The film that kickstarted one of the biggest movie franchises in history was made hastily, cheaply and with lots of mistakes. And yet, the movie Dr. No introduced the world to James Bond and cemented his place as a screen icon, across more than five decades and seven actors.
Though James Bond films are lavish affairs today, Dr. No was made on the cheap. It was an extremely limited budget, and so producers had to get creative to make the spy thriller feel much larger than it was — on occasion, literally. In one scene, they needed an underwater window. But they couldn’t afford to build a fishtank behind the glass, so they decided to project stock footage of fish. Unfortuantely, they could only obtain close-ups that made the fish look ridiculously large; the solution was to have one of the actors make up a line about the “window” being a magnifying glass.
Other sets were literally constructed using cardboard. A crew member whose name was accidentally left out of the credits was given a golden pen so the producers wouldn’t have to pay to re-do the sequence. A priceless painting displayed in another scene was in fact a reproduction hastily painted the weekend before by the production designer.
The casting of the film was a messy affair, with numerous false starts. We nearly got Cary Grant in the role, which would have been a very different take on Bond — but he was only able to commit to one film, and producers knew they wanted to build a franchise. There was a global contest to find an actor to play the role, with a handsome model winning; not too surprisingly, he proved not to be much of an actor.
Sean Connery won the role that cemented Bond in everyone’s minds thanks to his prior appearance in the film Darby O’Gill and the Little People. One of the producers liked his performance, particularly in an action sequence. He then had his wife watch the movie to assure him of Connery’s sex appeal. Connery met with filmmakers and adopted a roguish attitude, winning them over almost instantly.
The cheap budgeting meant that many errors in the film went unaddressed. Flapping birds make the sound of howling monkeys, a boom mic is visible in Bond’s hotel, the sun sets at 3 a.m. in London and you can see the crew reflected in an airport phone booth.
Though it’s hard to imagine today, audiences weren’t sure what to make of the film. In Time magazine, Connery was faulted as a “great big hairy marshmallow.” The Vatican issued a special proclamation condemning the film for its sex and violence.
Because it was produced so cheaply, Dr. No quickly became profitable, initially grossing six times what it cost to make. But one of the chief beneficiaries of the film was Ursula Andress, the first Bond girl — after she emerged from the ocean in a skimpy bathing suit, sales of bikinis skyrocketed around the world and Andress became an overnight sensation.
The production partnership established in the film would continue for over a decade, until producers split over creative differences. But the franchise and the character lives on, along with the conventions established from the very beginning: a camera peering down the barrel of a gun, a sultry theme song, and the devil-may-care attitude of the leading man.