Right into a swingin’ take on the classic theme, with the iconic “barrel of a gun that tracks Bond, but blammo! Take that, barrel!” opening. We get nifty-looking typography that lets us know (hah) that this is Ian Fleming’s Dr. No. There’s no cold open action sequence, which would become standard to Bond films, but there is this a jazzy opening credit sequence that’s filled with lots of optical art as rows of colored circles jump around with the credits (as if to say, “Hey! It’s 1962!”) and outlines of people dancing to bongo music like it’s the opening credits of Mulholland Drive. These groovy bongos lead to a very weirdly placed pennywhistle-led version of “Three Blind Mice,” which dissolves to three blind men crossing the street and walking around Kingston, Jamaica.
Is this racist? This might be racist. I can’t tell anymore. Guess I’m color-blind! (rimshot)
We follow them to the outside of a country club (racist), where we find four British men drinking, smoking, and gambling on a porch. You know, The Good Life*! (*Not available to anybody except these four gents.) One of these dapper men has to split, and the “blind” men shoot him several times just as he’s getting to his car and abscond with his body. So, you know, plot setup.
Cut to a lady with a beehive hairdo using a secret radio to contact her spy friends but is shortly thereafter shot and killed as these same three “blind” men ransack the house for a file. But not just any file: it’s a file on DOCTOR NO (the guy what which this movie is named after!).
Cut to London, where we hear Big Ben chime on the hour. Then we’re at the most 1962 communications room I’ve ever damn seen, complete with more knobs and meters than have been produced either before or since. Some nerd gets the call that something’s gone wrong in Kingston, and we cut to Le Cercle club in London, which is such an ever-loving British establishment that I can feel my teeth shift out of place and start speaking in a Received Pronunciation accent. Limey McBritish has gone there to look for James Bond, who can be found (where else) at the baccarat table. And Sean Connery looks like a Man with a capital M! He says the iconic James Bond introductory line as he lights a cigarette, and I think his theme music just plays behind him diegetic to the scene when he’s being super-cool like he is here.
“I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you over how awesome I am.”
He gets the notice from McBritish and smoothly gets up to tend to business. The lady he was gambling against/flirting with, Sylvia Trench, follows him to his destination at the concierge’s counter, where he asks her out for dinner the next night. He gives her his card so she can think it over, and she stares off at him walking out of the door like she just met the coolest dude ever. Because she has.
And in the next scene, he tosses his hat across the waiting room of his boss’s house, which lands perfectly on the hat rack, then immediately goes in for a close flirt with Moneypenny, who responds like she’s been waiting for his attention all day, every day. This is what I was talking about in my introduction to this series: it’s a straight, white man’s fantasy world, where one moment you’re handily winning at cards in a swanky club while flirting with the beautiful woman across the table, and the next you’re walking into the offices of your super-important job, where the secretary is just thrilled at your coy flirtations. For James Bond, everything is engaged with style, confidence, and with the overt worship of everyone around you. Who wouldn’t like that?
The Bond/Moneypenny relationship is also even-handed: it’s depicted as two people in a working relationship who inject a little mutual, flirtatious fun in their day (think Jim and Pam from The Office, only not with two dorks in a paper company in Pennsylvania but cool Brits in the spy game). Bond isn’t sexually harassing her; they’re engaging in some clever flirting because they know each other and like each other. But nothing more is ever going to come from their relationship; as much as she teases him for never taking her out to dinner, when it’s time to get to work, they stop their innocent flirting and get down to business.
Pictured: Workplace flirting, c. 1962. Things were…different then.
Anyway, Bond goes in to find out how he has to save the world this time. M provides the skinny: Strangways(?) and his secretary in Kingston have disappeared, and a bunch of files have gone missing. Felix(!) is mentioned here, a bit of a dark horse character in the Bond films; he’s an American CIA agent that he has to meet in Jamaica.
Q, inventor extraordinaire, pops in to give Bond his gadgets, which includes dissing Bond’s gun of choice, the Beretta. Both M and Q say his gun sucks because it jams and M threatens Bond with a demotion unless he carries a Walter PPK. I agree. As he leaves the office, M buzzes over into the office to tell them not to flirt any further: Bond’s got work to do!
