Welcome to the very first entry in Does It Look Like it’s Our First Time? where myself and fellow Lewton Bus writer CJ Robinson are undertaking the task of watching and reviewing every one of the 24 films in the James Bond franchise. While we very well may play with form and format in our reviews over the course of the next 24 weeks the standard ones are likely to look very much like what follows, a breakdown of the films into the standard tropes and elements of the franchise in order to discuss what does and doesn’t work in order to present you with a definitive viewing guide to every entry in the franchise. Our film this week is the one that started it all, Dr. No. So put on your dinner jackets, stir up those martini’s and let’s dive on in!
Allen: Unlike the vast majority of films in the Bond canon Dr. No does not feature a cold open, instead starting off with the now iconic gun barrel sequence ( though it is worth noting that in this first film that it is not Sean Connery in the gun barrel but rather Bob Simmons) and leading right into the James Bond theme as well as some island music that is tacked on to allow for the opening credits. While definitely unique the opener lacks much entertainment value beyond the thrill of seeing the gun barrel for the first time.
CJ: The cold open for the James Bond films is perhaps one of the most iconic motifs for the series, up there with the cars and the gadgets and this is the open that started it all. While visually it’s nothing special, just a bunch of moving dots and silhouettes that reminded me of the iPod commercials from the mid- 2000s, there is one notable exception that should not be overlooked, the gun barrel sequence. Ask anyone on the street what image comes to mind when they hear the words “James Bond” and I would be willing to guarantee you that they will mention the gun barrel sequence.
Allen: Just as it is somewhat unique in its lack of a cold open, Dr. No is also somewhat atypical in that it does not have an actual main theme song, instead being introduced by the traditional James Bond theme music. While those overly familiar with the franchise might feel this absence to be to the film’s disservice, the first ever appearance of one of the most iconic film themes of all time does make up for it. Throughout the rest of the film the score and the rest of the music worked into the story are well composed and sketched out. The overall Caribbean theme to much of the music adds a fun touch that allows it to stand out.
CJ: One can’t talk about Bond without talking about the music. Various themes from the films have gone on to become classics with some being nominated and even winning Grammys. However, with Dr. No there is no theme written specifically for this movie like there was with Skyfall or Live and Let Die (one of the previously mentioned nominees) for example. Despite this the Monty Norman composed piece simply entitled James Bond Theme has become a staple of music. It’s blaring horns and amazing bass line perfectly embody the suave, classy, and at times sensual elements that make up the Bond series. Outside of the theme, the music for me at least, seems very bland and generic tropical music. Nothing special that has stayed with me.
Allen: The plot, in which Bond is drawn to Jamaica after a British agent is assassinated while investigating the eponymous Dr. is fairly solid, with Dr. No’s grand plan of attempting to blow up an American space shuttle at its launch using a radio beam being one of the most grounded master plans in the franchise, even if it is grounded in the particular brand of pseudoscience that became the series calling card for decades.
CJ: While I do quite enjoy this movie and love what it started, I have to be honest and say that like the music, the plot felt a little generic at times. We get to meet Bond who has returned not long after recovering from having been shot. There is trouble concerning the disappearance of an SIS station chief named Strangways in Jamaica and Bond is sent to investigate. Through his investigation he discovers a plot to sabotage the Project Mercury launch from Cape Canaveral. This evil plan is led by the sinister Dr. No, who reveals himself to be a member of SPECTRE. Of course because this is a James Bond film, Bond wins, gets the girl, and is free to go off to his next adventure/bar/nearby stranger’s bedroom. Like I said, pretty generic.
Allen: Working almost entirely alone, Dr. No is a bit of a special case for the Bond franchise. While pivotal in that he serves as the introduction to SPECTRE, neither he nor his master plan are particularly memorable when compared to the entirety of the franchise, with his only interesting feature being his robotic hands, an effect that was achieved simply by having him wear black gloves.
CJ: Despite being called “Dr. No”, the villain doesn’t show up until the last fifteen minutes of the film. However, despite this limited screen time he makes quite the impression. The dinner that him, Bond, and Honey Ryder share together reminds me a lot of the dinner scene from Django Unchained. Much like Calvin Candie and Dr. Schultz in Django, there is a constant battle of wits between our two rivals. You get the feeling that Bond and Dr. No are holding back information in the hopes that the other will somehow slip. This verbal battle is immensely entertaining and definitely helps us learn about these two. In this five-minute scene we get limited information about Dr. No but his presence and his delivery tells us that this guy is someone you do not want to mess with. A perfect challenge for someone like Bond.
Allen: Remarkably reserved compared to some of the films to come, there are only two Bond Girls of note in Dr. No, the unforgettable Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder (which began the trend of giving the Bond Girls increasingly ridiculous puns for names) and Eunice Grayson as Sylvia Trench. Ryder while the subject of one of the most iconic shots in cinema history, does not actually contribute much to the plot of the story, as she enters, is promptly captured along with Bond, and then must be rescued so that she may sleep with him at the end. Grayson carries the special distinction of being the only love interest in franchise history to reprise her role in a later film, as Trench makes an appearance in From Russia With Love where it is implied that she and Bond have struck up an actual relationship (GASP), this was the result of producers worrying that women would not like Bond if he was constantly leaving women after having slept with them. Let’s all pause for a moment to appreciate that.
