By the time Ian Fleming’s spy James Bond appeared in his sixth novel in 1958’s Dr. No the character was achieving decent book sales. However, the superspy wasn’t yet a household name. An adaptation of the first 007 novel was broadcast on American television in 1954 but had yet to appear on the big screen to a larger, international audience. In a few short years, this would all change.
Commander Jamaica, Harry Salzman, and Cubby Broccoli
In June of 1956, Fleming began to collaborate with American television producer and Lehman Brother’s heir Henry Morgenthau III on a television series called Commander Jamaica. The series would feature a Bond-like character called James Gunn. When it didn’t move forward, Fleming repurposed the plot for his next 007 novel, Dr. No.
In 1960, Canadian theatre and film producer Harry Salzman read Dr. No as well as Goldfinger, which was the next book in Ian Fleming’s 007 series. Saltzman quickly became interested in turning Bond novels into feature films. He quickly got in touch with Fleming who wasn’t a fan of the movies that Saltzman had produced in England up to this point.
Nevertheless, Fleming sold him the rights to all of the Bond books except for Thunderball, released in 1961, and Casino Royale, released in 1953. Thunderball was the subject of a legal dispute over authorship. The screen rights to Casino Royale had already been sold to producer Gregory Ratoff in 1955.
Saltzman ran into trouble early on as he was unable to pull the financial resources together to get James Bond in front of the camera. Around this time, Albert R Broccoli, an American producer, became interested in turning the James Bond novels into a movie series. Saltzman had no desire to sell the rights. However, screenwriter Wolf Mankowitz, who was friendly with both men, set up a meeting between the pair. It didn’t take long for Saltzman and Broccoli to decide to team up to bring 007 to the screen.
Saltzman and Broccoli set up two companies for their James Bond joint venture. The first was called Danjaq, a holding company responsible for the copyright and trademarks to the characters, elements, and other material related to James Bond on screen. The second was called Eon Productions, which would actually produce the movies.
After being turned down by nearly every studio in Hollywood, Saltzman and Broccoli were able to make a deal with United Artists to finally make a Bond picture. With Broccoli’s top choice of Thunderball off the table, it was decided that they would adopt Dr. No. With a meager $1,000,000 in financing provided by United Artists, the men knew they had their work cut out for them.
Screenplay and Director
With the financial constraints hovering over them it proved difficult to get a director for the project. Their first choice was American Western stalwart, Phil Karlson. However, his salary demands were too high. Eventually, they turned their attention to an array of English directors including Guy Green, Guy Hamilton, Val Guest, and Ken Hughes. They simply weren’t interested. Eventually, they settled on Irishman Terence Young, with whom Broccoli had worked at Warwick Films years earlier.
For the script, Wolf Mankowitz and Richard Maibaum were hired. In the first draft, they reimagined the titular character of ‘Dr. No’ as a monkey. One that was worshipped as a god by the privative inhabitants of a remote island. They made this change because they felt the version from the novel was too similar to Fu Manchu. The movie’s planned villain was a shipping magnate called ‘Buchwald’ who wanted to blow up the Panama Canal.
The producers were unhappy with the script that was delivered, and Mankowitz subsequently left the project prior to the completion of a second draft. This draft had more closely followed Fleming’s novel. Once the script was in good shape, Johanna Harwood and Berkley Mather were brought in as script doctors to punch up the dialogue.
By far the most time-consuming part with regards to casting was the lead role of James Bond. The first name that came to mind for casting was Cary Grant. However, his likely high salary and unwillingness to play the role for more than one picture eliminated him from consideration almost immediately.
Other names that were considered but ultimately rejected included David Niven, Patrick McGoohan, and Richard Johnson. Ian Fleming suggested Richard Todd and Edward Undertown for the role. Neither were seriously considered. With these names excluded, the producers turned to a contest of all things to find their 007. Of the six finalists Peter Anthony, a model, was selected.
However, the producers soon got cold feet after picking him. Subsequently, they decided to screentest Scottish actor and former Mr. Universe competitor, Sean Connery. Broccoli had seen Connery in Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959) and had really enjoyed the fistfight Connery was involved in at the film’s climax.
Connery was reluctant to audition for the role because he too wasn’t interested in starring in multiple films as the secret agent. As a result, Connery showed up at the audition looking like a ragamuffin replete with unkempt hair and a crumpled suit. Still, he impressed Saltzman and Broccoli with his charisma, agility, and cavalier attitude. They decided to cast him as 007 almost immediately.
