James Bond Retrospective: Review of DR. NO

(I am a pretty huge James Bond fan, so with the new SKYFALL coming out November 9th, I thought it would be cool to re-watch every Bond movie and review them on the site, counting down the days until the latest one is released)

This is it!  The one that started them all.  I can’t remember which Bond film I saw first.  I know that FOR YOUR EYES ONLY was the first one I saw in the theater (when I was 4), but I’m pretty sure that DR. NO, along with  MOONRAKER and GOLDFINGER were among the first ones I saw at home.  I have probably seen this one at least 40-50 times.  When I think back to this film, I have always considered it one of the better Bond films.  The last time I saw it was about 4 years ago, but I was pretty sure that my opinion wasn’t going to change since I’ve seen it so much in the past.

In his first adventure, I would say Bond is more like a detective.  His superior, M (Bernard Lee), sends him on a mission to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of a missing agent.  Of course he finds out that the mystery goes much deeper the further he pursues.  With the help of a 1960′s stereotype named Quarrel and CIA agent Felix Leiter (who was to be a regular of the series, but always played by another actor), Bond traces the missing agent to a remote island.  There he meets Honey Rider (the sumptuous Ursula Andress) who helps lead Bond to the secret hideout of the villainous Dr. No, who has plans to take over the world, of course.

The plot is more straight forward than most of the Bond films that followed, which definitely has a different feeling than the others.  That’s not really a bad thing though.  Many of the “Bond” elements are there, and it’s pretty cool seeing it happen for the first time.  We’re introduced to the famous line “Bond. James Bond” in a pretty iconic way.  The Gun barrel opening, Bond seducing chicks, the Martini (shaken not stirred), Felix, Bond’s flirting with secretary Moneypenny (which is one of my favorite parts in the movie), the introduction of Spectre (the evil organization that Bond is often against), a radical villain, and an explosive finale with all hell breaking loose.  All of  these things happened here first.  Still no gadgets, no pre-title sequence, and no theme song (though the James Bond theme by Monty Norman is introduced).

Sean Connery gives a confident performance as the famous secret agent.  He was to truly become what is thought of as the essential Bond.  He does a great job here, even if he’s still trying to get a feel for the character.  Ursula Andress, whose voice was dubbed, looks yummy as the bikini clad Honey.  She’s the epitome of a sex symbol here.  The first “official” Bond girl, and she’s definitely one of the more memorable ones.  She’s hot AND knows how to take care of herself.  Even though he’s only in the last 15 minutes, Joeseph Wiseman makes an impression as DR. NO.  He’s not over the top, but has a cool and menacing demeanor.  Jack Lord is good as Felix, and I really liked Anthony Dawson as a Professor who works for the villainous doctor.  Besides the regulars (M and Moneypenny), the rest of the supporting cast is kind of dull and flat, especially Quarrel.

While there is some stuff to enjoy here (as I have always enjoyed it in the past), this is the first time I noticed that the movie isn’t really fully realized.  I did like the opening with the “3 Blind Mice” number and those assassins, Bond’s confrontation with Professor Dent (“You’ve had your six”), and the finale is the most exciting thing to happen in the flick.  There are some car chases but they don’t generate the thrills that they would in future Bond movies.  I also think the music leaves much to be desired.  You see, it was before John Barry was brought on board as the standard Bond composer. Often, they just loop the Bond theme.  While I absolutely love the theme, I felt that it was misplaced a few times.  I mean, does the thrilling theme really need to be playing while Bond is checking into his hotel?  Not at all.  It didn’t really make a whole lot of sense.

Even though it’s one of the shortest Bond movies, it feels awfully padded at times.  This one could have definitely been tightened up.  There are many moments that just have servants doing things for Bond and other characters, like porters and maids showing Bond his hotel room.  Who cares?  And even though this is supposed to be an adventure, the thrills are few and far between.  There are many flat and dull moments here, but there are also some quite thrilling moments.  It makes for a very uneven experience.  While watching it this time, I was getting frustrated.  You see, I’ve seen this movie so many times and I’ve always enjoyed it.  And for the first time, I was seeing it for the flawed picture it is.  Maybe because knowing that this was the first one, I have always been forgiving to it.  Because it introduces so many of the iconic Bond-isms for the first time, I overlooked the shortcomings of the movie.  I just love the idea of Bond so much that I want to love all the entries in the series.  I feel like a traitor for not enjoying it as much this time.  The film geek in me wants to praise it, but the film critic in me wants to expose its flaws.  Grrrrrr.

So that’s where I’m at here.  I respect DR. NO for being the first, but the series had yet to find its footing.  There are many Bond elements to be found here, but they didn’t all come together yet.  Even though Bond films have never been known for great filmmaking, Terence Young’s direction is disappointingly flat.  There are more lulls than one would like to admit here, and that was frustrating to me this time.  I still have a soft spot for it, but if I’m being truly honest, it’s kind of lackluster.  It kills me to say it.  I’m sure I’ll watch it many more times in the future, just because it’s Bond, but I have to be truthful about how I really feel about the flick.  I’m grateful that this film introduced the world to the Bond we know, but the series would only get better after this.  ★★½ (out of ★★★★)

Not rated but contains quite a bit of violence (some bloody), brief partial nudity and the typical sexual innuendos.  Would most likely be PG13 today.

Running time: 1hr49min.

Read Jesse Hoheisel’s take on “Dr. No” by clicking here.

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Categories: Austin Kennedy, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Reviews

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4 replies

  1. I also appreciate honesty. But you’re not the brightest bulb in the ceiling either. Dr No was produced in a VERY different film climate/environment than what we see today. Your comments about the film being slow paced and frustratingly dull “as servants do things for Bond” are noted, except this is what builds up the Bond character. This is what develops the suave secret agent and his mission. You’re judging the film as you see fit comparing to today’s climate of quick cuts, flashy camera angles, glossy lighting and pans, and most importantly, very high budget (and high tech) stunt scenes. I do appreciate what you have said, but you really need to go back and think, in this way if you will, how would a reviewer cruelly judge action scenes of an early 90′s film (let’s say Speed) in 20 years time. This film was a classic, and I look at is objectively myself, but you simply must look at it more so from a strong plot view rather than a superficial action/speedy film. Regards.

    • I appreciate you reading my review, and your opinion. But please, don’t tell me what I’m comparing the movie to. I was NOT comparing it to glitzy flashy quick cut-type filmmaking. I actually HATE that kind of filmmaking. In fact, I like films that are deliberately paced. But this one didn’t do the slow pacing thing well. It comes across a little flat. Just look how much it improved one year later with FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. I actually rather watch a film from the 60′s than one from today. I WAS comparing it with films that were released from that time period. I can think of so may other films from that year alone that were better crafted. I just think it’s sort of flat. I never used to think so, because my fondness for it from when I was a kid always got in the way. I really don’t want to be a jerk here, but reading your comment kinda made me upset, because I was NOT comparing it to action films of today. Thanks for reading, and don’t be too quick to judge next time. :)

      • There’s great action movies from 1962, DR. NO just isn’t one of them. It’s not a bad movie by any means. It has all the workings to be classic, but they just didn’t come together for me.

  2. Great review, I am watching them all before Skyfall too, most for the first time, and enjoy your opinions. Dr. No was a good start for the Connery series, but the music, plot, action, and even women only become more impressive as they go on.

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