Bond: Sean Connery
Release Date: 1962
Original Story: Dr. No
Publication Date: 1958
Previous Story: From Russia With Love
Next Story: Goldfinger
Villain: Dr. Julius No (Joseph Wiseman)
Heavy: “Three Blind Mice” (Eric Coverly, Charles Edghill, Henry Lopez, all uncredited)
Bond Girls: Honeychile Ryder (Ursula Andress), Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson)
Other Notable Characters: M (Bernard Lee), Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), Quarrel (John Kitzmiller), Major Boothroyd/Armourer (Peter Burton), Strangways, Felix Leiter (Jack Lord), Pleydell-Smith (Louis Blaazer), Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson)
Gadgets: The Dragon, an armoured vehicle armed with a flamethrower
Plot of Original: Strangways, the MI-6 secrtion head for Jamaica, and his secretary disappear. The secretary had started the daily wireless connection to HQ when she is killed, which begins a process of alerting the chain of command up to M. M assigns Bond to what should be a simple investigation, as 007 is still recovering from being poisoned at the end of From Russia With Love. The briefing includes what details M has of Strangways investigation of Crab Key and the death of two Audubon Society members at Dr. Julius No’s private airstrip on the island. Dr. No runs a guano mine.
On arrival in Kingston, Jamaica, Bond begins his investigating. He notices that he is being followed. Things escalate when he receives a basket of poisoned fruit. The Chief Secretary at Governor’s House, Pleydell-Smith, thinks that Bond is overplaying the events. Not to be deterred, Bond finds his friend Quarrel to get more info on Crab Key. They make plans to go to the island and investigate, despite the rumours of a dragon living there.
The trip takes a couple of days, using wind power until near radar detection range, then paddling in, landing on Crab Key in the early evening. The next morning, they’re awaken by a woman singing. Bond see the young woman, nude. collecting shells, and joins in on the song. The woman, Honeychile Rider, is startled. Bond convinces her that he means no harm. She collects her clothes, which is when Bond sees her own boat, complete with sail.
Bond knows that he and Quarrel are expected. Honey normally escapes notice, and is treated as a nuisance by Dr. No’s people. But with Bond, she’s in danger. A patrol boat arrives. Despite the group hiding, they are called out. When nothing happens, a machine gun rakes the beach. The boat’s skipper promises to return with the dogs. It’s a half day before they make good with the threat. Bond has the group hide in the water and wait for the guards to pass.
Undiscovered, Bond presses on. Night falls. In the distance, lights appear. Both Honey and Quarrel call it the dragon. Bond hears the dragon’s engine, and orders Quarrel to try to shoot the driver while he takes out the wheels. The “dragon” is armoured and has a flamethrower for its breath, killing Quarrel with a burst. Bond surrenders and he and Honey are taken prisoner in the back of the “dragon”, an armoured swamp buggy..
Dr. No’s base is luxurious compared to the industrial exterior. Bond and Honey are given time to freshen up and change before being brought to dinner to meet No. As all good Bond villains do, Dr. No gives his life story, knowing that there is nothing either of his guests could do to stop him. After dinner, both are led to their respective death traps. Honey is to be staked out in front of a crab migration. Bond is sent through an obstacle course that Dr. No designed to test the limits of human endurance, ending with a giant squid.
Bond fights through the obstacle course, fighting off the squid at the end with the last of his energy. He gets out of the course and sneaks up to the guano processing/loading docks. With no one looking, he gets to the controls and dumps tons of guano on Dr. No. He then returns to the base to find out where Honey is only to be dropped by her in error. They escape in the “dragon” to return to the boat he hid and return to Kingston.
The novel ends with Bond following on his investigation, making his reports, and then meeting with Honey one last time.
Being the first, there is no cold open. The movie begins with the opening credits, something that changes with From Russia With Love. After the credits, the death of Strangways and his secretary are more-or-less as per the novel. The first change comes with the introduction of Bond. In the novel, Bond was recovering from being poisoned by Rosa Klebb. However, since Dr. No is the first film of what could (and did) become a franchise, the movie went with a different approach. Bond is called back to duty while he is gambling at a casino, making small talk with Sylvia Trench. The scene establishes Bond’s playboy reputation.
The briefing is modified to have Strangways working with the CIA on problems with the American missile program. In between the time of the novel’s publication and the release of movie, the space race reached a moment where NASA sent a man, John Glenn, into orbit in the Friendship 7 capsule. Prior, the missile tests were part of the nuclear escalation of the Cold War. Dr. No is still misdirecting missile launches, but now there are lives at stake at launch.
Dr. No wasn’t explicitly a member of SPECTRE in the novel. The organization’s first appearance in the novels was in Thunderball, published in 1961. However, the organization makes for a good fictional villainous organization, so the movie had Dr. No as a member. Professor Dent also becomes a member and one of Dr. No’s lackeys in the film; in the novel, he was just one of Strangways’ card buddies who ran an analysis for him.
Crab Key’s primary industry changed. Instead of being a guano operation, it became the site of a bauxite mine. The mine was a cover for Dr. No’s base, which was still luxurious. With the change, Dr. No’s death also changed. The movie death is more cinematic and less anticlimactic, with a fight against Bond before being tossed into boiling radioactive water.
The obstacle course was more or less the same, save for the end. Budget precluded a giant squid, which would not have looked great given the era and the low budget. Bond is still pushed to his limit. Honey was staked out, but in front of a water intake instead of crabs. She also needed Bond to recue her instead of freeing herself off-screen.
Felix Leiter makes his first film appearance on the EON continuity. However, Felix was first introduced in Casino Royale and was not in Dr. No. Felix was working with Quarrel in the movie to try to find where Dr. No had his transmitter. Which leads to another change, Quarrel. Bond worked with Quarrel in the novels first in Live and Let Die; the two men picked up the investigation together without needing a third party like Felix.
The attempt to assassinate Bond with the tarantula came from the novel, but the animal of choice there was a large centipede. The change is minor; Bond got to feel the creature crawling up him in both formats, and neither creature survived the scene. The tarantula’s death was hidden behind a bed, so the animal may have survived while its character died.
Dr. No was filmed with a low budget compared to the films that would follow. Bets were hedged; the producer wouldn’t be out much if the film flopped. Dr. No is a quieter book for Bond, a simple investigation that turns deadly. As such, the 007 gadgets the franchise would get known for just aren’t there. Bond uses real world approaches, such as a strand of hair over a closet door to see if his room was searched. The only oddity is Dr. No’s “dragon”, an armoured vehicle with a flamethrower.
The movie acts as an introduction for people not familiar with 007. As such, Bond is shown at full strength. He’s not starting to have the fatalism that his literary version was building since Moonraker. His relationships with the regular supporting and recurring characters had to be established – his flirting with Miss Moneypenny, his deference to M, his professional relationship with Felix. The only character missing is Q, though the Armourer fills in that role.
Even with all the changes above, the plot does follow the novel’s closely. It’s the details that have changed, unlike Moonraker where a new plot was used with the same characters. However, starting with the sixth novel means that when the series goes over prior novels, there’s going to be continuity issues. Quarrel can’t appear in Live and Let Die without somehow explaining how he didn’t die here. But that is for future movie writers to deal with.
For a film that the studio hoped would be successful, casting was key. Several actors had been considering, including Cary Grant, Patrick McGoohan, and Roger Moore, with the latter passed over because he was too young for the role. Casting Sean Connery set the tone for the first five 007 movies, to the point where he is still many people’s favourite Bond.