Bond gets back to his pad, which is really swanky, but he feels that something is amiss. He turns down the light and pulls out a gun, much like I do when I first get home at night. He opens his door, and….hey! It’s Sylvia Trench! Who decided to accept his invitation, by wearing only one of his dress shirts. She gives him a smooch, even though he said he was busy and has to leave, but fuck that—he’ll catch the next flight.
And so he does! Flying Pan Am, a company that no longer exists (watch The Aviator for more information). He arrives in Jamaica and his theme music plays him out of the airport. But he’s already being clocked by a woman with a camera. He allows two ladies to take his taxi (gentleman) and—because he’s an important guy—has a driver waiting for him already. He goes to the telephone to check his reservation and is also being clocked by another guy, who follows him.
Bond’s a damn good spy who knows the score, so instead of being driven straight to his destination, he asks that the driver just kind of drives him around. They zoom down the road in a car that would be worth $100,000 nowadays, finds that they’re being followed, and lose them handily. Bond puts a gun to the driver’s back and asks who he’s working for, then tells him to kick rocks.
He goes for a gun in the glove compartment but that just earns him a broken wrist. Then Bond judo chops him all over the place and gets him to talk, because that’s how you do these things. Unfortunately, Bond lets him go for a cigarette, but it’s a cyanide capsule and that dude’s dead. So Bond drives him to the government house he’s staying in, with the dead driver in the back seat, and goes in to get his damn work underway.
Bond chats with his local contact and goes to investigate Strangways’ club friends and his house. Arriving at the house, he takes a gander with his spy eyes to seek out the truth. This pad is also pretty swanky, and Bond picks out a picture where the dude that was following him is in with Strangways.
Back in his swank-ass government apartment, where a servant mixes his martini (not stirred, but also not explicitly shaken, so maybe swirled?), he goes about putting up spy-like stuff like a hair on the closet door and powder on the latch of his suitcase so he can see if people fuck with it when he’s out, and off he goes to the club to dazzle everybody. Sean Connery’s physicality is perfect for a character like Bond: he moves with efficiency, purpose, and confidence. This guy doesn’t step in puddles or walks clumsily with stooped shoulders; he walks around like he owns the goddamn world.
He engages in Man Talk with Strangways’ bridge partners, and none of them ever heard Strangways talk about anything but big game fishing and bridge (as British men do). Turns out he got into the fishing thing just a few weeks ago, hiring the most expensive charter on the island, owned by a fellow named Quarrel.
So there goes Bond to the harbor looking for said Quarrel. He’s pretty dismissive of Bond’s investigation, so Bond goes to charter his boat, but he hits a brick wall instead. But because it’s his fucking world, he follows Quarrel, who’s looking nervous. Bond saddles up next to him at a bar, and they go for a nice, private chat in the back room where they keep the cases of Red Stripe. Mmm, Red Stripe.
Red Stripe: James Bond-approved.
But of course, it’s a goddamn trap and Quarrel pulls a knife on him as Bond is grabbed from behind. But nope! Bond kicks the knife away and throws one dude into the other, their fall broken by Red Stripe boxes. Oh no! Is the Red Stripe OK?
So the guy that was following him at the airport comes into the room with a gun drawn, but nope, it’s just Felix (hooray!). He lets Bond know that Quarrel’s on their side and they go to get drunk and eat delicious Jamaican cuisine, because nothing ever gets too unpleasant in Bond’s life. Felix lets him know that they’re having a problem with radar interference at the USA’s upcoming rocket launch but can’t find the source of it. A light bulb flash alerts them to the shutterbug that had been following him, and Quarrel twists her arm over to Felix and Bond.
He asks what the fucking pictures are all about, and she lies about who she works for, but she cuts Quarrel in the face and Bond exposes her film. Anyway, she calls them rats and that they’ll be sorry and amscrays. Is Quarrel OK? He took a slash to the cheek without even blinking. So there’s an island called Crab Key that’s all freaky-deaky, and Bond starts putting it together. Felix mentions the name Dr. No (hey! It’s that guy again!) and Bond goes back to his hotel room to fucking kick it old-school. Some of those not-blind dudes are waiting to shoot him outside, but they fuck it up, and also because there’s like an hour left in the movie and a dead Bond is of no use to the viewing audience.
