*Guest Post* Garth Groombridge -My 40 Favourite Movies: 22 – Dr No


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22: DR. NO: 1962. Director: Terence Young. UK. Spy thriller. Sean Connery. Ursula Andress. Joseph Wiseman. Jack Lord. Bernard Lee.
Adapted from the 1958 Ian Fleming novel of the same name by Richard Maibaum (US producer, playwright and screenwriter), Joanne M. Horwood (Irish screenwriter), and Berkely Mather (John Evan Weston-Davies. UK author). Music was by Monty Norman. Screen-time was 109 minutes. The producers were Hersche ‘Harry’ Saltzman (1915-1994, Canadian theatre and movie producer) and Albert Romolo ‘Chubby’ Broccoli (1908-1986, American producer – his daughter Barbara later inherited the Bond franchise). Saltzman had been reluctant to make a movie of the Bond books, but equally disinclined to sell the rights to Broccoli – hence their agreement to a partnership. Initially the project was something of an unloved orphan. The budget was set at just $1.1million – United Artists reluctantly put up $1million, with an extra $100,000 for the climax. Again, the production design budget was a mere £14,500, plus another £6,000 raised by the producers. Sean Connery was paid just £5,000 – “hulky and cheap”. Val Guest was one of the directors who turned down the job, before it was offered to Terence Young. Wolf Mankowitz wrote an early draft, but then quit, asking his name to be removed from the credits as he feared the movie would be a disaster. Eventually, box office takings worldwide were nearly $60million. It was to become an endless money-spinner.
Author and critic John Russell Taylor, writing about the James Bond phenomenon in Movies of the Sixties (1983), was not very complimentary: “With hindsight, it is amazing that the James Bond books took so long to arrive on the screen – not was it for want of trying. The creator of James Bond, Ian Fleming, began writing the books with the possibility of filming very much in mind, and at least one of them, Thunderball, published in 1961, was originally conceived as a film scenario. Fleming probably had no idea what a goldmine he had struck upon when he wrote the first one, Casino Royale, in 1953, and the film rights were disposed of for a modest sum soon after publication. It was to be followed by another James Bond book regularly as clockwork every year until Ian Fleming’s death in 1964. Little by little the books built up their sales until their success on screen was a foregone conclusion. They are all efficiently constructed thrillers: normally Bond spends about two-thirds of the story making his way into the exotic arch-villain’s clutches and the rest rather simple-mindedly fighting his way out of them, destroying his adversary in the process. James Bond, agent 007, with a licence to kill on Her Majesty’s secret service, is a 14-year-old schoolboy’s fantasy of sophistication. The ideals he embodies are to do with preserving one’s cool and knowing about food and wine, even while behaving as the perfect sportsman towards miscellaneous foreign cads and bedding a succession of indistinguishable girls resembling lush Playboy centrefolds.”
I was in my middle teens, and already with a more sophisticated taste in literature than the average 14-year-old, when I first read the James Bond books – eventually all of them, even For Your Eyes Only, his collection of short stories. The films came first, the books second. However, I never liked either Fleming as a writer, or his so-called hero. The early novels especially, Casino Royale and Moonraker, were awful; badly written, with two-dimensional characters and elements of sadism. James Bond was both a snob and a thug in a posh suit, not even especially believable or interesting – certainly not a very credible spy. I preferred Len Deighton’s more cerebral spy novels with the nameless narrator, who became ‘Harry Palmer’ in the movies The Ipcress File, Funeral in Berlin, and The Billion Dollar Brain, as played by Michael Caine. However, Deighton’s books were too complex and clever, and didn’t translate very successfully to the screen.
That said, the early Sean Connery James Bond films were entertaining, and for the most part followed the basic plot of the books. The popular consensus of many Bond movie aficionados is Goldfinger is the best, with From Russia With Love next. On the basis of the financial success of Dr No, both, of course, were big budget movies – From Russia With Love (1963), cost $2million and made $70million, and Goldfinger (1964), had a budget of $3million and box office takings of $125million. One rather silly plot feature in Russia has Bond descending from the British Consulate into the underground water cisterns to spy on the Russian (e.g. Soviet) consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. While the two consulates are near to each other, they are actually located in Pera, which is on a hill. The Ottoman water storage cisterns are across the Golden Horn, in Istanbul proper. However, my favourite James Bond movie is still Dr No, the first movie, although the sixth book. Saltzman and Broccoli had acquired rights to all the books except Casino Royale – hence why we had the awful 1967 abomination and it wasn’t until 2006 that that Daniel Craig version was made in the ‘official’ Bond franchise. At the time, 1962, there were still some legal problems with Thunderball, resulting in the happy choice of Dr No, perhaps both financially (given the reluctance of United Artists to come up with a bigger budget), and that it was set in Jamaica, Fleming’s backyard – literally, as much of the movie was shot near his estate of ‘Goldeneye’. Fleming was a frequent visitor to the film set, so perhaps – in retrospect – this was the book-to-film that really did have his seal of approval. When Thunderball was eventually made, in 1965, the budget was a colossal $9million, with a box office return of $141.9million.
