How ‘Dr. No’ Launched James Bond and Changed Moviegoing Forever
Dr. No not only introduced the world to James Bond and founded the most successful movie franchise in history, it also helped change the cinematic world when it was released on Oct. 5, 1962.
Before Dr. No, the super-spy wasn't a common screen trope. It was rare for an actor to be seen so many times in bed that he had to look good with no shirt on; leading ladies in those movies didn't habitually show up in bikinis (in fact, the bikini was still a little-known item of clothing at the time). And few people had heard of Sean Connery.
After Dr. No, the burgeoning genre we now call the "action movie" was given a new direction. It would be increasingly common to see international political tension and issues worked out in spectacular fashion on the big screen, and the amount of sex and violence permissible in movies would continue to increase.
An entire universe of James Bond lore – from the way he said his name to the way he drank his drink – would be imprinted on the minds of moviegoers everywhere.
Watch Dr. No's Trailer
It all begins in Jamaica, where two English intelligence operatives have been assassinated. They'd been investigating a plot to interfere with U.S. space launches from Cape Canaveral, and because of the importance of this issue, Bond – introduced playing baccarat, and giving his name as "Bond ... James Bond" – is sent to investigate.
Immediately after arriving in Jamaica, Bond is set upon by mysterious forces in the person of henchmen who are so terrified of their own boss that they kill themselves rather than risk being interrogated.
He also meets American CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jack Ford) and his Jamaican helper Quarrel (John Kitzmiller), who help him figure out that the nefarious goings-on may have their source on an island called Crab Key, owned by a mysterious man known only as Dr. No.
See James Bond's Famous Introduction in 'Dr. No'
After another attempt on his life – this one involving a large spider that someone places in his bed – Bond discovers that Crab Key is contaminated with radioactivity and decides to investigate with Quarrel.
On the island, they meet a fetching young woman named Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) who is clad in a bikini and poaching conchs. Before they can do much more than introduce themselves, they are set upon by Dr. No's security forces driving a tank that shoots fire out of its front end. Quarrel is burned to a crisp, and Bond and Ryder are captured.
In Dr. No's hideout on the island, they discover the truth: Dr. No is an evil genius who melted his hands off during his experiments with radiation, but gained so much knowledge during those experiments that he has now built a machine that uses nuclear energy to power a radar beam that will destroy anything launched off Cape Canaveral.
Bond foils the plot, and - in the first instance of what will be a familiar pattern - ends the film making out with Ryder on a boat while the forces that have been sent to rescue him gawk in astonishment.
Watch the Moment Bond Meets Honey Ryder in 'Dr. No'
A great deal of Dr. No falls somewhere between silly and tongue-in-cheek, but because of the elan with which it's executed by director Terence Young, it succeeds beautifully. This is particularly impressive given the minuscule budget, which barely topped a million dollars.
These budgetary restraints are visible at every turn: Andress plays a whole scene with her lapel mic visible, until Connery cleverly grabs her by the shirt to hide it. Instead of a fearsome tank of sharks, Dr. No's underwater hideout includes a tank of enormous goldfish ... presented with a rear projection screen (Dr. No explains they're actually in a tank with glass that's almost a foot thick, which magnifies them; Bond pretends to be suitably impressed). And every interior had to be built as cheaply as possible by production designer Ken Adams, who noted that for one room he was given a budget of less than $1,000.
Again and again, the film overcomes these obstacles. It features several tightly crafted action sequences, Connery is perfectly cast and the movie manages, from start to finish, to project an air that combines old-leather English suaveness with '60s cheerful futurism. The writing is also sharp and clever throughout, with just the right edge of self-awareness.
Watch Dr. No Interrogate James Bond
For the modern viewer, part of the fun is seeing everything we come to identify with Bond introduced for the first time. In addition to the first use of his "Bond ... James Bond" catchphrase, we get to see why 007 carries a Walther PPK (on the recommendation of the CIA, actually, and against his desire to carry a Beretta) and to hear him order the first of his famous shaken-not-stirred martinis. We also hear the iconic theme music for the first time, accompanied by the circular gun-barrel opening shot. We also meet M and Moneypenny, respectively grumpy and flirty from the start.
Most importantly, we get to see a movie that helped shift the course of action and adventure filmmaking forever. The film was risque enough that the Vatican suggested it be banned, terming it "a dangerous mixture of violence, vulgarity, sadism and sex."
But that's part of the attraction. Dr. No also helped usher in a feeling of grandeur induced by traveling to "exotic" locales - Jamaica envisioned as a quaint British colonial success story here. (It's a fascinating aspect of the film's history that the country achieved independence from the British Empire two months before the movie's release.)
Watch the Final Scene of 'Dr. No'
As much as anything, though, Dr. No 's influence was in large part about money.
It would end up earning around 60 times its budget, an extraordinary profit then and now. This not only spurred a never-ending line of sequels, it also helped movie studios see how much cash could be made by making spy movies, especially those highlighting sex and violence.
Dr. No didn't invent these elements – spies, sex, violence and a suave hero were all around long before the film premiered – but the movie packaged them in a way that shifted the trajectory of film history. Its influence is still being felt today.