Those who've read the book
are likely to be disappointed,
but those who haven't will find it a wonderful movie.
- Ian Fleming, to Time (October 1962)
Film: 1962 (#1)
Book: 1958 (#6)
Strangways, the British intelligence agent in Jamaica, is killed; Bond comes to investigate and finds the trail leads to an island called Crab Key, feared by the natives and owned by the mysterious Dr. No, whom the CIA is also interested in. While snooping on Crab Key, Bond meets Honey Ryder, who ekes out a living diving for shells, and who has no significance to the plot whatsoever, but looks good in a bikini. Dr. No captures them and reveals a diabolical and implausible scheme to "topple" rocket launches using The Wonders of Atomic Energy. Bond and Honey escape his deathtrap and blow up Dr. No's reactor with him in it.
Book vs. Film
A pretty faithful adaptation. In the book, Bond is already in Jamaica on leave, recovering from his near-fatal poisoning at the hands of Rosa Klebb (see From Russia With Love); the London scenes (and Sylvia Trench) don't exist. He is assigned to look into Strangways' disappearance - normally a task below his pay grade - as appropriate for his temporarily-diminished capacity. Dr. No's bauxite mine is a guano mine, and the radioactivity clue does not exist. Instead, the disappearance of two Audubon Society representatives(!) (one end of Crab Key is a roseate spoonbill sanctuary) offers the primary lead to the island. Bond must fight a giant squid to escape Dr. No's "trial by pain" deathtrap. The doctor's missile-toppling sideline is not revealed until very near the end.
Honey Rider is Honeychile Rider. Felix Leiter is not present (see remarks below). The character of Dent does not exist (good addition), nor the Three Blind Mice; the attempts on Bond's life are all essentially faceless. Bond already knows Quarrel of old (this being after Live and Let Die in the book continuity, which see; they had to make a minor change due to that). I cannot offhand remember whether the film gives Dr. No's given name anywhere: it is Julius. His heart is on the wrong side of his body.
SPECTRE is not invoked anywhere in the book; it does not exist. Dr. No is working with the Russians. For why this is important, see Thunderball.
This was the first of the books to draw a substantial amount of negative comment in the press for its content. Maurice Richardson wrote in The Observer, for example, that the book was "the usual sadomasochistic free-for-all, plus octopuses." Little did they know what the future would hold ....
Fairly brutal but not unreasonably so. At no point does he appear to relish his violence, nor does he apply it to targets who could not be said to deserve it, except perhaps the photographer, whom he is trying to frighten into revealing who hired her. Actually, this Bond doesn't seem to get much enjoyment out of anything, except perhaps his liaison with Sylvia Trench. As for the suave side, again, except during the casino sequence at the very opening, this script does not call for it. (And he ruins that sequence by speaking with a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth like a refugee from a bad Western.) He treats Honey with a reasonable amount of verbal patience (we won't count the initial leering) despite the fact that he clearly thinks she's a nitwit.
Unfortunately, he's not wrong. Honey suffers badly on the trip from book to film. In the book it's much clearer that she's not dumb, nor even particularly naive, and has a extremely ruthless instinct for her own survival and self-protection. It's true that Fleming goes a little far in presenting her as a "damaged," stigmatized person; but to my mind this is a preferable sin to the way the movie handles her. The only remainder of this in the film is the speech where she describes stalking and killing the man who raped her. Honey escapes her deathtrap (pegged down to be eaten by crabs) all on her own; they filmed some of this, but cut it (rumor has it the crabs all died).
Crabs aren't very menacing-looking anyway.
Apart from Honey, we have Sylvia Trench, an interesting character reduced to a joke (and it was going to be a running joke, but was dropped after the second film), and Miss Taro, a walking tiger-lily cliché. It's a bit sad when a one-scene part (the photographer) is more interesting in some ways than the principal female characters.
This section is longer for this film than it will be for most of the others. All sagas must begin somewhere.
