James Bond Origins: Is Dr No the Best Bond Movie of Them All?
By Moss Worth
January 17, 2018
What is it about James Bond that has captivated the world of entertainment since the publication of the first Ian Fleming novel, Casino Royale, in 1953? The charmingly deadly character of Agent 007 sure is the main reason, but the concept of super-gadget-enhanced espionage versus national and global threats has just as strong an appeal, becoming a bottomless source of inspiration for book and movie alike.
The author’s torch, currently in the hands of Steve Cole for the Young Bond series - with the latest instalment, Red Nemesis, released in May 2017 - has actually been passed along more time than the lead actor’s. Yet it is the silver screen adaptations that have made the most impact.
Dr. No (1962) was James Bond’s debut with Terence Young at the helm and Sean Connery the warm wind in its sails. Audiences could not get enough of it. Scoring 96% in positive reviews from Rotten Tomatoes critics and 82% from users, this title is still considered a stylishly thrilling start to the franchise. Is it, though, the best James Bond movie? To answer this, we need to look at the whole picture, weigh some of the pros and cons of Dr. No in relation to the series’ overall context.
It opened the series, a fact that should not be taken lightly. Sequels are known to rarely live up to the hype of the originals and, for better or worse, this is the case with James Bond. Dr. No was something audiences had never seen before, a new movie experience that combined action, subterfuge, tongue-in-cheek humour and an irresistible protagonist. The first film represents the thrill of encountering 007 for the first time, a memory that created a standard, against which all sequels would be compared. And very often fall short.
Sean Connery, compared to some successors that failed to impress, is another advantage worth repeating. A less known actor back then, his portrayal of charming yet womanizing and cold-blooded secret agent was exceptional. Without the complexity and intrigue of James Bond as a person, the movie would not have had the same effect. His proper characterization was also made possible by the production’s loyalty to Fleming’s mindset instead of worrying about the public not liking Bond, a concern that seems to have affected subsequent instalments.
Direction, grounded and clever. Let us take, for example, the opening scene of Dr. Nowith Bond at a casino table playing baccarat, cited from Betway as one as one of the best gambling scenes in film, together with 21 and 2001's Ocean's Eleven by casino game enthusiasts around the world. This scene instantly introduces the theme of risky confrontation, requiring deception, wit and courage in order to win. Is that not the essence of every Bond film? And it all started here, as did the features of vodka Martinis and beautiful women who can't be trusted.
Simplicity. Less may be more, but in the movie business this rule has often been disproved with the right ingredients. This is why Dr. No, while still a fan favorite, is constantly outshined by other Bond films. Film critic Peter Travers on Rolling Stone magazine has it as the sixth best film in the series, close behind Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale (2006) and Skyfall (2012), George Lazenby’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service(1969), and Sean Connery’s two other contributions, From Russia with Love (1963) and Goldfinger (1964), topping the list. A common feature in all of these: gadgetry. Not to mention more complex plots and, of course, swagger.
Villains are not an easy thing to create and Dr Julius No was a decent antagonist, but one outshone by Blofeld of You Only Live Twice (1967) played by Donald Pleasance or even Jaws, the henchman in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979), both characters ranked higher on Digital Spy. Any given hero, if not their entire story, is only as interesting as their rival. Once again, other movies did better what Dr. No started.
Flaws can be found in every production if you look hard enough, but, having already discussed the uncomplicatedness of Dr. No, greater efforts could have been made to prevent issues pointed out by reviewers on IMDB, ranging from political inaccuracies to the frequent emergence of Sean Connery’s Scottish accent – beloved as it may be. Because of its outdatedness and carelessness on this, among several other matters, it is unlikely to reach a higher prominence than it already has.
At the end of the day, Dr. No is a very good spy flick, its acclaims well deserved, a considerable feat when looking at the backlash other Bond titles received. It was and always will be the cinematic franchise’s grandfather with much to envy and teach, supporting 007’s long journey to tasteful maturity. While not the best James Bond film to many, it is one of the few that truly reflect the engaging qualities that have kept the series in the limelight.