Director Terence Young took Connery under his wing almost immediately after he was cast as James Bond. He also would take the future A-list Hollywood icon to his tailor as well as to various London hotspots, including casinos and restaurants. This was to instruct Connery on the finer things in life. Things which James Bond himself would enjoy.
“I never got introduced to Fleming until I was well into the movie, but I know he was not that happy with me as a choice. He called me, or told somebody, that I was an overdeveloped stunt man.”
– Sean Connery
Bond creator Ian Fleming disagreed with the choice and was vocal to the producers about it. However, after seeing Connery’s performance in Dr. No convinced Fleming he was wrong and he would not only accept him in the role but envision him in it while writing the novel On Her Majesties Secret Service.
The producers of the James Bond franchise had initially planned for several characters to be reoccurring. The intention was to have the same actors portraying them for several James Bond films. Of the four actors cast in Dr. No, only three of them appeared in at least two films in the series.
For the role of James Bond’s sometimes girlfriend Sylvia Trench, Terence Young championed Eunice Gayson for the role, which she ultimately won. Young had worked with her previously in the 1957 film Zarak. Young thought she had the right “look” for the role. Although she was originally supposed to appear in six movies, the character only appeared in one more, From Russia With Love (1963).
Actress Lois Maxwell lobbied hard for the role of secretary Miss Moneypenny. This was primarily because her husband had suffered a heart attack and she needed the money to support him and their family. The role guaranteed just two days’ work at a daily rate of £100. Maxwell was also required to wear her own clothes for the part. The actress would portray the role an additional thirteen times.
Bernard Lee was cast as 007’s boss ‘M’ one day before filming began. Lee’s performance, as well as that of Maxwell, were ideal for Fleming who felt they were both perfectly cast. Lee would reprise this role ten more times. His final performance occurred in 1979s Moonraker. He was to appear in the next installment, For Your Eyes Only (1981), but died of stomach cancer in November 1980, prior to his scenes being filmed.
Jack Lord was cast as CIA agent Felix Leiter. This was a role in which the producers planned to have him back for future installments. However, since the actor wasn’t signed to a long-term contract, he demanded a pay raise to reprise the role in Goldfinger. Salzman and Broccoli refused, and the role was recast.
The casting of the titular character of Dr. No proved to be a challenge. The first choice of Salzman and Broccoli was Max von Sydow, who turned it down. Fleming convinced them to pursue his friend Noel Coward for the role but he also wasn’t interested. The producers settled on Robert Wiseman primarily because Salzman liked his performance in Detective Story (1951).
Meanwhile, Fleming, who was unaware Wiseman had been cast, got his step-cousin Christopher Lee interested in the role. However, since it was already filled, Lee obviously didn’t get the part. Interestingly, both Lee and von Sydow would eventually go on to play the lead villain in the 007 movies The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) and Never Say Never Again (1983), respectively.
The First Bond Girl
For the casting of “Bond Girl” Honey Ryder, Julie Christie, Martine Beswick, and Gabriella Licudi were all rejected for the role. It was a part that proved difficult to fill. A mere two weeks prior to filming began, Salzman and Broccoli saw a picture of Ursula Andress and offered her the role.
Although hesitant to accept, she was persuaded by her husband John Derek, as well as by her friend Kirk Douglas. The one thing the producers weren’t crazy about was her voice, which was dubbed by voice actress Nikki van der Zyl. She would also dub several other “Bond Girls” including Shirley Eaton in Goldfinger and Claudine Auger in Thunderball (1965). Andress was paid just $6,000 for the role.
Ken Adam, who knew both Salzman and Broccoli well, was hired to put together the fantastic set design for Dr. No. With budget constraints, Adam wisely used frugality and innovation. Examples of this were using cardboard paintings and a door covered in a leather-like plastic to decorate M’s office.
Adam never read the Dr. No novel, only the screenplay to put together his sets for the movie. He was also given total freedom in his work as Salzman and Broccoli were in Jamaica filming while he was putting his sets together at England’s Pinewood Studios.