CJ: When it comes to the Bond girls I’ve always felt like it was the sleazier element of the franchise. With some notable exceptions (Vesper in Casino Royale immediately comes to mind) it has always felt like the whole reason they are even in the films is to be eye candy and have names that are double entendres. Unfortunately, the character of Honey Ryder is no exception. She doesn’t add much to the movie (other than the iconic walking out of the ocean scene) and could honestly have been left out altogether.
Bond (actor, performance):
Allen: This by far is what carries the film. Sean Connery’s debut performance as Bond was a revelation. The combination of sophistication and menace that he brought to the role set the standard that all future Bonds would be compared against. The physicality and winking charm with which he played the character turned the man into an icon overnight and so won over Ian Fleming that he changed Bond’s backstory in the books in order to make him Scottish. Fun Fact: Connery, having begun going bald at the age of 21, wore some form of hair piece for every Bond performance.
CJ: All my thoughts about this performance could be summed up in one word, yes. Sean Connery knocks it out of the park. He is the quintessential spy. He is witty, suave, dangerous, and always ready for a martini. This Bond is the perfect representation of the phrase “Men want to be him. Women want to be with him.” He is just absolutely perfect in this.
Allen: As with the music and the opener the film once again serves as a break from the broader traditions of the Bond franchise in that there aren’t really any gadgets. This is due mainly to the fact that the gadgets themselves came along as part of the continual escalation of the franchise that occurred over its history, an escalation not yet felt in this first entry.
CJ: Unfortunately, there aren’t exactly really any gadgets in this film outside of the Walther PPK that we see given to Bond. However, if the later films are any indication this lack of gadgets won’t last long.
Allen: Unlike many of the films that would follow, Dr. No is remarkably reserved in the action department, featuring no truly large scale stunts and only the occasional fist fight. It is all very much in the style of stunt fighting of that era but there is a decent physicality to it nonetheless.
CJ: The curse of being generic strikes again. You have some basic car chases which are fun yes but don’t hold a candle to the ones we’ll see later down the road. The hand to hand combat is hilariously bad to me. There were some times where TV wrestling seemed more real than this fighting. But despite this it was still pretty entertaining.
Allen: Set almost entirely in Jamaica and surrounding islands, the film set the expectation of exotic locales that has followed every film sent. The location provides a wonderful cultural backdrop against which Bond can unravel the mystery of Dr. No.
CJ: Oh, God, I want to go to Jamaica now. The island setting is perfect for this story and is sure to inspire wanderlust in some viewers. While this movie only had a very limited number of locales it managed to use them well. This particular Bond film isn’t one that needs grand views or obscure locations, it’s not that big. The fact that this is set on an island helps create an air of intimacy and danger that is harder to escape from. It lends itself well to the overall plot.
Allen: The film is directly responsible for two of the most iconic shots in the history of the franchise, featuring the first ever cinematic appearance of James Bond as the camera slowly pans up to his face as someone addresses him while he plays Baccarat, and Ursula Andress’ famous rise from the ocean which the franchise has been homaging ever since.
CJ: I’ve mentioned a couple of these earlier but allow me to expand a little. The gun barrel opening is iconic in every sense of the word. It has worked itself into society in a way few other things have. Honey Ryder walking out of the ocean in nothing but a white bikini is definitely in the top five most memorable moments of the film. Her walk has been parodied so many times but has also been referenced not just by movies outside of the franchise but by the franchise itself. Halle Berry’s character in Die Another Day walks out of the ocean in a bikini at one point. Even Bond himself has referenced this scene, albeit accidentally in Casino Royale when Daniel Craig’s Bond was forced to stand up and walk out of the water instead of floating off like originally planned. But perhaps the most iconic scene in the movie is towards the very beginning when we meet our hero and he introduces himself with that intro that we all know and love, “Bond. James Bond.”
Allen: Dr. No was released in 1962 and absolutely feels like it. The film features a wisecracking black sidekick who is mercilessly killed off, a female character who was raped as a child, TWO separate white actors who are portraying Chinese characters, and the use of the threat of raping a woman in order to insure Bond’s compliance and behavior. It can be quite shocking watching this for the first time if you are not used to the specific blend of casual racism and sexism that pervade the early entries to this franchise.
CJ: I know it may seem like I’ve been a bit hard on this movie at times but like I said earlier I actually quite enjoy it. When reviewing a movie this old it helps to keep everything in perspective, The time period, the budget, the source material, etc. While the sets and some of the writing seem laughably hokey at times when compared to today they were still great for their time. Besides, the stuff that may seem hokey to us is the same stuff that helps give this movie its charm.
Allen: While much more reserved than those that followed and lacking many of the qualities that we now identify with the franchise, Dr. No served as a triumphant introduction to the character of James Bond, and to this day serves as one of the very highest points in the history of the franchise.
CJ: Overall this is a great movie and a great introduction to a series that is still going strong 55 years after it began.
Well that’s a wrap on this entry, tune in next week for when we take on From Russia With Love as well as a James Bond podcast!