From Russia With Love

Title: From Russia With Love

Year: 1963 UK (Spring 1964 US)

Film Length: 1 Hour 51 Minutes

Bond Actor: Sean Connery, who is nothing short of brilliant in his second go around in 007’s shoes. In Dr. No, he was figuring it out, here he is Bond. Cocky, cheeky, sexy, witty, worldly while at moments, soft and flawed, and I mean that in the best possible way. Connery simply gets it here; the one-liners are delivered naturally where as in the first film they were silly, hooky rim shots. In With Love, Connery truly defines Bond, making him a three dimensional character we care about, not a cartoon action hero.

Director: Terence Young. After the success of Dr. No (1962), a sequel was a no brainer. In fact, United Artist and EON announced they would churn out a Fleming Bond novel a year and Connery singed a multi-picture deal. From Russia With Love was picked to be the next film made after the novel showed up on Life Magazine’s list of President John Kennedy’s ten favorite books. With Connery, Young and most of the other first films talent returning, With Love was seen by producers as a slam dunk. Then production began. Deadly illness, terrible weather, last minute location changes, special effects misfires and a car wreck all served to push the film over schedule and over budget. The largest catastrophe, however, didn’t delay the film at all. One morning Terence Young boarded a helicopter to scout locations for a climatic boat chase. As the chopper took off over the Scottish sea it ascended 50 feet into the air, stopped momentarily, and then began to plunge toward the water. When the aircraft hit, it sank like a rock. Several members of the production crew jumped into the cold sea, swam for the spot where the aircraft went down, and dove 40 to 50 feet underwater to find Young and two other men trapped in the rapidly flooding canopy. The door was prided opened and Young and the others swam to the surface. Once back on shore, Young had his arm put in a sling and 35 minutes later he was behind a camera setting up the next shoot. The entire day went by with no one mentioning the incident. Like we said in the Dr. No entry, Young was James Bond. Despite this and all the other mishaps, set backs and out and out disasters (to be chronicled below) Young and Connery both agree that of the Bond films they worked on, From Russia With Love is their favorite.

Reported Budget: $2,000,000, (estimated) double the budget of the first film, and it is, as they say, all on the screen.

Reported Box-office: $24,796,765 (USA) $78,900,000 (Worldwide)

Theme Song: “From Russia With Love” performed by Matt Monro hit #20 on the UK charts. The tune fits right in thematically with the film and John Barry’s theme music. An instrumental version of the song is played over the opening titles, while the vocal version is held for the closing credits. “From Russia With Love” is fine, but not memorable as a part of the film or among other superior Bond songs.

Opening Titles: Classic. As the theme music plays the titles are projected onto belly dancing women, telegraphing the gypsy element that will be an integral part of the film. The titles move like waves of water dancing on super tight shoots of thighs, forearms, bellies and butts. The lighting and extremely fetishized close-ups of writhing bodies create what to 1963 audiences must have been the most seductive credit role in memory. By the time the classic horn blasts of Barry’s 007 theme kicks in we have bought the ticket…and we are ready to take the ride.

Opening Action Sequence: Thanks to a happy accident (hat tip, Bob Ross) With Love kicks off the Bond staple of staging an action sequence prior to the opening titles. Around the same time as the helicopter crash, production was delayed when leading lady Daniela Bianchi badly bruised her face in a car wreck. With Bianchi sidelined for weeks, Young was forced to rearrange and cancel shoot days, loosing some key scenes. Among the casualties were scenes that would set up the already shot SPECTRE Island training sequence. Consequently, the set piece no longer had a place in the film. Loath to cut the scene, Young and his editor Peter Hunt decided to make it a stand alone piece, separated from the film by the credits. It worked incredibly well and gave audiences a jolt in the opening moments of the movie. Its night in a well manicured garden and Bond is being pursued by a blond haired thug (Grant). The scene is a study in editing as we become lost in the topiary along with Bond, unable to know exactly where the baddie may be. The thug finally makes his way behind 007, pulls a fishing wire from his watch and chokes Bond. After a few second it becomes clear Bond isn’t going to escape, he stops breathing, and starts to drop down out of frame. Right at the moment where we are thinking, “Holy shit, is Bond dead?” a flood of lights hit the camera head on, revealing a mansion and twenty or so men watching the chase. The man who is obviously in charge (Morzeny) steps forward, “Exactly one minute, fifty-two seconds. That’s excellent.” To further demonstrate it was simply a training exercise the “Mission Impossible” like latex mask (three years before that show hits the air) is pulled off the dead body, reviling the corpse to be someone other Bond. The scene not only drops us into the middle of a chase, but it introduces the main heavy Grant as a force to be reckoned with and sets up SPECTRE’S obsession with killing Bond, all before the film “starts.”

