Dr. No is a 1962 film directed by Terence Young that was based on the 1958 novel of the same name by Ian Fleming. Between 1952 and 1966, Fleming wrote 12 spy novels and two collections of short stories that revolve around the character James Bond — a former commander in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and now an officer in the British Secret Intelligence Service (aka MI6). He’s known by his code number, 007. The film stars Sean Connery and Ursula Andress, and Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, and Berkely Mather worked on the adaptation at various times. Produced by Harry Saltzman and Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli, Dr. No was the first film under their now-famous partnership, which lasted until 1974.
Saltzman and Broccoli tried to avoid comparison to the international political situation between the Soviet Union and the United States by introducing SPECTRE, which they hoped audiences would accept as an “evil empire” substitute for the Soviet Union. Their intention failed; over the next decade or so, the Bond film series became associated with the Cold War.
Dr. No was the sixth Bond novel and first Bond film; in both, the story is set in Jamaica. I’m not going to go into the plot much because, for me, the more interesting story lies in the “Bond effect” impact on culture and in the making of the film itself. I’m not a Bond film fan at all; in fact, they rank high on my mental list of Movies People Love But Should Probably Hate. For the record, as I wrote this review, the thought, I say NO to Dr. No, ran through my head.
We can praise or blame this 1962 movie for everything Bond simply because it was the first film in the (apparently unending and unrelentingly offensive) James Bond film series. I lean toward blame. I was born the year after this film opened, so I grew up as the Bond film franchise did (so to speak). Women of my age and younger have endured watching the furor and excitement of the release of every Bond film since Dr. No, decade after decade, film after film ~ well, it hasn’t been a pleasant or encouraging experience for “us girls”. That the phrase “Bond girl” exists and is popularly accepted as a “good” thing is, in this 58-year-old woman’s opinion, beyond offensive. Bond girls refers either to the female characters, sometimes with offensive double-entendre names, or the actresses playing a Bond girl. The titillating salivation directed at female actors who “get the part” of a Bond girl has been as offensive as the unsavory comparisons to Bond girls that ordinary women endure. But Bond girls aren’t the only objectionable thing about James Bond films. Most, if not all, of the films are offensive on so many levels that it would require a university-level series of several-semester courses to analyze them all. Suffice to say that misogyny, ethnocentricity, and racism abound. For the record, it’s a pretty safe bet to assume the Bond character / franchise’s popularity and high rankings in various film industry lists reflect a white British / American / European perspective.
For those who love the James Bond franchise, Dr. No is their Rosetta Stone because so many aspects of a typical James Bond film are established in it. For example, the highly stylized main title sequence and the “sighting” of Bond through a gun barrel, both of which Maurice Binder created, became staples of future Bond films. The gun-barrel sequence was filmed in sepia by putting a pinhole camera inside a .38-caliber gun barrel, with (uncredited) stuntman Bob Simmons playing Bond. Dr. No also introduced Monty Norman’s now-iconic James Bond theme music. With Dr. No, production designer Ken Adam established an elaborate visual style that’s a hallmark of Bond films. Dr. No also set the stage for future Bond film shenanigans, absurdities, and / or incongruities because some situations in the Dr. No novel made their way into the film with no logical script-related justification. Perhaps most notably, James Bond’s character itself was altered in the film, making him a man of greater intelligence and savvy than any other character; he is virtually unbeatable and utterly amazing. An example from Dr. No is Bond’s “escape” from his cell through the air shaft. That situation in the novel was just a ruse by Dr. No to test Bond’s skill and endurance without Bond actually getting away, but in the film, the (amazing) Bond effects a true escape.
Dr. No follows the basic plot of Fleming’s novel, but the film leaves out some of the book’s significant elements, like Bond’s fight with a giant squid and the escape from Dr. No’s compound in the dragon-disguised swamp buggy. Some things in the novel were simply changed in the film, like:
- The use of a non-venomous tarantula spider instead of the book’s (kind of hilarious) deadly centipede.
