Some say Ian Fleming’s first half-dozen James Bond novels are far superior to those that followed – being more realistic, better plotted and altogether less fantastical, Having read them I can see what this person means. Casino Royale is arguably his best book, and when eventually it was filmed with Daniel Craig in 2006, it was unquestionably the closest the movie series has come to capturing the spirit of Fleming’s early work.
Back in 1962 The producers of the Bond movies chose to start off with the sixth novel, Dr No, at which point the tales had become increasingly baroque and the villains flamboyantly megalomaniacal. Dr No is a modest thriller with a tough, stylish hero of some charm doing his job without the assistance of elaborate ordnance or eye-popping gadgetry. He pursues women, but doesn’t attract them as if he possessed some magical power or irresistible magnetism. In his first star role, Sean Connery is confident but not arrogant, a man comfortable in a dinner jacket.
Doctor No starts after M dispatches Bond to Jamaica to look for a missing agent and his secretary who have both vanished under inexplicable circumstances, Bond suspects something is wrong and learns that the reclusive Dr Julius No could be connected with their disappearance. So he sets out to investigate but gets caught tresspassing and is imprisoned on Dr No’s private island, along with the exotic Honeychile Rider. Whilst imprisoned he discovers that Doctor No has a sinister plan which could threaten international security.
Most of what became standard ingredients in the series are here at the start – the opening credits with the familiar Bond theme accompanying the hero shooting straight into the camera lens, the outlandish villain with his plans of world domination, the Bond girls to be bedded and left to their fates, the cynical quips that accompany the deaths of foes, the imaginative touches & distinctive lair of the Bond villains, high-tech in its futuristic, scientific working area and Renaissance-princely in its domestic aspect.
There are other things also make Dr No affectionately memorable, two in particular. The first is our introduction to Bond at the gaming tables of the then fashionable nightclub Les Ambassadeurs in London, handling cards, lighting a cigarette and then telling us his name: “Bond, James Bond”. The other is a scene, improvised on the set, when Bond does a double take on seeing Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington (recently stolen from London’s National Gallery) in Dr No’s palatial living room. It’s the funniest moment in any Bond picture and one of cinema’s great art jokes.