Sean Connery was to became the definitive Bond for many, myself included. He brought an element of menace to the character which was completely lost during the Roger Moore years. Again, we have a time capsule of Jamaica, which itself only achieved independence in 1962. The plot still has a freshness about it, an originality – while the scriptwriters added a certain an element of black comedy – perfectly accentuated by Connery – that blunted the often brutal violence and casual sex. People are shot out of hand – the MI6 agent Strangways and his secretary (amateur, one-off, bit-part by Dolores Keator, whose house they were filming in – I hope the blooded floor rug wasn’t hers) – Bond shoots Professor Dent, various Dr No underlings, while the ‘dragon’ – a giant motorised flame-thrower – incinerates Bond’s black Jamaican assistant, Quarrel – the first of a number of quite nasty deaths in the movie series – think Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton) painted gold in Goldfinger, or Corinne Dufour (Corinne Cléry) torn to bits by Hugo Drax’s dogs in Moonraker. In the books, Strangways, Quarrel and CIA agent Felix Leiter had all appeared before, in the novel Live and Let Die (1954). In the Dr No novel, Bond’s love interest Honeychile Rider was staked out, to be eaten by crabs, but when making the movie the crabs proved uncooperative and lethargic, so the director opened for Honey Ryder (as she had become, played by Ursula Andress) to be simply slowly drowned instead – not nearly as imaginative or nasty! The biggest difference between book and movie was the ending – in the book Dr No was smothered to death under guano (birds’ droppings), but in the movie we already have the template for virtually all Bond movies thereafter – the ‘big bang’ of the villain’s secret lure being spectacularly blown-up by Bond activating the nuclear reactor into meltdown. In 1962 that was comparatively original (a nod towards Kiss Me Deadly perhaps?), but eventually it became – like much of what passed for a plot in later Bond movies – samey and monotonous. Yawn. Even the last reel – Bond and girl escaping together, cue having nooky – became a cliché.
Nearly 60 years on, both Connery and Moore are no longer with us, likewise the original ‘M’ (Bernard Lee, 1908-1981), ‘Q’ (Desmond Llewelyn, 1914-1999), or Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell, 1927-2007). The franchise grinds on, but I lost interest long ago, with Octopussy (1983), so even before Roger Moore’s final effort, A View to a Kill (1985). Moore never took the role seriously, and it showed. His Bond was lacklustre, smirky, lazy, repetitious. George Lazenby’s Bond (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 1969), wasn’t bad, at least again it followed the book pretty much, if only he hadn’t been arrogant son-of-a-bitch and full of himself off-screen. Connery made a one-off non-Eon Bond, a re-make of Thunderball entitled ironically Never Say Never Again. The producers were Jack Schwarkzman and Kevin McClory. It wasn’t bad. Budget was $36million and box office was $160million, so no dud financially. There was obviously still a hunger for a Connery Bond. MGM now have the film rights. Sean Connery then reappraised Bond one last time for Eon again in Diamonds Are Forever (1971), but which already now bore no resemblance to the original book. I admit to having no desire to watch any of the Timothy Dalton Bond movies (1987-89), nor Pierce Brosnan (1995-99), or Daniel Craig (2006-15). Another break, and Craig’s latest, perhaps aptly named No Time to Die, was supposed to be released in 2020, but is now scheduled for 2021. Personally, I think the franchise should have been killed off long ago, certainly by the early 1990s, or perhaps replaced with ‘Jane Bond’. Even if we are re-entering a new Cold War, times have changed. Bond would now either be a mercenary, a simple-minded gun for hire, or sitting with a lap-top, engaged in cyber warfare. The silly, mindless destruction of various locations around the world is tedious and tiresome. Where will James Bond, the most un-secret secret agent and mass-murderer, trash next? Please, put us out of our misery.
My comments from 22/10/1988:
Doctor No (1962), the first Bond film with Sean Connery, and the one film which remained fairly true to the book. Thereafter, and especially with debonair but ‘Saintly’ Roger Moore, the Bond movies bore less and less resemblance to the Fleming originals in either plot or mood until eventually only the titles were left. The books, mediocre literature as they were, had a thread of character development, a continuity from one to another, which the films completely sabotaged, partly by taking them mixed up and sequentially at random. Doctor No was several books in from the first Bond book Casino Royale. Jamaica, Strangways and Quarrel had all appeared before, in an early book. One has the impression in the film that the last hectic and rather silly 20 minutes were done in haste, or that several reels were missed. The character of Doctor No, like all the later villains, is a cardboard megalomaniac, bordering on being certifiable (although, to be fair, that was also very much Fleming’s style, having the subtly of a Cold War comic strip), but in the film his demise is strangely without much drama or tension, unexpected only in happening so quickly after the lengthy build-up. The subsequent escape of Bond and the girl is totally illogical, but the formula (used in almost all Bond movies since) of the spectacular sets being blown up, seems as if the scriptwriter got tired, or the producer did a hatchet-job in the cutting-room.
A later film with Roger Moore did a much more gripping version of virtually the same theme – as Bond simultaneously sends the nuclear reactor into critical (thus providing the obligatory fireworks), diverts the laser-beam or whatever which threatens the American spacecraft or missile (in Doctor No it was a radar beam), rescues the latest girl from death (or a fate worse than death, in the nastiest but most imaginative way) while exterminating the super-villain. As the post-Connery Bond films became so repetitious as to merge in one’s memory into a single bland canvas of caricature, I cannot even recollect which film this was! But the finale was definitely a rerun of Doctor No. [It was actually The Man With the Golden Gun.]
One other observation: Connery was without doubt the best Bond, and the truest in appearance and mood to the character of the books, although [one story is that] Fleming disliked him because he was Scottish! Compared to Moore (who appeals to Fleming’s snobbery) you are aware how in the earlier films, 007 was really just a thug in a dining-suit who takes pleasure in his job of ruthless executor of the Queen’s enemies. “Why did you do that?” wails Ursula Andress after Connery has viciously stabbed a black Doctor No henchman and thrust his body underwater in the jungle river. “Because I had to.” He answers before spreading fresh mayhem elsewhere. By comparison Moore was too immaculate, to frivolous, too urbane. Connery’s dead really were dead!

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