Year published: 1958
The station chief and his attractive assistant in Jamaica disappear, with most assuming they've run off together. M sends Bond to investigate, at least partially as a light vacation assignment after being poisoned by Col. Rosa Klebb in the last book.
Bond discovers that people are mysteriously dying on Crab Key, a private island owned by a mysterious Chinese-German man named Dr. No. After a couple of attempts on his own life, Bond suspects that the missing agents met with a similar fate, and that Dr. No is behind it all. But why? His investigation of Dr. No turns up a much bigger problem than he or M had anticipated.
Now, this is more like it! Bond is smarter and more proactive than in previous books.
007 still has to endure quite a bit (the centipede, Dr. No's torture tunnel), but he also actively returns some of that pain, showing both combat ability and marksmanship. In previous books Bond seemed to take blow after blow, almost passively, and simply out-survived the bad guy. Whereas in this one he aggressively pursues an endgame, and knocks down a lot of obstacles in his way.
Fleming opens by returning to his favorite Caribbean island, and one begins to wonder if every even-numbered book is going to have a Jamaica scene. The downside is the repetition, but the upside is that Fleming is pretty familiar with the island, so he can employ knowledgeable, evocative descriptions.
At this point, I'm getting pretty familiar with Jamaica, too. And it's not a bad thing for a reader to be able to breeze by terms like "The Undertaker's Wind" without explanation, and to feel "in the know." After six books, I'm starting to feel like I'm in a secret club.
So one can forgive Fleming for his Jamaican favoritism. And excuse it in-story, too, because Jamaica was a British colony until 1962. That gives Fleming an excuse for Bond to go abroad, especially to the Western hemisphere, where so many potential readers await. Jamaica is also relatively exotic, particularly to working- and middle-class British citizens, who were still Fleming's main audience in 1958. (The movies have a more difficult time explaining Bond's globetrotting, now that the British Empire is no more.)
While in the friendly confines of his home island, Fleming inserts another bridge game, and why not? It's another area in which he's well-versed, one where he'll use the terminology correctly. "Write what you know," as they say. One assumes Fleming played a lot of bridge, while consuming a lot of booze, at Goldeneye, and is writing from muscle memory on both topics.
As noted previously, I am a bridge player and may be biased in my appreciation for such scenes. I know exactly why John Strangways is so pleased by "the memory of the finesse that had given him his three spades." Nothing like a clever play working as planned to make a card-player feel pleased with himself! I hope non-bridge-players can intuit the reference and enjoy it, too.
But now we come to "Chigroes." Sigh.
Jeff of Earth-J has been waiting for me to get to this term, and oh Lordie, it's just as offensive and grotesque as advertised. It makes one wonder what's next: Octaroons? High Yallers? Mulattos? At least Fleming didn't write "Chiggers." Thankfully, a species of Insect-Americans has already claimed the name.
The term comes into play when Fleming introduces a trio of men of Chinese and African descent. They are all blind, and the lead man taps the cane while the other two follow with a hand on the shoulder of the man in front of him. Regardless of terminology, it's a memorable visual. I can't be the only one for whom conjuring up a mental image of the scene — easy to do with Fleming's generous description — instantly prompted the Three Stooges theme song.
Fleming didn't have to make his one-off assassins unique, but he did, and that's a reward for the reader. No wonder these books have lasted so long.
Then there's the actual assassination, of both Strangways and Miss Trueblood (what a waste of a great name!). It's described lavishly enough to be chilling — especially the death of Miss Trueblood, taken unawares at her desk with no recourse whatsoever. I have no doubt it was disturbing in 1958, but it's probably just sadly familiar for modern readers, who experience mass shootings in schools, churches, theaters and, yes, workplaces.
But alas, Strangways and his piratical eyepatch pass from these pages. Fair winds to the afterlife, John, and may you always make bid.
