Dr No: a relook at the film and its early success.

Mitchell Hooks’ design is very much influenced by the pulp fiction front covers of the era. The fact that it is based on the novel is prominent, reflecting the popularity of the the book. From left to right the characters are: Dr No (Joseph Wiseman), Bond (Sean Connery but drawn from the artist’s imagination and not a reference still), Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress, and based on a studio shot she posed for), Miss Taro (Zena Marshall but a model was used to pose for the drawing), Sylvia Trench (Eunice Grayson but in fact based on a studio shot of Ursula Andress ), Girl Photographer (the drawing is adapted from a studio shot of Zena Marshall and not Marguerite Le Wars).

This is one of four essays that cover various aspects of Dr No including location photos, the full story behind the posters, and how the soundtrack was developed.

Dr No was one of Fleming’s favourite book although that wasn’t the reason it was turned into the first film. Having formed a partnership, Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman wanted to film Thunderball but this was nixed by the looming legal action over the authorship of the story. Instead they turned to Dr No. The potential for exotic locations, and a fiendish villain started ticking the right boxes. But what they wanted too was a devilish plot that would resonate with the modern cinema audience rather than the one that Fleming had written. All of Fleming’s plots are definitely lo-fi. He was not into sci-fi at all but the producers instinctively knew that to make the films successful they needed to inject some modernity into the storyline. Answer? Bring in the space-race and ditch the bat poo.

Front cover from a paperback reprinting. 1960. Artwork by Sam Peffer.

The novel was Fleming’s sixth. At the time it was the one that created the most publicity and made Fleming well-known albeit still not a household name. That said, his Bond books had now sold over one million copies. He was also viciously attacked in the press, thus proving the adage there is no publicity like bad publicity. Paul Johnson in the New Statesmen said the novel was full of sex, snobbery and sadism – as if this was the first book that could be characterised that way. Fleming’s close friend Noel Coward also wrote to him saying, ‘I was also slightly shocked by the lascivious announcement that Honeychile’s bottom was like a boys…really old chap what could you have been thinking of?’

Perhaps the producers had remembered the controversy and thought it would help boost the film’s appeal among younger audiences, the all important age group to build the box office numbers.

Fleming was little involved with the development of the film. His fingers had been burnt with Thunderball and he was more than happy to leave it to the professionals. That said he did recommend the actor Paul Danquah (1925-2015) for the role of Quarrel but this was ignored; and it was Fleming who set up the contact with Chris Blackwell as a Mr Fix-it, and who then sorted out much of the production and music needs in Jamaica.

The first draft of the script came from Joanna Harwood who started working on the film in late 1961: ‘I wrote the first screenplay for Dr. No, which enabled EON Productions to obtain a distribution contract and a financial advance from United Artists, and thus to hire two well-known screenwriters to rework my script – Richard Maibaum, who had already worked for Broccoli on The Red Beret, and Wolf Mankowitz, a very popular English writer at the time.

Many might know that Maibaum/Mankowitz were less than impressed with Dr No as a villain, and instead created a character who kept a Marmoset monkey perched on his shoulder. Surprise surprise this was thrown out by the producers but for years afterwards caused great mirth within the EON offices. They asked Harwood to take elements of the Maibaum/Mankowitz script and rewrite them into her original. A fifth draft was delivered in January 1962 and was used to prepare for the production schedule. True to form, because film producers never seem satisfied, before cameras turned over they asked the novelist Berkely Mather to ‘masculinise the dialogue’. This irked Harwood who had taken the dialogue from the novel, and in the end Saltzman asked her to remove anything she didn’t like. She did and this became the shooting script, and she should be credited with creating the enduring personification of Bond.

In the end, the final narrative followed the plot of the novel pretty faithfully albeit replacing some of the detail that was felt to be less cinematic, old-fashioned or far-fetched but Harwood also introduced the sly dark humour and the cynicism of Bond’s smile.

A number of directors were approached, and an equal number turned it down for various reasons. In the end Terence Young (1915-1994) agreed to helm the film and created something that was pared down without allowing the locations to overwhelm, aided an abetted by Ted Moore who captured the rich natural colours of Jamaica. Peter Hunt was the editor and the spot-on pacing is down to him.

