Dr. No Turns 60: A Retrospective
As James Bond says in 2015’s Spectre while ensnared in Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s Moroccan lair: Tempus fugit. October 5th, 2022 marks the 60th, yes, the 60th anniversary of the James Bond film franchise. Few series’ can claim to have lasted as long as that started by American producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Canadian-born Harry Saltzman when they agreed to translate Ian Fleming’s novel, ”Dr. No,” from novel to screen. Many rivals have lasted a long time, but a significant portion of them, especially in the past couple of decades, go dormant for several years, only to resurface after an extended hibernation. Bond, on the other hand, consistently produces content. Dr. No (DN) premiered at the London Pavilion and started the series that as recently as one year ago saw its 25th outing, No Time to Die, roar across movie screens internationally.
The logical thought process when looking back at the relatively modest franchise premier is to highlight the ingredients that would eventually become series mainstays. Directed by Terrence Young, starring Sean Connery as Bond, Ursula Andress as Honey Rider, and Joseph Wiseman as the eponymous antagonist, the original 007 cinematic adventure is certainly infused with stylistic and storytelling decisions that make up tried, tested, and true Bondian DNA. The suaveness, the international intrigue, the women, the guns, the action, etc. Since it was the filmmaker’s first effort at adapting Ian Fleming’s literary hero, they hadn’t honed a style. Furthermore, given that DN is from 1962, it stands to reason that some filmmaking techniques differed back then.
To celebrate Dr. No’s 60th anniversary, Tilt Magazine looks back at the film’s more peculiar and unique qualities. What are some of the things that make it stand apart, either because the template hadn’t been ironed out or simply because movies were different back in the 60s?
Starting With a Bang
Bond fans, casual and ardent alike, love watching the first few minutes of a new 007 adventure. After James Bond walks across the screen in a while little dot (a graphical representation of a gun’s barrel, hence the terminology of “gunbarrel scene”) and shoots in the audience’s direction, blood trickles down and viewers are whisked to an undisclosed mission. From there, audiences are treated to some action and fun before the film’s proper story begins. In Bond parlance, this is referred to as the pre-title sequence (as in: “rank the Bond pre-title sequences”).
DN plays its cards differently, if only because director Young and company had no template to work from. Simply put, there is no pre-title sequence. Seconds after the blood starts oozing from the top of the screen, the famous James Bond theme erupts and the credits are showcased in colourfully kaleidoscopic fashion courtesy of Maurice Binder. It wouldn’t be until the next movie, From Russia with Love, that 007 films would begin with a thrilling action scene.
Two Actors Playing Bond?
That’s right. There are two actors seen on screen playing James Bond in DN. In fact, Sean Connery is the second actor in the movie to play the part. This isn’t a cheat. The man portraying Bond in the aforementioned gunbarrel scene is not the famed Scotsman. Rather, his stunt double Bob Simmons walks right to left before firing at his would-be assassin.
Title Song Singer
Traditionally Bond films get a popular music artist to belt out a ballad or rock tune that accompanies the opening credits, making the experience feel like its own music video of sorts. As previously established, it is the main Bond theme everyone knows that blasts on the soundtrack. If that wasn’t enough, there are no fewer than three tracks that play over the credits. The Bond theme eventually fades out, replaced with some Jamaican dance music, which itself fades into a calypso rendition of Three Blind Mice!
Soak in the Local Flavour
In the laundry list of ingredients that should feature in a Bond adventure is travel to exotic, sexy locations, or very dangerous locations. Missions of the past few decades have taken the British super spy to multiple locations per film. The last time Bond went head-to-head with his foes in as few as two places was in 1989’s Licence to Kill. That was 32 years ago.
Back in the franchise’s youth, the filmmakers took 007 to a single international territory. For DN, the adventure is set in Jamaica, which was where Fleming had set the novel’s story, in addition to where the author spent his winters writing the books. This lends the early movies a different tone and especially a different pace from the ones that followed in the 80s onwards. Can anyone really attest to having a solid feel for Bregenz after watching Quantum of Solace? The same cannot be said of Jamaica, which is where 80% of the first movie takes place.
Keeping the British End up
It’s not only the fact that viewers get to soak in the warm Jamaican sun and its beaches when enjoying DN. The country earned its independence in August of 1962, even though it’s still officially a member of the Commonwealth. Keep in mind that the film was shot in the winter of ’62. When Terence Young and his crew completed their on-location work, Jamaica was still months away from its big day. As such, there are plenty of references to the island’s status as a British colony. People play bridge at the Queen’s Club, and Bond’s contact at the Governor’s House is a typically polite, astute, Caucasian fellow who speaks in the Queen’s eloquent English.
The Home Team
Few scenes in Bond movies are as beloved as those when the protagonist and his famous gadget man, Q, banter back and forth as the exasperated Quartermaster (hence, Q) tries his best to make Bond concentrate and understand how to operate his newfangled weapons. All the 007 actors have had tremendous chemistry with their respective Q counterparts, including Daniel Craig with Ben Wishaw.
First-time viewers may be surprised to discover that no character dubbed “Q” appears in DN. Instead, there is an armourer played by Peter Burton. At M’s request, he hands James the now famous Walther PPK, replacing the secret agent’s preferred Beretta. There is no banter between the two. In fact, the scene plays out very much as if the weapons specialist and 007 hardly know each other at all.
Working for MI7
Which fan of the series does not know that James Bond, agent 007, works for His Majesty’s Secret Service, aka the Secret Intelligence Service, aka MI6? Well, apparently that’s not the case in DN. Bernard Lee’s M very clearly states that he is head of MI7 while briefing Bond on his Caribbean-bound mission. Very little information is available to us that would explain exactly why the number 7 is used instead of 6. Of note, there was, at least for a brief while, such a department as MI7 in British Intelligence.