- Dr. No’s island fortress isn’t nuclear-powered in the book.
- Dr. No’s secret lair is disguised as a bauxite mine in the film rather than the book’s guano quarry.
- In the book, Dr. No is working with the Russians and has built an elaborate underground facility from which he can sabotage U.S. test missiles launched from Cape Canaveral. In the film, Dr. No is an operative of the fictional crime organization SPECTRE intent on disrupting U.S. rocket launches.
- Dr. No’s demise in the film is to boil alive in overheating reactor coolant while, in the book, he is buried alive under a chuteload of guano.
Across decades of Bond-film production, plot elements stray from Fleming’s novels, and Dr. No is no exception. Perhaps the film’s variations from the 1958 book came about in part because Dr. No was the sixth of Fleming’s Bond novels (1953’s Casino Royale was the first Bond book) and the 1962 film references things from the five previously published Bond books and some Bond books published after 1958’s Dr. No book (e.g., SPECTRE wasn’t introduced until the 1961 novel Thunderball).
The film differs from the book in other ways that have become recognizable as either iconic scenes or recurring relationships. Not in the novel but included in the Dr. No film:
- Film audiences are introduced to James Bond in a casino.
- Bond’s semi-regular girlfriend, Sylvia Trench.
- A fight scene with an enemy chauffeur.
- A fight scene to introduce Bond’s friend Quarrel.
- The seduction of Miss Taro.
- Bond’s recurring CIA ally, Felix Leiter.
- Dr. No’s partner in crime, Professor Dent (and Bond’s controversial killing of Dent).
Produced on a low budget of $1 million, Dr. No was a financial success that received a mixed critical reaction when it came out; over the years, it is regarded as one of the series’ best installments. It launched a genre of other “secret agent” films that flourished in the 1960s and created complementary merchandise (such as a soundtrack album and comic-book adaptation) — the kind of things that have since become common in the marketing and promotion of films.
The making of Dr. No is full of as many oddities, twists, and turns as, well, any Bond movie. Ian Fleming first wrote Dr. No as a television outline. It was supposed to promote Jamaican tourism, but the project fell through, so Fleming began meeting with Canadian film producer Saltzman about making a big-screen adaptation. Although Fleming was not a fan of Saltzman productions, after seeing 1960’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Fleming gambled on the future and sold Saltzman the rights to all of his James Bond novels (except Casino Royale and Thunderball) for $50,000. In my opinion, Fleming gambled poorly.
Saltzman had trouble financing the project from the start. Screenwriter Wolf Mankowitz introduced Saltzman to Broccoli, who tried to buy the rights to all of the Bond novels from Saltzman. He did not want to sell, so they instead formed a partnership to make the films. Still, the consensus from Hollywood film studios that did not want to fund the films was that the Bond stories were “too British” and “too blatantly sexual.” United Artists eventually agreed to let Saltzman and Broccoli produce Dr. No, with a release planned for 1962. (Saltzman and Broccoli created two companies: Danjaq, to hold the rights to the films, and EON Productions, to produce them. In 1975, tensions during the filming of The Man with the Golden Gun led to a bitter split in their partnership, and Saltzman sold his shares of Danjaq to United Artists.)
Financing Dr. No wasn’t the only issue at first. Broccoli and Saltzman had wanted their first Bond film to be the eighth Bond novel, 1961’s Thunderball. But due to a legal dispute between Fleming and the screenplay’s co-author, Kevin McClory, they couldn’t use that story. So Broccoli and Saltzman chose Dr. No, thinking it a timely tale because at the time there were problems with American rocket testing at Cape Canaveral; rockets were going astray. Then, there were problems finding a director. The first choice was Phil Karlson, but he asked for too high a salary. Saltzman and Broccoli then offered Dr. No to Guy Green, Guy Hamilton, Val Guest, and Ken Hughes, but they all turned it down. In the end, Young signed on as director; he had directed films produced by Broccoli’s company, Warwick Films.
