4.5 of 5 stars
In 1962 Dr. No swept James Bond into movie theaters and into our hearts. Sean Connery (Disney’s Darby O’Gill and the Little People) played the plucky young secret agent, off to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of Commander Strangways and his secretary.
We meet Bond playing a game of baccarat in the middle of the night. We only see him from behind as he faces off against a strikingly beautiful woman in a red gown who introduces herself as: ‘Trench. Sylvia Trench.’ Prompting Bond to introduce himself as: ‘Bond. James Bond.’ Bond conquers Sylvia in the game–foreshadowing his later victories against Dr. No and myriad baddies over the coming decades–and gives her his card, which apparently has his home address on it.
Unfortunately before things can get too serious with Ms Trench, Bond is called in by his boss, M, and given his mission. Q comes in and chews him out for using an old Beretta handgun, giving him a new sidearm, a Walther PPK, which would become Bond’s signature weapon. Bond heads off to Jamaica and immediately suspects Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson, who would play Blofeld in From Russia with Love and Thunderball) as complicit in Strangways’s disappearance, as Dent is the only one to have seen Strangways’s new secretary, and later because Dent fails to mention a rock sample Strangways had him examine was radioactive.
Dr. No has spies everywhere, even in Government House. Bond beds and unmasks the beautiful agent Miss Taro, the Chief Secretary’s secretary (Zena Marshall in yellow face).
Why would the producers put a white woman in yellow face? It’s not like there were no Chinese actresses around. There are several Chinese women in Dr. No’s lair. My guess is the producers wanted the audience to know it was a white woman in yellow face. Relations between China and the West weren’t exactly at their height in the early ’60s. They didn’t want the audience to think Bond was really kissing a Chinese woman. The trail leads from Dent to Dr. No’s lair on the island of Crab Key. He arrives on Crab Key and meets Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) as she famously emerges from the sea in a bikini.
Bond is captured by Dr. No and taken to his lair, which the doctor informs him cost “$1 million!” He treats Bond to dinner and a vodka martini shaken-not-stirred while he explains his evil plan. The movie doesn’t mention what discipline Dr. No received his doctorate in, but Fleming’s book mentions he received a PhD in Women’s Studies from Ohio University. It all ends with Bond foiling Dr. No’s plan to topple American space rockets by blowing up his nuclear reactor, which undoubtedly was a major catastrophe that cast radioactive plumes all across the Caribbean (in fairness, this was well before Chernobyl and Fukushima).
Dr. No was a cutting-edge action movie in its day. The editing was quick and the sound effects exaggerated. This put the audience on edge and amped the energy level up higher than seen in previous action films, such as North by Northwest. We are also introduced to a new kind of anti-hero. John Wayne famously told the writer of The Shootist, “I’ve made over 250 pictures and have never shot a guy in the back. Change it.” Here, Prof Dent is sent to kill Bond. He slips into the room where Bond is waiting and fires all his bullets into a pile of pillows he thinks is a sleeping 007. Bond covers Dent with his gun, questions him, then shoots him. As Dent tries to push himself up from the floor, Bond shoots him again in the back. Never before had the hero of a film shot an unarmed man in the back. This would have been unsettling for audiences in 1962. Bond could have easily overpowered Dent and had him arrested. Instead he kills him in what seems like cold-blooded revenge for the death of Strangways.
Overall, though, Dr. No is a pretty light action flick. The final act in Dr. No’s lair is more cheesy than thrilling, and the material is handled with quite a bit of humor. It perfectly sets the tone for the Bond series, and fans will appreciate the Monty Norman’s James Bond theme blaring throughout.