I’ve seen Dr. No, the first James Bond film, a couple of times before, but not in a long time. I earnestly suffered through many an early Bond film in middle/junior high school, when older action/adventure films were my crack. I was determined to get through all the James Bond films, even if it killed me, and ten years later, I still haven’t even come close.
It’s the opening moments of Dr. No that I like the best, starting with the classic gun barrel opening. I smile during Jamaican “The Three Blind Mice” rendition, and when those “mice” turn out to be not so blind after all. I love 007 (Sean Connery) first coming in to meet M (Bernard Lee). It’s interesting to see how much of the standard opening of a James Bond picture is in place already in Dr. No, and how much of it isn’t. Bond saunters in, tosses his hat on the rack, cracks wise with Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), and gets right down to business with M. But who is this guy who is not Desmond Llewelyn’s Q? And why does he have to tell Bond to ditch his Beretta for a Walther PPK?
The actual rest of the film I’m not so crazy about. It’s not really the film itself’s fault, it’s more just an outdated and slower way of pacing action films that was more common in the sixties than it is now. As far as Sean Connery era James Bond films go, I’m actually more of a fan of this one and From Russia with Love, which feel more grounded in the spy genre, than the later ones. Then Roger Moore comes along and everything gets that much cheesier.
In his first cinematic outing, Bond is tasked to head down to Jamaica and solve the murder of a Commander Strangways. While pursuing that case, he comes upon the CIA in the person of Felix Leiter (Jack Lord), and realizes Strangways’ death is connected to mysterious interference coming from the nearby island of Crab Key. Hidden under that island is Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman), a member of the sinister organization SPECTRE and whose evil plan for world domination is the source of the interference. Also there is Honey Rider (Ursula Andress), who is captured along with Bond.
To be honest, my understanding of the plot is kind of murky, but all you really need to know is Dr. No is the source of the radiation and is also evil. The confrontation with Dr. No is the second best thing in the film, right after the opening. The whole middle hour and a half is not that interesting to me, even though there’s isn’t technically much wrong with it other than it’s slow (and dull if you ask me). There’re a few humorous lines and villainous confrontations are always a fun time. Though it’s mostly done through dialogue, it’s interesting to see the characterization of Bond as a man who is very concerned with pricey objects (wondering how much the aquarium costs and fretting about the champagne) and how, for some reason, Dr. No is already aware of this about him. Obviously Bond is super classy but I never noticed the films presenting him this way before; I’ll have to keep my eye out for it in subsequent films.
There are a lot of good things in Dr. No for Bond fans and it’s cool to see how the franchise started. However, I still think it suffers for being an spy film from 1962. Watching it now, it’s very slow and in between the cool stuff it’s tedious to get through. It leaves me in a very conflicted position reviewing it, because I can honestly see how any given person could go either way on this film. In the end though, it’s just too damn slow, even if it does a good job setting the tone for the rest of the series.
“That’s a Smith & Wesson, and you’ve had your six.”
Long story short: 2.5/4 stars
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