The opening shot, viewed from inside the barrel of a gun. The silhouetted beauties of Maurice Binder’s credit sequence. That Monty Norman instrumental theme, promising sex and danger in just four notes. The martinis. The game of chance that’s really a game of nerves. The women, gorgeous and lethal. The patient Miss Moneypenny, who’d give as good as she gets if he ever gave her a chance. The supervillain, living in a luxurious, elaborate hidden lair. And the line of introduction: “Bond, James Bond.”
It’s remarkable how many enduring elements of the James Bond film franchise were there from day one, built into the initial installment, “Dr. No,” (released 50 years ago, on October 5, 1962). That’s why, even if you’ve never seen “Dr. No,” you feel like you know it. Even so, there’s plenty you may not know about the landmark spy film, including the real-life spies who made it, how the film inadvertently helped launch the Jamaican reggae industry, and who almost landed the lead instead of Sean Connery. Read on for the declassified secrets of Agent 007.
1. “Dr. No” wasn’t the first of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels to make it to the screen. In 1954, CBS made a TV version of the first Bond book, “Casino Royale,” with Barry Nelson starring as an Americanized “Jimmy Bond.”
2. Fleming had also worked on a screenplay with Kevin McClory for an original Bond tale, but when that deal fell through, Fleming folded the plot into the 007 novel “Thunderball.”
3. In fact, Fleming went through several failed deals to adapt the Bond books into movies until he finally hooked up with a little-known Canadian producer named Harry Saltzman, who, like Fleming, had been an intelligence operative in World War II.
4. Saltzman, in turn, partnered with another little-known producer, New Yorker Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, the son of Italian immigrant farmers who had actually helped popularize their namesake vegetable in America. During the war, he’d served as a Navy ensign and had used his Hollywood connections to round up stars to entertain the troops. Together, Saltzman and Broccoli formed Eon Productions and secured a deal from United Artists to finance a James Bond film.
5. At the time the deal was struck, “Thunderball” was the most recent James Bond novel, but legal ensnarlments with McClory kept the book’s film rights out of Broccoli and Saltzman’s reach. Fleming had also signed away the rights to the introductory 007 novel, “Casino Royale.” So the producers settled on the sixth book, “Doctor No,” largely because they recognized that Honey Ryder’s entrance would be an iconic moment that would validate the whole project.
6. To write the film, the producers enlisted Richard Maibaum, who had handled classified film footage for the U.S. Army during World War II and had used his knowledge of intelligence work to write other spy-thriller screenplays.
7. Maibaum teamed up with Wolf Mankowitz, who later decided that “Dr. No” was so shoddy that he demanded the removal of his name from the credits. (Oops.)
8. Broccoli hired Terence Young to direct. Like seemingly everyone else on the team, he had something of an intelligence background, having served as a tank commander in the Irish Guards during World War II.
9. To play the suave super-spy, the producers initially envisioned someone like Cary Grant, only younger. They considered David Niven but decided he wasn’t physical enough for the two-fisted spy. They also considered Roger Moore but decided he wasn’t menacing enough. Of course, Niven would play Bond in the 1967 spoof version of “Casino Royale” (for which Fleming had long ago sold the film rights), while a more mature Moore would finally get to play Bond in 1973’s “Live and Let Die” – and six more times after that.
10. In Sean Connery, of course, the filmmakers found someone macho and dangerous enough to earn 007’s license to kill. But they picked him after finding him in the most innocuous of places: playing a singing, mild-mannered Irishman in Disney’s leprechaun fantasy “Darby O’Gill and the Little People.”
11. Connery was rough enough, but he also had to be refined enough for the tuxedo-clad, jet-setter side of Bond. To turn the former milkman and bodybuilder into a gentleman, Young took Connery under his wing. He bought the actor his first custom-tailored suit (which, legend has it, Connery broke in by sleeping in it) and took him to dine at fine London restaurants.