Broccoli and Saltzman felt Young was the right choice to transfer the essence of the James Bond character from book to film. Indeed, Young made a lot of stylistic choices for Bond’s character that were carried through the Bond film series, and he wisely decided to inject humor into the film. He thought that “a lot of things in this film, the sex, and violence, and so on if played straight, a) would be objectionable, and b) were never gonna go past the censors; but the moment you take the mickey out, put the tongue out in the cheek, it seems to disarm.” Young also used features from the novel — like the obstacle course and a torrent of water with a scalding surface — that had no logical justification in the script. Incongruities like that show up in subsequent Bond films.
United Artists only put up $1 million for the film; eventually, the United Kingdom arm of United Artists provided an extra $100,000 to create the climax where Dr. No’s base explodes. Because of the low budget, the film had one sound editor (normally there are two: one for sound effects and one for dialogue), and a lot of scenery was made on the cheap, like the cardboard paintings in M’s office. Other cheapies were the leather-like plastic covering M’s office door, and the aquarium in Dr. No’s base was just magnified stock footage of goldfish. The room where Dent meets Dr. No only cost $1,001.65 in today’s dollars to build. Art director Syd Cain discovered his name was not in the credits, and Broccoli gave him a golden pen as compensation because he didn’t want to spend money making the credits again. Adam, the production designer, later told UK daily newspaper The Guardian in 2005:
“The budget for Dr No was under $1m for the whole picture. My budget was £14,500. I filled three stages at Pinewood full of sets while they were filming in Jamaica. It wasn’t a real aquarium in Dr. No’s apartment. It was a disaster to tell you the truth because we had so little money. We decided to use a rear-projection screen and get some stock footage of fish. What we didn’t realise was because we didn’t have much money the only stock footage they could buy was of goldfish-sized fish, so we had to blow up the size and put a line in the dialogue with Bond talking about the magnification. I didn’t see any reason why Dr. No shouldn’t have good taste so we mixed contemporary furniture and antiques. We thought it would be fun for him to have some stolen art so we used Goya’s Portrait of the Duke of Wellington, which was still missing at the time. I got hold of a slide from the National Gallery — this was on the Friday, shooting began on the Monday — and I painted a Goya over the weekend. It was pretty good so they used it for publicity purposes but, just like the real one, it got stolen while it was on display.”
There were problems with the script, too. Broccoli originally hired Maibaum and his friend Mankowitz to write Dr. No’s screenplay, partly because Mankowitz had helped broker the production partnership deal between Broccoli and Saltzman. Maibaum and Mankowitz wanted to rewrite the character of Dr. No because they saw him as a knockoff character — a “Fu Manchu with steel hooks.” In the initial draft of the screenplay, they turned Dr. No into a marmoset — marmosets are one of the 22 species of New World monkeys. That draft was rejected.
Mankowitz then left the film, and Maibaum wrote a second version of the story more closely in line with the novel. Johanna Harwood and thriller writer Berkely Mather then worked on Maibaum’s script. Young described Harwood as a script doctor, saying she helped put Bond’s character more “in tune” with a British character. Eventually, after viewing early rushes and fearing the movie would be a disaster, Mankowitz had his name removed from the credits.
