To say my experience with James Bond movies is limited would be an understatement. I saw the latest Daniel Craig one, and I saw a Pierce Brosnan one back on the 90s. I may have seen bits and pieces of one or two Connery outings. But that’s about it. Basically, the vast majority of my knowledge about James Bond movies comes from the Austin Powers movies. While I’ve never seen anything appealing in the character, its iconic status is undeniable. More than 20 movies over more than half a century is an impressive achievement and makes me think it deserves some attention. So I’m starting where the franchise did, with Dr. No.
There’s some shit going down in Jamaica. I don’t really remember what. Dr. No never grabbed my attention long enough to take any notice of the plot. But Bond, James Bond (Sean Connery) is sent to Jamaica to take care of some business. Once there, he teams up with CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jack Lord) and local boatman Quarrel (John Kitzmiller). There’s some sort of threat to the American rocket program, launching from Cape Canaveral, close enough to the Bahamas to be threatened from Jamaica.
Soon enough, the threat is personified by Dr. Julius No (Joseph Wiseman), and Bond is espionaging his way across the island paradise, while also finding time to shaboink original Bond girl, Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder. After a few awkward fights, corny set pieces and cheesy villain work on even cheesier sets, Bond gets his showdown with Dr. No and the film world’s most prolific franchise is born.
As the movie that launched this prolific franchise, the biggest surprise with Dr. No was how much it already had in place, but at the same time, how much it still had to figure out. The opening titles alone are a combination of everything James Bond has been built on, while also being an obviously wary first step, as the minds behind it were trying to figure out how these movies would look, sound and feel.
Until the final act when Dr. No, his plans and his elaborate lair are revealed, Dr. No is surprisingly small and low key. No crazy gadgets, no flash cars, no big heroics. It’s just James Bond taking care of nitty gritty business. Fist fights, grunt work and low key action is the name of the game here. And considering where the series has gone in the years since, it really was unexpected.
While a lot of Dr. No seems like a series trying to find its feet, Sean Connery obviously had it all figured out from the get go. This is the James Bond who has been the basis of a million impressions, parodies, rip offs and sketches. This is the James Bond who I know, despite never seeing a single one of Connery’s Bond movies until now. This is the reason James Bond is still around and a pop culture stalwart today.