The story of the search for Bond needs no repeating – a trail of later regretful actors was left behind and Connery awarded the part. Fleming had also come to the conclusion that Connery was ‘a real charmer – fairly unknown but a good actor with the right physique.’ In 1962 in an interview with The New Yorker, Fleming said, “When I wrote the first one, in 1953, I wanted Bond to be an extremely dull, uninteresting man to whom things happened; I wanted him to be the blunt instrument.” This is retained in the film but besides being brutal he is also smart and sophisticated, knows how to play at the baccarat table in Mayfair’s Les Ambassadeurs Casino, and what champagne to order. Harwood was able to capture these potentially contradictory elements perfectly which lead to Broccoli reflecting in his autobiography, ‘Physically, and in his general persona, he was too much of a rough-cut to be a replica of Fleming’s upper-class agent. This suited us fine, because we were looking to give our 007 a much broader box-office appeal.’

It is of no surprise that the film created a new genre of spy movies albeit with a conventional narrative approach to storytelling. Fleming had created a new genre of spy books – though I use the word spy advisedly as Fleming rarely described Bond this way as he was not a spy but a secret agent, primarily an assassin who’s job was to eliminate the undesirable. And one who was not that secret either. ‘My name’s Bond. James Bond.’

The film set the template that by and large has been adhered to ever since – though the reasons for the generally minor divergences will not be covered here.

The basic premise is that Bond’s task is to thwart the plans of a master villain. It is essentially a simple two header like a game of chess: Bond versus the villain. In truth the other characters are incidental, used to create plot interest and maintain some added tension. Hence Bond’s interactions with these others is also two-headed. Rarely is an ensemble approach taken: Bond versus grumpy M; Bond versus flirty Moneypenny; Bond versus an exasperated Leiter. (Missing at this point is Bond versus a flustered Q.) With all of these there is always a dissonance between the two characters. Even with the female characters it is a tense one-on-one despite the love or sex interest.

Dr No established the use of a pre-title sequence and the importance of imaginative titles, even if the graphic style would change over subsequent films. Not forgetting of course the gun barrel and the introduction of the James Bond theme. The one element missing from Dr No, is the Barry score. This would come with the follow-up.

There are two scenes that need highlighting because of their importance in defining the franchise. The first is the introduction of Bond. Unusual (at the time) in cinematic terms we do not see him before the camera pans up from his hands, he says, ‘Bond…James Bond’ and the theme cues in. An amazing and unforgettable piece of direction. Second is when he kills Dent. We see that the hero is no more than a ruthless cold-bloodied assassin (precisely as Fleming had described him) and establishes that this is no knight in shining armour. In any other film of the era he would have been the villain.

While the producers had the rights for all the books bar Casino Royale and Thunderball, there was no guarantee that a series of films would be made. If this one flopped, they would have dropped their interest. However they put much effort into promoting the film as it was being made and it is of interest that Fleming concluded that it was Harry Saltzman who was the driving force behind the production and who made all the running to make it a success. (I say ‘of interest’ because Broccoli later downplayed Saltzman’s influence and more recently he has all but been written out of the ‘official’ history.) This is also confirmed by Joanna Harwood who said in a 2022 interview: ‘I saw very little of Broccoli. He was more concerned with management issues, with the administrative aspects of the production, while Saltzman was the big producer, getting involved in all the little details.’

The film was premiered on 5 October 1962 in the UK (later in the U.S.) and Michael Howard who ran Jonathan Cape (the books’ publisher) wrote to Fleming, ‘I have to confess to being astonished by that film of Dr. No. Judging only, I must admit, by the lamentable productions that have been made of most of my favourite thrillers, I had become convinced that it was really impossible to translate that kind of book into visual terms. Eon have certainly stacked the problem in the grand manner and, by pulling out all the stops, I rather think they have got away with it. It was a delight to be in that particular audience the other night, but up and down the country I should think the film will be lapped up. I do congratulate you on the magnificent billing you have secured in all the publicity and in the credits in the film itself.’

The UK’s leading film magazine for buffs, Sight and Sound, noted that while it had taken a surprisingly long time to reach the screen, ‘it seems as if it is here to stay.’ and that ‘all the accusations made against Ian Fleming’s novels can now be repeated.’ It appealed, they decided, ‘to everyone’s worst instincts.’ They were not great fans in the end deciding that while it was ‘reprehensible it was admittedly watchable.’