The Bond films’ soundtracks have become famous in their own right (and well-reviewed here at MWFJ), but the orchestral Bond theme itself is one of the most recognizable film franchise themes ever created. Norman was invited to write the film score because Broccoli liked his work on the 1961 theatre production Belle, a musical about murderer Hawley Harvey Crippen. Norman only agreed to do the music for Dr. No after Saltzman let him go to Jamaica with the crew. Nothing like a free Caribbean trip to grease one’s creative wheels! Norman actually based the theme on an earlier composition of his. The now-famous theme was described by another Bond film composer, David Arnold, as “bebop-swing vibe coupled with that vicious, dark, distorted electric guitar, definitely an instrument of rock ‘n’ roll … it represented everything about the character you would want: It was cocky, swaggering, confident, dark, dangerous, suggestive, sexy, unstoppable. And he did it in two minutes.” One other musical note in Dr. No is that Norman’s wife, singer Diana Coupland, was the singing voice of Honey Ryder for the traditional Jamaican calypso “Under the Mango Tree,” heard as Ryder walks out of the ocean in the white bikini scene. Included in the tumultuous backstory of this film are a few musical lawsuits. John Barry, who was uncredited in the film except for noting his orchestra plays the tune for the end credits, claimed credit for the theme. The disputed claim was the subject of two court cases that found in favor of Norman. Ernest Ranglin, who also acted as arranger on several tracks, and Carlos Malcolm were two of the Jamaican musicians who played on the soundtrack. They sued for unpaid fees; both settled out of court, and Malcolm and his band performed at the film’s premiere in Kingston a year later.
Today, it’s easy to assume that casting Connery as James Bond must’ve been a no-brainer for Saltzman and Broccoli. But like everything about this movie, casting Bond wasn’t that simple. They first tried to get Cary Grant for the role, but Grant would only commit to one film and the producers needed someone who would be part of a series. Actor Richard Johnson claimed to have been Young’s first choice, but Johnson turned it down because he already had a contract with MGM. Another actor rumored for the role was Patrick McGoohan, who was popular as spy John Drake in the TV series Danger Man, but McGoohan turned it down as well. Another potential Bond included David Niven, who eventually did play Bondin the 1967 parody Casino Royale (six other actors also played British Secret Service agents pretending to be Bond in that film). There are a lot of stories as to Fleming’s personal preferences for the first Bond: some say he wanted actor Richard Todd, but Fleming’s stepson Paul Morgan claims that Fleming wanted Edward Underdown. In Broccoli’s autobiography When the Snow Melts, he says Roger Moore was considered, but they thought he was “too young, perhaps a shade too pretty.” In Moore’s autobiography, My Word Is My Bond, he says he was never approached to play the role of Bond until 1972 (for Live and Let Die).
Ultimately, Broccoli and Saltzman contracted 31-year-old Connery for five films, but even the casting of Connery has odd stories associated with it. It is often said Connery won the role through a “find Scarlett O’Hara”-esque contest set up to “find James Bond.” While neither Vivien Leigh nor Connery was actually “found” that way, both contests did exist. For James Bond in Dr. No, six finalists were chosen and screen-tested by Broccoli, Saltzman and Fleming, and a 28-year-old model named Peter Anthony won. According to Broccoli, Anthony had a Gregory Peck-like quality that they liked, but it turned out that the actor was “unable to cope with” the role (whatever that means). Connery didn’t take part in the contest; he was simply invited to meet Broccoli and Saltzman. For whatever reason, Connery went to the meeting — a meeting that would ultimately change his life — looking unimpressively scruffy and wearing un-ironed clothes. But Connery presented with a macho devil-may-care attitude, and Saltzman and Broccoli agreed he was the right man for Bond. After Connery was chosen, Young took the actor to his personal tailor and hairdresser, and also introduced him to the high life, restaurants, casinos and women of London. In the words of Bond writer Raymond Benson, Young educated the actor “in the ways of being dapper, witty, and above all, cool”. The now-famous casting of Connery as James Bond was announced on November 3, 1961.
