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Dr. No Retro Review: Just Say Yes

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BY June 24, 2020
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As with the Indiana Jones series, James Bond is another pop culture blind spot for me. I think if you’re Gen X or younger, then you kind of have to be in a Bond family to be a fan. Sure, you might see the Daniel Craig ones, but the whole series? I just don’t know if there are a lot of younger Bond stans out there. But I’m starting the series with my Dr. No Retro Review, so I might be about to join their ranks. Or pioneer it, who knows?

What I Know About James Bond

Like with other cultural icons, some things I know about James Bond just by virtue of being alive. But before Dr. No, I’d never seen a James Bond movie, outside of Goldeneye. I don’t remember it and it wasn’t my choice–I was at a sleepover. (Y’all know teenage girls at sleepovers: painting their nails, talking about boys, and watching a geriatric spy series.)

As someone who grew up to enjoy at least one John le Carré book, though, it is a bit strange that I’ve missed Bond (and Bond creator Ian Fleming’s books). But it’s true. I’ve seen more homages and parodies, like Austin Powers, than I’ve seen of the inspiration. And yet, I know what Bond drives, I know what he drinks (and how he likes it served), and I know enough about the classic tropes to recognize them when they’re being parodied. That’s how completely the legendary British spy has saturated popular culture.

To properly appreciate those references, though, I should probably have a firmer education. So I’m beginning mine at the beginning with my Dr. No Retro Review. (Although the character James Bond appeared in an adaptation of Casino Royale on the TV show Climax!, I probably won’t watch that. I also don’t have plans to watch the 1967 Casino Royale, unless the streets demand it.)

What’s Up with Dr. No?

dr. no retro review image via Eon Productions and United Artists

1962’s Dr. No is the first James Bond movie. Not only does it introduce Sean Connery as Bond, but it also introduces many of the things that would become synonymous with 007. These include his preference for vodka martinis–thanks to a tie-in with Smirnoff–and one of the most famous movie lines of all time. As a group of elegant folks play Chemin de Fer–fancy–in the early parts of the movie, a debonair man at the table asks another player, a beautiful woman, her name. The woman (actress Eunice Gayson) replies, “Trench, Sylvia Trench,” and asks for his name. He mimics her phrasing in his response, making cinematic history. (He says, “Bond, James Bond,” in case it wasn’t obvious.)

Bond is pulled away from the game, though, because duty calls. After checking in with M (Bernard Lee), Bond’s boss at MI6, he touches down in Kingston, Jamaica. Bond is sent there to investigate the disappearance of Strangways (Timothy Moxton), another British intelligence agent and the Kingston station chief. Unlike Bond, we already know that both Strangways and his poor secretary are dead, but not why, not exactly. All we know is that the trio of assassins, dubbed the “Three Blind Mice,” have taken a folder from the office marked “Dr. No.”

Bond then conducts his investigation around Kingston, encountering foes who are apparently so terrified of their boss that they’ll risk injury or worse, rather than give him up. Eventually his search leads him to–you guessed it–the elusive Dr. No himself.

As I mentioned in my review of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I try to go into these fresh. But with this movie, I tried to go in even fresher. A childhood spent devouring “read-along books,” the kind that came with cassettes or even records, left an impression. By that, I mean that I often read plot summaries while I’m watching movies. But with Dr. No, I actually refrained. I know, I’m an amazing human being. Instead, I hopped upon my movie bike and watched.

The Dr. No Retro Review

dr. no retro review image via Eon Productions and United Artists

For the most part, Dr. No is a fun romp. Although it starts off a little slow, the story drew me in quickly enough. I wanted to know what exactly Dr. No was up to, not to mention who he was. And while Sean Connery is another pop culture blindspot for me, I quickly warmed to him. He didn’t know it at the time, of course, but he was establishing an iconic character. His portrayal of Bond is confident and a little cocky, but not overbearingly so.

As the first Bond girl (of many, many to come), Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder is a revelation. She’s sexy, no duh, but she’s not just eye candy. She’s also smart, with a semi-surprising backstory told so matter-of-factly that I found it instantly charming.

If there is a downside to the film, besides the fact that Dr. No turns out to be kind of a limp noodle as villains go, it’s the uh, casting. I know I said I didn’t spoil myself for this. However, that’s not entirely true. I inadvertently did when I googled an actress to try to find out if she were supposed to be playing an Asian character. Answer: yes. Because that’s the kind of thing they do in this movie–add heavy winged eyeliner to a lady to signal that she’s Asian. I award that one yike.

I realize, though, that that’s probably a relic of the time in which the movie was made. (Unlike some movies, ahem.) It’s not great, obviously, but it’s there, so I wanted to mention it.

Overall, though, I enjoyed my first foray into the world of 007. Are you a Bond fan (or a stan, even)? Let me know in the comments or on social media.

featured image via Eon Productions and United Artists

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Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. She now splits her time between the Appalachian wilds (of Alabama) and the considerably more refined streets of New York City. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf.

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