Dr. No’s 60th anniversary Part V: Ken Adam’s magic

Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson) gets his instructions from Dr. No on a Ken Adam-designed set.

Adapted from a 2012 post

Dr. No, the first James Bond film, had a modest $1 million budget. Ken Adam, the movie’s production designer, performed some magic that disguised that fact, making the film look more expensive than it really was. In doing so, the designer helped make James Bond’s world a special one.

Adam’s work on the initial 007 film included Dr. No’s living quarters, a mix of modern and antique; a mostly empty room with a large circular grille in the roof where an unseen Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman) provides instructions to his lackey Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson); and Dr. No’s control room, complete with nuclear reactor, perfect for any ambitious villain.

Adam’s work had an immediate effect: director Stanley Kubrick snatched Adam up to work on Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. In that capacity, Adam’s sets included the Pentagon “war room.” That image has been said to prompt Ronald Reagan, upon becoming U.S. president in 1981, to inquire about seeing the place (CLICK HERE to see a 2001 story in the The Guardian that references this or CLICK HERE for a 2009 review of the movie that also makes mention of it.)

Ken Adam

In any case, 007 producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, after having to forgo Adam’s services for From Russia With Love, made sure the designer was on board for Goldfinger. Adam’s sets got more elaborate. Some had moving sections, such as the room Goldfinger describes his plans to raid Fort Knox. Of course, there was the interior of Fort Knox itself.

Adam’s work influenced other ’60s spy movies. Films such as Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die and The Ambushers had scenes where a villain has quarters with moving sections. Adam, though, got more money to play with than his rivals, coming up with the Disco Volante (where a lead hydrofoil could separate from the rear section of the craft) in Thunderball and Blofeld’s volcano headquarters in You Only Live Twice.

Adam (1921-2016) was already a veteran designer when Dr. No came along. He helped make Bond movies special. Adam has worked on less than one-third of the Eon Productions-produced Bond movies and his last 007 credit was 1979’s Moonraker. But his work still stands out and remains the standard others are judged by.

Audiences received yet another reminder of that with 2021’s No Time to Die. Mark Tildesley, the production designer, did an homage to Adam’s circular grille. It was part of the lair of the movie’s villain, Safin played by Rami Malek.

Rami Malek on a No Time to Die set designed by Mark Tildesley certainly appears inspired by a Ken Adam set from Dr. No.

NEXT: Legacy

One Response

  1. You forgot one to mention that one of his most amazing sets was the launchpad-inside-the-crater set for “You Only Live Twice” – They actually had to build it on the outside of the PInewood Studios, because it was so tall. To this day, it never ceases to impress me every time when I watch YOLT.

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