The world was introduced to film’s James Bond, well, after some film foreplay; Bond shows up for the first time on film in a nightclub scene that doesn’t happen right away in the movie, but the world seems to think it was worth the wait. The now-famous scene was derived from Bond’s introduction in the first novel, Casino Royale. Fleming used a casino setting because he believed “skill at gambling and knowledge of how to behave in a casino were seen … as attributes of a gentleman”. After losing a hand of Chemin de Fer to Bond, Sylvia Trench asks his name. Did you know that Bond wasn’t supposed to say “Bond . . . James Bond”? In the script, the line was written as, “I am James Bond,” but Connery thought that sounded weak and ad-libbed the now-iconic line. Then, in the first few takes Connery didn’t pause, and that seemed not quite right, either, so he paused to light the cigarette between “Bond” and “James Bond,” and, as they say, the rest is history. Once Connery says his line, Norman’s Bond theme plays, linking forever the music and the character. Raymond Benson, author of the continuation Bond novels, said that as the music fades up in the scene, “we have ourselves a piece of classic cinema.” The quote became a popular-culture catchphrase, voted by British moviegoers in 2001 as the best-loved one-liner in cinema and, in 2005, honored as the American Film Institute’s 22nd greatest quotation in cinema. In the book, Ian Fleming & James Bond: the cultural politics of 007 (2005, Indiana University Press), the authors note that, in the short scene introducing Bond, the audience recognizes “qualities of strength, action, reaction, violence – and this elegant, slightly brutal gambler with the quizzical sneer we see before us who answers a woman when he’s good and ready.”
That all sounds really great and sexy and cool, doesn’t it? It’s no wonder Bond is so popular with the fellas. He’s so cool, man. And he sure knows how to put a woman in her place, even the most gorgeous ones.
Casting the first Bond girl, a shell diver named Honey Ryder, also went through some ups and downs, some of which are as offensive as Bond-girl character names. For example, Julie Christie was considered, but producers rejected her as “not voluptuous enough.” Other possibilities were rejected for less offensive reasons: Martine Beswick was too inexperienced, and Gabriella Licudi was too young at 20 years of age, but five years later she appeared in the 1967 spoof, Casino Royale. Two weeks before filming began, Andress was selected to play Ryder: the selection came (rather creepily) after Saltzman and Broccoli saw a photograph of her taken by her husband John Derek. A married father of two, Derek had walked out on his wife and children to be with 19-year-old Andress, and yes, he is the same Derek who later married and made famous two “younger” versions of Andress: American actresses Linda Evans and Mary Cathleen Collins (aka Bo Derek). Andress’s casting even involves Kirk Douglas: at a party hosted by Derek, Douglas was the person who convinced Andress to take the part. You can’t make this stuff up.
It’s obvious that “voluptuousness” was the only reason Andress was cast. Her lines were redubbed by voice actress Nikki van der Zyl. Did you know van der Zyl dubbed actresses in 10 different Bond films? She was the voice of Honey, Trench (twice), Jill Masterson, Domino, and Kissy Suzuki. With the exceptions of Moneypenny and Miss Taro, van der Zyl voiced every female character in Dr. No! Dissed by the franchise all these decades, van der Zyl is today rightfully a little pissed off by the powers-that-be’s lack of acknowledgment for her place in cinematic history.
Back to voluptuousness. Andress’ entrance became an iconic moment in cinematic and fashion history: she walks out of the Caribbean Sea in a white bikini, with a large diving knife strapped to her hip. Costume designer Tessa Prendergast took inspiration for the bikini from British Army webbing belts. The scene made Andress the quintessential Bond girl for all time, and she later said she owed her entire acting career to that white bikini: “This bikini made me into a success. As a result of starring in Dr. No as the first Bond girl, I was given the freedom to take my pick of future roles and to become financially independent.” (The bikini she wore in the film sold at auction in 2001 for £41,125 — or $55,095.16 in today’s money). Andress won the Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year in 1964 for her appearance and, in 2003, a U.K. survey found her entrance voted #1 in “the 100 Greatest Sexy Moments on Screen.”