The next day, Bond goes to a lab to see what Strangways was getting at with getting samples from Crab Key, and Scientist Guy says no fucking way does any of this have to do with anything, especially not Crab Key, but Bond’s not a goddamn idiot. Afterwards, Scientist dashes up to a boat and tells the captain that he has to get to Crab Key ASAP. Man, does Jamaica in 1962 look beautiful.
He gets to some instillation on Crab Key, and it’s pretty much just Dr. Evil’s headquarters in the first Austin Powers film. Scientist is led into an empty room with a gigantic skylight, and a voice over the intercom is like, “You’re fucking up, dude. Why is Bond still alive?” He lets the voice (Dr. No! He’s here!) know that Bond knows the samples come from Crab Key, even though he specifically, emphatically told him they weren’t, for super cereals, and Dr. No tells him to pick up a cage with a spider in it and to kill Bond that night with it. By spider bite. Which wouldn’t kill him, but they didn’t know that in 1962.
Bond strolls back into the movie with his theme song and gets back to his pad, where he immediately checks to see if anyone’s been fucking with his shit. Somebody has, of course, but he pours himself a drink because what is he, on the clock 24/7?
Now asleep in his bed with scotch bottles dancing around his head, he feels something in his bed. It’s a s-s-s-spider! It crawls up his arm, towards his face, and he stares daggers at it like that’s going to do something. But once it crawls off onto the pillow, he jumps up and—with accompanying orchestral stings—smashes the little bugger to death. Then he goes to the bathroom, because yikes.
“That’s odd: I don’t remember getting this tattoo.”
The next day, he goes to another government official and asks what the fuck’s up with Dr. No. The official says they don’t have any info on him, and that their local Dr. No file is gone because it was stolen in the first scene of the movie. Bond also got a present from back home! He takes the package and leaves, making sure to go out the way the secretary’s office is, probably because he misses flirting with his favorite secretary back home. But she’s a rat fink and he knows it, and catches her listening in from outside. He asks if she would show him around the island, but she’s like maybe. What can I say? Players gonna play.
Bond meets up with Quarrel and Felix to do some investigating. Turns out those samples from Crab Key were radioactive, and Felix is like, that scientist guy’s a goddamn nerd. Quarrel doesn’t want to go to Crab Key because it’s a place filled with bad juju, but he’ll do it anyway, if he has to, he guesses. Oh depictions of black people in the films of the 20th century, will you never learn?
The government house is also very swanky, and the lobby looks like a nice resort hotel. Turns out he got a message from Scientist’s secretary lady and rings her up. She says, “DTF? Then come up to my apartment in the mountains, and also this is definitely not a trap.” He zooms up there, looking like a million bucks and humming along to his theme song, which is playing on the radio. But oh fudge, here’s another car to try and run him off the road. He green screen drives real fast and herky-jerky, and that other car just flies off the side of the mountain and ‘splodes real good, because fuck those guys. And here, we get the first in what will become a long line of flip comments of his enemies dying: “How’d it happen?” “I think they were on their way to a funeral.”
“Is it wrong that I’m glad they’re dead? Naah.”
He shows up to secretary’s house, and she’s obviously shocked that he’s still alive. He just plants one on her, because 1962, and then smells her towel, which ew. She gets on the phone and says, “oh shit, he’s still alive,” and Bond gets handsey and intimate pretty quickly. But she’s a honeypot, so she sleeps with him to keep him around for a while. After they fade to LATER, he’s trying to get her out of the place for dinner, but she’s like no, please, let’s stay here, I’ll cook, this isn’t a trap, but he uses her phone to call for a taxi to leave.
He goes out to the taxi but nope, it’s just the military waiting to take her away. She spits in his face, which he seems pretty accustomed to, and goes back inside to wait for death to come to him. Bond pours a few drinks and puts his jacket on a chair by the window to set up like he’s still real cozy-like in there with her and turns on some tunes. And then he plays the waiting game, which I guess is solitaire.
