DR. NO is the first 007 movie, the world’s introduction to Sean Connery and an instant classic packed chock full of win — right?
Well, the first two things are true.
The last part isn’t. This film is imperfect.
It’s a rough draft of a rough draft, with big pleasures and big flaws and a lot of cheesy nonsense that you’ll recognize as the first fumbling gestures to what will become glorious 007 movie staples that will change movies FOREVER.
So DR. NO isn’t a perfect film or the amazing classic we all think it is.
You should watch it anyway.
I just did. As part of a 007 movie marathon — we bought the boxed set of Every 007 Movie Known to Man — I’m watching each movie, in order, with our 11-year-old son who has never seen a Bond movie before.
DR. NO was our first. It will not be our last, nor will it be our favorite Bond movie of all time. Yet there’s something about the first that’s always worthwhile and interesting and magical, even in the bits that are a bit undercooked.
Sean Connery, the Best Bond Ever?
Not in this movie.
Sure, he’s got charm and a sense of menace. He’s instantly credible as Bond and fun to watch.
Best ever? Nope.
Connery in DR. NO beats the pants off Roger Moore any day of the week. Daniel Craig crushes Connery’s first whack at Bond, and I’d even give Remington Steele the win in GOLDENEYE versus Connery in this one.
The later Pierce Brosnan Bonds get a bit cheesy, and he gets massive demerits for all the invisible car nonsense in his last 007 film and singing ABBA songs in that movie with Meryl Streep, so Connery edges Brosnan overall.
Also: Timothy Dalton is under-rated, and gets mondo bonus points for appearing as a glorious bad guy in HOT FUZZ.
Also-also: George Lazenby just doesn’t count.
So here we go, ranking the 007s in order:
Daniel Craig > Sean Connery > Pierce Brosnan > Timothy Dalton > Roger Moore > George Lazenwhatever
The Bad Guy
DR. NO’s villain is a mysterious mad scientist named who lost his hands to radiation experiments or some such thing and belongs to SPECTRE, which he carefully explains to Bond stands for something like Some People Who Are Really Smart and Choose Crime Because It’s Way More Fun to Have Secret Lairs in Volcanos and Such, except he makes it spell SPECTRE.
Dr. No lives on an island with a ton of henchmen, a sweet underground lair and all kinds of fancy prison cells connected by the most awesome airduct system ever.
Basically, Dr. No is a trendsetter for supervillains to come: a rich, disfigured foreigner with some kind of nuclear / doomsday device in his underground lair and all kinds of henchmen who wear matching jumpsuits.
Related post: Out of fairness, I dissect my favorite genre, thrillers
The Bond Girls
There’s a random dark-haired girl in the beginning who Bond meets at a card game. She breaks into Bond’s apartment, which somehow endears him to her instead of making him fill her full of lead as a possible KGB assassin.
There’s a bad girl photographer working for Dr. No and another bad Bond girl at the British consulate who’s a double-agent for Dr. No and flirts with Bond before eavesdropping on him. So naturally he asks her out and winds up going to her place, which is an ambush. Ugh.
At this point, I’m yelling at the screen, “If you see any pretty girl, Sean the Connery, turn around and RUN FAR AWAY.”
Finally, we’ve got a blonde he meets on Dr. No’s mysterious and forbidden island: Honey Rider, the main Bond girl, who’s on the beach hunting for shells. Beautiful girl? Yes. Good actress? Nah. But it works alright.
None, really. M makes Bond swap out his original gun for a Walther PPK because it has more stopping power.
Bond does have a neat little shoulder holster and displays some tradecraft when he plucks a hair and sticks it over his hotel closet door as a way to check if anybody comes looking around his room.
The opening sequence is a bit lame compared to later 007 movies. There’s a long bit with British men in a club, talking a lot, before anything really happens. Sean the Connery doesn’t really appear on screen until FOREVER.
What DR. NO does right is set up the basics of a 007 story: a suave secret agent traveling to interesting places around the world to sneak around and uncover plots by intriguing villains.
Dr. No himself gets a great build-up. You don’t see his face for a long time. The first scene with Dr. No, you only hear his voice. The second scene, his body and metal hands. Great stuff. My only quibble is when you finally do see his face when Dr. No dines with Bond and Honey Rider, it’s a let-down. The actor is pretty wooden. I wanted to be even more impressed, to keep up the momentum and menace.
Some of the sidekicks are simply bad story. There’s a boat captain who’s almost — not quite, but close enough — the Jar Jar Binks of Dr. No. The ominous man following Bond from the airport isn’t a bad guy, but a friendly CIA agent, which was a little too cute.
Overall, though, the first Bond story sets up a nice template for all the other movies. Big hero, big villain, big stakes.
This movie won’t blow you away. You’re not going to see the credits roll and shout “Again again!” like a crazed Teletubby.
Despite the rough edges, for any real fan of 007, this is required viewing. You’ll see the seeds of future bits, the origin of characters and tropes that will show up in film after film.
Grade: B+. There’s tension, action and excitement, and at the time, this was ground-breaking stuff.