Villain’s Name: Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the head of SPECTRE; or, as he is referred to in this film, Number 1. Not only do we not learn #1’s name, we only see his hands, sporting a huge black ring and constantly stroking a white cat that rest in his lap. He never leaves his desk because he doesn’t need to; everyone comes to him. (Plus his beloved fighting fish are within arms reach.) He issues orders by simply pushing one of five white buttons.

Villain Actor: The cat stroking hands belong to Anthony Dawson, better known as Prof. Dent, a Bond victim in the previous film. Dawson and Young were great friends and both wanted Dawson to be involved in the second installment, but as Dawson explains on the Dr. No DVD commentary, once you’re dead in Bond, you don’t come back. But, since Dawson is never seen in the movie the friends were able to work together again. The voice for #1 was supplied by Viennese actor Eric Pohlmann. Since #1 is all hands and voice, that voice better be menacing, and Pohlmann is indeed chilling as the leader of a global organization hell bent on world domination … not to mention the death of one James Bond.

Villain’s Asides/ Henchmen: #1 has a loyal and lethal #3, ex- Russian Colonel Rosa Klebb. Clearly the inspiration for Frau Farbissina in the Austin Powers films, Klebb is actually a very interesting character; a female villain who is not a femme fatale but an ugly woman with a brilliant mind. The infinitely more attractive Lotte Lenya was cast against type as the Russian Colonel. Lenya, an internationally renowned singer and widow of composer Kurt Weill, was known mostly for her work on the stage. She not only plays Klebb as an ambitiously successful military woman, but she also proves to be Bonds equal at both undercover ops and physical combat, nearly getting the better of our hero in the films climax. Walter Gotell breaks the no one returns in Bond films rule, playing Morzeny from the opening training sequence. Most Bond fans know him better as General Gogol from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) through The Living Daylights (1987). He’s not on screen much but he ends up leaving quite an impression (See Bad Assness of Villain) That leaves Donald ‘Red’ Grant, played by the late, great Robert Shaw. Allow me a minute to digress. If you have not seen the original Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) staring Shaw and Walter Matthau get thee to thy Netflix queue pronto and #1 slot that baby. (And may every copy of the 2009 remake be destroyed, never to poison a viewer’s eye again. The movie makes an argument for censorship.) And for the record, Jaws (1975) is one of my top 5 movies of all time with Shaw’s Quint one of the most memorable characters of modern film. Now, back to our regularly scheduled program. Grant is introduced literally killing Bond, or, a man we think is Bond. We see him next shirtless on SPECTRE island. Not impressed by his six pack, Klebb gives him a punch in gut with brass knuckles. He doesn’t flinch and Klebb is sold.

Villain’s Plot: Unlike my complaint with Dr. No, SPECTRE’s plan in this film is straight forward, even though it’s a plot device intended as a work around. Thanks to the book, writers had a plot involving NATO’s desire to capture a Russian decoder known as a Lektor. Despite the cold war being hotter than ever, the producers were leery of tackling the days biggest political issue head on. So once again, SPECTRE was used as a stand in for all things evil. This third party, like MI6, wants to get their hands on the Soviet Lektor and they figure the best man for the job is James Bond. The problem being he works for the British. Kronsteen (AKA #5), the brilliant chess strategist, devises a plan that will employ both the Russians and Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but “Naturally, neither the Russians nor the British will be aware that they are now working for us.” Coronal Klebb (AKA # 3) has found the perfect pawn to bait Bond, a female Russian decoder who works with the Lektor at the Istanbul consult. #5 assures #1 “I have anticipated every move” including the fact that the British will know it’s a trap. “It is what will entice them; they will see it as a challenge.” What makes this plot even juicier is #1’s personal grudge against Bond, he wants revenge for the murder of SPECTRE baddie Dr. No (#2 perhaps?)  “Let his death be a particularly unpleasant and humiliating one” #1 growls, taking a dead fighting fish from the tank and hand feeding it to his lap cat. This isn’t just business, it’s personal.

Villain’s Lair: All of the above business takes place on a large boat. Since #1 is a man without a country, this is a logical base of operations. In addition, SPECTRE controls an island where the fore mentioned training exercise takes place. While the boat is not spectacular in and of itself, #1’s desk and office are very impressive, and unlike some other villain hide outs, a large Navy like vessel is a realistic and practical home for an international outlaw.

