39 Things We Learned from the Banned ‘Dr. No’ Commentary

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Dr No

Eon Productions

Back in 1991, the Criterion Collection released the three earliest James Bond movies on laserdisc: Dr. No, From Russia with Love, and Goldfinger. Like any Criterion release, these laserdiscs were flush with special features, including an assembled commentary track for each film hosted by Bruce Eder.

However, shortly after the release, EON Productions requested that the company recall all the unsold product. The discs were re-released without the special features, including those commentary tracks. Once MGM released their own DVDs of the Bond films, they had installed their own commentaries.

There has been a lot of speculation as to why these commentaries were banned from the marketplace (including possible inflammatory language used, unsavory stories that might be considered offensive to parties involved and releasing sensitive production information). However, now thanks to the magic of the Internet, you don’t have to pay hundreds of dollars and secure an old laserdisc player to listen to the commentaries. They can be found in various places for download.

Rather than listening to the “approved” commentary from the Dr. No DVD release, here’s a look into the commentary that EON didn’t want you to hear.

Dr. No (1962)

Commentators: Terence Young (director), Peter Hunt (editor), Ken Adam (production designer), Richard Maibaum (screenwriter), Bruce Eder (Criterion commentary host)

1. The iconic James Bond theme was not in the original picture. The score had “Underneath the Mango Tree” as Bond’s theme, and Young thought “that’s a really stupid idea” because eventually they would make a James Bond movie without mango trees. John Barry was referred to him, and he wrote the recognizable theme without even seeing the film.

2. Originally, there was a rule at the studio that an actor could only appear in one Bond film (unless they were recurring characters). This, of course, changed later on as many actors appeared in multiple films, including more recognizable faces like Maud Adams and Joe Don Baker.

3. Many of the locations in Jamaica were shot in real houses and buidlings. The secretery who is killed at the beginning of the movie was the owner of the house where they shot, which is why she was cast in the role.

4. Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson) was meant to be a recurring character in the James Bond franchise, and she appears in From Russia With Love. However, she was written out of Goldfinger.

5. Young had worked with Sean Connery before in the 1957 film Action of the Tiger. During the production, Martine Carol told Young that Connery would eventually become a big star, but he did not see it at the moment because Connery played a more disheveled supporting role.

6. Young claims his favorite actor was Connery and his favorite actress was Audrey Hepburn. He said they were the most unspoiled.

7. It took ten takes of Bond tossing his hat onto the coat tree to get the shot. In later films, Connery became good enough to hit the mark on the first try.

Dr No M

Eon Productions

8. Lois Maxwell, who had worked with Young on his first movie he directed, was his first choice to play Miss Moneypenny.

9. Bernard Lee got the job as M because everyone else that was asked was unavailable. Lee was approached for the role the day before his scene was to be shot.

10. Peter Burton, who played Major Boothroyd, was given the opportunity to reprise the role and could have ended up playing Q for his whole career. However, after Dr. No, he went on to another film which was never completed. He regretted that decision for the rest of his life.

11. The changing of Bond’s Beretta to a Walther PPK results from a point in the book “From Russia With Love” (which proceeds the novel of “Dr. No”) in which Rosa Klebb almost kills him when the gun jams.

12. After Dr. No became a hit, people would write in to ask who James Bond’s tailor was. According to Young, “The tailor made a fortune after this picture.”

13. Sylvia Trench was meant to be nude when Bond enters his apartment to find her playing golf, but that was not allowed by the censors in 1962.

14. Young would have liked to have Jack Lord reprise his role as Felix Leiter in later films, but according to him, “The picture did him too much good,” pricing Lord out of the budget for later appearances.

15. Fleming’s beach home Goldeneye was only a few miles from where some of the scenes in this film were shot.

16. The steering wheel and dashboard of the car Bond gets a ride in before discovering his driver is an enemy agent changes color from red to black in the insert shots.

17. The censors took issue with the cyanide poisoning scene because it was considered too violent.

18. Connery and Young came up with the line, “Make sure he doesn’t get away,” on set because they felt Bond was cool enough to have something snappy to say about the dead body in the car.

19. The actor who plays the bartender of the club where Bond meets Quarrel (John Kitzmiller) was the actual owner of the club where it was shot. Young suggests he was “quite an operator” and a somewhat sinister charcater on the island.

20. Young shot about 90,000 feet of film for Dr. No as opposed to the normal 150,000 feet or the excessive 1 million feet used for big budget epic films from John Ford. Young does not like to shoot master shots or too much coverage, which got him into trouble several points in the film when he didn’t have something to cut to.

21. Island Records founder Chris Blackwell is one of the dancers in the club scene. Blackwell approached Young on set to help him start his company, which was meant to help British Jamaican musicians. However, Young did not invest on the advice of his wife after Blackwell and his partner showed up high for a meeting.

22. Young never expected the Bond franchise to go beyond three films.

23. When the Three Blind Mice try to assassinate Bond in the parking lot, Hunt did not have a shot of the passing car’s headlight that distract them from following through because Young never shot it. In order ot make the shot work, Hunt flared the film on the actors in post production to show the flash of light.