From the warm sunshine of Jamaica, Fleming lurches to nasty March weather in England's capital city. It's an abrupt and visceral transition, and Fleming makes the most of it, with descriptions of whipping wind, blotching faces and general misery. It's florid Fleming at its best.
We're introduced to Sir James Molony, a famous neurologist that the Bond Wiki tells me Fleming will employ two more times. Molony cautions that Bond may not be mentally recuperated from his near-death experience. This is part of the reason that M sends Bond to investigate the disappearance of Strangways and Trueblood — the assignment is meant to be a milk run in the sun.
It is here we learn how Bond survived the curare-like poison that Col. Klebb stabbed Bond with at the end of From Russia, with Love. (Which as previously noted, killed him in at least one of Fleming's drafts.) The best part of this scene is when Molony asks M what happened to Klebb, and he answers off-handedly, "Oh, she died." Ha! I'll bet!
The M and Bond scenes are always a pleasure, although Bond occasionally has thoughts that are too oleaginous for my taste. Does anyone really like their boss that much? Anyway, my wife — who is well into the John Gardner books — says later writers write these scenes even better.
While M and Bond are always fun together, the real star of the scene — for Bond enthusiasts, anyway — is Major Boothroyd, the "greatest small-arms expert in the world," codename "The Armourer."
As noted in the previous commentary, Geoffrey Boothroyd is a real person, and a real expert on firearms, who wrote several reference books on the subject. A Bond fan, Boothroyd wrote Fleming just prior to the publication of From Russia, with Love to express his admiration for Bond, but taking exception to his weapon. The .25 calibre Beretta, he said, was "really a ladies' gun" with little stopping power. He recommended a couple of better choices for a field agent, including the Walther PPK. Fleming was convinced, and said so.
Boothroyd's correspondence with Fleming came too late to change the From Russia, with Love manuscript, but Fleming employed the change as soon as he could. It comes to pass in Dr. No that M orders Bond to adopt the Walther, and "Boothroyd" enters into the Bond legendarium. I'm interested to see if he reappears in later books, and if his codename ever changes to Q.
In the end, Bond accepts the assignment. Of course he does, or they'd have to rename the book Adventures of an Alcoholic Gourmand in London.
Before moving on, I must award points for characterization here. While M's assessment is that Strangways and Trueblood have run off together, he's suspicious enough to investigate. Bond, for his part, keeps an open mind and, once in Jamaica, is quick to see Dr. No's behind-the-scenes machinations. This is notable to me, because in the earliest books I was annoyed at how unprofessional, naive and just plain stupid Bond and M often seemed to be, accepting their own superficial assessments as fact and never seeing what the enemy was up to until too late.
In Fleming's defense, otherwise intelligent people acting stupidly to advance the plot is such a hoary cliché in fiction that in TV they have a name for it: "Carrying the Idiot Ball." Both M and Bond have been getting better incrementally in each book at being intelligence agents, but Fleming seems to be course-correcting in a big way here, with Bond and M acting a lot more analytical — and more paranoid — than previously. The plot moves along just the same, but we have greater respect for the characters.
Returning to the scene of the third act of Live and Let Die has Bond briefly ruminating about the past, and wondering what has become of Solitaire. Not only do I appreciate this nod to continuity (I am and always will be a comic book fanboy), but it deflates the myth created by the movies of the love-'em-and-leave-'em Bond. He isn't superhuman in the books, where failed relationships leave their mark on him, as they do on all of us.
Speaking of Live and Let Die, We're re-introduced to Quarrel, who — like Strangways — made his debut there. I felt an odd sense of difference in Quarrel here, and when I re-read his LaLD intro, I think I'm closer to right than wrong.
In both books, Quarrel is esteemed for his various skills, especially seamanship. But he seems to have higher status in the first book. While still subordinate to Bond, Fleming makes a point in Live and Let Die of Quarrel not being servile, of having "the blood of Cromwellian soldiers." He compares the Bond-Quarrel relationship as akin to a captain and first mate, or that of "a Scots laird and his head stalker," whatever that is. In Dr. No, however, he is referred to as "an invaluable handyman" and "a passport into the lower strata of coloured life."
