Welcome to Gracetopia’s Shaken and Stirred 007 Scorecard series, where you will find the most exhaustive, comprehensive grading of James Bond movies anywhere on the internet. Fact. The movies are judged on a scale of 1-5 Flemings across 5 very important criteria: theme song, Bond girl, villain, Q tech, and kitsch factor, and then given an overall grade. This is a serious, scholarly series of blog posts, so no nonsense please, except in the comments.
Title: Dr. No
Release Date: 1962
Series Order: First!
Bond: Sean Connery. A little rough around the edges, but a businesslike performance for a businesslike movie.
Synopsis: Bond, James Bond’s first outing is set mostly in Jamaica, the favorite locale of writer Ian Fleming. When a fellow secret agent is killed, Bond is sent in to investigate. He finds good music (though they only have one song in Jamaica apparently), a killer tarantula, a woman who likes conch, and a bad guy with fake hands. Bond, having real hands, comes out victorious in their final battle and then gets rescued by the U.S. Marines because, let’s face it, America is the real hero here.
While this theme (written by Monty Norman) is no Goldfinger earworm, it literally sets the tone for the character for the rest of the series—this is not just the “Dr. No theme song,” this is the James Bond theme song that is still being used to identify the character over 50 years later. It’s like the good guy’s “Vader’s theme.” That’s some song, Mr. Norman. 5 Flemings for you.
Giving Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) less than a full 5 Flemings is probably sacrilege in some quarters, but I never liked her quite as much as everyone else seems to. And, like, that iconic swimsuit is okay. Cool knife, though.*
I think mostly I’m underwhelmed by the character because there isn’t much of her to be whelmed by. She appears pretty late in the game and totally randomly, and then once she’s there she doesn’t do much. Her only role in the movie is to be led around and/or rescued; she doesn’t even have the courtesy to get herself into trouble, that’s Bond’s job too.
So she’s basically just arm candy (I know, in a Bond movie, how shocking) but then she and Bond don’t seem to have any real spark so even that isn’t very interesting.
*I have been reliably informed, quote, “We’re not looking at the swimsuit, Grace.”
Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman) doesn’t appear onscreen until almost 90
minutes in, but his presence weighs heavily on the entire film—like a spectre, if you will. Just seeing how his subordinates fear him, ready to kill themselves rather than face his wrath, tells us early on that this man is bad news.
When we finally meet him he delivers on an entire movie’s worth of expectation and sets the standard for future Bond villains. He commands the room. He has a spectacular island lair with a $1 million aquarium. The way only his mouth moves when he talks and not any other part of his face is the epitome of villain-creepy. And, of course, he lost his hands in a tragic accident, so now he obviously has superhuman crushing hands. Like you do.
As a villain, for Bond or otherwise, he’s basically perfect.
(I did just learn on the Dr. No wikipedia page that Noël Coward was apparently Fleming’s first choice to play the character, so now I will be forever disappointed that Coward turned him down. Though Coward would probably have been even less believable as a half-Chinese character than our Canadian friend Mr. Wiseman.)
The so-so nature of the ancillary bad guy characters knock this down from being a perfect score of 5 Flemings. Let’s be real, the movie’s briefly-appearing femme fatale, Miss Taro (Zena Marshall), is nothing to write home about. Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson) is perfectly fine I guess, but at the end of the day he’s just a nervous dude who knows things about rocks which, while a noble pursuit in general, doesn’t really make him shine as a bad guy.
So the Q we know and love (Desmond Llewelyn) isn’t actually in this first Bond movie, which is throwing off this category’s very scientific results. We’ll struggle through.
Honestly, the gadgetry in Dr. No is pretty dull. Bond doesn’t get loaded up with fun toys; instead his boss negs him for carrying a Beretta and forces him to use a “real” gun, a Walther PPK. It’s no jetpack or tricked-out Aston Martin, but I guess we have to start somewhere.
There are a few cool spy things sprinkled through the movie (cyanide cigarettes, booby-trapping a room) but overall it’s all pretty standard spy stuff. He does have a short-lived (un-tricked-out) sports car, but other than that the fanciest gadget Bond plays with is a Geiger counter.
Note: Special credit must be given to Felix Leiter’s fabulous cat-eye sunglasses, which aren’t really “tech” per se, but they certainly don’t fit into any of the other categories. (Or maybe they are tech? I guess we don’t know what the CIA has going on.)
Dr. No has very little of the kitschyness (is that a word? sure.) that makes Bond movies so magical. The Three Blind Mice, those whistling, not-blind assassins, are pretty excellent of course, but that’s about as close as this movie gets to absurdity.
This lack of kitsch probably makes it a better movie overall, but it means it’s not quite as much fun as some of the later ones. And fun is what we’re really about here.
Overall Grade: A
I am not going to lie to you, this first Bond outing is pretty great. It’s got an intense, grab-you-by-the-seat beginning—two assassinations in the first 5 minutes! Including a woman who never gets a name and is mentioned only briefly after her death while they won’t shut up about the dude victim. I WILL ALWAYS REMEMBER YOU, JAMAICA STATION SECRETARY LADY. #neverforget Anyway, it’s a more Serious Film than most of the later ones (see the abysmal Kitsch rating) but it’s good at being what it is. There’s some plot about rockets or something that is extremely unimportant—mostly this is just a glorified whodunit with a Reichenbach Falls showdown at the end.
And that’s all she wrote, folks! Feel free to chime in and agree with my scientific assessment of this film in the comments, or I guess if you’re into being wrong about things you can say that too.