Sure enough, someone shows up and plugs the dummied pillows that he put in the bed, and Bond has the drop on him. Scientist tries to pull a gun toward him on a blanket on the floor, but Bond correctly counted the bullets and plugs him a few times for good measure. Without getting any useful information out of him first. So. Nice job?
“Whoops! It’s ask questions first, and then shoot. Well, this Walter PPK is working out quite nicely, anyway. Drink? Oh right, you’re dead.”
Back at the docks, off they go to Crab Key with night as their disguise, and hey movie? Shoot day for night. Not night for night, ever. Film’s expensive, you know? Anyway, Bond goes out fuck shit up proper. Which would be cool IF YOU COULD ONLY SEE ANYTHING IN THESE SCENES. Anyway. They get onto Crab Key island and decide to take naps before getting down with the sickness. Quarrel drinks a little bit, because why not?
James Bond wakes up the next morning to a glorious site: Ursula Andress in a white bikini on the beach. I know this scene of her coming out of the water is iconic, but I have to say: Holy smokes. Wowza. Woo, whatta woman!
Anyway, he goes over to flirt with her, as is his custom, but she’s super-suspicious of this stranger on an abandoned, forbidden beach and whips out a knife when he starts coming towards her. Damn, girl! Her name is Honey Ryder, which is actually pretty funny, and she’s talking about how these dumb fucks on this crap island can’t catch her. Quarrel runs up to say some funky crap’s going down and a high-power boat is on its way up the coastline. James takes Honey by the hand and they book it. The guy on the boat tells them to come out with their hands up and they won’t be hurt (yeah, right), and they open fire on the beach. Are sand bunkers impervious to bullets? Because they fire directly where they are and nothing happens to them. So the guy’s like whatever, we’ll be back with dogs, and while Bond gets to have his arms around Andress, Quarrel has to contend with crabs.
Quarrel’s like fuck this place, and crabs, and gunfire, let’s goddamn get out of here. Andress says there is a dragon on this island and says some poetic shit about the unknown factors of nature, but Bond’s like, GTFO of here before you’re blown to pieces. It turns out her boat’s been blown to pieces, but she continues to be in a bikini, so I’m happy.
They trudge through the waterways to throw the scent off the dogs, but this method’s not working, so instead they do the old “use reeds as snorkels” trick. Although the water is crystal-clear, they are still somehow hidden from sight. Most of the dudes pass, but Bond fucking kills one guy still roaming around, and they make their way to an enchanted grotto.
Andress thinks they found “dragon tracks,” but it’s obviously just tire tracks. Andress also wears a wet shirt with no bikini top in these scenes, so the male gaze is strong with this movie. She lets Bond know that her dad was iced by Dr. No and also says she’s a wealthy orphan that’s like 19 and lives in Jamaica alone. Once she was alone, however, she was also violated by her landlord, so she fucking killed him with a black widow spider. What’s with this movie and killing people with spiders?
Quarrel the Lookout says a dragon’s coming, and some expository ADR is thrown in to let us know that only 12 hours remain before the USA launch that will be disrupted by Dr. No’s….something. Radar? Either it is unclear or I wasn’t paying attention to that scene. Anyway, 12 hours.
Of course the “dragon” is just a jeep with a flamethrower in the front of it (could neither Andress nor Quarrel see this for themselves?), and Quarrel is charred to a crisp while trying to take it out. Bond and Andress are taken hostage, but not until Andress gets a good punch in. Then they’re off to see Dr. No.
They arrive with Andress extra-pantsless, and here’s more Austin Powers material, with nameless henchmen in uniforms and a big, mysterious complex. Bond just orders everyone around as to what to do, they go through a decontamination shower, and honestly, it pisses me off a little to see how much Austin Powers took from this movie in the name of “satire.” I mean, this movie’s pretty goofy, but without the dork-o comedy that highlights how silly this conceit is. There’s style to this set design, and it’s not just lazy parody. I like those movies enough, but since I didn’t see Dr. No until after I watched those movies, after understanding that a lot of the Austin Powers series literally just directly lifted its aesthetic from the earlier Bond films, those movies no longer seem so good. They seem…lazy.
