Allow me, if I may, to transport you back in time to the single coolest moment in the history of cinema. The year is 1962. In an upscale casino, the Le Cercle Les Amabassadeurs in London, a crowd is gathered around a Chemin de Fer table, where the action is squarely focused on two players - a beautiful brunette woman and a well-dressed man whose face is hidden from view. After a particularly bold play, the gentleman says to the lady, "I admire your courage, Miss..." She responds by introducing herself as Sylvia Trench and saying, "I admire your luck, Mister..." Now the stranger is revealed, his face ruggedly handsome and relaying enormous confidence, his suit perfectly tailored, a cigarette dangling coolly from his lips.
"Bond. James Bond."
Though former model and truck driver Sean Connery wouldn´t fully hit his stride (and, consequently, become an international superstar) as Ian Fleming´s suave secret agent until his third outing, GOLDFINGER, this iconic scene is, without doubt, the moment which sealed the character´s status as the single most powerful and enduring symbol of male virility and style ever created. This memorable exchange leads almost immediately to another influential bit where Bond, prepared to catch a flight to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of fellow agent John Strangways, enters his apartment to find Miss Trench clad only in one of his button-down shirts and high heels, practicing her putting on the carpet. It´s difficult to imagine a screen moment up to that point which sent the minds of more male viewers racing down a path of uninhibited, unadulterated masculine fantasy. If these two indelible sequences were all DR. NO had to offer, it would still be noteworthy for its PLAYBOY-esque depiction of both every man´s ideal self-image and his notion of a perfect world. Fortunately, the first of 21 James Bond films to date has so much more to offer.
There´s the opening murder of Strangways and company by a trio of "blind" assassins. There´s the tense cat-and-mouse game between eventual allies Bond and CIA agent Felix Leiter. There´s the tough sequence in which agent 007 and Leiter strong arm a female enemy operative for trying to snap photographs of them. There´s an attempted murder by deadly tarantula. There´s Bond´s clever ambush and cold-blooded killing of the treacherous Professor Dent at the bungalow of femme fatale Miss Taro. There´s Dr. No himself, the sinister agent of SPECTRE with metal hands and a plot to sabotage American space launches from Cape Canaveral. There´s the battle between Bond and his cohorts and No´s mechanical "dragon". There´s the villain´s futuristic underwater base, complete with nuclear reactor and windows revealing the exotic marine life living just outside. And, of course, there´s Ursula Andress emerging from the surf, a perfect combination of feminine pulchritude and feline danger with her bikini, white leather belt, and sharp knife.
All of these wonderful elements and more are woven together by director Terence Young into a gritty, stylish, suspenseful affair worthy of Alfred Hitchcock himself. With an exciting score by uncredited John Barry (highlighted by credited composer Monty Norman´s iconic 007 theme), gorgeous Jamaican locations, the first of Maurice Binder´s unforgettable title sequences, and great performances all around, DR. NO is truly a first-rate thriller. It is not simply the first James Bond movie; it is one of the very best.
Why then isn´t DR. NO as roundly celebrated or praised as entries like GOLDFINGER or THE SPY WHO LOVED ME? Why isn´t the original, seminal 007 movie afforded the respect it so richly deserves by fans and film historians? Viewed through the lens of time, DR. NO is not as action-packed or fast-paced as many of its sequels. It contains few spectacular stunts and just one exotic locale. Its megalomaniacal villain and buxom female lead do not appear on-screen until late in the narrative. The antagonist´s evil plot is never realized for the audience to witness, but rather just explained in dialogue. Andress´ Honey Ryder is ultimately superfluous to the story, and her presence on the villain´s land seems a bit of a stretch in light of the tight security. Some critics have even argued that islander Quarrel´s superstitions about No´s dragon paint natives of Jamaica in a derogatory light.
These criticisms are, however, ultimately inconsequential. DR. NO succeeds because it expertly captures the essence of Fleming´s glamorous, thrilling world of fantastic espionage. Unlike most spy novelists, the former journalist and Naval Commander imbued his violent tales with considerable romance and sex appeal, often transplanting the cloak-and-dagger action from cold alleyways and grimy railroad stations to opulent hotels and sandy, sun-drenched beaches. Fleming´s fictional landscape was as irresistible as it was deadly, and producers Harry Saltzman and Albert "Cubby" Broccoli understood that accurately recreating that landscape, complete with larger-than-life hero and impossibly gorgeous girls, on the screen was essential to launching an enduring film franchise. With the lavish and lusty DR. NO, they did just that, revolutionizing the motion picture industry and forever assuring Bond´s place in popular culture. Whatever its shortcomings when compared to bigger, more expensive Bonds to follow, the movie delivers an adventure that is worthy of both the hero it introduces and the legendary writer that created him.