Dr. No’s 60th anniversary of U.S. Release
The 60th anniversary of the May 8 U.S. release of the first 007 film, Dr. No, is upon us and we ponder whether the franchise would have endured at all if the 007 book author, Ian Fleming, had got his way and chosen someone other than Sean Connery to play the debonair spy.
Fleming wanted Irish actor Richard Todd to play the man whose martinis were always shaken, not stirred. At the time, Todd was best known for his role in 1955 film The Dam Busters as real-life British air force bomber pilot Guy Gibson and was, in fact, a real paratrooper in World War II during the D-Day invasion in Normandy.
But when a scheduling conflict prevented Todd from taking on the role, producer Albert Broccoli’s wife Dana reportedly convinced him to take a chance on Scottish actor Sean Connery, who was only 31 at the time. “He’s not what I envisioned of James Bond looks; I’m looking for Commander Bond and not an overgrown stuntman,” Fleming reportedly complained of the former boxer’s casting, according to the website news.com.au.
In Dr. No, directed by Terence Young, the Secret Service agent James Bond (Connery) is sent to Jamaica to investigate the murder of one of his colleagues and reports of mysterious energy waves interfering with U.S. missile launches. It transpires that the island is being used as a base for the terrorist organization SPECTRE who, under the guidance of the despotic Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman), are using technology to divert rockets launched from Cape Canaveral. The film also starred Jack Lord (who later went on to become the star of the series Hawaii Five-O, and former Swiss model-turned-sex-symbol, Ursula Andress.
Connery made five Bond movies – Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice – before stepping away when he’d tired of the franchise. Australian actor George Lazenby took over in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and, despite being offered a seven-picture contract, walked away after his first film.
For the next 1971 film, Diamonds Are Forever, the producers reportedly considered John Gavin, Burt Reynolds and Adam West after Michael Gambon (who went on to play Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter franchise) had turned it down. Connery was eventually enticed back with what was considered a huge salary at that time of £1.25 million. It would be his final official Bond film, although he did reprise the character in the non-canonical Never Say Never Again, a remake of Thunderball produced by Jack Schwartzman, who had retained the screen rights to the novel after a legal battle. The title is a reference to Connery’s statement in the past that he wouldn’t play Bond again.
In a rare Bond-related interview on the website IndieWire in 2005, Connery – who was quoted as saying his favorite Bond film was Goldfinger – reflected on what made the films so irresistible to audiences. “They were exciting and funny and had good stories and pretty girls and intriguing locations, and it didn’t take anything for granted. It was refreshing and had a certain kind of style, although it didn’t cost anything because we only had a million to make the picture.”
The writing duo of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who’ve been part of the franchise since The World is Not Enough, also talked about what made the cinematic franchise so enduring in an interview to mark the film’s UK premiere in 1962.
“It’s hard now to remember how revolutionary the editing was: it completely changed how a certain kind of film was made,” Wade was quoted on the website Cinemablend. “If you look at Dr. No now – the colors, the cutting, the cinematography, the locations and of course the wonderful music – it still leaps off the screen at you.”
In her final interview with the Express newspaper in 2018, Connery’s Dr. No co-star Eunice Gayson, who played Sylvia Trench in the first two 007 adventures, revealed that he was so nervous in the first film, he filmed one line at a time and kept stumbling over his now classic line, ‘Bond. James Bond’ after she introduced herself as, ‘Sylvia, Sylvia Trench.’
“I was seconded to take him into the restaurant and have a drink or two. As he’d been on the wagon for several months before filming started, I was worried how it would affect him,” she recalled. “It did affect him, but in a nice way because he came back full of the Bond image. He said the line ‘Bond. James Bond’ in the most wonderful way. The director, Terence Young, said, ‘That’s exactly what I want, I want you to play it just like that!’ Sean later said to me, ‘The trouble is I can’t remember what I did!’