A resourceful British government agent seeks answers in a case involving the disappearance of a colleague and the disruption of the American space program.
Our latest feature will go back and look at the full history of one of the longest running film series of all times, reviewing all 24 films in the James Bond series (concluding in November with the release of ‘Spectre’). We’ll aim to post at least one review each week (in chronological order), with the potential for a couple in some weeks so we can conclude the retrospective ahead of ‘Spectre’s release. Hopefully you’ll watch and read along and enjoy this journey through the high points and the low points of this iconic character and series!
Before I begin, it would only be fair to point out that I don’t believe I’ve seen every film in the series, so several of these films will be reviewed entirely ‘fresh’. Throughout the years I’ve seen most of the films, either on TV, VHS or latterly at the cinema, but there’s definitely a few that have escaped my attention. We begin in 1962 with ‘Dr. No’, which I have seen before, and it’s interesting to look back at the film that kickstarted the series. At the time of its release, ‘Dr. No’ wasn’t a huge critical success (although this has changed for the positive over time), but it did extremely well commercially, leading to the sprawling 23-film series that we can look back on today.
Based on Ian Fleming’s series of spy novels, ‘Dr. No’ wasn’t actually the first book in the series (that was ‘Casino Royale’), but it became the first to be adapted, directed by Terence Young and starring the suave young Scotsman Sean Connery in the leading role. By this point in time, many of the tropes established in the James Bond series have become old hat, but it’s still intriguing watching their introduction in ‘Dr. No’. We begin with John Barry’s iconic theme tune and the classic intro, which feels both suitably retro and effortlessly cool 50 years later on, before setting the scene for the rest of the film. The opening sequences have became more outlandish and action packed over the years, but ‘Dr. No’ still manages to pack a punch with a fairly straightforward opening that introduces us to the film’s conflict and devises a scenario that calls for Bond to arrive in Jamaica.
The plot begins when the British Intelligence Station Chief disappears in mysterious circumstances, leading to secret service agent James Bond being sent to investigate. Upon his arrival in Jamaica, various interactions with several shady characters lead him to an area off the coast where he discovers the lair of secretive scientist and leading member of SPECTRE (soon to be seen again later this year), ‘Dr. No’, who has been planning to disrupt the US space programme. The script is well written and moves along at a swift pace, whilst creating colourful characters for Bond to interact with, none more so than Honey Ryder. Still arguably the most famous Bond girl, the beautiful Ursula Andress will always be remembered for that entrance from the sea that it perhaps masks how little she actually features in the plot. The other famous introduction in ‘Dr. No’ is of course James Bond himself, with his appearance teased through a casino sequence that gives the audience a sense of the type of man Bond is with barely a word spoken.
Sean Connery is one of the best Bonds (arguably the best) and he is perfectly suave and charismatic in the role. He’s tough and clearly skilled at his job, both in terms of physical action and in manipulating others, yet he’s never shown to be anything more than this. At this point in the series, Bond hasn’t morphed into the faux-superhero he would seem to later become (with mixed results), and the film feels more suspenseful and gripping as a result. The film does lag a little in the middle stretch, between the opening investigations and the concluding action, but it’s enjoyable to be in Bond’s presence and his interactions with the other characters in the film never bore.
‘Dr. No’ is a perfect introduction to the ‘Bond’ series, an effortlessly cool thriller that emphasises the balance of humour, action, sex and violence that would become staples of the series in years to come, and it holds up well more than 50 years later.
Next week, we’ll be reviewing ‘From Russia With Love’, which builds on the introduction of shady organisation SPECTRE in ‘Dr. No’, whilst deepening the key themes and tropes of the Bond series.
Directed By: Terence Young
Starring: Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman, Jack Lord, Bernard Lee, Anthony Dawson, John Kitzmiller, Zena Marshall, Eunice Gayson, Lois Maxwell and Peter Burton