The James Bond film franchise did not enter the world in 1962 as the fully-formed blockbuster series you know today. Though its ads optimistically heralded it as “The First James Bond Film!”, make no mistake: Dr. No was a risky proposition for two independent producers who rolled the dice on bringing Ian Fleming’s gentleman spy to the silver screen. Though the property was a tremendously successful series of books, previous attempts to bring Bond to life on film had failed. One false move by these producers and the 007 series very well could have been DOA.
Good thing they cast Sean Connery.
After reportedly being turned down by Patrick McGoohan, Cary Grant and David Niven, producers Albert "Cubby" Broccoli and Harry Saltzman turned to the relatively unknown former Mister Universe contestant to play Fleming’s character, and an icon was born. 1962’s Dr. No offers lo-fi, smaller stakes than you might expect from a movie that launched a 55-year film series, but Connery was never better in the role than he is here. 32 years old, all sex and danger, Connery immolates the then-stereotype of the wan, prim & proper British film hero, invents the action star (and maybe the action genre), and changes film history forever. The early Bond films are glossy, old-school bits of cool, their budgets doubling and tripling with each successive entry, their plots growing more and more outlandish to match, but at the center of each is Sean Connery’s absolute sea change of a protagonist, a predator in a dinner jacket, too cool for any room in the world. George Lazenby opened the door to recasting, Roger Moore showed the role was open to different interpretations, and Daniel Craig might be rightly credited with making Bond vital again, but Connery is the reason we ever cared in the first place.
As you might have guessed, I’m super excited to host tomorrow’s screening of Dr. No at the Alamo Drafthouse Yonkers. I’ve never seen this film on the big screen before, and I’m guessing maybe you haven’t either. If you haven't seen it at all, that's an even better reason to go. There's something magical about seeing the elements of the franchise start to coalesce in this film that was, at the time of its release, a completely new thing. The gunbarrel opening. MI6, Moneypenny and M, Felix Leiter. Ursula Andress emerging from the ocean. The scenery of the Bahamas. Ken Adam's distinctive production design. A killer John Barry score and gorgeous Technicolor cinematography. The parts are here, but perhaps not yet assembled in the familiar order. A movie that wants to be a franchise, but isn't quite sure it is one yet.
The other reason I'm excited is that there's no Drafthouse in Philly, and I'm craving their menu. Good food and an old Bond movie on a chilly weekend afternoon sounds amazing to me. If you can’t make it tomorrow, Dr. No is also playing on Sunday. Get your tickets here.