That latter part wasn't mentioned in Live and Let Die, but given Fleming's worldview, it's probably not much of a compliment. Although I will note that Bond needed and didn't have such a passport in Live and Let Die, where I ridiculed Fleming's idea to send Bond and Felix Leiter undercover — into 1950s Harlem, of all things. So kudos to Fleming for finally realizing that there are some environments where being an upper-class white guy might be more handicap than advantage.
Also, Quarrel's dialogue is different. His accent in Live and Let Die is a mild patois using "de" and "dem" instead of "the" and "them," using "kin" instead of "can," and other minor variations. But in Dr. No his accent is more severe, and Bond even inwardly chuckles at Quarrel dropping his h's where required, and adding them where they aren't.
Which, as Quarrel's dialogue hits my ear, sounds like a Cockney or working-class London thing. That may be on purpose, conflating various dialects to accentuate Quarrel's blue-collar roots. Or maybe native Jamaicans (or Cayman Islanders, like Quarrel) really do talk like that.
I don't know. But Quarrel's accent changes between books, which is what I picked up on.
The plot roars forward, with Bond meeting the Colonial Governor (who will be no help) and the Colonial Secretary (who will be). He also survives two assassination attempts.
In the first, someone releases a poisonous centipede into Bond's bedroom, which crawls onto the sleeping agent. He awakes, and instantly freezes. We are assured that one bite from the beast is fatal (which Quarrel later confirms), leading to a lengthy description of Bond basically having to remain motionless while multi-legged death crawls about his person and around his privates, for what seems like an eternity. The writing here is crisp, exhilarating and terrifying.
The second comes in the form of a fruit basket from the hotel's management that Bond finds suspicious. Here's an example of Bond being a lot more paranoid than in previous books, and it is welcome. It's also useful in-story, as an analysis of the fruit shows that "each item has enough cyanide to kill a horse." Good show, Bond!
Although I must note that in this book, as in others, Bond orders drinks willy-nilly from room service and slurps them down without hesitation. My immediate thought was to wonder why Dr. No's agents bothered with the fruit basket, when they could have just put cyanide in one of Bond's room-service cocktails.
At any rate, Bond thinks "So it's war." Which shows that Bond is nobody's fool, and has the final excuse he needs to justify taking action. It's also kinda cool.
We also get a lot of background exposition in these Jamaican scenes, which raises another point:
Obviously, "Chigroes" is one of those terms that the new, edited-for-racism editions will excise. But what about this?
"The Chigroes are a tough, foreign race. They look down on the negroes, and the Chinese look down on them."
Yes, this line from Colonial Secretary Pleydell-Smith is the definition of racism, painting entire races of people with a single brush. But it's also describing the racism of the island. It is in-story, plot-specific racism, and it is this hierarchy that explains Dr. No (Chinese-German) being the unquestioned boss over his workers (Chinese-African). This paradigm may not have existed outside of Fleming's mind — like with the accents, I genuinely have no idea — but it's significant to the book. How will the new editing deal with it?
This brings us, finally, to the Bond Girl of the Book. Bond finds Honeychile Rider standing naked on a beach with her back to him — Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus" in reverse, Bond thinks. (You gotta love an English education.)
Rider's looks and sexual availability are given lots of breathless attention, but I have to say that she is no bimbo. Fleming gives her a lot more agency than you'd expect for a 1950s female character, who half-rescues herself (from death by crabs), takes charge in the romance department (she seduces Bond, and decides what the rules of engagement will be) and otherwise resists being treated as a sidekick or damsel in distress.
Fleming writes her lack of formal education a little too broadly, almost too Beverly Hillbillies at times, but honestly, I kinda expected more of that from an Eton graduate of his generation. By and large, I find there are enough dimensions to Honey Rider that I'm capable of having an opinion of her — and I find that I genuinely like her. I hope she gets that nose job, since it's so important to her!
