Dr. No is the first James Bond film but it wasn’t my first. In fact, I didn’t know who Sean Connery was until I saw The Untouchables and my Mom explained how the old guy was the actor who first played Bond. At the time, the only Bond I knew was Roger Moore.
I didn’t see Connery as Bond until the early ’90s when this “super channel” out of the United States called TBS invaded my television. They would regularly have Bond film marathons and I would devour them all. It has been 15-20 years since I’ve last watched many of them, and the itch to see them with fresh eyes has become impossible for me to ignore. So, why not begin with the one that started it all…
Dr. No opens up to the murder of an MI6 agent, John Strangways and his secretary in Jamaica. The two were investigating the disruption of rocket launches from Cape Canaveral by radio jamming which led them to the Caribbean Island.
When Strangways fails to check in, “M” (Bernard Lee), the head of MI6, assigns James Bond (Sean Connery) to Jamaica to investigate the matter. There, Bond learns that Strangways was working with a CIA agent, Felix Leiter (Jack Lord) and Strangways was about to report in the exact location of the transmissions.
Bond teams up with Felix and a local boatman named Quarrel (John Kitzmiller), who ferried Strangways to the Island of Crab Key to collect rock samples before he was murdered. When Bond learns that the collected rocks are radioactive, Crab Key becomes the priority of his investigation. The only problem is the Island is inhabited by Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman), a Chinese-German scientist with prosthetic metal hands, unlimited resources, and nefarious intentions.
Going in, I prepared myself for scenes that would feel out of place for Bond, or had not aged well. It turns out that I didn’t need to prepare for much. Dr. No has aged very well.
It was surprising how natural the story felt for a Bond movie and how well Connery fell into the character. Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) makes her first appearance as well. She and Bond flirt like they have done it thousands of times already. In fact, the only thing that felt out of place was the overuse of the theme song. In the later films, Bond’s theme is reserved for a pinnacle moment. They really hadn’t got that nailed down yet and it was a little silly to hear the theme pop up as Bond did something mundane like walk through an airport.
Sarah and I were also ready to cringe over Bond’s notorious womanizing. Before starting the film, we each tried to guess how long it would take him to get laid. Sarah guessed 20 minutes, and with this being the first Bond film I thought it would take 25. It took him 16 mins, 25 seconds. Point goes to Sarah. But in this film at least, Bond never presses the ladies too hard to submit. I won’t lie, there is a grey area with one of the girls but they more or less throw themselves at him. So, they are in the one in charge. It is a man’s fantasy but no cringe was necessary.
What you will notice is how some staples that appear in later movies are missing. The car is a Blue Sunbeam Alpine Series II, no Silver Aston Martin yet. But it would have been really silly to see him driving around in a luxury vehicle in Jamaica.
No Desmond Llewelyn as “Q” and the gadgets are on the weak side. One villain uses a cyanide cigarette and Bond does ask for a Geiger counter that is sensitive enough to pick up trace amounts of radiation given off by his Rolex wristwatch. So there is that.
Overall, Dr. No is straight up fun. You got the super villain who explains his plot to Bond for no reason, the fem companion with a ridiculous name, Honey Rider (Ursula Andress), and Sean Connery playing baccarat while only drinking martinis shaken, not stirred. Subsequent films in the series outdo this one but Dr. No is as exciting now as it was in 1962.