What about casting Dr. No, you ask? Well, unsurprisingly, no Asian actors were considered. Swedish actor Max von Sydow was offered the role but turned it down; he would later appear as Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the unofficial 1983 James Bond film Never Say Never Again. Ian Fleming originally wanted his friend Noël Coward to play Dr. No, but Coward answered with a resounding, “No! No! No!” Then Fleming chose his step-cousin, Christopher Lee, but by the time he told Saltzman and Broccoli, they had already chosen Joseph Wiseman. Saltzman picked Wiseman because of his performance in 1951’s Detective Story. Special makeup was used on Wiseman to evoke Dr. No’s Chinese heritage. Another failure to have Asian actors play Asian characters occurred with the casting of Chinese character Miss Taro. The part was offered to Marguerite LeWars, 1961’s Miss Jamaica, who was working at the Kingston airport at the time. But she turned it down because it required being “wrapped in a towel, lying in a bed, kissing a strange man.” Talitha Pol, Lina Margo and Violet Marceau were considered for the part, but it eventually went to Zena Marshall, a British actress often cast in “ethnic” roles, like those of Asian women, because of her “exotic” look. Marshall has said she was attracted by the script’s humorous elements and described her role as “this attractive little siren, and at the same time I was the spy, a bad woman” who Young asked her to play “not as Chinese, but a Mid-Atlantic woman who men dream about but is not real.” Um, gross.
A few actors in Dr. No became stalwarts of the series: Bernard Lee played Bond’s superior M for another 10 films, and Lois Maxwell played M’s secretary Moneypenny in 14 Bond films. Maxwell was initially offered a choice of two roles: Moneypenny or Sylvia Trench. She thought the Trench role, which included appearing in immodest dress, was too sexual, so she (wisely) chose Moneypenny. Eunice Gayson was cast as Sylvia Trench because of her “voluptuous figure.” They planned for her to be a recurring girlfriend for Bond throughout six films, but she was only in Dr. No and From Russia with Love. Anthony Dawson, who played Professor Dent, later played Ernst Stavro Blofeld in From Russia with Love and Thunderball; in Thunderball, his face is never shown, and his voice was redubbed by an Austrian actor.
The complicated and low-budget filming of Dr. No began on location at Palisades Airport in Kingston, Jamaica, in January 1962, and lasted 58 days. Primary scenes filmed in Jamaica were the exterior shots of Kingston (and the story’s fictional Crab Key) and took place a few yards from Ian Fleming’s GoldenEye estate. He was a regular visitor to the set, often bringing friends. On-location filming was mainly in Oracabessa, with additional scenes filmed on the Palisadoes strip and in Port Royal. In February, the production left Jamaica, due to weather, with footage still to be filmed, and five days later, filming began at Pinewood Studios in England. Pinewood Studios sets designed by Adam included Dr. No’s base, the ventilation duct and the interior of the British Secret Service headquarters. The scene in which a tarantula walks across Bond was initially shot by pinning a bed to the wall and placing Connery over it, with a protective glass between him and the spider, but director Young didn’t like how it looked. The scenes were then interlaced with new footage of the tarantula over stuntman Simmons, who was also the film’s fight choreographer. Simmons described the tarantula scene as the most frightening stunt he had ever performed.
Violence in Dr. No, which included Bond shooting Dent in cold blood, was so over-the-top that producers changed some scenes to get a rating that would allow minors to attend accompanied by an adult. Other production changes were made, like a scene originally in the book with Honey Ryder tied to the ground and left to be attacked by crabs. That scene was filmed, but the crabs were imported frozen but alive — ew, gross — and they didn’t move much as the scene was filmed. So, the scene was changed to Ryder slowly drowning. Editor Peter R. Hunt implemented an innovative editing technique to the film’s action scenes, using quick cuts, fast motion, and exaggerated sound effects. Hunt said his intention was, in part, that fast pacing would help audiences not notice writing problems. I say: you know what the road to Hell is paved with . . . .