(And it's not at all important to Bond, which gets him extra points in the decent-guy department.)
We're also introduced to many of Dr. No's agents, whose professionalism worries Bond. There will be no loose and easily-escaped bindings, he thinks, which makes this reader wonder if that's a reaction to action-figure tropes in Fleming's day. Bond IIRC hasn't, as of Book #6, been tied up so loosely as to escape on his own. So I don't think anyone would have applied that criticism to the Bond books at this point. An interesting observation by Fleming, and I'm curious as to its provenance.
We also get the dragon. I found it clumsy and silly in the movie in earlier years, and the book fares no better. "Don't stand in front of the flame-thrower" the Li'l Cap'n yelled at the screen decades ago. "Run around to the back and climb on top!" The Grown-Up Cap'n doesn't yell advice at fictional characters in books any more, but he thought it.
Apparently it doesn't occur to Quarrel, who joins the Choir Invisible in extra-crispy style. Points to Bond for insisting on paying his respects to the Cayman Islander, defying his captors in the process.
Oh, right, forgot to mention: Bond is captured. It happens in every book, so it's almost a given.
Fleming does another abrupt transition scene, but it doesn't work as well as the first one. Bond and Honey step through a door from some sort of underground garage full of thugs into an elegant reception room, which opens into what amounts to an upscale hotel. I didn't feel the shift as viscerally here as I did between chapters one and two, but it's a good effort.
In this reception room are a pair of attractive Chinese women who are extremely solicitous. I should mention that Bond has run into several attractive Chinese women already, all of whom were agents of Dr. No. He picked up on this right away, instead of admiring their charms as he would in earlier books, another stroke in his attaboy column.
Anyway, Bond and Honey are drugged before she can drag him into bed (save the climax for the climax, I guess), and when they awake they are taken to a relatively formal dinner with Dr. No. As seems to happen in Bond books a lot, the villain entertains Bond in a faux-hospitable manner with an undercurrent of threat, and takes the opportunity to describe his origins and grand scheme.
I don't mind this cliché at all in the books, at least so far. For one thing, as far as I know Fleming invented the thing, so he can use it all he wants. Further, I feel a sense of anxiety, given that both Bond and the reader know that an execution is next on the menu. This works for me in the books, and not so much in the movies. Maybe it's because reading is slower, or maybe I'm just hungry for some exposition!
I do want to talk about when Bond wonders at the cost of construction for Dr. No's underground natural aquarium, built leagues under the sea. (Dr. No says everyone does.) Because he also wonders how that aquarium, which is attached to a quano production facility, upscale hotel, dorms for the workers, living quarters for Dr. No and his upscale employees, missile-toppling facility and torture tunnel, mostly underground, could have been built without anyone knowing about it.
I really appreciate that. Too often that sort of thing is glossed over (like the earth-orbit satellite in the Moonraker movie), threatening my suspension of disbelief. Especially since Bond works it out to his satisfaction (which satisfies me). And also because, seeing how it could be done, he wonders how often it has been done, and how many other Dr. Nos there are out there, scheming their schemes.
Say, let's have a bunch of books exploring that idea, shall we?
Getting back to Dr. No: His choice of execution is for Bond to run a gauntlet that no one has survived and Dr. No doesn't think is possible for anyone to survive, while his scientists take note of Bond's pain threshold and such, Dr. Mengele style.
I will say this: I think Dr. No's right. No one should survive his torture tunnel. But Bond does, because of exemplary ingenuity, foresight and just plain tenacity. He wouldn't have survived, for example, if he hadn't thought to bring or create weapons (a spear, a knife, a lighter). He wouldn't have survived the tarantulas if he hadn't figured out how to force them into a corner and spear them. And he wouldn't have survived if he wasn't tough enough to handle the heat, manage the vertical climb, endure the electric grill and spear the octopus.
