Before people call for the thread to be locked I suggest you read what i've written. These are some of my thoughts on what i feel is a rather comprehensive breakdown of the first Bond flick. i hope after we can discuss some of the artistic merits that I point out (opposed to falling into the same old discussion on the film)
The film has a marvellous 60's retro vibe. This is evident from the first few minutes of the film with Maurice Binder's very sexy and stylised main-title sequence. The dot motif is very well used and the whole sequence despite being very much a product of it's time has really endured. In fact the whole film has. The 60's setting with all the glamours clothes, hairstyles and makeup really give the film a marvellous chic vintage feel (the image of Sean Connery in a trilby is pretty awesome). But despite being made over 50 years ago the best complement I can really pay 'Dr. No' is that, in my opinion, it really holds up today. This is really because the storytelling is very competent and the film is well paced and still as efficient today than ever.
I think it's hard when reviewing or discussing a Bond film not to try and compare the film at hand with the ones that have either preceded it or are still to come. For that reason I'll try to remain conscious of the fact that 'Dr. No' was the first film and at this stage there had not been an established formula for these stories. Therefore, the first thing I must state is that DN functions essentially as a black comedy. The stuff that is happening on screen is inherently at times silly and often grandiose but the film plays these moments seriously and often very darkly. For this reason the film really works as it's clear the filmmakers are having fun. Terence Young spoke about how his approach with Bond was to always have his tongue firmly in his cheek and though he took his subject seriously he wanted his audience to have fun with the film. This is something he achieved with aplomb with DN as the film is thoroughly entertaining.
The black comedic nature of the film is evident from the first scene where Strangways is killed by three supposedly blind-men who later ferry off his corpse in a hearse. Later these same men take down Strangway's secretary; this scene in contrast with the first is actually rather dark and these two moments together really contribute towards setting the tone of the piece to follow. Later moments like Bond's chauffeur turning out to be a stooge and his death by cyanide-cigarette and Bond blasé quip about his demise further cement the film's darkly comedic intent. Even later moments like the tarantula in Bond's bed are silly but because the film plays the moment straight it's very effective and most horrific to sit through.
Let's move on then to Bond himself. Sean Connery is the epitome of perfect casting. Bond is a difficult role to cast especially as Ian Fleming described him. Essentially Fleming's Bond is a toff and an actor in the Roger Moore/David Niven-mould would have been too alienating for audiences and would have made it difficult for them to invest in the character. Connery was perfect as on paper he's totally wrong for the part. Bond is a an upper-class sophisticated Englishman and Connery was a working-class brash Scotsman. You wouldn't hire a cockney to play a Duke but that it exactly what Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli did. The result payed off in dividends.
Connery is easily as good-looking as Fleming described the character and when he seduces women it's believable that they would fall for his animal magnetism. Connery is also a rare example of an actor that not only females but also males could fawn over as his brute machoism would likely have led many men in the 1960's to walk out of the cinema with their back's straighter and chest pushed forward. I found myself often marvelling at his physique. Furthermore, Sean plays the more sophisticated side of Bond's character with ease and is incredibly insouciant, nonchalant and just plain cool, especially in the small moments like the way he lights a cigarette, walks through a casino or leans against a bar. However, there is a beast lurking beneath that Anthony Sinclair suit and he can be become incredibly rough and genuinely intimidating and menacing when the time calls for it.
One of the great things DN did was not to tell the origin story, something the producers could have done considering this was the first film but instead they took the option to let the character hit the ground running. In the first scene we meet Bond it's clear that he's a very cool character we know he's a bit of playboy and he flirts with his boss's secretary rather cheekily and a girl in a casino. Soon after we see him get a briefing from his chief it is therefore clear that he is some kind of detective or policeman. By his third large sequence he is confronting a chauffeur with a measured degree of force. Therefore within the first 20 minutes we gradually get a measure of who this man is and what he is capable of. However, it is not until the scene with Professor Dent that Bond comes full circle and we finally see what 007 is capable of. This slow drip-feed of information to the audience is far more preferably than being spoon-fed Bond's character in exposition and the film takes it's time over it's opening hour showing us who exactly 007 really is.
Dent's killing is the most expertly staged of the movie and Ted Moore's cinematography is very effective with the fan in the ceiling providing a very eerie effect as Dent's gun smokes in the moonlight. Here we see Bond kill a man in cold blood and it becomes clear the messy business 007 is involved in. My favourite moment about this scene is that after Bond catches Dent he does not arrest or berate the man he merely places his gun down and enters a conversation with him while lighting a cigarette. It's a very cool and nonchalant thing to do and we the audience are shocked to see Bond let his guide down in such an obvious way. However, Bond has read the situation expertly and knows that Dent has used up his bullets and throughout the scene is aware that the cards are stacked in his favour.
Furthermore, we see other shades in Bond's character throughout the film. For instance it's rare that we see Bond disgusted or even fearful however he openly admits to being scared when in Doctor No's clutches. One of the threads that links all of Terence Young's films together is the paranoia that perennially exists in the air. In Bond's world it never pays to be too careful, when he surveys his hotel room he knows the place has been searched over, he sniffs every drink served to him and is very weary of being in any room in case it has been bugged. In addition, airports have always been a place in Young's films where someone is watching.