They’re brought into another swanky lobby, where Bond is given a cigarette and some “sisters” show them around. Apparently, they’re having dinner with Dr. No that night. They show Bond his room, and as a captor’s dungeon it’s far nicer than anywhere I’ve ever stayed. They even have breakfast waiting for them!
“I don’t like the kidnapping, but I love the amenities!”
Bond calmly has some coffee and looks around suspiciously. Maybe he should switch to decaf. He definitely should have, since the fucking coffee was drugged. Come on, Bond! You didn’t see that coming? Well, it’s his first movie; he’ll get it right the next time.
They wake up after their surprise naps, and the male gaze takes a look at Andress’ naked back as she gets dressed. They go down the hall to dinner and meet Dr. No. Bond actually admits that he’s scared to Andress, and they hold each other close in the elevator ride down to the dining room.
And man oh man—this pad is really swanky! What kind of money does Dr. No have? It’s something out of Architectural Digest. And Dr. No answers this question: it cost one million dollars to build this sweet pad. Hey, another fucking joke from Austin Powers. Did Mike Myers just take a copy of this script, change the names around, and put punctuation marks in different places to change the emphasis of the delivery? My spy brain says yes.
He should be called Dr. Swanky.
Anyway, Dr. No has gloved hands and he talks about how he was the treasurer of a powerful Chinese crime syndicate but stole one million dollars from them and then built this awesome abode. Apparently, his hands were screwed up from all the radiation he handled. Bond also lets Dr. No know (ugh) that there’s a lot of info out there about him, and people know what’s up. It’s a bluff, but it works well enough. Dr. No says that he captured Bond to show off how cool his stuff is, and Bond asks him to please let Andress go. But Dr. No threatens harm to her from the guards as they take her away, so Bond gets pissed off at this.
Dr. No is really trying to impress Bond (who isn’t?) and Dr. No says he’s a member of SPECTRE (which will become the outfit that Bond will be fighting for a long while). Dr. No trashes both the East and West, and he’s looking for world domination (“The same old dream,” says Bond, which, true). Dr. No says he just wanted to see who the fuck this James Bond fellow is and was hoping to give him a job. However, Bond’s not a fucking traitor, and Dr. No leaves for him to get the shit beaten out of him by one of his goons.
Bond finds himself in less-swanky accommodations now, mainly a metal prison cell (come on, Austin Powers, did you not think of anything original?) and looks for escape. But he gets the ol’ shocker from an electrified vent above his head. But Bond does a shoe-hand to punch out that grid and climbs into the vent because Bond can’t stop, won’t stop.
After climbing—and then falling–through a series of tubes, Bond goes full Die Hard, getting down to a ripped white T-Shirt. Then a bunch of water floods over him and he braces for impact. Like in Die Hard IV. Come on, modern cinema! Do you have to take everything from the past? The answer may surprise you! Another electrical grid, which gets kicked out, and Bond’s back on two feet, snooping through Dr. No’s labs. He strangles to death some nameless henchman and takes his biohazard suit.
Gaining access to Dr. No’s main jam (and yet more future Austin Powers material to rip off), he walks across the room as unobtrusively as possible as Dr. No watches the feed for the US launch. There’s a call-out of where everyone’s at with the whole “let’s fuck up the USA’s space program” project, and Dr. No wonders why Bond-as-Chen (the dude he just killed) isn’t in position. Bond fakes it ‘til he makes it, holding a clipboard, and is totally not a spy, you guys.
“Doo dee doo, dum dee dum, bippity boo…”
Dr. Evil, I mean No, is wearing a silver jumpsuit with a bubble top over his head and is getting the radio beam ready to F S up. Hey! They mention that it’s a Mercury spacecraft taking off! Neat. Anyway, Bond overheats the stupid plutonium with a big dial and it fucks all sorts of shit up for their plan.
You know that scene at the end of Austin Powers, where he ruins Dr. Evil’s plan and all of the henchmen start running around to escape? Yeah, it’s exactly this scene. Bond fights Dr. No above the radioactive water and he slips into that boiling abyss, so goodbye Dr No. Bond runs away, presumably to save Andress and find a nearby baccarat table. And the USA launches their rocket into space successfully! USA! USA! USA! (And Bond.) USA!
