Sunday, 1 March 2020

Classic Film: Dr. No


With No Time To Die, the 25th James Bond film, just a couple of weeks away, I wanted to look back at the first entry from over 50 years ago, Dr No.


"The name's Bond. James Bond." 

The incredible thing about Dr No is how effortlessly Ian Fleming's James Bond moves from the page to the screen, striding into celluloid already fully formed. All the ingredients that we associate with Bond films today are present and correct here, from the vodka martini (shaken, not stirred) to the infamous gun barrel motif and Monty Norman's iconic theme.

However, the journey from book to film wasn't as seamless. Strangely, when Eon Productions first thought to adapt Fleming's novels, they chose not to start at the start, with Casino Royale. Instead, producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R Broccoli started with Fleming's sixth novel, Dr No, a book which, at the time, copped some flak from critics, who were put off by the series' recurring themes of 'sex and sadism'.

After several directors passed on the chance to helm Dr No, and a draft screenplay was binned, the pieces of the puzzle started to fall into place for Saltzman and Broccoli. Sean Connery wasn't the duo's first choice to play 007 either, but in hindsight the decision is a masterstroke.

Having grown up with Pierce Brosnan's smooth-talking Bond, and later Craig's more rough-and-ready brawler, earlier iterations of the character have always felt dated. However, revisiting Dr No, it struck me how effective Connery is in acting the part right from the very first frame. Dressed to the nines, calmly lighting up while sitting across the table from a beautiful woman, there's no denying that this is James Bond. And having read a few of Fleming's books, he looks the part too – slim, a 'cruel' mouth, short, black hair. The only thing he's missing are the blue-grey eyes.

Nevertheless, Connery is the original that each subsequent entry has been paying homage to (or in Craig's case, trying to distance himself from). Think Bond, and audiences of a certain age will immediately think of Connery.

His charm and swagger is unsurpassed; from the way he cooly dispatches the henchman who sneaks into his Jamaican hideout ("that's a Smith & Wesson, and you've had your six") to the coy one-liners he trades with Ursula Andress' Honey Rider ("What are you doing here? Are you looking for shells?" / "No, I'm just looking").

On a budget of just over $1 million, Dr No was a huge commercial success at the time, even if the initial critical reception was mixed – the tongue-in-cheek quips and constant smooching causing many to feel the film veered too closely to self-parody.

Of course, this idea of Bond being a suave sex bomb who shoots first and shags later would only become more pronounced as the series went on, until the films truly did reach self-parody during the smug Roger Moore years (and inspire the shagadelic Austin Powers, of course).

It's not the best Bond film by any means, but Dr No is the template that saw the series churn out three entries in the following three years, and a further 20 or more since then.

So while it doesn't surpass the likes of Goldeneye or Casino Royale in my personal rankings, I have to tip my hat to Dr No – from an early briefing with M and flirting with Moneypenny, to a showdown in some exotic locale opposite an ostentatious, monologuing villain, the ingredients that would endear the series in the hearts of millions are all here.

No Time To Die opens in cinemas across Australia on 8 April.

1 comment:

  1. I agree. Dr. No isn't the best 007 film by any means, but it does a great job of setting the stage for the character and the franchise.

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