Based on Ian Fleming’s novel, Dr. No is the story of a British secret agent who battles a mysterious scientist who intends to destroy the U.S. space program. Directed by Terence Young and screenplay by Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, and Berkley Mather, the film marks the first of many adventures by Agent 007 James Bond as he’s played by Scottish actor Sean Connery in his first of many portrayals. Also starring Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman, Jack Lord, and Bernard Lee as M. Dr. No is a suspenseful yet mesmerizing film from Terence Young.
After the death of an agent named Strangways (Timothy Moxon) and his secretary in the hands of assassins, British Secret Service head M sends Agent 007 James Bond to Kingston, Jamaica to investigate Strangways’ death. Arriving into Jamaica where Bond deals with a chauffer (Reggie Carter) working for a mysterious organization, Bond begins his investigation at Strangways’ home where he finds a picture with a man named Quarrel (John Kitzmiller) whom Strangways had been fishing with. After Quarrel and CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jack Lord) reveal what Strangways found in an island known as Crab Key, Bond decides to ask a professor named Dent (Anthony Dawson) if he knew about the rocks Strangways has found. Dent claims they’re nothing though Bond believes something is up as he continues his investigation with help from Quarrel and Leiter.
After a failed assassination and seducing a secretary named Miss Taro (Zena Marshall) where he eventually gets a few answers from Dent. Bond and Quarrel travel to Crab Key island where Bond later meets a beautiful marine zoologist named Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) who collecting seashells on the island. Realizing that the island is filled with men trying to find Bond, Ryder helps Bond trek through as they’re eventually captured where Bond and Ryder enter a lab filled with nuclear contamination. At the secret lab with lavish rooms, Bond finally meets the elusive Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman) who reveals his plans to disrupt the U.S. space program’s Mercury project as well as more revelations forcing Bond to try and stop him.
The film is about a British secret agent who goes to Jamaica to investigate the death of a fellow agent only to discover something even more nefarious as he confronts an evil scientist who plans to create chaos around the world. Yet, this film isn’t about some British secret agent since his name is James Bond. A character that would become the epitome of what a hero should be. A man who is very intelligent for what he does but also can kick some ass. He’s also a charming man who can get his way in and out of any situation. He’s a man who can seduce a woman and make them feel a bit dumb if they’re trying to use their sex appeal against him. He’s the archetype of the film action hero that can look cool but also be someone guys would love to be and women want to be with.
The screenplay that is created by Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, and Berkley Mather does set up a formula of what is expected for a James Bond film. Bond goes to some rich locale, find out what is going on, meet a beautiful woman who could be good or bad, deal with some bad guys, saves the day and gets the girl. It’s a formula that would later be toyed around in later films but it’s the way they play out is what keeps the story so interesting. The writers understand that Bond is a man who is just doing his where the job requires a lot of wit and determination. Especially since he’s also a man of humor through the funny one-liners the writers give him.
While Bond is easily the most fully-developed character of the film, the supporting characters aren’t as developed as Bond yet they do manage to be quite interesting. Notably the titular villain who is finally seen in the film’s third act as it helps create the momentum for his arrival. Dr. No is this brilliant scientist who sports these black metallic hands who is just hell-bent on wanting to destroy the world as he’s also part of an organization that Bond will have to face in future adventures to come. Though Dr. No is a man of great intelligence, he isn’t the kind of villain who can fight Bond physically as he’s really more of an obstacle Bond has to face. Characters like Quarrel, Felix Leiter, and Honey Ryder are interesting individuals since they do provide something to help Bond defeat someone like Dr. No.
Terence Young’s direction is definitely brilliant for the way he can create scenes where he can set up moments of suspense or an action sequence that is truly spectacular. Still, Young knows when to take a break from all of that so he can make sure that Bond is doing his job as a spy investigating and take his time with the investigation. Through these amazing wide shots of the Jamaican location creating a sense of beauty where someone like Bond can go to these places. Young also knows how to use these locations to create some intense sequences like a couple of car chases where the second one is more intense as it’s up to Bond to evade the bad guys. Young knows how to maintain that air of suspense for that sequence including the climatic meet-up with Dr. No.
Through these gorgeous set pieces, Young creates an atmosphere where it is quite unsettling yet beautiful where it establishes the kind of world that Dr. No wants to be in but also make Bond feel comfortable before he’s to be dethroned. Still, it’s about the element of suspense where Young has the camera follow Bond around and create these moments where there could be a feeling that Bond might not pull it off. Even as he uses close-ups to reveal what Bond could be thinking amidst all of the danger he’s facing. Another key element to the Bond film that should be noted is the stylish opening credit sequence with shadowy women dancing around as it features some amazing title design work by Maurice Binder. Overall, Young creates a truly exciting and entertaining action-suspense film that kicks the James Bond franchise with a bang.