As you can see already, there are a lot of reasons why Dr. No could’ve been a big old flop. But promotional efforts definitely helped James Bond become a cultural icon even before the film was released. In late 1961, United Artists started a marketing campaign to make James Bond a household name in America. Newspapers received a box set of Bond books, a booklet about the Bond character, and (of course) a voluptuous photograph of Andress. EON and United Artists made licensing deals revolving around the character’s tastes; there were Bond “merch” tie-ins with spirits, tobacco, men’s clothing, and car companies. The promotional campaign emphasized the film’s sex appeal with the poster artwork, created by Mitchell Hooks, depicting Sean Connery and four scantily clad women. The campaign also included the now-famous 007 logo, designed by Joseph Caroff, with a pistol becoming part of the “7”. Dr. No had its worldwide premiere at the London Pavilion on October 5, 1962, then three days later expanded across the rest of the United Kingdom. In March 1963, Sean Connery and Terence Young did a cross-country tour of the United States, which featured screening previews and press conferences. The North American premiere, on May 8, 1963, was actually rather low-profile; it was only in 450 cinemas in Midwest and Southwest regions. It didn’t premiere in Los Angeles or New York until May 29 — in LA on a double-bill with The Young and the Brave, while in New York it was given United Artists’ “Premiere Showcase” treatment (which avoids the expense of Broadway cinemas) by showing the film in 84 cinemas across the city.
Even with all that promotion, Dr. No received a mixed reception when it was released. Leonard Mosely in The Daily Express said, “Dr No is fun all the way, and even the sex is harmless” while Penelope Gilliatt in The Observer said it was “full of submerged self-parody.” The Guardian‘s critic called it “crisp and well-tailored” and “a neat and gripping thriller.” President John F. Kennedy was a fan of Fleming’s novels and requested a private showing of Dr. No in the White House, but not everyone was as appreciative. Stanley Kauffmann in The New Republic said the film “never decides whether it is suspense or suspense-spoof.” (Like me, Kauffmann also didn’t care for the Fleming novels; unlike me, he didn’t like Connery, period.) Time magazine called Bond a “blithering bounder” and “a great big hairy marshmallow” who “almost always manages to seem slightly silly.” (isn’t that a great description?!).
Even the Vatican pontificated (literally) with condemnation, saying the movie was “a dangerous mixture of violence, vulgarity, sadism and sex.” The Kremlin (yes, the Kremlin) said James Bond was the “personification of capitalist evil.” Having the Vatican and the Kremlin weigh in about the film only increased attendance and public awareness. Remember the film’s production budget of only $1 million? The original North American gross was $2 million, increasing to $6 million after its first reissue in 1965 as a double-feature with From Russia with Love. The next reissue in 1966 paired it with Goldfinger. The total gross of Dr. No ended up being $59.6 million worldwide, and its popularity has endured — ranking sixth on IGN’s list of best Bond films, seventh on that of Entertainment Weekly, and 12th at MSN. In 1999, it was ranked 41 on the British Film Institute’s top 100 British films list. The 2005 American Film Institute’s 100 Years series recognized the James Bond character in the film as the third-greatest film hero. Even today, it has a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes with an average score of 7.8 out of 10. The U.K. Film Distributors’ Association says the importance of Dr. No to the British film industry cannot be overstated, recognizing that it and subsequent Bond films, “form the backbone of the [British film] industry.” I mean, wow, that’s quite a statement.
I may say NO to Dr. No but the film became a great big YES for the entire entertainment industry. In October 1962, a comic-book adaptation written by Norman J. Nodel was published in the United Kingdom as part of the Classics Illustrated anthology series, and in January 1963, the comic was reprinted in the United States by DC Comics as part of the Showcase anthology series (a rare example of a British comic being reprinted in a high-profile American comic). It was one of the first comics censored on racial grounds, and some skin tones and dialogue were altered in the American version. Dr. No and the Bond films in general inspired TV shows like the NBC series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. The first spoof film was the 1964 film Carry On Spying, whose villain, Dr. Crow, was overcome by agents who included Charlie Bind (played by Charles Hawtrey) and Daphne Honeybutt (played by Barbara Windsor). Much later, the popular Austin Powers film series lampooned Dr. No’s opening theme / gun-barrel sequence and other Bond-esque film elements.
