When No Time to Die arrives in theaters this November, the time of year it should’ve been scheduled for in the first place, it will mark the final appearance of Daniel Craig as 007 – what a tremendous run it has been.
With more than enough time on my hands, and a soft spot for nostalgia, I plan on reviewing as many of the 24 Bond films that have led us to number 25.
It all began in the fall of 1962, when one gun barrel, one bloodied screen, and one immortal theme composed by Monty Norman, would introduce the film that would change cinema forever…and that film was Dr. No.
Following the film’s memorable title sequence, we witness what appears to be three blind men walking to the beat of the song, “Three Blind Mice,” and as they cross the street you may feel like you’re watching the wrong film; the tone of the film’s initial scene, set by its accompanying song choice, appears to contrast what we’d expect from a more adult action film. The screen then cuts to a group of men playing cards, until an operative who goes by the name Strangways leaves the table. For first-time viewers, confusion may sway them to ask, is this our protagonist? Their question is quickly answered with a defiant no, as the three blind men turn out not to be so blind but hired assassins who gun down Strangways in broad daylight. The assassins later break into Strangways’ residence and kill his secretary too – trouble is surely afoot.
Finally, we arrive at a casino, and there a legend is born. The beautiful Sylvia Trench, played by Eunice Gayson (1928-2018), is playing Baccarat with a mysterious stranger whom we can only see the back of his head. Despite being under the house’s roof, he is the one dealing the cards and he keeps on winning.
“I admire your courage, Miss?”
“Trench. Sylvia Trench. I admire your luck, Mr.?”
“Bond. James Bond.”
In a line where he is mocking his opponent, Sean Connery would deliver one of the most recognized lines in cinematic history and cement himself as the face of Bond for years to come.
Connery is the epitome of Bond as we know him: he’s classy, ruthless, sarcastic, and yet not invincible. His delivery of one-liners is of the highest order, from “I think they were on their way to a funeral” following one of the first Bond car chases, to “that’s a Smith and Wesson and you’ve had your six.” Connery is beyond cool and has perfect timing; no one embodies the persona of Bond better than him.
One of the strengths of the Bond franchise is the array of characters it introduces us to, those who aid Bond and those who challenge him, and Dr. No serves as a strong origin for what to expect in future films. The flirtatious Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), the stern M (Bernard Lee), John Kitzmiller’s dependable fish captain, Quarrel, who meets a grisly death from the fire of a “dragon”, and Ursula Andress’ Honey Ryder, whose emergence from the ocean strapped in a white bikini and with a dagger to her side is nothing short of iconic, are all examples of the wonderful characters the Bond franchise has brought to life.
Despite being the film’s titular character, Dr. No doesn’t appear until the final half hour. Joseph Wiseman plays the antagonist with a soft-spoken villainy and is exemplary in a dinner-table discussion with Bond where he reveals his plan to thwart a U.S. rocket launch. Wiseman’s Dr. No ends up being a worthy opponent both verbally and physically, fighting Bond on a descending elevator into radioactive waters; his metal hands ultimately come back to bite him, as his grip fails him, and he sinks to his likely corrosive death. Due to Dr. No’s lack of screen time in the film, he isn’t the most memorable Bond villain, but even if his evil plan didn’t work out, he still managed to successfully test 007.
The action sequences, while obviously dated, are still impressive and engage the viewer. The set design in Jamaica is beautiful, as the film was actually shot on location in Jamaica.
Dr. No concludes with Bond lounging away on the sea, as the man who saves the day and gets the girl; it doesn’t get more Bond than that.
Dr. No would pave the way for fifty more years of James Bond on the big screen, and while it may sometimes get lost in the mix of greater Bond films, it will always remain a monumental starting point for one of the greatest action franchises ever. 8/10