24. Anthony Dawson, who plays Professor Dent, was the first person to play Bloefeld on screen in From Russia with Love. Only his body was shown and his voice was dubbed.

Dr No Ursula Andress

Eon Productions

25. The overhead wide establishing shot of Dr. No’s dock was a model made at Pinewood Studios. However, Young wanted a boat moving in the background, so they ran out to get toy boats to move next to it so it would cut together with the live shots done in Jamaica.

26. Production designer Ken Adam had only ?475 left in his budget to build the set in which Professor Dent is told to put a spider in Bond’s room. He went for sytlized minimalism with a grid at the top of the room that would make him look like he was trapped in a spider’s web.

27. A real tarantula was used in the film. Bob Simmons was used as a skin double for the close-up of the spider walking on Bond’s arm. The shot of the spider crawling towards Connery’s face was achieved by putting the spider on glass over him. However, to keep the spider from sliding off the glass, the bed had to be angled and Connery strapped down so he didn’t fall off.

28. When they were shooting the car chase scene, Young never totally bought the idea of a smaller car running a larger car off the road. On the day of shooting, they saw a crane on the side of the road and offered the driver $25 to let them use it in their scene, which allowed Bond to drive under it and the larger car to be run off the road.

29. Young operated the camera at the bottom of the hill when the car came crashing down. The car was out of control and almost hit him, but an assistant not pulled him away at the last second. Young was fine, but the camera was damaged.

30. When Bond kills Professor Dent, he shot him three or four times. The censors had a problem with that, claiming it was too many bullets and too violent, so it was edited down to just two shots.

31. Young discovered Ursula Andress in a pile of photographs on the desk of a producer. He asked if he could keep the photo and took it to Cubby Broccoli to find her for the role of Honey Ryder. They cast her primarily because of her looks and never had a formal audition or test of her acting ability.

32. Young originally met Ian Fleming at a cocktail party where the studio announced the start of filming the James Bond series. Their meeting was strained and contentious. However, when Fleming visited the set in Jamaica, they later had dinner and ended up becoming very friendly.

33. Dr. No had such a positive impact on the Jamaican tourist trade that the number of high-class hotel rooms on the island went from 800 before the shoot to more than 4,000 after the film was released.

34. Ursula Andress was overdubbed by actress Nikki Van der Zyl because her accent was too thick and the filmmakers could not understand all of her lines.

35. Hunt could not find good footage for the aquarium window in Dr. No’s lair. They ended up settling for a plate of magnified fish they got from Disney that could be rear-projected on set. However, the footage was so short, it kept ending in the background of Dr. No’s (Joseph Wiseman) coverage.

36. Young wanted Dr. No’s lair to be filled with stolen paintings, and Goya’s Portrait of the Duke of Wellington had recently been stolen from the National Gallery in 1961. Ken Adam was able to make the painting by projecting a transparency of the image onto canvas and painting it himself over a weekend. Consequently, when Bond notices the painting, it got a huge laugh from the audiences in 1962 because it had been recently in the news (though the joke is lost today).

37. The big finale at the reactor, which was shot on the largest stage at Pinewood studios at the time, is what put this movie over budget.

38. In the book, Honey Ryder is saved from being eaten by crabs, and they tried to shoot this. However, multiple problems (including difficulty in wrangling the crabs, finding out the crabs weren’t appearing to eat her flesh, and many of the crabs dying over the course of the shoot) caused them to just have Bond save her from being tied up.

39. Young wanted to end the movie with a whimsical scene of Bond being cool, and so they improvised the ending of the movie in the boat.

Best in Commentary

  • Young: “He was a genius for getting, no matter what the picture is, a lot of naked girls into the credit titles.” (regarding Maurice Binder’s opening sequences)
  • Hunt: “You can do murderous things. You can do terrible continuity things, and it really doesn’t matter as long as you take the audience’s eye to what you want them to see.”
  • Maibaum: “I had a bit of a feeling that Mr. Fleming was a bit of a snob.”
  • Young: “We were lucky enough to have the flamethrower.”

Final Thoughts

It’s been a while since I have listened to the MGM commentary, but I remember it be much more sanitized than this Criterion version. That makes it notable, and while there’s nothing overtly controversial on this banned commentary. Still, I can guess why EON was nervous about this release. Some of Maibaum and Young’s comments about Fleming probably were not looked upon favorably by the Ian Fleming Foundation. Also, there were some stories that are told that might have been seen as unfavorable to the process or the people involved (e.g., Young suggesting the Jamaican bar owner was involved in criminal activities).

This banned commentary flows better with the film because it reflects primarily the action on the screen. The MGM commentary provides a more film historian approach rather than anecdotal stories. So, I’m thrilled with a chance to listen to something more raw, even if the content is about as risque now 23 years later as the objectionable content in the film itself 52 years later.

Fans of the Bond film should enjoy this commentary quite a bit, even though it is one cobbled together from interviews and not always as off-the-cuff as it could be because of it.

Check out more commentary commentary in the Commentary Commentary archives