Posted in Film, Writing

Watching Like a Writer: Dr. No (1962)

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Watching Like a Writer is a movie review series that looks at films from the perspective of a fiction writer, complete with one writing takeaway, and an exercise that will help better your fiction!

Review

Is there a more famous or popular film series than the James Bond movies? Since the release of Dr. No in 1962 there have been twenty-four films, six different James Bonds, and billions of dollars spent by audiences at the box office. In 1952 forty-one-year-old Ian Fleming wrote his first James Bond novel, Casino Royale (which would finally get a proper theatrical adaptation fifty-four years later), and he continued to write Bond novels for another decade.

Popular as ever, the novels had Hollywood interested in potential film versions as early as 1958, but it wasn’t until the early 1960s, when producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman partnered up, that a film based on one of the novels looked likely to become a reality. Thunderball was considered to be the first film, but the producers decided that Dr. No would be the most appropriate due to budget constraints.

The most important decision of course on this first time out was to find the best James Bond. The producers met with a lot of actors, with Cary Grant seriously considered for the role at one point — United Artists, naturally, wanted a star.

But at the top of the list of lesser known actors was Sean Connery, who had appeared in a couple of B-movies and hadn’t yet had the opportunity to catapult himself to stardom. After lots of mulling, Connery was chosen for the role, and what a tremendous decision it was. Shot in early 1962, and released in theaters later that year, Dr. No became a massive hit for the studio, making more than twenty times its original one-million dollar budget!

Dr. No is one of the most refreshing movies of the Bond series because it lacks any of the bells and whistles of the later films, particularly the ones released after Sean Connery departed the series. Every series has to start somewhere, and while Dr. No is played more straight than any other Bond movie (until 2006’s Casino Royale), the gritty tone is an appropriate change of pace from some of the more cartoonish Bond films of the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Sean Connery is nearly universally considered to be the best of the Bonds (except for that one guy in West Virginia who still stands by his favorite, Timothy Dalton), and he’s smashingly good in his first outing. His character’s introduction is perfect, with the most iconic delivery of the “Bond, James Bond” line in the entire series.

The first two Bond girls are pretty forgettable, but then the tan, buxom Honey Ryder shows up wearing a two-piece in the warm Jamaica sand, and movie history is made. Is there a more iconic shot in all the Bond films that that one? Maybe a couple, but not many. Personality wise she’s not as interesting as, say, Pussy Galore in Goldfinger, but she has excellent chemistry with Connery throughout the film’s second half.

It’s hard to admit, given that this is such an important film in the franchise, that Dr. No, for much of its running time, is a bit on the slow side. Aside from the terrific performance by Connery, and a handful of fleeting action scenes, a lot of the pacing lacks forward momentum, with too few stakes to be had, and unfortunately little menace from the film’s big bad, Dr. No.

The best Bond film of them all, Goldfinger, would be released two years later, and it seems like the filmmakers needed time to understand what works in this series and what doesn’t. The film is essential viewing for Bond fans, but compared with the next two Bond films, it’s not in the same league.

All of the elements done well in Dr. No are expanded upon and made better in From Russia With Love and Goldfinger, but, still, it’s an important film in the canon, and well made and acted to be sure. There will always be a special place in my heart for Dr. No because this is where one of my favorite film series begins… with nothing but promise ahead.

Watching Like a Writer

The first James Bond movie makes me think about how to introduce the protagonist in book one of a long series of books. I’ve been toying with the idea for a few years of writing a series of novels about one character, whether he or she be a detective, a spy, I’m not quite sure yet. But if I ever get around to this large scope of a project, I wonder how I should go about introducing the protagonist. Should I do it in the opening scene? Or should I do it the way Dr. No brings James Bond in, many scenes after the first, after many murders have taken place and a mystery has been set up?

Exercise!

Think of a protagonist that you could write about for a long series of novels. Who would he or she be? What would be his/her profession?

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