UK / USA, 1962
Review by Rumsey Taylor
Posted on 19 March 2005
Source MGM DVD
Features: The Genealogy of James Bond
It is difficult to approach Dr. No, the first James Bond film, in retrospection. The staples of the twenty film series – the gadgets, the women, the cars, the villains, the opening credits, and the reprisals of the theme – are now familiar and expected, present in nearly each film as if by obligation; in turn, these staples have become fundamental. In any other Bond film, these aspects encourage comparison; one film may contain your favorite villain, and another your favorite woman. Though it is difficult for a contemporary audience to do so, Dr. No should be excluded from such comparison.
Of course, Dr. No contains most of the familiar components of the franchise (the evocative title credits would debut in the sequel, From Russia With Love). Some it may excel in, but it is incidental to appraise these components. As the first James Bond film, Dr. No is, as such, truly archetypal.
The film also eschews the elaboration and gadgets that proliferate in the series’ more recent entities. In place are passages of dialogue, the product, I presume, of one of the series’ most generous, sophisticated and hostile villains. He resides in secluded privilege, beneath the sea. (His characteristic, superhuman flaw is a pair of metal hands.) Once he captures Bond and the Girl, he genially details his scheme for world domination over a formal dinner and an aged bottle of wine—I relay this circumstance not for its curious humor, but to note that generosity and etiquette distinguish the conflict between the film’s hero and villain. This is the distinguishing feature of the Bond series, and is rarely as patient or as mannered as in this, the original iteration.
Many shots in the film are now famous: Bond’s introduction, immediately after the first drag of a fresh cigarette; Honey Ryder’s screen entrance (replicated precisely in Die Another Day); and the two’s decontamination shower. Do note that these are not scenes, and are remembered when deprived of their context. It is noteworthy that a single film contains such a wealth of icons.