All of it was riveting, especially the octopus. This is Fleming at his best, and not even Robert E. Howard tops him at this kind of thing.
During Bond's struggle through the torture tunnel, there was an additional torment: the knowledge that Honey was staked out somewhere, with death coming in on the tide in the form of hungry crabs. That adds a ticking clock to the anxiety meter. And it says something of Bond that he sometimes worried more about Honey than he did about himself.
Once the octopus is done with, the book kinda winds down. Bond kills Dr. No at a distance, by using a derrick to dump guano on him. (Ha!) He only half-saves Honey, whose knowledge of zoology helped her survive the crabs and escape. Before long he is back in the colonial arms of Jamaica.
A good book. My only regret is that we don't see (at least for now) M's reaction to how his planned vacation for Bond turned out.
Director: Terence Young
Writers: Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, Berkely Mather, Wolf Mankowitz, Terence Young
Stars: Sean Connery (James Bond), Ursula Andress (Honey Ryder), Joseph Wiseman (Dr. No), Jack Lord (Felix Leiter), Bernard Lee (M), Anthony Dawson .(Professor Dent), Zena Marshall (Miss Taro), John Kitzmiller (Quarrel) Eunice Gayson (Sylvia Trench), Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny), Peter Burton (Major Boothroyd), Yvonne Shima (Sister Lily, Michel Mok (Sister Rose), Marguerite LeWars (Annabel Chung), William Foster-Davis (Superintendent Duff), Dolores Keator (Mary Trueblood), Reggie Carter (Mr. Jones), Louis Blaazer (Pleydell-Smith), Colonel Burton (General Potter)
Notable Songs: "Theme from James Bond," written by Monty Norman and arranged by John Barry, is one of the most famous theme songs in the world. "Under the Mango Tree" was sung by Diana Coupland.
The movie tries to follow the book pretty closely, sometimes to its detriment, as many ideas are introduced and discarded so quickly they don't register. It's unclear, for example, that Bond is trying to pay respects to Quarrel when one of his captors fires a warning shot at his feet — unless you've read the book.
But yes, Dr. No is using radio beams to sabotage missiles from his Crab Key base, and kills anyone who comes close to finding this out, resulting in the murder of Strangways and Trueblood, which results in Bond and Quarrel investigating, which results in Bond meeting Honey and shutting down No's operation.
THE FIRST MOVIE
Despite being the sixth book, Dr. No is the first Bond movie. As such, it establishes a lot of things that almost become required in future movies:
- The "Gun Barrel Scene." Here's Wikipedia's description: "Shot from the point of view of a presumed assassin, it features James Bond walking, turning and then shooting directly at camera, causing blood to run down the screen."
- The "James Bond Theme."
- Silhouetted figures dancing in the opening credits. There are men included in the Dr. No credits, something I don't think is repeated.
- 007 introducing himself as "Bond. James Bond." (It's Sean Connery's first line in the movie.) He says it directly after Sylvia Trench introduces herself as "Trench. Sylvia Trench."
- Bond throwing his hat onto the coatrack in M's antechamber from the doorway.
- Bond flirting with Moneypenny.
OLD FRIENDS WITH NEW TRICKS
The movie Dr. No employs most of the same characters as the book, as a glance at the cast list above demonstrates. Most do in the movie what they do in the book. Here are some exceptions:
Quarrel: The movies Dr. No and Live and Let Die were made in the opposite order of the books on which they were based. So in Dr. No the book, Bond is meeting Quarrel for the second time, whereas in the movie, it's for the first. Since Quarrel dies in Dr. No, his character is replaced by Quarrel Jr. for the movie version of Live and Let Die.
The character does pretty much the same things in both book and movie versions, but in the movie he is affiliated with the CIA, not MI6. Also, movie Quarrel has a pot belly. This disturbed me, because the Quarrel of the book was in great physical condition. "That's not Quarrel," I thought, as fanboys do.
