For Fresh Eyes Only: Dr. No (1962)
I’ve watched as Jason Bourne pieced his life back together, obsessed as Ethan Hunt went rogue for the thousandth time, I’ve even watched all of Austin Powers’ groovy adventures. But I’ve never seen the one that started it all, the one name that everyone jumps to when they hear the word ‘spy’: James Bond. As a big fan of spy movies and action flicks in general, it’s a frankly embarrassing oversight, and one that I am going to correct before the release of “Bond 25”. Join me every two weeks as I fix my mistake and experience all the gadgets, all the martinis, all the action, all the sex, and all of the intrigue across the entire Bond franchise for the first time.
Well, I’ve finally done it. I’ve finally watched a James Bond movie. Even after hearing the music and seeing countless references and parodies throughout my entire life, I still didn’t know quite what to expect, but I know that I didn’t expect such high quality from the very first film. Right off the bat, I’m hooked (which is very fortunate, considering I already agreed to do this). Frankly, I’m so anxious to watch more that I’m almost regretting doing this on a timed schedule. James Bond wouldn’t follow the rules... Or would he? I guess I don’t really know yet... Or do I?
The plot of Dr. No is nothing special, but it doesn’t have to be. It sets a tone beautifully. James Bond is a suave lothario, he always has the upper hand except when he doesn’t, and his face never gives anything away yet can perfectly communicate wordlessly. He’s a character full of contradictions. These types of characters can often come off as inconsistent, but Bond feels full of intent, as mysterious as that can be. Sean Connery conveys all of these deep complexities like it’s second nature. I’m not overly familiar with him as an actor, but he feels born to play the role.
I’m not going to say that nobody is out of place, because there is at least one glaringly obvious miscasting, but most of the cast is equally excellent. The infamous ‘Bond Girl’ designation seems to be split between multiple women here, but it’s clear that Ursula Andress’s Honey Ryder stands out. She puts on a great performance, even without using her actual voice (she was dubbed over by Nikki van der Zyl; I would never have been able to tell without looking it up). The character is a surprisingly progressively individual for the time, as is Quarrel, Bond’s native guide and fun sidekick of sorts, played by John Kitzmiller. The titular villain, Dr. No, is played competently by Joseph Wiseman, but it’s impossible to look past the blatant yellowface.
Beyond translating a complex character to the screen very well, there’s a great sampler platter of everything that you want in a fun action movie. A gorgeous exotic location, a nefarious villain, a clear storyline that plays off of the political fears of the time while remaining light. There’s even some slight science fiction elements to add more variety. The movie was filmed on location in Jamaica, and it pays off. The landscape is naturally stunning, even without all that fancy camerawork. The land is used as a scenic playground for a few exciting action sequences, the best being a car chase that ends in a fiery explosion.
I loved Dr. No, and, not to spoil anything, but it’s possible I couldn’t wait and went ahead and watched, and loved, From Russia with Love as well. If this is just the beginning, if this relatively quaint production can be so engaging, I can not wait to see where it goes as the budgets rise and the times and the actors change.
Marcus Irving will return in For Fresh Eyes Only: From From Russia with Love.