Bond, James Bond
You Know My Name
Ah yes, the famous line that marked in cinematic history. Few character introductions are as iconic as the strange way in which agent 007 introduces himself. Surname, then given name followed by surname once more. The way in which it’s said for the first time ever is not only superbly cool for its 1960s, smoky casino setting (with the Bond theme playing), but for the context in which the line is delivered.
It’s a detail one might not realize until they’ve seen the film multiple times or have it pointed out to them. Everyone gets so excited when Sean Connery says “Bond, James Bond” whilst lighting his cigarette, many forget he is replicating the way his soon-to-be girlfriend says her name. The woman seated across the chemin de fer table, played by Eunice Gayson, is told by un unseen Bond that, given her losses, her courage is admired, Ms…?
“Trench, Sylvia Trench. I admire your luck, Mr…?”
You know the rest.
It seems like in nearly every new film agent 007 gets to ride his beloved grey 1964 Aston Martin DB5. The brand and that model are synonymous with the film franchise to the point where, as beautifully crafted as the luxury vehicle is, few would complain if Bond drove something else in the next iteration.
Bond doesn’t do much driving in DN. The one time he’s behind the wheel, he evades pursuers in a 1961 Alpine Sunbeam. A sporty, cool-looking little car with an open roof, it’s a great machine to joyride Jamaica in. It doesn’t hold the iconic status of the DB5, nor is it tricked out with any optional extras, unless one considers Bond’s extraordinary driving skills as a gadget.
A Super Spy’s Living Quarters
Few of the films take viewers into the hero’s personal home in London. After all, Bond is a man of action, someone constantly called upon to save Britain and civilization as we know it. Given that most of the films open with 007 mid-mission, then a briefing with his chief M, followed by international intrigue and explosions, it is forgivable for not even thinking about what Bond’s home looks like.
Of the 25 canonical entries, the protagonist is seen in his London living quarters only three times, the first being in DN. It’s a handsomely decorated flat, at least from what viewers are privy to. The scene comes early in the film after Bond leaves M’s office. Only the entrance hall and what looks to be a living room are visible, but they have a relatively homely feel about them.
Some people can’t get enough of 007’s arsenal of gadgets, while others prefer films in which the secret agent relies on his wits more so than easy technological cheats. The latter group can rest easy with the original 1962 picture, as Bond is equipped exclusively with a Geiger counter. Not even one hidden in his watch, pistol, or pen. Just a regular, boxy, bulky Geiger counter he and “American CIA” partner Felix Leiter (funnily described as such by M earlier in the film) use to measure leftover radiation in a fishing boat used by a murdered MI…7 agent.
007, Super Detective
No one is going to dare argue that Terence Young’s picture has any serious mystery hidden behind its hero’s mission. As early as the scene in M’s office Bond is informed that his stay in Jamaica has something to do with radio frequencies toppling American space shuttles. Heck, the opening sequence informs viewers that Dr. No is probably the movie’s big baddie.
That said, the film’s pace and structure are very much in line with a detective story of sorts. Things fall into place a little too easily for it to rival anything Agatha Christie would whip up, but prior to the final act, 007 mostly walks around Kingston, interrogates people, and explores. Bond is more sleuth than an action-man super spy in this initial outing.
Taking Acting to Unexpected Levels
Matching Voices with Faces
Do some film lovers who go back and explore the cinema of yesteryear get the feeling that a lot of dialogue is dubbed? We aren’t referring to films with dialogue spoken in foreign tongues that are dubbed in English. Rather, English language dialogue that’s dubbed by a different voice actor also in English.
The early Bond movies are famously, or infamously, known for hiring voice artists to record lines already spoken by some of the actors on camera. Ursula Andress, who plays Honey Rider, is never heard in DN. Nikki Van der Zyl lends her voice to the picture’s female lead, including when Honey sings Underneath the Mango Tree as she emerges from the water along the beach. Andress is Swedish, and although she spoke decent English, her accent was deemed too thick by the director and producers.
More puzzling is that English actress Eunice Gayson, who plays Sylvia Trench, was also dubbed by Van der Zyl.
Hindsight is 20/20. There are certain ideas, practices, and beliefs that don’t vibe with today’s Western, 21st-century sensibilities. It was a different story 60 years ago. If anyone watching DN for the first time thinks that the titular villain – who makes his appearance extremely late in the film but is regularly referred to as being Chinese by other characters – doesn’t look, well, Chinese, it’s because the actor wasn’t.
There are a few actors featured throughout onto whom was applied obvious makeup to lend them what the filmmakers believed was a convincing Asian allure. Joseph Wiseman, who plays Dr. No, is very much a Caucasian. As is Zena Marshall, who plays the duplicitous Miss Taro. The makeup on Marguerite LeWars (the sneaky photographer) perhaps doesn’t quite look as egregious, but the actress was Black Jamaican, not Asian.
Odds and ends
-The villains are the ones with a tricked-out vehicle in DN, not Bond. Dr. No scares trespassers on his private island by dressing up a tank as a dragon that emits fire.
-Bond’s iconic theme music plays constantly throughout the film, sometimes during moments that may raise eyebrows today. Example: walking through his Kingston hotel lobby. 007 is just that cool, apparently.
-This is a bit of a cheat, but on the topic of things unique to DN that don’t come up again, Jack Lord as Felix Leiter. The Hawaii Five-0 star would never return to the franchise, but so did most of the actors chosen to play Bond’s closest American ally.
Happy birthday, James Bond!