Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion): ‘Dr. No’

by Ben Martin

Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)

Very seldom does one character define a subgenre. But that is precisely what James Bond, 007 has done with spy/espionage fiction. Since making his film debut in 1962, Bond has appeared in over 20 movies. Moreover, the character has only been portrayed by a mere six actors. Now that the 25th (official) Bond installment, No Time to Die, is finally slated for release on April 10th, I think now is a better time than any to look back at 007’s dossier. I’ll be examining the James Bond franchise to see how these pictures evolved over the decades with each new leading actor. Today’s mission: Dr. No (1962)!

By all accounts, author Ian Fleming was a charismatic fellow and a ladies man who traversed social interactions with ease. However, writing as a profession following his honorable discharge from the Royal Navy was more of a challenge. That is until Fleming decided to follow the adage of “Write what you know.” See, Fleming was a former intelligence officer serving with the British Royal Navy during World War II, and during his tour of duty, it’s rumored that he was involved in a few Black Ops. Thus, the former naval officer turned author wrote James Bond as a fictional analog for himself. 

The inaugural James Bond novel, Casino Royale, was published in 1953 and was an immediate worldwide hit. Having found his niche, Fleming pounded out Bond novels year-after-year while drinking scotch like it was going out of style and smoking around 70 cigarettes a day. In 1958, the author published the sixth 007 novel, Dr. No. Around the time of publication, movie producer Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli, expressed intense interest in acquiring the film rights to Bond. Alas, Fleming revealed that he’d recently sold said rights to producer Harry Saltzman. Thus, “Cubby” did what any persistent producer would and promptly approached Saltzman with the prospect of partnering up to bring 007 to the silver screen. As fate would have the two gentlemen hit it off and Cubby had the Hollywood connections Saltzman needed.

Cubby went to his home for film production at that point, Columbia Pictures, with the option to distribute Bond. However, the studio turned down the opportunity. Surprised, but undeterred, the two men hit the jackpot when they approached a second studio. United Artists (UA), a division of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), expressed immediate interest and agreed to finance whatever cinematic adaptation of 007 Cubby and Saltzman’s newly-formed EON Productions chose for a budget of $1 million. (The most expensive film production budget ever at that time.)

With the means in place, it was now time to employ the method to bring Bond to the big screen: “Give it style; give it size; give it class.” The producers and director Terrence Young chose to apply that approach to adapting Dr. No. Despite being the sixth Bond novel, Dr. No was the basis for the first Bond film for two reasons. Firstly, it has one primary exotic location in Jamaica. Secondly, the plot is pretty straightforward and considered easy enough for audiences to engage in.

Still, Dr. No lacked it’s most crucial component. An actor to portray Bond … James Bond. Soon enough, the actor was found, not in England, but in Scotland. Sean Connery landed the role that would make him a star after Cubby saw the actor in the Walt Disney production of Darby O’ Gill and the Little People (1959). Casting Connery would prove to be one of the strongest ones in film history because he posses a lot of Bond’s qualities and vice-versa. 

The actor has class, style, and most importantly, he also Bond’s rough edges as well. Connery embodies 007 and that unique quality only this particular character has. That being, at the very least, every man wants to be James Bond, and every woman wants to be with James Bond. (Or, whatever floats your boat as far as those roles go.) Although Fleming didn’t approve of the casting of Connery as his hero. The author’s primary objection being that the actor is Scot as opposed to Brit.

Once Connery was in place as the lead, the rest of the cast was assembled. Model and nearly-unknown actress Ursula Andress landed the part of Honey Ryder, thereby defining the term, “Bond girl.” Meanwhile, veteran television actor Joseph Wiseman took on the villainous titular role. With the principle actors assembled, cast and crew headed for Jamaica, where Dr. No would become the first film shot in that country.

The film in review finds the world’s most exceptional secret agent, James Bond 007 (Connery), on a mission investigating the disappearance of a fellow MI6 agent in Jamaica. Alas, the only lead Bond has is that vanishing of his colleague is linked to the mysterious Dr. No (Wiseman). Thankfully, Bond is not alone, as this is a joint operation between British and American intelligence. Therefore, CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jack Lord), along with islanders Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) and Quarrel (John Kitzmuller), are on board to assist Bond in tracking down the elusive doctor.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw this film. I was 14, and by that point, I’d seen a hand-full of Bond flicks and considered myself a fan. However, most if not all of those were contemporary Bond outings. Thus, when I borrowed a friend’s DVD of Dr. No, I was frankly bored to death by it. Now don’t get me wrong; even as a teenager, I was (and always will be) a proponent of viewing movies within the context and limitations of the time in which they are made. Even still, this particular movie did not work for me at the time.

Well, I’m now 30, and I’m happy to say that Dr. No is one of those movies that my relationship with and opinion of has only gained favor over the intervening years since that first viewing. Having seen the film many times, I think it’s solidly entertaining; however,  you have to prepare your attention span for Dr. No as it is quite slow. With this first Bond film, you won’t get as much action and sex appeal as you might be used to with the later entries in this franchise. Instead, Dr. No is more like an expertly-crafted and charming travelogue of Jamaica. I know, I know — that might sound like a backhanded compliment, but I assure you it isn’t.

In adapting 007, his world, and the tropes within it, I can pay Dr. No a rare compliment. The producers and Terrence Young made all the right decisions with this picture. Decisions which boiled down to every member of the cast and crew. All of whom, including production designer Ken Adam (2001: A Space Odyssey) and composer Monty Norman, absolutely helped define the style and atmosphere of this series. In doing so, everyone involved laid the groundwork and created a Franchise Expansion! Aside from James Bond’s creator, who wasn’t overly impressed with this adaptation, audiences at the time responded well to Dr. No. The film went on to gross over $16 million dollars and become a global phenomenon. (The film also received a comic book adaptation as part of Classics Illustrated, an anthology comic published in the U.K. The following year, it was reprinted in America in DC Comics Showcase.) As such, what would become one of film history’s longest-running and successful franchises ever was off to the races!

Dr. No is Available to Stream & on Home Video

James Bond Will Return For Another Installment of Franchise Expansion or Implosion with From Russia with Love (1963)!

007’s Newest Mission, No Time to Die Will Be in Theaters on April 10th!

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