The name's Bond. James Bond
Dr. No is directed by Terence Young and is the first film in the ongoing James Bond film series. Sean Connery stars as Agent 007, with Ursula Andress and Joseph Wiseman also starring.
Everything that the world has come to know and love about infamous MI6 agent, James Bond, is on full display in the character's feature film debut, Dr. No, the first of currently twenty four films to feature the character. Bond's cool, charismatic personality, gorgeous Bond girls, and exciting thrills that the spy genre calls for are all present in one of the most complete and balanced Bond packages that only a surprisingly small handful of films in the Bond film series could confidently deliver. This wasn't evident initially, however, as the film received a mixed critical response, with Ian Fleming himself reportedly calling the film dreadful. The film was responsible for launching a series of secret agent films during the 1960s, and reviews gravitated more towards the positive side over the years.
Dr. No is one of the most straightforward Bond films, concerning Bond travelling to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of a fellow MI6 agent. While in Jamaica, Bond uncovers a scheme by a scientist known as Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman), who is plotting to interfere with American rocket launches by using a radio jamming device. Bond is assisted by CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jack Lord) who is on the same mission as he, as well as Cayman Islander Quarrel (John Kitzmiller). Along the way, Bond also meets the beautiful Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress).
The earliest Bond films are the ones that feel the most like spy films, mostly because the action sequences obviously look tame by comparison to what the likes of Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig put the character through. Before he started sporting big, expensive guns and pursuing evil villains on whatever vehicle that he could get his hands on, Bond had to rely more on his espionage, detective skills to uncover the villain's sinister plot (and he still does this in some capacity today, but nowhere near as much as back in the day). This is very much true in Dr. No, which is more of a mentally-charged detective spy film than anything resembling a heated action thriller.
- Sean Connery would portray Bond seven times over the course of his career, and here, he makes his case for why he is easily one of the best to portray him. Connery is suave, smart, and irresistibly watchable as Bond, while also giving him a humorous edge to assure that it's not all depressing, no-nonsense work for 007.
- Where Dr. No falls short is its handling of characters not named James Bond. As iconic as the Honey Ryder beach scene is, it still doesn't cloak the fact that Ryder contributes basically nothing to the plot aside from being Bond's primary love interest, despite being the third woman that Bond gets together with during the film. Dr. No isn't seen until well into the film's third act, and the most characterization we get out of him is during a dinner scene with Bond and Honey Ryder. Other characters are entirely disposable, only serving their minimal purpose to the plot, either getting axed off or forgotten entirely. However, the handling of minor characters should be one of the least of our worries, because Dr. No should be seen as a celebration of Bond and his introduction to the silver screen. But of course, a Bond film can't be truly superb if he doesn't have the proper characters around him to heighten the experience.
So while it's tempting to say this is the first Bond film to look at as your first cinematic viewing of the character, I would vote against doing so, because Dr. No can be better appreciated when one has a firm grasp on what James Bond is like and how the character has been portrayed over the years. I give Casino Royale with Daniel Craig the honor of being the first, recommended, cinematic exposure one should have to James Bond.
On its own, Dr. No is a mildly interesting spy film with a terrific lead performance from Sean Connery. The action and thrills take a backseat to the story and espionage, and that's how it should be. Everything holds up even 50 plus years later, and to say that Dr. No remains one of the most complete works when looking at the portrayal of James Bond in film, that's saying something and speaks volumes about what the film means to the James Bond film series.
Recommend? Yes, though I wouldn't recommend it as your first ever Bond film.
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