In the books, Quarrel immediately calls Bond "Captain," indicating their relationship straightaway. In the movie they think each is working for the other side, so Quarrel's use of "Captain" the first time might be interpreted as ironic or sarcastic. But he calls him "Captain" for real as soon as Felix shows up and straightens out the (pointless and time-wasting) misconception.
John Strangways: The Jamaican station chief is offed at the beginning of Dr. No in both book and movie. In the books, Bond had already shared an adventure with Strangways (Live and Let Die) and took his death somewhat personally. In the movie, Bond knows Strangways "only by reputation," and never meets him, 'cause he's dead.
It should be noted somewhere that the assassins don't burn Strangways' house in the movie the way do in the book. It's an odd thing to omit, since burning the house threw Bond off the scent for a little while in the book, whereas in the movie there's a big, ol' bloodstain on the rug, telling the whole story.
Felix Leiter: Bond's traditional wingman appears in three books before Dr. No: Casino Royale, Live and Let Die and Diamonds Are Forever. He doesn't appear in Dr. No the novel, but is introduced in Dr. No the movie anyway. (He is played by Hawaii Five-O's Jack Lord, and does nothing important.)
Miss Moneypenny: Miss Moneypenny has one line in the book — "007's here, sir" — and is never "seen." In the movie, there's a flirtation scene with dialogue and everything. My wife noted the actress playing Moneypenny as "so young and attractive" here, while I still can't get past the PTA mom wardrobe and hair.
The Armourer: Major Boothroyd makes his first appearance in Dr. No the book, and he does the same in Dr. No the movie — getting a jump on five books! He does very much the same thing here that he does in the book, even referring to the Beretta as something you'd find "in a lady's purse" and referencing its lack of stopping power.
There's no real change here from the book. I just wanted to note the Ur Q's arrival.
Miss Taro: The secretary for Colonial Secretary Pleydell-Smith uses her position to spy for Dr. No in both book and movie (mostly to "lose" the Dr. No file). She is only seen briefly in the book, but in the movie she has a more substantial role. She uses sex to set up Bond for assassination, and he uses her to set a trap for Dent. (And also sex.) Then he has her arrested!
Not that she was going to have her job for long. The year this movie came out is the same year Jamaica achieved independence, so working for the Colonial Secretary wouldn't be an option past, say, August.
Dr. Julius No: Dr. No's origin is shortened and changed for the movie.
In the book he stole from the tongs, who cut off his hands. In the movie, he still steals from the tongs, but it is his research into radiation that results in the loss of his hands. In the book, more of his background is described, but all of that is omitted in the movie.
In the book, he names himself Julius after his absent father and No to reject that father. He calls himself a doctor because doctors are deferred to in most cultures. The movie gives no reason for his name.
In the book, Bond kills Dr. No by redirecting a crane and burying him in guano. In the movie, he kills Dr. No by knocking him into some nuclear reactor water, which he is unable to escape due to his disability (metal hands). The death-by-crane scene may have been transferred to the Diamonds Are Forever movie, where Bond redirects a crane holding a mini-sub occupied by Blofeld.
Honey Ryder: Mysteriously, Honeychile "Honey" Rider's last name is spelled differently in the movie credits. I have no idea why.
Her origin is changed as well. While many seminal events remain the same — like her being raped by her landlord, and killing him with a black widow spider in revenge, and self-educating from an encyclopedia set — others have changed. In the movie, she is the daughter of a marine zoologist and has traveled the world. In the book, she's an orphan raised by her nanny in an abandoned house, and has never left Jamaica.
In the book, it's Honey's idea to hide from the dogs under the water, using reeds to breathe. In the movie, it's Bond's idea.
In the book, Honey emotionlessly accepts Bond killing one of their pursuers on Crab Key. (Her life story has acclimated her to death.) In the film she squeals, hides her face, and says, "Why did you do that?"
