Director: Terence Young
Starring: Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Bernard Lee
James Bond in his first motion picture (like how I didn’t say ‘on screen adventure’? – this morning I submitted a dissertation about how he had appeared before too on CBS, it took 10 months of writing, it’ll be on my mind long after I lose my marbles) is sent to Crab Key in the Carribean to investigate the recent toppling of U.S. rocketry. A person of high interest in this matter is the island’s owner, Dr. Julius No.
Well, this is where it all begins. Kind of. Well, its where the famed series began. The first thing I have to say is that while his performance as James Bond would not be quite perfect until around Goldfinger (1964) or Thunderball (1965) in two or three films time, that is not to say it was far off the mark here. You just have to watch the scene introducing him with his playing charmin de fer with Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayston) to see that Producer Cubby Broccoli did well to simply listen to his wife Dana and cast Sean based on her opinion of his sexuality. He just oozes cool and bravado and what I think is the highest compliment I can give is that now, 53 years later, its still as fresh as if it was shot and cut yesterday.
The same can be said for Joseph Wiseman’s Dr. No, just more so. One of the less well trodden aspects of his performance is that he along with Charles Grey (who would go on to play different characters in You Only Live Twice (1967) and Diamonds Are Forever (1971) and of course, The Narrator in the timeless Rocky Horror Picture Show) is not dubbed by another actor and for his relatively small screen time (he shows up only towards the end of the second act and for the title character that’s a little weak), his presence and aura and well felt throughout the entirety of the film.
Interesting note: during initial drafts, Dr. No was going to be a small monkey or ape pet of the villain who would be created for the film. I really would have liked to seen Albert Broccoli’s face when he read that script draft before demanding script writer Wolf Mankiewitz re write the whole thing.
I would overall recommend this to give a watch, however while I did mention Connery and Wiseman’s performances do still hold up, the same cannot be said of the portrayal of Quarrel by John Kitzmilller. It seems very of its time and frankly he is given somewhat of a very straight forward Uncle Tom treatment throughout the piece (Bond telling Quarrel to simply ‘fetch my shoes’ is particularly wince-enducing, not least because all the characters seem to act as if this is just par for the course) and while a worthy entry into this titan of a series, it is painfully obvious this one had the smallest budget and therefore had to be very unambitious with pretty much every choice it made (Ken Adam’s beautiful set design for Dr. No’s laboratory aside). It is really good, but mainly I feel only for completionists to watch.
With the Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter series I would recommend starting with their first entries and working through them chronologically, not with this. If you had to start with a Connery Bond, I’d say skip ahead to Goldfinger (1964), it is just classic Bond defined and you can expect my review of that to be fairly glowing.
The same can be said for my review of the next in the series, From Russia With Love (1963).
Words: Jack McMorrow