12. To play the title villain, Fleming envisioned his distant cousin, monster movie actor Christopher Lee. (Lee eventually got to play a Bond villain in “The Man With the Golden Gun.”) Fleming also suggested Noel Coward, who replied to the offer in a telegram that read, “Dr. No? No! No! No!” Max Von Sydow was also considered for the part.
13. Eventually, the filmmakers chose Joseph Wiseman, the Canadian-born Broadway actor who’s biggest Hollywood role up to that time had been in 1951’s “Detective Story.” He had to have special make-up applied to make him look Chinese.
14. Maibaum and Mankowitz had a hard time getting a handle on how to write the villain. They didn’t want him to be a Fu Manchu caricature. They considered making him a white man who disguised himself as Chinese with a latex mask; another draft of the script had him accompanied by a capuchin monkey. Finally, they made him the refined, ruthless Eurasian, with an apparent Western education and tastes, though Wiseman still worried that he was playing a caricature out of a Charlie Chan mystery, and the character’s supposed absurdity was what made Mankowitz take his name off the film.
15. The script changed countless details from the novel. The biggest change came in the climactic sequence in which Bond escapes from Dr. No’s cell via a ventilation duct. In the book, the duct is full of booby traps, including trantulas, searing-hot metal, and a giant squid. The movie also invented the international spy agency SPECTRE, which would be Bond’s chief nemesis for many movies to come.
16. The Jamaican setting was kept, of course, and the visual potential of the ocean-resort setting was spectacularly realized in Honey Ryder’s emergence from the surf in a bikini, with a knife in her belt. To play her, producers cast Swiss actress Ursual Andress just two weeks before filming began, based on a photograph of her that they’d seen. The filmmakers had to spray on her tan and dub her heavily-accented voice, but she still filled the bill and remains one of the most popular Bond girls in the franchise’s history.
17. Jamaica was not just the filming location; it was also where Fleming lived part-time. He had a home on the island called Goldeneye, named for an Allied spy operation from the war, where he went whenever it was time to crank out a new Bond novel. The home famously lent its name to the 1995 movie that marked Pierce Brosnan’s debut as 007.
18. Anthony Dawson was living in Jamaica and working as a pilot when Young (who had known him years before, when Dawson was a stage actor) cast him in the key role of Dr. No henchman Professor Dent. Dawson went on to play Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the shadowy head of SPECTRE, in “From Russia With Love” and “Thunderball,” though his face was not shown in either film and his voice was dubbed by another actor.
19. Working on the movie as a location scout was Chris Blackwell, the 24-year-old founder of a then-new record label, Island Records. He recruited most of the musicians who appear in the film. Blackwell has claimed that his mother, who was Fleming’s lover, was an inspiration for the character of Honey. In years to come, Island would become the key label in introducing the Jamaican reggae explosion (led by Blackwell discovery Bob Marley) to the world. Today, Blackwell is the owner of Fleming’s Goldeneye residence.
20. The unsung hero of the film may be production designer Ken Adam, who built all the sets, including Dr. No’s lavish and labyrinthine lair, for under 20,000 pounds.
21. The film’s entire budget was only $ 1 million, though the producers eventually got United Artists to cough up an additional $ 100,000. The movie made back 20 times its cost upon its initial release and $ 60 million over the years through theatrical re-releases. And that’s not counting the millions more earned from TV and home video rights. To date, the entire Bond franchise is said to have earned $ 5 billion.
22. One possible reason for the movie’s initial success may have been the similarity of its plot – a Cold War battle of global importance involving rockets and a secret enemy base on a Caribbean island – to the Cuban Missile Crisis, which began just 11 days after the film’s release.
23. Though the Hollywood-financed film opened in England in October 1962, it didn’t come to American theaters until May 1963.
24. Fleming wrote 12 Bond novels in all. He died in 1964, just before the release of the movie adaptation of “Goldfinger,” which brought the franchise to a whole new level of international popularity.
25. Saltzman sold his share of Eon in 1975, and Albert Broccoli died in 1996, but Eon remains a family-owned business, run by Broccoli’s daughter and stepson, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. They remain producers of the Bond films, including the new “Skyfall,” the series’ 23rd movie, opening November 9.