Little did the audiences of 1963 know they were witnessing the start of a cinematic phenomenon whereby a low budget film starring an unknown Scottish actor would go on to spawn the most successful franchise in movie history. Nearly 20 films later, James Bond is still going strong.
"Dr. No" opens in Jamaica where two British Secret Service agents have been brutally murdered. James Bond, special agent, licence to kill, is sent to investigate. Bond survives numerous attempts on his life and quickly learns of the mysterious Doctor No, a recluse who seems to be behind various goings-on. Bond travels to Doctor No's island and finds himself embroiled in a deadly plot.
The elements that have become familiar in all subsequent Bond movies are already present. There is a grotesque and ingenious villain threatening the peace of the world; casual sex and even more casual sadism abounds; there are the wisecracks, exotic locations, and that familiar theme music.
However, "Dr No" is a more down-to-earth affair than subsequent entries. The modest budget enforces a low-key, almost realistic tone. Bond is forced to rely on his wits to get the job done, rather then pulling out the gimmicks and gadgetry of later films.
Sean Connery is arguably the finest Bond. In this, his first appearance, he is far from an indestructible superman. He displays fear, panic, and disgust. He spends a lot of the film being captured, brutalised, and humiliated. It makes his triumph all the more satisfying. Bernard Lee provides support as Bond's curmudgeonly boss M and Ursula Andress, the first in a long line of Bond girls, emerges Venus-like from the surf in the film's most memorable sequence.
Mention should be made of Joseph Wiseman as the nefarious Doctor (a role initially offered to Noel Coward). With prosthetic hands and stiff gait, he strikes the right note of sinister evil.
"Dr. No" does not attain the heights of subsequent classics such as "Goldfinger" and "You Only Live Twice", but neither does it suffer from the campness of later, lesser efforts. It is a fine start to a series which has provided the moviegoing public with some cinematic gems.
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