Sales of Fleming’s novels rose after the release of Dr. No, tallying 1.5 million copies sold in the seven months afterward. Between 1962 and 1967, a total of nearly 22.8 million Bond novels were sold. The Bond effect expanded beyond sales of Bond books and other promotional merch; for example, the film influenced the fashion industry because the bikini worn by Andress inspired skyrocketing sales of two-piece swimwear.
Did you know there was a Global James Bond Day? Fifty years after the film’s release, Global James Bond Day was celebrated on October 5, 2012. EON Productions hosted a series of events around the world, including a film festival of Bond films, a documentary on the series, an online auction for charity, and events held at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Toronto International Film Festival. Simultaneous to the New York event, there was a concert in Los Angeles. Also, the 2012 Bond film, Skyfall, was released on Global James Bond Day, with Adele’s theme song for the film released exactly at 0:07 BST.
Since Dr. No’s release in 1962, it’s estimated that a quarter of the world’s population has seen at least one Bond film. Again, the popularity statistics likely represent a primarily white British/American/European perspective. It’s fair to say the world awaits a non-white James Bond. A few years ago, an exciting rumor that Idris Elba might be cast as the next James Bond went viral. In 2018, he played along by tweeting a photo of himself with the caption: “My name’s Elba, Idris Elba.” Dreams of Elba being the next Bond are crushed, though: in November 2021, The Sun reported that he is in talks to play a Bond villain in the next film. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Tom Hardy, Rege-Jean Page, and Tom Hopper are among the rumored next James Bond.
Since Connery’s debut as Bond in Dr. No, seven actors have portrayed Bond in 25 official films, including Connery, George Lazenby, Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig. Although most of Fleming’s original James Bond traits remain to this day in the film character, some of Bond’s offensive characteristics have been dropped, like his smoking and his mistreatment of women. These changes started happening after a six-year hiatus from Bond filmmaking, with 1995’s GoldenEye, which starred Brosnan as Bond and Judi Dench as Bond’s superior, M. Casting Dench in the part of M was cinematic genius on several levels, but it’s most significant because it was the first time a female actor was cast in a position of professional power in a Bond film. In 2005, Craig took on the role of Bond beginning with 2006’s Casino Royale. (In chronological time, he’s been Bond the longest, although Moore made the highest number of official films). Casino Royale was a film and character reboot, and Craig’s Bond starts out as an ice-cold lean mean killing machine; the film took us back to the Bond first introduced in Fleming’s 1953 Casino Royale novel. As the films starring Daniel Craig progressed, the Bond character continued to evolve. Craig stars as Bond for the fifth and final time in No Time to Die, released in September this year (2021). In the film, Lashana Lynch plays Nomi, who entered active service after Bond’s retirement and was assigned the 007 number, and Ralph Fiennes again plays M; he took over the part in 2012’s Skyfall, after Dench’s M is killed. While it’s great that No Time to Die’s Agent 007 is a woman, Lynch’s character isn’t really James Bond, is she? Still, progress of sorts.
Of all the actors who’ve played Bond, I like Craig’s portrayal the best. He executes the particular Bond balancing act really well. He’s unlikable or sympathetic on cue as needed, and whoever plays Bond next has a tough act to follow. Of all the James Bond films I’ve seen, and I’ve seen all but No Time to Die, Dr. No stands out to me because, as the first Bond film, it’s responsible for everything Bond that followed. Whether or not it’s a “good” film is moot to cinematic history; whether or not you like it is up to you. I recommend you watch it, if for no other reason than you’ll recognize everything that made James Bond what he is in pop culture. I know it’s not popular to not like James Bond films or novels, but I stick by my don’t like — at least until I watch No Time To Die. Maybe that’ll be the Bond film that changes my mind. Maybe not.