New to Me: 'Dr. No' (1962)
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New to Me: Dr. No (1962)

By Eric D. Snider | Think Pieces | October 3, 2012 | Comments ()


My familiarity with the early James Bond films, like my prowess with the ladies, is woefully inadequate and borderline embarrassing. Fortunately, the character has penetrated pop culture so deeply that you can know an awful lot about him without actually seeing any of the movies. This allows people like me to go on functioning without our ignorance being obvious.

Still, one should not continue in darkness if one knows how to enlighten oneself. I figured I should start at the beginning of the saga: Dr. No, the first James Bond film, released in 1962. Here's what I knew before I watched it:

- Ian Fleming's 007 novels were popular even though they were books rather than movies. Dr. No, published in 1958, was sixth in the series but first to be filmed, not counting an American TV version of Casino Royale that aired in 1954 as an episode of the anthology series Climax! (enthusiasm theirs).

- James Bond has a "license to kill," but it took him three tries to get it because he did poorly on the written exam.

- Film rights to the Bond series are owned by an Italian family named Broccoli. Broccoli! Like the vegetable! I don't have a point here, I just think it's a funny name.

- Ursula Andress is the "Bond Girl," and she is introduced to us as she emerges from the ocean in a bikini. Everybody knows this. Even people who have never heard of James Bond have seen the iconic image of wet Ursula Andress in a bikini. Say what you will about the 007 films, they have never shied away from depicting the realities of what women look like when they are wet.

* * *

Maybe it wasn't obvious at the time, but watching Dr. No now, it's clear the producers were hoping to establish a franchise. The first time we see Bond, he's 1) wearing a tuxedo, 2) gambling, 3) smoking a cigarette, and 4) flirting with a beautiful woman. He introduces himself as "Bond. James Bond." The only Bondian characteristic missing from the scene is that he doesn't kill anyone.

Also established in this first film: Bond Girls always have comical names, even funnier than Broccoli. This time it's Honey Ryder. When she introduces herself to Bond, he smiles at the name. "What's so funny about it?" she says. "Nothing, it's a pretty name," he replies, the first of many lies he will tell her. (Also interesting: she doesn't appear until 62 minutes into the film.)

Some of the later Bond films got very elaborate and globe-trotty, but Dr. No is remarkably small in scale. Except for some expository scenes in England, it's all set in just one locale (Jamaica), and the plot is extraordinarily simple, which is to say a little lame. The title villain's big evil plan is to disrupt an American space launch at Cape Canaveral. It's not even clear that he wants to kill the astronauts. I appreciate that Dr. No has super-strong robot hands, but apart from that, he is only vaguely menacing. Besides, he hardly even uses the super-strong robot hands.

One of Dr. No's schemes to bump off James Bond is to have an operative put a tarantula in Bond's bed. As far as methods of assassination go, "spider in the bed" seems like it would have a very high probability of failure, especially if you choose a spider that is reluctant to bite and not lethal to humans anyway. Bond is pretty freaked out by it, though, and smashes the spider, with each smash accompanied by an orchestra sting on the soundtrack, like in cartoons.

The body count in Dr. No disappoints me. Bond himself only kills three people, and four others die at the hands of others (or, in one instance, via self-administered cyanide). What good is a license to kill if you never use it? The high-tech gadgets that would come to define the Bond series are absent here, too. The movie is high-spirited fun; you can see why it was such a hit. But you can also see that while most of the elements were in place, the alchemy required to conjure the fully-formed James Bond Movie as we know it was still being worked out.

Let us conclude with an exchange of dialogue between James Bond and Honey Ryder, on the subject of whether there is a dragon terrorizing a small island called Crab Key near Jamaica:

BOND: There are no such things as dragons. What you saw was something that looked like one. Now I'm trying to think what it was. [Spoiler: It was a truck.]
HONEY: How do you know there aren't? Anyhow, what do you know about animals? Did you ever see a mongoose dance? Or a scorpion with sunstroke sting itself to death? Or a praying mantis eat her husband after making love?
BOND: I hate to admit it, but I haven't.
HONEY: Well, I have.

And that's how Honey Ryder used airtight logic to prove the existence of dragons.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • BlackRabbit

    "That's a Smith and Wesson, and you've had your six." And apparently Sean Connery is truly terrified of spiders: that tarantula was on a stuntman.

  • Ben

    I actually watched this for the first time on the weekend and all I could come away with is that Ursulla Andress is a fucking moron. Seriously? You see a tank with teeth painted on it and immediately assume "Dragon" What are you from the 1700's?