Cinematographer Ted Moore does fantastic work with the film‘s very colorful Technicolor photography to capture the beauty of the Jamaican locations as well as the wonderful interiors for the set pieces that includes Dr. No‘s secret lab building. Editor Peter R. Hunt does incredible work with the editing by creating lots of rhythmic cuts to play out the film‘s suspense as well as stylish dissolves for transitions or other scenes such as a phone conversation between Bond and Miss Taro. Production designer Ken Adam and art director Syd Cain do amazing work in the set pieces such as the home apartment Bond lives in London to the Dr. No lab building that is very lavish and also quite vast as it‘s definitely a gorgeous set to look at.
Sound recorders John Dennis and Wally Milner do terrific work with the film‘s sound from the way guns are fired to some of the layered sound work in the lab scenes where Dr. No is conducting his big experiment in the climatic face-off between himself and Bond. The film’s score by Monty Norman, with additional work from John Barry, is brilliant for its thrilling orchestral score as it includes the famous theme with a driving guitar riff and sweeping arrangements. The film’s soundtrack includes some calypso pieces to play out the island atmosphere of the locations as it includes contributions from Byron Lee and the Dragonaires.
The casting by James Liggat is superb for the ensemble that is created as it would feature characters who would be part of the Bond story. Among these characters who would be staples of the Bond franchise include Lois Maxwell as M’s secretary Miss Moneypenny whom Bond always flirts with and Peter Burton as an early version of Q in an arms specialist known as Major Boothroyd. Other notable small roles include such Dr. No goons like Reggie Carter as the chauffer who tried to take out Bond early on, Marguerite LeWars as a freelance photographer, Anthony Dawson as the corrupt geologist Professor Dent, and Zena Marshall as the secretary Miss Taro who tries to woo Bond into a trap. Timothy Moxon is pretty good in a very small role as Strangways while Eunice Gray is also good as the woman known as Sylvia Trench whom Bond meets at a card game.
John Kitzmiller is excellent as the islander Quarrel who aids Bond in his mission to go to Crab Key island while Jack Lord is superb as the CIA agent Felix Leiter who would become one of Bond’s key allies in the course of his adventures. Bernard Lee is great in his one-scene performance as Bond’s superior M who informs Bond on what to do as there’s a great sense of prestige in a character whom Bond reveres. Joseph Wiseman is terrific as the villainous Dr. No who has this great sense of restraint as a man who is quite intelligent and ambitious in his plans despite not being the kind of villain to fight against. Ursula Andress is wonderful as the marine zoologist Honey Ryder who helps Bond explore Crab Key island while proving to be a very cunning though Andress’ voice is dubbed by Nikki van der Zyl which does add to the exotic being of Ryder.
Finally, there’s Sean Connery in his breakthrough performance as Agent 007 James Bond. Connery brings a real sense of cool to his character from the way he’s introduced where he just says, “Bond… James Bond” as well as a charm that is just intoxicating to get into. While Connery may not look like a badass, he can definitely pull in some punches and is not afraid to look beaten up as he definitely sells Bond as a badass. Yet, there’s also a wonderful sense of humor that Connery brings that is quite subtle as he definitely brings the archetype of what a cool spy should be as it’s a true iconic performance from Connery.
Dr. No is a marvelous film from Terence Young that features a truly engaging performance from Sean Connery as James Bond. The film is definitely one of the best films of the James Bond film series while it’s also a great place to start for anyone who is new to James Bond. It’s also a great spy film that allows the audience to get to know the man and how he conducts his work with great professionalism while having the time to score with the ladies. In the end, Dr. No is a thrilling and fun film from Terence Young.
James Bond Files: The EON Films: From Russia with Love - Goldfinger - Thunderball - You Only Live Twice - On Her Majesty’s Secret Service - Diamonds Are Forever - Live & Let Die - The Man with the Golden Gun - The Spy Who Loved Me - Moonraker - For Your Eyes Only - Octopussy - A View to a Kill - The Living Daylights - Licence to Kill - GoldenEye - Tomorrow Never Dies - The World is Not Enough - Die Another Day - Casino Royale (2006 film) - Quantum of Solace - Skyfall - SPECTRE