The ending is also great as Bond is really left in a bad way with his back firmly against the wall. Never have we seen Bond quite as brutalised and exhausted as he is after he escapes his cell and Connery is fantastic in these moments and really sells the physical aspect of the character. These moments I think really displayed Bond at his most human in the entire series at least until we got to OHMSS and CR.
As I have said the film is very entertaining and I enjoyed it immensely. There is little glaringly wrong with the movie and the story moves so quickly that it's rare that any problems have a chance to resonant with viewers. I found myself happily being swept up in Bond's world. The film is a very fun and breezy affair even if it may not amount to anything too substantial as an end result. Therefore, it may be easy for more sniffy critics to cast it aside but there is no denying that spending two hours in the company of James Bond is a very exciting enterprise.
The plot itself is very straightforward - Bond is sent to investigate the sudden disappearance of a fellow Mi6 operative in Jamaica. That's it really. There is some stuff about toppling American missiles thrown in for good measure but the plot is really a clothesline for the filmmaker's to string together some beautiful locations, colourful characters and inventive set-pieces. I found myself being swept up in the momentum of all this and really enjoying the inventive nature of the film. Remember of course this was the first Bond and there is definitely a blissful unselfconsciousness to the filmmaking of DN. Later films would of course unintentionally fall into the realms of self-parody.
I can only imagine the excitement that audiences back in 1962 had when watching this film. Here was a character who openly killed people in cold blood and had sex with the most exotic of beauties. Back in those more conservative times the idea that the leading man had a sexual relationship with one woman in a motion picture was more than enough let alone three. Think back to 'North by Northwest', Cary Grant has to marry Eva Marie Saint before taking her through the tunnel, well don't expect that from 007. The Vatican apparently disapproved of DN and if anything this fact to me is more a seal of approval than anything else.
Some have taken issue with the misogyny on show especially in the Miss Taro scene. I for one don't see the issue here, only moments earlier had she led Bond to his presumed death and it's only fair that he'd be angry with her. Furthermore, I like the scene as it perfectly displays Connery's flinty and mercurial nature as Bond and the great duality he bought to the character. One second he could be very charming and romantic and the next he could be very intimating and threatening. Another issue is the characterisation of Quarrel who at times is used for unnecessary comic-relief. It is also quite worrying that on one occasion Quarrel is literally left to carry Bond's shoes (it's with relief that in the next scene he isn't holding them - I like to think he threw them away once he realised what he was doing).
For me the character of Doctor No does introduce something of a tonal misstep. For the most part the film has been a rather scrappy little thriller and Doctor No as a character feels a little cartoony/comic-book. The character is much more effective in the novel, however like the book the slow introduction before finally meeting him is very well done. In particular I enjoyed the scene with Bond sailing up to Crab Key for the first time and the ominous change in the score. I do love the dinner scene though, I think it's a great touch that when we do meet Doctor No he is a classy guy who treats his prisoners like guests of honour. I enjoy in particular the moment he threatens Bond while a waiter is pouring him a glass of champagne. There is clearly some homoerotic tension between Bond and Doctor No, especially on the good Doctor's side of things. This aspect makes the character slightly more unnerving as the dinner scene is basically No trying to seduce Bond after having been impressed by what he has seen of him. This is departure from the novel where No only keeps Bond alive to later put him through his obstacle-cause, in the film No seems genuinely bruised when Bond rebuffs his advances.
The big problem for me in DN comes in the third act. For a thriller the ending is well...not really that thrilling. The film has been very tightly paced but the last part in Doctor No's reactor room is very slow moving and rather dull. For me at that point the film had really earned a better send-off and I was itching to see Connery get in another fist-fight. I think the ending could have been better done and I'd really liked to have seen Honey have escaped on her own volition like in the book (In the film she is reduced to the damsel-in-distress). After such a great and memorable entrance it's a shame that Honey does disappear into the background for the finale. We know she is a very strong and capable woman and I think the film owed her more after her fantastic initial set-up.
As far as casting goes the film is impeccably decked-out. Ursula Andress is one of the most beautiful women in the world and is marvellous in the film. Honey is a strong Amazonian woman and her gentle flirtation with Bond and genuine chemistry with Connery leads to a very earned final kiss at the end. She's such a strong presence in the film especially at the end when she stands facing the Navy with her hands on her hips. Joseph Wiseman is very creepy and his very still stilted performance is suitably menacing. I don't think the guy even blinks or moves his head and it's all very effective. Anthony Dawson has a great hawkish face which gives him a great screen-presence when he's on. Both John Kitzmiller and Jack Lord are also very well cast and give great turns in their supporting parts. Bernard Lee is also fantastic in his small role and really in that very brief scene does a lot: immediately you know who is in charge and Lee has a real imposing presence when squaring off against Connery.
On the technical side of things Ted Moore's photography is perfectly lush and exotic. The script is very sharply-written and often very witty. The Norman/Barry score is bang on the money. Ken Adam's sets are also great though I did find them to be the most dated aspect of the film especially the final reactor-room scenes. I really liked his 'fake' hotel set on Crab Key; there is something very artificial and eerie about that whole segment with the two nurses having a very 'Stepford Wives' quality to them. The car chase in the middle of the film is also slightly risible by today's standards.
In summary then, DN is a thoroughly entertaining film that cemented the introduction of the Bond character with great elan and grace and not forgetting a hearty does of darkly-comedic menace. The film is breezy and fun and really the perfect opening act to the greatest film series ever and 50 years on it stands up with the best of them.