A certain British secret agent made his big screen debut 55 years ago, when the first James Bond film, “Dr No”, premiered on October, 1962.
Based on the 1958 novel of the same name by Ian Fleming, it would set in motion a multi-billion-dollar film franchise that is still going strong today and is arguably bigger than ever.
Right from the start it was envisaged that there would be a series of Bond films. Fleming had written several novels featuring the character and options had been taken out to adapt all of them. Bond made his print debut in Fleming’s novel “Casino Royale”, but producers chose “Dr No” for the first film for its fast-moving plot, its exotic location in sunny Jamaica and its topical theme of space rocket launches.
In the film, Bond is sent to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of a fellow British agent. Following up leads and teaming up with local allies, he finds the underground base of Dr No, an unhinged Chinese-German scientist with metal hands who is plotting to disrupt an American space launch using a powerful radio beam weapon. Bond must defeat the villain and his henchmen to save the day.
As with most of the Bond films, the plot differs in several key areas from the book on which it was based, but Fleming apparently did not mind this, having been well paid for the film rights to his books. “Dr No” was adapted for the big screen by writers Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood and Berkley Mather, and directed by Terence Young for a budget of less than $1m. The film was produced by Harry Saltzman and Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli in a partnership that would last for 13 years.
In casting the film, its producers originally wanted Cary Grant for the role of Bond, but he could commit only to a single film and they wanted a star to establish the series. Others reportedly considered were Patrick McGoohan, who had portrayed a spy in the TV series “Danger Man”, and David Niven, who would later play Bond in a 1967 comedy spoof of “Casino Royale”.
In the end the producers settled on up-and-coming Scots actor Sean Connery for the role, despite some reservations that he might be too ‘rough around the edges’. Although little-known at the time, Connery could commit to five films and the producers felt he could be polished enough to appeal to women but tough enough to intimidate his enemies. It proved a good choice and Connery was an immediate hit.
Julie Christie was considered for the role of the first ‘Bond girl’, Honey Ryder, but it went instead to Ursula Andress, who made a stunning and still iconic debut, emerging from the sea wearing a white bikini. However, her lines were later redubbed by voice actress Nikki van der Zyl, due to Andress’ heavy Swiss-German accent.
Her singing voice for the traditional Jamaican calypso “Under the Mango Tree” was dubbed by actress Diana Coupland, who later found TV fame playing Sid James’ wife in 1970s’ sit-com “Bless This House”. At the time Coupland was married to John Barry, who arranged the film’s soundtrack music, written by Monty Norman, and would go on to compose the music for 11 Bond films.
On its cinematic release, “Dr No” received a mixed response from the critics, some of whom savaged it. Time magazine called Bond “a great big hairy marshmallow” and a “blithering bounder”, while in Rome the Catholic Church condemned the film for its “dangerous mixture of violence, vulgarity, sadism and sex” – which probably did more for ticket sales than the most positive reviews! Thankfully, audiences loved it and the film was a considerable box office success, eventually grossing more than $6m.
“Dr No” was also pivotal in establishing many of the recurring themes which would characterise the Bond films, not least the distinctive opening sequence with Bond seen in silhouette down the barrel of a gun to the musical backdrop of Monty Norman’s “James Bond Theme”. Other set-pieces and themes included Bond’s initial briefing with his boss “M”, the glamorous Bond girls, 007’s signature Walther PPK and array of spy gadgets devised by “Q”, and his taste for Vodka Martini, “shaken, not stirred”.
It also introduced the worldwide criminal organisation SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion), which would reappear in several later Bond films including the 2015 film of the same name. To date there have been 24 official Bond films, together grossing in excess of $7 billion. Six actors have portrayed 007, the latest being Daniel Craig, and the series – one of the most successful in movie history – shows no sign of faltering.