In 1961, two gentlemen named Albert "Cubby" Broccoli and Harry Saltzman formed a privately-held company called EON specifically to produce filmed versions of the Bond novels. You will find this written as a normal capitalized word in almost all other sources. I write it in all caps because it is an acronym: it stands for "Everything Or Nothing." They didn't get everything - the rights to Casino Royale had been sold in 1954-1955 to a man named Gregory Ratoff, and we'll discuss him at Casino Royale - but they certainly didn't get nothing.
Broccoli had had his eye on Bond for many years, but his previous production partner had felt it was a bad idea. After that partnership dissolved, Broccoli was introduced to Saltzman by writer Wolf Mankowitz. Saltzman was completely new to film production, but was willing to gamble with Broccoli. They formed a partnership less than a week after they met.
A year later, they formed Danjaq, the parent company of EON, for legal reasons. Danjaq - named for their wives, Dana and Jacqueline - owns the intellectual property, the copyrights, the trademarks; EON is a film production company. I don't hew to such fine distinctions, so if I'm discussing the Broccoli/Saltzman/Wilson (he'll come later) enterprise in any of its guises, I just refer to it as EON.
Some sources claim that Saltzman, a Canadian who, like Fleming, had worked in intelligence, was instrumental in winning Fleming's approval; some even go so far as to claim the impetus was his instead of Broccoli's. What we do know is that several prior attempts had been made to try to adapt and film a Bond story, plus at least one original screenplay not based on a book, which would have deep repercussions (see Thunderball).
United Artists offered a six-picture deal, though it sounds like they were not entirely enthused. (Rumor is they were prepared to dump the film to theatres without fanfare until they saw the rushes, at which point they greatly increased their publicity plans.) Richard Maibaum was selected to work on the script (along with Wolf Mankowitz, who asked his name be removed) partially because of his experiences in intelligence (he was already noted for spy-thriller scripts). Terence Young was chosen to direct (Guy Hamilton was reportedly considered; his day would come). They decided to film Dr. No first (they didn't have rights to the real first book; the latest one - Thunderball - was already ensnared in legal complications; Moonraker was considered unfilmable; Live and Let Die would present some battles they didn't want to fight right away; and Dr. No was deemed a better introduction to the character than Diamonds are Forever or From Russia, With Love). That left only the casting.
Fleming's choices were a bit eccentric and ultimately did not come to fruition (he reportedly wanted Christopher Lee to play Dr. No, which wouldn't have been bad, and also Noel Coward, which would have been). Max von Sydow was reportedly considered as Dr. No and declined so he could do The Greatest Story Ever Told. Eventually relative unknown Joseph Wiseman was cast, and since the character is supposed to be half Chinese, a certain amount of yellowface is unfortunately involved. It's better than some of Maibaum's original ideas, including, at one point, having Dr. No be a white man who disguised himself as Chinese with a latex mask. Even after all was said and done, Wiseman worried he was playing a caricature, and the handling of Dr. No is reportedly what led Mankowitz to excise his name.
Fleming is reportedly one of several who would have liked David Niven for Bond. Niven was deemed not physical enough; Roger Moore was too young at the time and not menacing enough. Cary Grant reportedly would have done it, but Broccoli knew he'd only get Grant for one film, and was already planning a series. Connery was cast after the Broccolis saw him in - are you ready for this - Darby O'Gill and the Little People, where he plays an Irish romantic lead who can't sing. Fleming grew to like Connery, and approved of him as Bond; it was the films themselves he didn't care for (see below).
Fleming on set with Connery
Ursula Andress was cast based on a photograph, only two weeks before principal photography. Her tan is a spray-on and her voice is Nikki van der Zyl (see below). Andress was paid $6000 for her six weeks' work on the film and has been iconographic for some people ever since.
