a critiQal film review Dr. No (1962)

Plot: British secret agent James Bond (Connery) battles the mysterious Dr. No (Wiseman), a scientific genius bent on destroying the U.S. space program. Bond travels to Jamaica where he encounters the beautiful Honey Rider (Ursula Andress) and confronts the megalomaniac in his evil island lair.

714 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 34s)

“Bond. James Bond”. This week, that famous catchphrase has been going through my head for some reason. So when it came to time to review a film for this week’s #TBT Review, it just seemed appropriate it was going to be a Bond film. And if so, why not the film that started it all, Dr. No.

But, since Dr. No is now more than 50 years old, would this film really still be worth watching? Or has time (and the viewer) moved on?

Sean Connery picks up the reins for the first time as the British secret agent in Dr. No. While there are endless arguments over who has become the best Bond, there’s something to be said for the ease that Sean Connery slips into the role. His performance in Dr. No set the guidelines for all the Bonds to follow, and his suave man-of-mystery vibe is pretty darn spectacular. After seeing his performance here, it’s easy for the viewer to see why he’s usually considered the best Bond of all time, despite some strong competition.

His co-stars in Dr. No, unfortunately, aren’t quite on his level. While Ursula Andress is surprisingly decent in her basic damsel-in-distress role, the rest of the cast – with the notable exception of Joseph Wiseman, who exudes an aura of calm evil in his portrayal as the quiet-yet-menacing title character. Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell, playing M and Miss Moneypenny, respectively, are entertaining as well, but, sadly, both have very limited screen time, so can do nothing but establish a baseline for these continuing characters.

The rest of the cast can be easily exchanged for other actors (and, judging by the way Felix Leiter has changed actors over the years, that’s obviously been proven true), and the viewer never really much cares about them. That’s unfortunate, as a major development later on in Dr. No would have been vastly improved if the viewer felt attached in any way to those other characters.

The plot of Dr. No is actually pretty down-to-earth, for a Bond film anyway. Like most action thrillers of that era, the tension builds slowly throughout the film, with some brief action sequences along the way. Since the villain isn’t introduced until late in the film, this slow build-up has the viewer waiting more and more anxiously for the villain and that final showdown they know is coming. Thankfully, the villain – while possibly not what the viewer originally expects – is decent enough the viewer won’t have waited in vain.

Of course, some of the special effects in Dr. No have taken quite a beating over the years since the film’s release. Especially early on, the viewer will notice quite a few glaring errors (one involving blood that’s obviously paint). However, once they get used to that, the film then eases off of the special effects, and lets the film play itself out with more physical effects (fist fights, explosions, etc.) than it started with. This is a great strategy, as those initial flawed effects lower the viewer’s expectations of the imagery to come. Then, Dr. No switches to more physical effects (or hiding things off camera, as in the death of a tarantula). Since those effects have easily withstood the test of time (since they can’t really degrade that much), that leaves the viewer pleasantly surprised by how decent the rest of the effects of the film play out.

Dr. No, looking back on it now, had a monumental task. Create a new spy hero that fans would get behind. Thankfully, with Connery’s masterful handling of translating this suave and sophisticated ladies man to the big screen, a quiet-yet-menacing villain the viewer has to wait for, and a decent, semi-plausible storyline that helps keep the viewer on edge throughout the film, obviously the film found the strength to deliver. Sure, it’s not fantastic at this point (heck, it’s not even the best Bond film), but the structure that Dr. No built has kept this enduring series continuing for over 50 years!

A definite must-see for its nostalgic value as much for its entertainment value, Dr. No definitely kicked the series off well – and yet left room enough for the series to improve. That’s an impressive feat that not many first films can match.

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