Binder’s work with an animated polka dot sequence leading to psychedelic silhouettes of people dancing pre-empting the style and look of future Bond title sequences.
The whole sequence takes place in time to the now classic sounds of Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme. There is some debate over the origins of the theme tune with many crediting Bond stalwart John Barry as the original composer but the tune was actually based on a previous composition by Norman called Good Sign, Bad Sign taken from an aborted musical The House Of Mr. Biswas. Barry is credited with arranging and orchestrating the theme which has become one of the most recognisable pieces of film music ever produced.
British secret agent James Bond 007 is assigned to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of two British nationals and find out whether there is a connection to a CIA case involving the disruption of US rocket launches. On arrival in Kingston, Bond soon realises there is wider conspiracy at work leading him to Crab Key, a mysterious island feared by locals due to the legend of a supposed fire-breathing dragon.
When Bond lands on the island he discovers that the dragon is nothing more than a flame-throwing tractor created as a deterrent to trespassers in order to protect the real secret of the island and the fact that it houses the headquarters of Dr. Julius No, a member of SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion). Dr. No plans to bring chaos to the Project Mercury rocket launch with an atomic-powered radio beam in a bid to extort money from the United States and set in motion SPECTRE’s aims for World domination.
The most striking thing about this first James Bond movie is how quickly it establishes many of the character traits that remain the same to this day. Within the first 25 minutes we have the gun barrel opening, seen Bond presented with his Walther PPK hand gun, heard his “Bond, James Bond” catchphrase and watched him order a Vodka Martini “shaken not stirred”. We have also been introduced to a number of characters that will return throughout the series; Bernard Lee as M, Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny and American CIA agent Felix Leiter, on this occasion played by Hawaii 5-0’s Jack Lord. The film has a real ‘lived-in’ feel to it, although this is the first mission we are privy to there is mention of Bond’s previous exploits and the character comes to us fully formed.
(Professor Dent tries to kill Bond, but his gun is out of bullets)
“That’s a Smith & Wesson, and you’ve had your six.”
(Bond shoots Dent twice)
Despite the fact that the film lacks the extensive globetrotting and gadgets that were to define Bond’s future assignments the Jamaican setting proves to be exotic and alien enough to serve its purpose without overshadowing the story. Legendary set designer Ken Adam provides some truly stunning labyrinthine sets within Dr. No’s underground lair setting the film apart from other spy movies and providing a bold, unique style that set the standard for all that followed. The sparing use of gadgets is also vital to establish Bond’s intelligence in his debut outing providing proof that he is as quick with his brain as he is with his fists.
With a running time of 105 minutes Dr. No is one of the shorter Bond films and it certainly lacks some of the pace of the later movies. The film has a shortage of set pieces and action scenes instead relying on an almost Hitchcockian style of suspense to provide the thrills. However that’s not to say that there is a scarcity of classic Bond moments, a scene involving a tarantula in Bond’s bed is particularly memorable, superbly filmed and scored to perfection while a car chase mostly filmed in front of a rear projection screen is no less exciting.
Dr. No proves to be an excellent opening to the series with director Terence Young setting the tone and formula for all that followed. Like a fine wine the film has matured well and proves to be an enlightening beginning to the character.
The Bond Villain
The character of Dr. No is a great introduction to type of villain Bond will have to deal with throughout his career. Despite the fact that he does not appear in the film until the final 25 minutes his presence is felt throughout and he is the epitome of the archetypal Bond villain. Brought to life by Canadian actor Joseph Wiseman, Dr. Julius No is more than a match for Bond, he is quick witted and intelligent, cultured and charming. His quick assessment of Bond as “just another stupid policeman” is as apt as Bond’s comments on Dr. No’s plans for World domination; “The same old dream. Our asylums are full of people who think they’re Napoleon. Or God”. Dr. No’s disability, metal hands following an unfortunate incident with radio active chemicals, also begins a common trend with Bond villains and henchmen with unusual appendages. To complete the look of the character, Wiseman was made to wear make-up applications to invoke Dr. No’s Chinese heritage.
Wiseman won the role as the first Bond villain beating off some fierce competition. Ian Fleming asked his friend Noel Coward if he would be interested in the role only to receive a telegram reply that simply read “Dr. No? No! No! No!” Max Von Sydow was offered the role but turned it down in favour of playing Jesus Christ in The Greatest Story Ever Told and Fleming’s cousin Christopher Lee was also offered the part. Both Sydow and Lee would still go on to play Bond Villains in Never Say Never Again and The Man With The Golden Gun. Harry Saltzman eventually settled on Wiseman after seeing him in the 1951 film Detective Story with Kirk Douglas.
The character would go on to inspire not just the Bond villains that followed but the villains in films such as the Fu Manchu movies, Carry On Spying and the Austin Powers series of films.
The Bond Girls
Sylvia Trench played by Eunice Gayson is the first to fall for Bond’s charms. Appearing in one of the greatest scenes of the whole series, playing cards in a casino with Bond, Trench introduces herself to Bond in an introduction that leads to one of the most famous and most parodied lines in cinema history; “Bond, James Bond”. Gayson won the role after Lois Maxwell turned down the role in favour of playing the recurring character of M’s secretary Miss Moneypenny. Initially the role of Trench was also to be a recurring character as Bond’s casual girlfriend running for at least six films however the role only lasted for one more film.
Honey Rider: “Are you looking for shells too?”
James Bond: “No, I’m just looking.”
For the role of Honey Rider, the leading lady of the film, Broccoli and Saltzman were looking for a voluptuous actress who could also convince as a Jamaican native. Two weeks before filming was due to begin Broccoli spotted a photograph of Swiss actress Ursula Andress among a huge pile of pictures of budding actresses and knew he had found what he was looking for. In the now iconic scene where we are first introduced to the character of Honey Rider as she emerges from the sea wearing a white bikini Andress smoulders and sets the benchmark on which all future Bond girls will be judged. Rider is the quintessential Bond girl, beautiful and desirable yet strong willed and independent. She also remains the only Bond girl to make Bond spontaneously burst into song.
It was decided that Andress’ strong Swiss/ German accent was not right for the character so she suffered the indignity of having her voice dubbed by Nikki Van der Zyl who softened the accent slightly. Van der Zyl also overdubbed Eunice Gayson’s voice in post production while Diana Coupland provided Andress’ singing voice for the scene where she emerges from the sea singing Underneath The Mango Tree.
Andress’ career went stratospheric following her role in Dr. No, she went on to star in films with Elvis Presley and Peter Sellers as well as headlining the Hammer Horror classic She. She also appeared in the 1967 James Bond spoof Casino Royale starring David Niven and Woody Allen. Ian Fleming was so taken by Andress that he even name checked her when describing the character of Tracy Di Vicenzo in his 1963 novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
James Bond Will Return…..
Dr. No proved to be a huge worldwide success taking over $59 million paving the way for further adventures to follow. A sequel was fast tracked and put into production almost right away but that’s another story….