Lois Maxwell was either initially offered Sylvia Trench, or was given a choice between Trench and Moneypenny (depending on whose version you hear). Reportedly she chose Moneypenny because she was concerned about the scene where Trench turns up in Bond's flat wearing one of his shirts (it's difficult for us now to realize just how daring Trench's conduct toward Bond was, circa 1962). Maxwell was 35 and offered £100 a day with a two-day guarantee. She would play Moneypenny for another thirteen years, the second-longest recurring role in the films.
Monty Norman claimed he was paid "a pittance" for composing the Bond theme, but given that he cannibalized it from an unused musical he'd written, and has made close to half a million pounds in royalties from it, shed no tears for him. The orchestration of it you're hearing in this film, like the rest of the score, is actually the first of John Barry's twelve Bond scores, since he was asked to rearrange Norman's work substantially - substantially enough that at one point Barry claimed to have written the theme; Norman sued him and won. Norman, not Barry, is given the onscreen credit for this film.
Maurice Binder did the titles of this and fourteen more Bond films over the next twenty-seven years, until his death. He didn't do From Russia With Love or Goldfinger, but they did use his gunbarrel sequence - for which he had to build a special pinhole camera; he couldn't stop down a normal camera enough to film through the gun barrel and keep the barrel itself in focus. Incidentally, it isn't Connery in that sequence - it's stuntman Bob Simmons (which makes him technically the first man to play Bond on film). It's him in the next two as well. Connery didn't do it until they needed to reshoot the sequence for Thunderball.
The BriefingAs I noted on the first page, I consider this exactly half a good Bond film. The book Kiss Kiss Bang Bang notes that this film "feels like two films: the first a colourful detective story in the Our Man In Havana mold; the second a rather naive and sometimes poor science fiction flick." That seems about right to me. The contemporary viewer would probably do well to consider this film a warmup exercise. Not being able to appreciate the buzz it must have caused when it first appeared, we can only see it as as a fairly slow film (by Bond standards) with a number of good bits and a lackluster main villain. The fact that this is where some of the clichés began doesn't make them any less clichés to us. When even people who have never seen a Bond film know what Ursula Andress coming out of the water looks like, it's officially old news.
"Are you looking for shells too?"
"No, I'm just looking."
It's interesting that the team did such a lousy job with the second half of the film, given how well they managed to perk up the first half. Adding Dent as an antagonist was a great idea - and that's part of the problem. In many ways he's a more effective villain than the title character, who doesn't even appear until 24 minutes before the end of the film. The script improves over the book by revealing the missile-toppling aspect from the beginning, but then does very little with it. Removing the giant-squid fight was probably a wise idea (they'd have had trouble filming it on their budget anyway), but they don't really replace it with anything compelling.
This is a sweaty movie in a hot place; the fights are nasty and the wounds gruesome, and Bond is utterly without visible compassion (or any other emotion). The film begins with two completely untelegraphed murders in rapid succession, while the audience is still rubbing their eyes from the credits. It was pretty clear that the producers wanted to sell the violence of the film, an idea that might not fly today. Don't forget that the posters for this film gleefully noted the 00 number "means he can kill when he chooses ... where he chooses ... whom he chooses!"
That said, it's clear that it's better to have Bond doing something, however nastily. The biggest fault in the final third of the film is Bond is almost entirely reactive, passive. After seeing him do some actual detective work in the first third (something he does surprisingly seldom throughout the canon), this is a huge letdown.
When Bond is given no opportunities for suavity, any style points have to come during moments of ruthless efficiency. The notorious scene where Bond calmly plays solitaire while waiting for Professor Dent to come kill him, lets Dent empty his gun ("You've had your six") and then shoots him in cold blood has style, albeit not a pleasant style. Incidentally, that scene is "notorious" because it was the one the decline-of-civilization types got the most agitated about at the time. The producers knew it would be a problem, too; an alternate version of the scene was filmed where Dent has a bullet left, fires it at Bond and misses, and then Bond shoots him - making it more like self-defense. Terence Young insisted on the cold-blooded version, and I believe his instincts were sound.
