When President Kennedy announced that Ian Fleming’s novels were amongst his favorite bedside reading, the international stage was set for the entrance of a new cinematic character. His name was Bond—James Bond. In 1962, Dr. No burst onto the screen with an exciting, fast-moving style and a witty, urbane and deeply cynical hero quite new to the movies. The impact was tremendous. A whole new genre of sophisticated spy thrillers was born as Dr. No spawned imitations on both the large and small screens (e.g., Matt Helm and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.).At the center of the film was Bond, played by Sean Connery with an immediate magnetic appeal. Born in Edinburgh in 1929, the son of a truck driver, Connery worked as a bricklayer and a milkman before he landed a part in the chorus of the British stage production of South Pacific, his first job in show business. Prior to being cast as Agent 007, Connery played some starring roles but suffered from continual miscasting. By the time he departed the Bond series in 1971 (he returned in 1983 for Never Say Never Again), he had become a household name and an actor of international renown.
Debonair and sophisticated, capable of defeating any villain or bedding any beautiful girl, Bond stepped out as a complete mythic hero. In this, the first film, Bond is more like Fleming’s original creation—a suave, cold-blooded killer. Only later did 007 develop into the likable agent, tossing out characteristic one-liners.
From the start it was clear that Dr. No was destined to be more than just a one-time-only affair. And although the Bond formula had not fully developed (that only emerged with Goldfinger, the third Bond film), many of the regular elements were already in place. Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) simpered and flirted after James; M (Bernard Lee) was already exasperated with his cool subordinate; while Felix Leiter (Jack Lord), 007’s CIA friend and counterpart, made Bond’s acquaintance. Major Boothroyd (Peter Burton), the predecessor to Q, supplied guns but few gadgets, leaving Bond to rely less on technology and more on his wits. When he is cornered in a stream, for instance, he cuts reeds in order to breathe underwater. The later Bond would have a handy gadget waiting for just such a situation. One character who did not survive was Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson). Originally intended as a regular girlfriend, constantly deserted by Bond as he races off to yet another mission, Trench was dropped after From Russia with Love. The most lasting device to be introduced in Dr. No, however, is Maurice Binder’s now world famous opening title sequence (the theme written by Monty Norman), with its traveling white dots which transform into a gunsight as Bond steps into view, turns toward the audience and shoots, causing a blood-like red wash to drop slowly over the scene. Binder’s hallmark designs, featuring beautiful girls and a touch of eroticism, have graced the titles of nearly all the Bond films since. Dr. No, coolly played by Joseph Wiseman, is the first of a series of ruthless villains, members of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. in the early films, who are scheming to take over the world. In his own empire, Dr. No’s power is absolute, his subordinates prefer to “die rather than talk.” The scriptwriters experimented with many ideas to make the villain even more menacing, including the bizarre notion of making Dr. No a monkey, before giving him metal hands, his distinguishing mark in the movie. At first, the producers concocted a rather unlikely casting choice—the deeply British Noel Coward, but finally producer Harry Saltzman chose Wiseman.
The creative team behind the camera played an invaluable role in the success of the series. Veteran screenwriter Richard Maibaum wrote or co-wrote every Bond entry up through 1987’s License to Kill, and proved as adept at the more naturalistic earlier entries as he did with the later, fantastical, gravity-defying titles such as Goldfinger and Moonraker. Ken Adam, one of filmdom’s most respected and influential production designers, was responsible for creating the look of the Bond films (his futuristic sets adorned numerous other films including Dr. Strangelove, and his period designs for Barry Lyndon earned him an Academy Award). Spanning almost the entire 25-year history of the series were the immediately identifiable crescendo-laden music scores of John Barry. Director Terence Young, editor Peter Hunt, and cinematographer Ted Moore were other equally indispensable members of the Dr. No creative team—assembled by producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman—that laid the groundwork for the wildly successful 16 film (thus far) United Artists’ series.
Several scenes in Dr. No are still regarded as classics of the action-adventure genre. In one of them, Professor Dent, an ally of Dr. No’s, conceives a plan for killing Bond by turning a tarantula loose upon him. The creature appears to crawl over Bond’s torso. The scene was, in fact, shot with a pane of glass between Connery and the lethal arachnid. In a more erotic vein is the introduction of the first Bond girl, Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress). As she emerges from the sea, wearing nothing but a skimpy white bikini and a hunting knife, singing “Underneath the Mango Tree,” she sets the standard for every Bond girl to follow.
Dr. No’s budget was a mere $900,000 (with an extra $100,000 added later by United Artists to fund the spectacular finale). Despite its modest budget, however, it has a lavish, expensive feel, largely due to its Jamaican locations and Ken Adam’s sets, that have come to be associated with the Bond series. Dr. No recouped its money from a record-breaking British release alone, ensuring that 007 would be back to entertain for many films to come.