Published on March 22nd, 2013 | by Clint Davis
Dr. No 
Summary: While Dr. No is sexist and borderline racist in tone, it's impact on film and popular culture is immeasurable.
PG | 109 min.
Director: Terence Young | Screenplay: Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, Berkely Mather (based on Ian Fleming’s novel)
Starring: Sean Connery, Joseph Wiseman, Ursula Andress
Studio: United Artists
For today’s movie fan, it’s nearly impossible to imagine a time when British MI6 agent James Bond was nothing more than a character on the pages of Ian Fleming’s novels. There were no images of well-tailored tuxedos, dry martinis, or cavernous lairs housing maniacal villains. When Dr. No premiered on October 5, 1962–thankfully, that all changed.
If I were reviewing this film based on its impact and influence on film history and culture at large, it would be an automatic 5-star review. On this website, I’m interested in the films themselves–not the reputation and legend that precedes them. After all, music critics can heap praise on Robert Johnson all day long, but when they turn on their iPods it’s more likely they’re jamming to Eddie Van Halen…
Similar to the preface to my review of Woody Allen’s Bananas, I’ll start by saying I’m a diehard 007 fan. Not only have I seen all 23 films, I’ve got every one of them in my collection at home (yes, even Licence to Kill). Thus, it’s likely that I’m a little harder on the Bond installments than an average moviegoer because I’m also deeply invested as a fan.
In substance, Dr. No is one of the more bland of the entire series. There’s very little action and not much to offer in the way of gunplay or car chases but there is a good amount of suspense and style, such as Bond’s run-in with a tarantula and the trippy opening titles sequence, respectively. The plot sees Bond (Sean Connery) on assignment in Jamaica investigating the murder of a fellow member of British Intelligence. While there, he hears tale of a secret island called Crab Key, which is off limits to anyone not the payroll of its owner, the reclusive Dr. Julius No (Joseph Wiseman). Eventually, with the help of an island native named Quarrel (John Kitzmiller) and a seashell-collecting diver named Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress), Bond infiltrates Crab Key and confronts Dr. No.
What Dr. No accomplishes is cementing an identifiable prototype of not only what a James Bond movie looks like, but a 1960s spy movie as well. The selection of a 30-year old Scottish actor to play the iconic British spy proved to be arguably the most important piece of casting in movie history.
When Connery introduces himself to fellow baccarat-enthusiast Sylvia Trench–and the world, his simple phrasing goes down as one of the great lines of all-time: “Bond…James Bond.” Despite the raw manpower of Connery’s performance, the iconic sexiness of Ursula Andress emerging out of the water on mile-long legs (still the standard by which all Bond Girls are measured), and the sinister subtlety of Joseph Wiseman’s portrayal of the titular villain, Dr. No is not the highpoint of the series.
Watching this film today is downright uncomfortable in parts, especially with the rampant sexism and underlying racism present throughout. Sure, Andress is a statuesque sex pot, but that’s pretty much all she is, but what should you expect from a character named Honey Ryder? She is presented as the typical damsel in distress, unable to get by without the help of Bond…although it wasn’t until he showed up that her life was put in danger. Sexism would invariably be a fact of life for the next thirty years of 007 films (it finally seemed to change with Judy Dench and Famke Janssen in 1995’s Goldeneye), but it’s the aforementioned racism that makes me squirm during certain scenes in Dr. No.
While it’s interesting to note that Kitzmiller’s Quarrel remains one of the few black characters in Bond’s 50+ years on-screen, it’s awful that he’s painted as a glorified servant. Quarrel is a likeable addition to the movie and like Ryder, he’s doing perfectly well for himself until Bond rolls into town, (spoiler!) eventually leading to his death.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the greatest triumph of Dr. No–the incredible work of production designer Ken Adam. The idea of a villain living on a remote island in an elaborate underground bunker is commonplace today, but that’s only because of Adam’s set designs. The sets and costumes are the most refreshing part of this film that is so clearly stuck in an era that seems prehistoric today. Of course, that’s also part of Dr. No‘s charm.
It’s certainly not the best entry in the Bond canon, but it succeeds as the all-important debut of film’s longest-running series.