“USA! USA! Wait, what am I saying?”
He looks for Andress, randomly beats the shit out of a henchman for information (he doesn’t have any), and then finds one of the hostesses to show him where she is.
She’s tied up to a slab awaiting drowning, so he saves her while everyone runs around panicking because of the active nuclear meltdown occurring. Bond and Honey Ryder find a boat, he throws the two bums on it into the water, and away they go.
Dr. No’s facility blows up (which isn’t what happens in a nuclear meltdown, but whatever), and we cut to Honey and Bond stranded in the ocean, out of fuel. Bond suggests they get busy, and they do. A rescue ship shows up, he tells them what to do because everyone’s hapless in this universe except for him, and while being towed Andress snuggles up to Bond. The men on the boat towing them look on enviously as he lets the tow line go and he and Andress decide to stay stranded in the ocean to make out some more. Then the music starts up and we are outta here!
- Watching this movie makes me dislike the Austin Powers series of films a lot, mostly because they lazily just ripped off many of the original, cool ideas and visuals in this film and made them stupid. Again: I liked those movies enough when I first watched them, but now they just seem kind of cheap and lazy after watching their raison d’etre a few times. Even the AP film series as a whole seems like a lazy concept; instead of parodying different Bond films with each movie, they kind of just made the first one three times in a row, tossing in winks and nods to the rest of the Bond franchise along the way.
- Although this isn’t to say James Bond isn’t ripe for parody: it was done extremely well in the 1966 comedy film Our Man Flint, starring James Coburn, only with a lot more smarts than the Austin Powers films could ever muster.
- James Bond’s phony company he works for is Universal Exports. Do they exclusively export ass-kicking and sexy times? If so, sign me up!
For the first movie to be made in what would eventually become a 54-year-long (and running!) franchise, Dr. No is a pretty solid piece of work. Sure, not all of the elements are there yet–the opening action sequence is missing and Q doesn’t go over a bunch of nifty gadgets he made for Bond’s adventure—but it’s about 75% of the way there, which is pretty damn good the first time out.
As mentioned in the introduction to this project, a large part of the appeal of these films to me is in escaping into the past, particularly a past where a straight, white man is the status quo and the Western world was wealthy and in control. Based in 1962, everything looks phenomenal: the sets, the wardrobes, the tropical scenery…it looks rich.
Bond isn’t the infallible super-genius he would eventually become, either: he makes a lot of mistakes along the way, relies too heavily on his punching and judo abilities, and kills more than one unarmed man. He gets the girl in the end but doesn’t leave us with a smart one-liner or pun; they just drift away together for some kissin’ time. It also seems like a “small” film: the action is confined to hand-to-hand combat or silenced pistols, the major plot is to disrupt a rocket launch, and Dr. No—while a strange fellow—is not nearly as menacing or heartless as the next major villain, Blofeld (the main inspiration for Dr. Evil).
But my biggest compliment goes to Sean Connery absolutely knocking it out of the park as James Bond. Right out of the gate, in his introductory scene, Connery plays Bond like he is this guy in flesh and blood. He’s suave, sophisticated, smart, and witty, while also a major force to be reckoned with. In this movie, he’s what he would eventually become iconic for in Western culture: A Man’s Man.
While this style of hero has been recreated dozens of times throughout many films and has even gone out of style in the modern age due to his wild womanizing and cold-blooded killing, Connery was the trope maker for this type of hero (well, I guess Ian Fleming was, but whatever, he’s not playing Bond on-screen). I haven’t seen all of the Bond films, particularly the Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton entries, so I can’t say that he was the best Bond, but in my spy eyes he’s the most iconic.
What a fun piece of escapism. What a great glimpse into a gone-away world. As far as Ursula Andress goes, whoo, whatta dame! It’s glossy, classy, smart, and sophisticated. It’s something to watch to take your mind off of the dirty mess we’ve gotten ourselves into in the 21st century, back to a time when there were clear-cut heroes and villains and the Good Guys always won. It was the 20th century Western paradigm put together in one movie. Besides that, it’s a heck of a good first entry in the Bond series. This easily gets 4 out of 4 Bonds.