Monika van der Zyl dubs both Ursula Andress and Eunice Gayson (Sylvia Trench) in this film. In both cases the decision is a little baffling. There is nothing wrong with Gayson's screen voice - you can find her in all sorts of British television, such as "The Avengers," in this time period, if you'd like to hear for yourself. Andress, on the other hand, had a strong Swiss accent which may have been deemed unusable, but then why did they have van der Zyl (who is German) dub her so she sounds like a Gabor sister? It may be that van der Zyl redubbed them (and apparently all other female parts in the film except Moneypenny and Miss Taro) simply because the shots needed to be redubbed and they couldn't get the original actors back; we don't know. But we shall hear from her again. Robert Rietty dubbed Joseph Wiseman, and we shall hear from him again too.
Dr. No may or may not be the pattern-setter for "monologuing" among diabolical masterminds.
Felix Leiter may have been added to the film (the character existed, but was not in this book) partly because, even at the time of the book, people asked why a British agent would be investigating an American affair (the missile-toppling). It may surprise you, but Jack Lord plays the second-best Felix Leiter of any of them (and he was only bumped from first place when Jeffrey Wright started doing it). Wish they'd cast him again. Rumor has it they wanted to, but he priced himself out of the running. Lord also reportedly priced himself out of playing Captain Kirk, but that's another story.
The M and Moneypenny sequence in this film is actually one of the best. Bernard Lee and the quartermaster (AKA the Armourer, AKA Q, AKA Major Boothroyd - but not yet Desmond Llewellyn) taking Bond's beloved Beretta away from him shows, from the beginning, that M understands Bond's foibles perfectly well. This scene is near-verbatim Fleming, by the by, and Major Boothroyd is named after a correspondent of Fleming's who advised him on technical details about guns.
Dent puts a spider in Bond's bed. But the spider is a tarantula. Poor tarantula! I wish everyone would get this straight: Tarantulas aren't the least bit deadly (to humans, anyway)! I've never been able to take this scene seriously because of this. (They're also pretty fragile. Bond could just have rolled onto it and killed it.) In the book, it's a poisonous centipede, which was deemed more troublesome to film.
Bond films are notorious for bad bluescreen, but the car chase in this film is one of the few places where I actually find it intrusively bad.
There is a joke in this film which no one gets any more, when Bond walks into Dr. No's office and does the slightest of doubletakes. The painting on Dr. No's wall is Goya's portrait of the Duke of Wellington, which, in the real world, had been stolen from the British National Gallery in August 1961 and was still missing at the time of the film.
I could live without ever hearing "Underneath the Mango Tree" again in my life. This is the second worst use of a song with lyrics in a Bond film (see On Her Majesty's Secret Service). Connery even sings a bit of it, which is a tactical error (see Darby O'Gill and the Little People).
Puss-Feller is called that because he wrestles octopuses. The film changed that to alligators, which makes no sense.
This film had an initial budget of one million pounds, of which £20,000 went to Ken Adam to design the sets. Although we shall, as we go, come to identify Adam with the big diabolical-mastermind set pieces, he was also instrumental in, for example, establishing the look of M's office, which lasted all the way until the Judi Dench era. Adam was reportedly hired by Kubrick for Dr. Strangelove solely on the basis of his work here. By the by, Dr. No made back twenty times its cost in its initial theatrical release alone.
Ian Fleming's public statement (seen at the top of this page) was toned down for the press. His research assistant Peter Garnham remembers him being very dismayed by the film: "... 'Dreadful. Simply dreadful.' We never mentioned the movies after that." Fleming did, however, visit the sets of the next two Bond films.
All material on this site is under copyright by its author, except for quotations and images used for purposes of commentary (and which belong to their respective owners/authors). All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without express permission. Correspondence goes to projectionist at shrunkencinema dot com. No guarantees. Contents may settle during shipping; this product is sold by weight, not by volume.
These pages and their author have absolutely no affiliation whatsoever with Ian Fleming (Glidrose) Publications, EON Productions, Danjaq LLC, MGM/UA or any other creators of the James Bond novels or films.