  • Obst N. Gemuse

    Broccoli? Yep, Albert "Cubby" Broccoli's Italian ancestors invented the veggie by crossing cauliflower with..... something (I forget what). They did it way back when.

    For more Broccoli weirdness, check wikipedia for the rumor that Cubby, together with Wallace Beery and others, beat Ted Healy (he of Three Stooges fame) to death behind a nightclub in 1937. A rumor, yes, but one with some compelling evidence.

  • Jannymac

    When I was 8 yrs. old, my friends mother let us off at the mall to watch a movie that she said was about horses. That movie was Thunderball. She might have been hitting the scotch a little to often that day.

  • Snath

    This is pretty damn brilliant.

  • Daysofyore

    My recollection of the early Bond films is that first two did not do well in the US. The 3rd film -- Goldfinger -- was a big hit however. One of the most vivd memories of my teen age years was seeing the car crushing machine in Goldfinger. No one in my age group had ever seen anything like that before. I recently saw Goldfinger on television. The car crushing machine no longer seemed like a big deal.

    In any event, I believe the success of Goldfinger resulted in the first 2 films being rereleased.

  • Mickey

    Actually, the header picture tells you all you need to know
    about the film. The slicked back hair
    tells you he’s ready for action, political and romantic. The Nehru jacket screams international
    metrosexual. The carelessly held
    cigarette indicates a man who lives dangerously. The needlessly exotic chair he sits in
    confirms the time and place. And the
    Nazi-uniformed sycophant in the background tells us a fascist dictator is about
    to take over the world. A picture tells
    a thousand stories.

  • YY

    I'm going to write my thesis on the competency of the Bond Girls in relation to the filthiness of their names. Careful research (drunken rewatches) has shown that the dirtier or punnier the name, the more effective they are in assisting/antagonizing bond.
    Pussy Galore, Triple X, and Dr Goodhead are all highly skilled professionals in their fields. Xenia Onatopp, kills people with her thighs, usually while having sex with them, this is awesome.
    On the other side of the coin is Mary Goodnight who is fucking worthless, she's outwitted by a car trunk.
    This concludes my overanalysis of Bond Girls. I'm also available for overthinking Bond plots, Bond gadgets, Bond locals, and the entirety of Harry Potter.

  • Tracer Bullet

    There is a flaw in your theorem: Plenty O'Toole. Her name is absolutely dirty and she lives for about six minutes.

  • Erm ... well ... no, I'm not so sure the producers hit the right notes in trying to establish a 'franchise' with DR. NO. Granted, all of those things are in there, BUT making them part & parcel of the Bond franchise took several films to seriously hit the right nails on the head. DR. NO -- when compared against quite a bit of what followed -- had modest beginnings, at best. Plus, if you've read the Fleming books, the Bond character in some ways was a modest departure from some of the grittier prose.

  • KV

    Personally, I like the books more than the movies. The book version of James Bond is a more complex character than the one portrayed in the movies. And whoever says s/he was not moved by the final meeting between Bond and Gala Brand in Moonraker (the book) does not have a heart, and is a kitten/puppy/both-killer.

  • DeltaJuliet

    My husband and I love the Bond movies. I went into labor with our second kid watching Dr. No. And I delivered him before the movie was over. I'm not saying the movies are a little long but......

  • True_Blue

    Haven't seen Dr. No, but have seen the bit with tarantula. Given that I have slept through an actual earthquake, I think I would have rolled over the tarantula (and have to scrape it off my back/butt the following morning).

  • TheOriginalMRod

    This is pretty funny. I can't even remember if I have ever seen Dr. No. But now I have "Choppin' broccoli" stuck in my head.

  • TheOriginalMRod

    And now I am singing "Dr. Noo-o, Dr. No...Dr. Noo-o, Dr. No..." a la that silly Dr. Who song I always hear at basketball games.

  • The first film that started the gadget ball rolling was Goldfinger, with the Aston Martin especially. But I feel the Bond formula got in full stride with From Russia with Love. Several exotic locations, gadgets, the awesome briefcase, Connery at his peak IMO. I saw that as a kid back then and was hooked.

  • Fredo

    In many ways, Dr. No is an aberration from the Bond formula -- no globetrotting, no opening action sequence, no gadgets/Q. All of that would appear on From Russia With Love. But this movie is the start and a lot of it would get reused in future Bond movies.

  • BWeaves

    I seem to recall also seeing Sean Connery in a wet bathing suit in this film. I thought he was hot at the time. Now, the scene sort of skeeves me out. Bathing suits do not age well. Even Andress' has no stretch and doesn't fit right.

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