Villain’s Coolest Accessory/ Trait: His cat, and row of five buttons.

Badassness of Villain: #1 is not only mysterious, he is super badass. We never see him, but we see how #3 and #5 fear him, and with reason. After the plot to kill Bond falls apart (What? You didn’t know he made it?) #5 is dealt with in the push of button. Responding to said button, Morzeny enters the room, a knife pops out of his boot, and he plants it into #5’s leg. As the man drops to the ground #1 bemoans “12 seconds. One day we must invent a faster working venom.” He delivers the line with the same blasé detachment in which Darth Vader accepts Captain Needa’s apology. Now that’s how you motivate the troops! Badass? This dude could eat Dr. No for breakfast and ask for seconds.

Bond’s Mission: M has received word from Station T (the British base of operations in Turkey) that a woman who works in the Turkish Russian consulate wants to defect. She will turn over the Lektor to boot, as long as Bond himself comes to collect her and the device. 007 simply needs to go to Istanbul, meet the woman and escort her and the Lektor to London. Simple…too simple. M and Bond know it’s a trap, but assume the Russians are setting them up, not SPECTRE. They decided it’s worth the risk, MI6 has been trying to get the Lektor for years. Still, Bond asks of his contact, “Suppose when she meets me in the flesh I don’t live up to expectations?” M answers “Just see that you do.” So Bonds mission is a bootie call. Brilliant!

Bond Girl Actress: Daniela Bianchi, a former Miss Rome and runner up for Miss World 1960. Bianchi spoke almost no English and delivered her lines phonetically. For the second film in a row, the international beauty playing the Bond girl had to have her lines dubbed by and English-speaking actress.

Bond Girl’s Name: Tatiana Romanova; “My friends call me Tanya.” OK, not the best Bond girl name, but Tatiana is 100 times cooler than Honey Rider. Unaware that Colonel Klebb has flipped and joined SPECTRE, Tatiana is tricked into thinking she is trapping Bond for mother Russia. But a funny thing happened along the way to Tatiana who shows up naked in Bond’s bed for their first meeting. (There is a brief shot of Tatiana from behind were we see nudity, extremely rare in Bond films.) Wearing nothing but a towel, Bond first pulls a gun on the intruder before some small talk about the Lektor. By morning Tatiana falls in love with the suave spy and all bets are off; Mother Russia is dropped for big daddy Brittan after one night in the sack. But this Bond girl is no pushover. Unlike Honey Rider from Dr. No, she’s a true protagonist with a story arc. She’s intelligent, working as a cipher clerk for the Russian, and she kicks ass. At the end of the movie, she literally saves Bonds life …. twice, and prevents the Lektor from falling into SPECTRE’S hands. Plus, she is not afraid to use her sexuality to get what she wants. Tatiana is a giant leap forward when it comes to woman’s lib in the James Bond universe.

Bond Girl Sluttiness: The above not withstanding, Tatiana is a 12 on a 10 scale when it comes to jumping between the sheets. Time and time again she simply wants bed Bond, the Lektor be damned. One of the funniest sequences in the film involves M, Miss. Monnypenny and several British officials listing to a taped conversion between Bond and Tatiana. As Bond pumps his Russian contact for info on the decoder, she repeatedly try’s to seduce him. “Will you make love to me in Britain James?” “Day and night, now the Lektor…” When she asks Bond about past conquests, he responds “once when I was with M in Tokyo we had an interesting experience….” At that point M stops the tape “Thank you that will be all Mrs. Monneypenny.” M, who I just assumed has sat in his office since the dawn of time, has a colorful past after all.

Bond Girls Best Pick-up Line/Bond’s Best Pick-up Line: Bond “You’re one of the most beautiful girls I’ve ever seen.” Tatiana “Thank you, but I think my mouth is too big.” Bond “No, it’s the right size… for me, that is.” Haaaayyyy-O!

Number of Woman 007 Beds: Four. We first encounter Bond relaxing with Silvia “reviewing an old case.” Bond gets a call on his car phone (literally, a rotary dial phone in the car) but before he heads off to London, it’s off to the back seat. Later, we have a Bond first, a ménage à trios! Bond’s contact in Turkey, Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendariz) takes him to hideout in a gypsy camp. On the night they arrive, two women are scheduled to fight each other for a man. After an incredible turn of events, Bond brokers a piece between the two and ends up in a tent with both Zora and Vida. He emerges in the morning, both beauties draped at his feet. Last but certainly not least we have Tatiana. Trains, boats, and bedrooms, nowhere is out of bound for these two.