“The budget for Dr. No was under $1m for the whole picture. My budget was £14,500. I filled three stages at Pinewood full of sets while they were filming in Jamaica. It wasn’t a real aquarium in Dr. No’s apartment. It was a disaster to tell you the truth because we had so little money. We decided to use a rear-projection screen and get some stock footage of fish. What we didn’t realize was because we didn’t have much money the only stock footage they could buy was of goldfish-sized fish, so we had to blow up the size and put a line in the dialogue with Bond talking about the magnification. I didn’t see any reason why Dr. No shouldn’t have good taste so we mixed contemporary furniture and antiques. We thought it would be fun for him to have some stolen art so we used Goya’s Portrait of the Duke of Wellington, which was still missing at the time. I got hold of a slide from the National Gallery…and I painted a Goya over the weekend. It was pretty good so they used it for publicity purposes but, just like the real one, it got stolen while it was on display.”
– Ken Adam
“…if they (Salzman and Broccoli) hadn’t liked my work I would have been in serious trouble. But as it was Terence was the first one who said it was quite brilliant…Then the producers sort of reluctantly agreed. They possibly saw I am going to ask them for more money. It really started a very free sort of debate by every member from the prop man to the cameraman of the film unit…Everybody came up with ideas, some good, some not so good…”
– Ken Adam
Hair and Costumes
The suits worn by Sean Connery in Dr. No were tailored by Anthony Sinclair, while his suit shirts were the product of Lanvin. However, they are often mistaken for the shirts of Turnbull & Asser. Sinclair told Connery that a great suit should be able to stand up to a great deal of abuse, so he instructed Connery to sleep in one of the suits he made. Connery did and was astonished to see that the suit looked perfect the next morning. As far as Connery’s hair, he wore a toupee as he had in all his movies since 1958.
Costume designer Tess Welborn was responsible for the rest of the film’s costumes. By far the most iconic work she did was the white bikini that Ursula Andress wore. The bikini top was made from an underwire bra sold from Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City. Welborn covered it in cotton in order to get the look that is seen in the movie. Her accompanying belt was a modified British Army webbing belt.
Filming on Dr. No lasted a total of 58 days. It began on January 16, 1962, in Jamaica before moving to Pinewood Studios on February 26. The final day of filming was March 30, 1962.
- The first scene filmed featuring Sean Connery was at the Kingston Airport on January 16, 1962.
- Ursula Andress and Sean Connery fought over a record player so they could practice the song Honey and Bond sing together, “Under the Mango Tree.” According to Andress, Connery was a natural singer and didn’t need the practice.
- Because Sean Connery was afraid of spiders the scene where the tarantula is in his bed was done with a sheet of glass between them. To get the close-up shots of the spider in the scene, stuntman Bob Simmons took Connery’s place.
- Visual effects professional Maurice Binder designed the gun barrel opening by pointing a pinhole camera through a real gun barrel. Bob Simmons stood in for Sean Connery when shooting this footage.
- Honey Ryder’s iconic entrance into the movie was filmed just a few yards from Fleming’s Goldeneye estate in Jamaica.
The producers selected Monty Norman to write the score because they enjoyed his music in the play Belle, which Broccoli saw in 1961. Norman wasn’t interested in working on the film but agreed on the condition he could travel with the crew to Jamaica on the production’s dime.
Norman composed the “James Bond theme,” which was arranged by John Barry. In 1962, after the initial release of Dr. No, the song was released as a single in Britain. The now-legendary theme eventually reached number 13 on the charts.
Over the ensuing years, there has been much debate about which of the two men had composed this piece of iconic James Bond music. Subsequently, a lawsuit in 2001 was decided in Norman’s favor on this now settled matter.
Reception and Legacy
Prior to the release of Dr. No, a rough cut was shown to United Artist brass as well as to Fleming. The latter thought it was terrible and the former was happy as it had a small budget so the financial losses would be small. Fleming, changed his tune with the final product, enjoying it considerably.
Dr. No held its premiere at the London Pavilion, on October 5, 1962. It opened three days later in the rest of the UK on a total of 168 screens. The film proved to be a success, becoming the fifth highest-grossing movie of the year there. The worldwide gross of over $6,000,000 had exceeded all financial expectations.
Critically, Dr. No had its fair share of mixed reviews when it was initially released. However, time has been kind to the film over the subsequent six decades. In 1999, Dr. No was ranked 41 on the BFI top 100 British films list, compiled by the British Film Institute. It was also ranked 11 on a list published by Empire magazine.
James Bond is one of the most popular characters of the 20th Century, but it all started with Dr. No, which helped to catapult the character beyond the literary realm and onto the silver screen. After 60 years his popularity hasn’t waned one iota, especially the movies starring Sean Connery, who cemented his action star status with the role.