Novel publish year – 1958
Film release year – 1962
007 – Sean Connery
Fleming’s sixth novel; the very first film. Many critics consider Dr. No to be Fleming’s finest 007 novel. Thankfully, the film adheres closely to the novel in both plot and overall tone. Both formats are superb, although there are few interesting differences.
The novel begins with M sending 007 to investigate the disappearance of Commander Strangways, MI6’s man in Jamaica. M is clearly irritated with 007 for nearly getting himself killed at the end of From Russia With Love. In fact, it is here where Bond is ordered to swap his Beretta – which, according to the armourer, belongs in a “ladies handbag” – for a Walther PPK.
The film begins differently, with the now-famous opening card game sequence where the audience – and Bond-girl Sylvia French – first meet “Bond. James Bond.” Then, however, the film transitions to an opening sequence very similar to that of the novel – where Bond discusses his mission to Jamaica with a gruff M. In the novel, 007 is irritated with M because he believes (correctly) that M has assigned him a light mission because of the injuries Bond suffered during his final struggle with Rosa Klebb in From Russia With Love. Of course, as Dr. No was the first Bond film, there is no such backstory.
Another interesting contrast is that, in the film, Bond’s flirty relationship with Miss Moneypenny (M’s private secretary) begins immediately. Not so in the novel – while in many of Fleming’s books Bond ruminates about how lucky he is to have a beautiful secretary, and often interacts with M’s secretary – there is little to no casual or flirtatious banter.
In both formats, three assassins posing as blind beggars murder Strangways, and Bond’s investigation quickly leads to suspicions about Dr. Julius No, a reclusive man who lives on a nearby island named Crab Key.
One difference is Quarrel. In the novel, Bond is reunited with his helpful Cayman friend – who had been his sidekick in the second novel, Live and Let Die. In the film, Quarrel is introduced for the first time, and it initially appears that he is an enemy, until it turns out that he is actually helping CIA agent Felix Leiter, who is in Jamaica, also investigating Dr. No. Felix – another recurring character in the Bond novels – is also necessarily introduced for the first time in the film, although he has been a friend and colleague of Bond’s since the first novel, Casino Royale.
In both the novel and film, Dr. No uses Crab Key as a base to use radio beams to disrupt American rockets, at the behest of the Soviets. In the novel, representatives of the Audubon Society (who had been working with Strangways) had traveled Crab Key to check on a bird sanctuary on the island; only one came back alive, but was badly burned by a “dragon.” The “dragon” also plays a role in the film, as Quarrel explains to a chagrined 007 that a fire-breathing dragon patrols the Crab Key. Of course, the “dragon” turns out to be a tank equipped with a flame-thrower and is designed to terrorize locals into staying away from Crab Key. In both, Quarrel dies a horrible fiery death at the hands of the “dragon.”
Dr. No attempts to quickly kill off Bond before he ever reaches Crab Key by having a henchman leave a deadly insect in his hotel room in Jamaica. In the novel, it is a centipede; in the film, a massive tarantula.
Honey Ryder – the primary Bond girl – is quite similar in both the novel and the film. Bond encounters her shortly after sneaking onto Crab Key. The film, of course, features the famous scene where Ursula Andress emerges from the Caribbean carrying seashells. In the novel, Honey emerges from the water completely naked.
Whereas Honey plays the a more traditional Bond-girl role in the film, in the novel 007 seems particularly fond of Honey and admires her courage and intelligence, despite the fact that she has had a difficult upbringing and lacks much education. The novel-version of Honey has a deep knowledge of animals and insects, as she allowed them to live in her house as she grew up. Her unique insight later saves her life. In both formats, Bond at times acts almost fatherly towards Honey – for example, he apologizes to her after killing one of Dr. No’s henchmen in cold blood.
Dr. No himself is intelligent and maniacal. His background is similar in both – in the novel, he had been a treasurer for the Tongs, from which he stole $1 million, after which the Tongs cut off his hands, shot him through the left side of his chest, and left him to die. Fortunately for him, Dr. No suffered from dextrocardia, so his heart was on the right side of his chest, allowing him to survive. This explains why Dr. No wears metal pinchers instead of hands. In the film, however, Dr. No merely explains that the pinchers are the result of a “misfortune.”
In both, Dr. No wines and dines 007 before having him tortured and ordered killed. In the film, Dr. No actually tries to recruit 007 for SPECTRE, for which he works, but ultimately concludes that Bond is nothing more than a “stupid policeman.” Although in the novel Dr. No is affiliated with the Soviets and helps them by diverting American rockets, he is not actually a part of SMERSH.
In the final sequences of both, Bond must traverse a tortuous obstacle course designed by Dr. No. While the course is similar in both formats, in the novel, it ends up in an ocean-side pool that contains a gigantic man-eating squid, which 007 kills before moving on to Dr. No himself. Interestingly, Dr. No meets his end in the film when he slides into a pool of boiling coolant for his nuclear reactor, his metal pinchers unable to get a grip to pull himself out. In the novel, Bond kills Dr. No by using a crane to bury him in a massive pile of bird guano.
One final little difference: in the film, “Underneath the Mango Tree” is a recurring a song – Bond makes his presence on Crab Key known to Honey when he joins her singing as she rinses her shells. In the novel, when 007 first sees Honey, she is whistling a calypso song named “Marianne,” and Bond similarly joins in.