When MI6's operative in Jamaica, Commander John Strangways, is killed leaving a bridge game, M (Bernard Lee) sends England's "blunt instrument" — secret agent James Bond (Sean Connery) — to the island to investigate. M mentions that the Americans seem to think that the recent toppling of many of their rocket launches from Florida are connected to something in the Jamaica area. Convinced that there's something large behind Strangways' death, Bond thinks that the commander's recent look into the business of local Chinese national Doctor No is the cause of the agent's disappearance. Strangways had made secret trips to the doctor's island of Crab Key and returned with some radioactive rock samples. Finding that the local government files on Doctor No and his private island are mysteriously missing, 007 suspects the Colonial Secretary's beautiful Chinese assistant of being involved. When an attempt on his life is made as he drives to meet her, he's convinced.
Following her trail to a local geologist and bridge partner of Strangways', Bond realizes that all clues lead to Doctor No and his island. Enlisting Quarrel, a local sailor and CIA operative, Bond sails to Crab Key to scout for information. Once there, he finds beautiful Jamaican native Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) poaching valuable seashells.
He also learns that the good doctor plays very rough. Before any message can be relayed to the authorities, they're chased into the island's interior and Bond and the girl are captured. Completely at their host's mercy, Bond realizes he has very little time before yet another American rocket is toppled. And this time No intends to salvage the warhead for his own sinister purposes.
While rarely named a favorite of fans, Dr. No is also never singled out as one of the true duds of the 56-year-old series, either. Much like the next three sequels, this one follows the outline of the original source novel pretty closely. The plot, locations, characters and flavor of Fleming's book is kept almost intact with only a few additions and deletions made that push the story into more cinematic areas. The changes made to the book are mostly cosmetic — the mined resource of Crab Key was guano, not bauxite; a deadly caterpillar native to Jamaica was used in an attempt to kill Bond, not a tarantula; Quarrel was an old cohort of Bond's specifically requested for this mission; Doctor No was not a member of SPECTRE but a (self-professed) maniac out to dominate the world; there was no messing about with radioactive power. Of course, a few moments from the book were best lost in the translation, including 007's battle to the death with a giant squid (!) and No's ignominious end beneath a huge pile of bird crap. Some changes were done to curtail nudity (damn those censors!) and speed the story along, while keeping the budget manageable, but a few of them are a bit odd. I'm still not sure why there was a need to include CIA man Felix Leiter here, when he serves absolutely no purpose. But overall this is a very good adaptation of the book, one that keeps a good deal of the tone and intent in place while introducing us to a character for the ages.
Dr. No is a great spy thriller with strong direction and many great performances. This is the film that made Sean Connery both a star and a household name, of course, and it's easy to see why. His performance is so self-assured that it's hard to imagine a more perfect actor to tackle the role. The way he moves and carries himself exudes a sense of suave style and coiled energy that fairly crackles off the screen. Connery is always believable as Bond and for this type of film, that's half the battle. If we believe the character we are willing to follow him through almost any bizarre situation. And Dr. No certainly provides its share of those.