Meanwhile the critic in the Illustrated London News noted that he sat between a ‘young women who fidgeted with giddy rapture throughout and an elderly one who was so overwhelmed by the hero’s more breathtaking escapades that she frequently buried her face in her hands through sheer nervous terror.’ As an interesting aside, a number of the critics thought that Connery was Irish. The Long Eaton Advertiser on 9th November advised readers, ‘Do not be misled by the unknown star. Get there early (the Palace Cinema) to avoid the queues as this is the first James Bond film that broke records at 103 out of 110 cinemas when it was first released.’ By the end of the year the film had reached the Clifton Cinema at Great Barr, and the Walsall Observer thought that this was Connery’s best role to date.

The trade press were quickly reporting that it was ‘big big big’ not least because it was being held over for a second week – usually new films with unknown stars were initially only booked for a one-week run and then would disappear into second-run picture palaces. In the end the top box office films in the UK for 1962 were Dr No, Guns of Navarone, Only Two Can Play, Road To Hong Kong, and The Young Ones.

This is a version of the U.S. poster designed by David Chasman was a creative director at United Artists. For the first time the famous gun barrel logo appears, designed by Joseph Charoff who saw that the 7 could represent the barrel of a gun.

A couple of days after the premiere the Dr No greyhound race was run at Wembley Stadium. Organised by Saltzman, who was present along with some top United Artist managers, the winner’s trophy was presented by Sean Connery as the party dined in the restaurant overlooking the track.

When it came to be released later in the U.S. with the UK’s success already apparent United Artists had decided to pull out all the stops. A spokesman said ‘he has done quite well in the UK. In line with this thinking, the publicity, exploitation, and advertising departments of United Artists, distributor of the forthcoming thriller, have gone all out and have come up with an aggressive and attention- getting campaign.’

As UA vice-president Fred Goldberg put it, too many exhibitors today simply lift a few ads out of press books as their campaign, which is not taking advantage of a film’s or campaign’s potential. ‘Full exhibitor participation in the Dr. No campaign has been requested because it is one of the hottest pieces of film around in some time.’ This resulted in much supplemental material being added to the selling plan. He continued, ‘Since UA has quite an investment in Bond, it will attempt to make him one of the most, publicised spies in history. This will also mean that the relatively unknown newcomer, Sean Connery, who portrays Bond, will become one of the best known actors in the business.’

There were several phases to the campaign, the first of which was the sending out a Dr. No kit across the U.S. containing a large number of scene and star stills from the film, information about Bond such as his women, his liquor, his arsenal, and his clothes, etc. These were sent to 250 press, radio and tv people in 20 major cities coast-to-coast. This was accompanied by a boxed set of the nine Bond thrillers written by Fleming to date. These and the dossier in velvet contained a mysterious letter and provocative stills that paved the way for Connery and the three attractive models, who toured with him. (Connery’s tour was to last a gruelling ten days before he returned to the UK to start filming From Russia With Love.)

Connery kicked off his American tour by attending the Show-A-Rama convention in Kansas City, sponsored by the United Theatre Owners of the Heart of America. This was held March 5-7. Then when he went to other cities, the media were brought in from surrounding cities to meet him, to see the movie at special screenings, to attend memorable parties and so on. Often he arrived in a Rolls Royce well stocked with three models, Jane Europh, Marilyn Chase, and Valerie Fowles.

Some of the models on Bond’s road trip.

The American publicity campaign cemented the core appeal of Bond that would only be ratcheted up with subsequent films. Sex. Sex. And more sex. (That old cliche that ‘sex sells’ but in this instance it really does albeit the promise was rarely seen in the film itself.)

Some people become over-excited by the film. It is not a great pieces of cinema. It was made to make money through providing family entertainment. Neither of the producers were looking for plaudits and with Dr No they trod carefully well within the conventional boundaries of film making. Yet it turned out to be a success beyond their wildest dreams, making Fleming a household name. Hence the fact that Dr No introduced some key elements that would be retained across the series for decades was not something planned but serendipity came into play; the gun barrel sequence; the James Bond theme; I’m loathe to say ‘Bond. James Bond’ as Harwood had taken that from the novels; the End Titles featured the reminder that Bond would return; and of course the glamour of the iconic Bond girl or three.

The film also played a role (along with The Beatles who released their first single at the same time as Dr No) in helping Britain redefine itself and to give it a new sense of cultural identity at a time when the days of the nations Imperial past were drawing to a close.

The poster.



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Joanna Harwood quotes from James Bond 007 magazine. October 2022.