In the book, Honey's knowledge about crabs allows her to survive Dr. No's death trap. She then escapes, and runs into Bond while he's coming to rescue her, in an almost comical scene (that I'd like to have seen on screen). In the movie, she's staked out to drown in a rising tide, and remains helpless until Bond rescues her.
These last three bits undermine her entire characterization if you ask me (but nobody did).
Sylvia Trench: Bond is introduced playing Chemin de Fer (Baccarat) against a woman named Sylvia Trench in a casino. She is intrigued, and they make a date for lunch the next day. But she arrives early — way early, by somehow getting into his hotel room that night, changing into one of his shirts (and nothing else), and surprising him when he returns. (And doesn't seem to notice that he arrives with a gun in his hand.) It's implied they fit in a quickie before he flies off to Jamaica.
Interestingly, when Trench appears in From Russia with Love, it's on a date with Bond, where he tells her he has to leave and he'll make it up to her. She replies that the last time he said that, he went to Jamaica and she didn't hear from him for weeks. You don't need to have watched Dr. No for the line to work, but it works better if you have.
Trench is an original character for the movies, returning (briefly) in From Russia, with Love.
Professor Dent: This metallurgist is one of John Strangways' regular bridge partners at the Queen's Club in the movie, who is secretly working for Dr. No. In the book, only one of Strangways' regulars is named, and it's not Dent. Further, none of them are metallurgists.
Dent, and his role as a mole, are invented for the movie.
In the book, Dr. No's cover on Crab Key is mining and exporting quano for fertilizer. In the movie, he has a bauxite mine.
In the book, Honey whistles "Marion" on the beach. In the movie she sings/hums "Under the Mango Tree." The reason for this change is obvious, as producers like to make money off soundtracks and "Under the Mango Tree" was an original composition for the movie. As to "Marion," the rights to this calypso tune of unknown origin seem to be complicated: It was released with new lyrics and compositions as "Mary-Ann" and "Mariann" by various singers and groups starting in 1941. And according to Fleming, the original version might have been a bit risqué.
Dr. No's sabotage of American missiles is done for Russian money in the book. In the movie he does it for SPECTRE, here defined as the Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, Extortion. The word "Counter-Intelligence" is dropped in later movies.
The sabotage of U.S. missiles is no doubt a serious and scary idea in 1958 (the book), when one of those missiles might have a nuclear warhead. But in 1962 (the movie), it's even a bigger deal, as the U.S. is about to launch a Mercury rocket to orbit the Moon.
Bond is assigned a Walther PPK and must surrender his beloved Beretta. This plays out in the movie almost identically to the book. But as noted, Dr. No is the sixth book, meaning we've seen Bond use the Beretta for five books (and "15 years" according to the dialogue). In the movies, we never see Bond use it (and he notes he's had it for "10 years").
In the book, the two assassination attempts involve a poisonous centipede and poisoned fruit basket. In the movie, the centipede is swapped for a tarantula (which wouldn't be deadly), the three "blind" assassins whose attempt to snipe at Bond is spoiled by traffic and a phony driver who says he's from Government House but is really working for Dr. No.
After Bond beats the driver in hand-to-hand combat, he casually straightens his cuffs. Daniel Craig does exactly the same thing after the motorcycle chase in Skyfall. If you're gonna steal, steal from the best!
In the book, the tunnel that Bond climbs through to escape is a gauntlet designed by Dr. No to test how much pain someone can withstand. In the movie, the tunnel is just a conveniently placed, conveniently sized air vent in Bond's cell.
In the book, Bond must endure an electrical shock, heated walls/floors, an upward climb, a cage full of crazed tarantulas and an octopus. In the movie, it's only an electrical shock, a brief heating scene, a downward climb and a flood. Yes, some of that is from the book. But since they dropped the idea that Dr. No was putting Bond through this on purpose, why were all those things in a simple air vent?
In the book, Bond kills one of Dr. No's men hunting him, Quarrel and Honey in the swamp with a gun. In the movie, he uses a knife. "That makes more sense," my wife said during the movie, without preamble. She didn't have to tell me what she was talking about, because I was thinking the same thing.
