The mid-twentieth century posed an identity crisis for all of the West, but for the United Kingdom most of all. With the breakup of the British Empire following World War II and the expansion of the Soviet Union in the East, European colonialism was under attack.
It was to be expected for the white male wish-fulfillment that is James Bond to infiltrate English cinema for the next sixty years, which is why 007’s first outing is as dated as curdled milk.
If you don’t know what to watch next, Terence Young’s Dr. No (1962) is available to stream on Hulu. The spy film is an adaptation of the 1958 novel of the same name by Ian Fleming.
Since its release, it is estimated that a quarter of the world’s population has seen at least one of the twenty-four subsequent Bond pictures produced by Eon.
In Jamaica, MI6 Station Chief John Strangways (Timothy Moxon, voiced by Robert Rietty) is assassinated alongside his secretary, Mary Trueblood (Dolores Keator), by “the Three Blind Mice” (uncredited), who steal documents related to “Crab Key” and “Doctor No.”
The Head of the British Secret Service, M (Bernard Lee), dispatches Agent James Bond (Sir Sean Connery) to look into Strangways’s cooperation with the American CIA on a case of disrupted rocket launches in Cape Canaveral via radio jamming.
Bond’s investigation crosses paths with the treacherous Miss Taro (Zena Marshall) and the beautiful Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress, speaking voice by Nikki van der Zyl and singing voice by Diana Coupland) before leading him to the lair of Doctor No (Joseph Wiseman).
The movie is iconic for what would go on to become James Bond’s most recognizable tropes (Monty Norman’s “James Bond Theme,” Maurice Binder’s gun-barrel title sequence, Connery’s line, “Bond, James Bond,” the “Bond girls,” the campy villain, et cetera).
Without it, we wouldn’t have Martin Campbell’s Casino Royale (2006) or Sam Mendes’s Skyfall (2012). But even those superior entries are still answering for the sociopolitical sins of their father.
Intersectionally, Dr. No is as insensitive with its representation as to the most toxically masculine, white supremacist Bond flick you can think of.
Marshall and Wiseman are both white actors playing Asian characters: Miss Taro fulfills the “dragon lady” stereotype of the duplicitous Asian woman seducing the white hero with her exoticism; and Doctor No, the evil Chinese genius plotting to take over the world.
The very setting of the film is symptomatic of the English filmmaker’s juxtaposition of the “civilized” British protagonist against the “barbaric” Third World.
Edward Said’s theories on orientalism state that Western thought can be traced back to René Descartes’s philosophication, “I think, therefore, I am.”
This state of “being” versus “nonbeing” can exist only in a universe of opposites, and, in such a universe, post-Descartes white culture was bound to see anything different from itself as the opposite, as the “unculture” to its “culture,” as an evil to be vanquished.
Bond’s travels to settings like Kingston mimic this invader’s narrative.
And the very casting of Connery itself turned out to be a poor choice for the film’s politics. He said during a Barbara Walters interview he condones violence against women.
As if Bond’s womanizing ways weren’t problematic enough.
And what makes it problematic is what feeds more into the white British male’s power fantasy. Bond always “gets the girl” at the end, objectifying his romantic leads into spoils of war.
The sexualization of “foreign” women is the apparatus through which white Europeans have committed their genocide-by-rape.
But, with Phoebe Waller-Bridge co-scripting Cary Joji Fukunaga’s No Time to Die (2020) and with men and women of color in talks to replace Daniel Craig (who, in and of himself, is redemption for Connery’s Bond), 007 is on its way out from under the shadow of Dr. No.
But, because it’s the one that started it all, Bond will forever have to answer for it. As a (critical) fan of the character, this reviewer doesn’t even enjoy it for what it is – it is offensive, tired, and, worst of all, boring.