- As Jeff of Earth-J likes to point out, this is the only movie in which Bond sings.
- Anthony Dawson, who plays Professor Dent, portrays Blofeld in From Russia with Love and Thunderball.
- Ursula Andress, who plays Honey Ryder, is dubbed throughout the movie by another actress. Andress' Swedish accent was deemed too thick. (And, really, any hint of a Swedish accent would be wrong for the character.)
- My wife noted Sean Connery is "a really good actor" in Dr. No and From Russia with Love. I agree. But since she also said she's mesmerized by his chest hair, she may have a different perspective than I do.
- Dr. No debuted in 1958, just like me. I turned four the month the movie came out. I remember seeing it in a theater, not understanding a lot of it, but being excited anyway.
- It's mentioned more than once in the book and at least once in the movie that Miss Trueblood was quite attractive. When she appeared on screen, my wife and I were like, "Really?" Maybe it was her relative youth compared to Strangways.
- I don't buy for a second that a young woman hunting shells in the Caribbean sun would go naked, as Honeychile does in her introduction in the book. Not only is there the danger of sunburn — especially on privates, which aren't used to the sun — but there's another danger for every orifice, boy or girl: sand. I've been to a lot of beaches, enough to know I will never go naked to one.
- One of Strangways' bridge partners is named General Potter, who is played by ... Colonel Burton. I am not making this up.
- It's too bad that this was Jack Lord's only shot at Felix Leiter. I thought he was pretty good, while being fully aware that he had almost nothing to do. I can almost justify the character being in the movie when he wasn't in the book for one reason: The American connection makes Bond's presence more plausible.
- Dr. No the movie debuted only four years after the book was published, meaning that this is an occasion where the screenwriters didn't have to deal with great leaps in technology or big changes in Britain's geopolitical fortunes. (Unlike, say, Moonraker.) Dr. No's evil scheme in 1958 was just as viable in 1962, and Jamaica was still a British colony in Bond's jurisdiction. Barely.
- As noted, "Bond. James Bond." are the first words uttered by Sean Connery in Dr. No, his first Bond movie. "Bond. James Bond." are the last words uttered by Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, his first Bond movie.
- In the movie, Bond overheats Dr. No's atomic reactor, setting off the warning klaxon, panicking the staff so they flee. Good plan. But later the reactor explodes. That probably wasn't alarming in 1962, but 60 years later we've all lived through news about Chernobyl and Fukushima. Wouldn't the reactor meltdown cause a China Syndrome? At the very least, wouldn't it poison the surrounding area — including Jamaica — with radiation?
- When Bond is wondering how much the underground aquarium cost, Dr. No walks in and says, "One million dollars." Sadly, it is now impossible to watch this scene and NOT think of Austin Powers' Dr. Evil.
- As I mentioned at some point, the movie throws a lot of things at the viewer and moves on so fast it's easy to miss them. One of those is when Bond checks his room and it has been searched, but put back neatly (his homemade burglar alarms have been breached, so he's not fooled). He's about to pour himself a drink of vodka but — remember the poisoned fruit basket from the book? — he sniffs the bottle, and puts it back down. He then pulls open a drawer and draws out a fresh, unopened bottle of vodka with the price tag still on it. Clearly, Bond had thought ahead, and made sure to have some backup alcohol just in case.
- Just as in earlier books, Bond pulls out the "darlings" on his new lady love. I've gotten mostly used to it, but this time I wondered why he bothered — this time he was with a girl whose name is already a term of endearment. When he says, "Goodnight, darling Honey," it just sounds redundant.
- In the book, the knife Bond steals at dinner is instrumental in his survival in the Torture Tunnel, along with the cigarette lighter he swipes and the spear he fashions out of air-vent cover. In the movie, however, Dr. No notices Bond's attempt to steal the knife and he enters the tunnel empty-handed.