Number of People 007 Kills: 26 ½ by my count, give or take. There is a fantastic shoot out at the gypsy camp that has literally dozens on each side trying to kill each other but its shot and edited in such a way that we never feel overwhelmed. Bond, a striking figure in his suit among the natives, stabs a dude, runs over three with a flaming wagon, and shoots at least 9, including one baddie who was about to take out the gypsy leader. (Bond’s reward for saving the gypsy elders life is the cat fighting Zora and Vida.) Bond and his dapper attire strike another great juxtaposition when he finds himself running on green rolling hills. Young references/rips off North by Northwest (1959),  replacing the plane with a helicopter in the most exciting action sequence of the film. Bond dives, weaves, and rolls away from the swooping helicopter until he finally gets a shot at one of the two men in the aircraft, both of whom meet their demise when a grenade meant for 007 blows the chopper to bits. Bond also tosses a stooge of the side of boat, after asking if he can swim (as it turns out, no. He can not.) Bond goes on to eliminates a dozen or so men in a climatic boat chase where 007 (sporting a naval cap so cool Connery should be require to wear it at all times) shoots a flare gun into floating barrels of fuel setting the sea and his pursuers aflame. The set up and execution of this extremely tricky scene proved to be another hurdle in making With Love. Although the action in the story takes place in the Gulf of Venice, foul weather forced the crew to shoot the water scenes in Scotland. Once there, the pyrotechnics, which took days to set up, were mistakenly set off during a rehearsal while the camera sat idle. No one was hurt but the production was set back and big bucks were wasted. Costly mistakes like this are a primary reason many of today’s film makers add digital fire and other effects in post. Studios save money and time but other important elements are lost. The boat and helicopter chases are two magnificently choreographed sequences in which the viewer is aware they are watching real boats, on real water that is really on fire. You know that is Sean Connery running away from a real helicopter. It made me feel the moment in way I suspect I would not have if these sequences were done digitally. Sure, with digital effects the explosions would have been bigger while the camera would be swooping and zooming every which way, but it would have failed to hit on the emotional, gut level this climax did. As for the ½ a man, Bond acts a tripod for Kerim, who injured his arm and couldn’t steady the rife to take out a Russian strong-armed enforcer who “kills for pleasure.” Bond and Kerim catch up with the Russian at a safe house; a building that has a six story ad painted on the side, featuring a smiling woman with bright white teeth and huge red lips. As the Russian climbs out of a hatch hidden in the woman’s teeth Kerim scores a perfect shoot dropping the man to the ground. “She should have kept her mouth shut.” This is another sequence that is simply and beautifully shot. And that leaves us with just one more 007 kill, that of Grant.

Most Outrageous Death/s: After following him every step of the way, Grant finally makes his move to relive Bond of the Lektor on the Orient Express. Posing as a fellow British spy, Grant slips a mickey into Tatiana’s drink and gets Bond held at gunpoint in his sleeping cabin. “My orders are to kill you and deliver the Lektor. How I do it is my business. I’ll make it slow and painful.” Grant is tricked into opening Bond’s briefcase which is booby trapped with teargas and a brutal fist fight ensures in a room no bigger than a closet. The fight, which some who worked on the film felt was too violent, is another example of how important the action sequences were to Young. The actors did there own stunts so audiences could see it was these two men fighting. It was shot with three different cameras and it took three weeks to film. It’s worth it, we feel the punches land, it’s shocking to watch, and unlike the Bond of later years, he gets hurt. Today, this sequence would be cut to pieces in MTV edits and thrown together in post with loud music. Here, it’s two guys literally beating the shit out of each other. It’s another stand out example that proves the film makers were truly masters of their craft. Action pieces can be art, as this, along with the helicopter and boat scenes demonstrate. In the end, our hero once again reached for the tricked up suitcase, pulling out a knife to turn the tables on Grant, who is choked with the same device he used to kill faux Bond in the open.

Q: Speaking of that tricked out suit case, With Love gives us our first gadgets and along with that, Q! Peter Button, who played Major Bloothroyd in the first film, didn’t come back for the sequel and Desmond Llewelyn was cast in the part. However, when M calls the Major into his office, he referees to him as “Q” for Quartermaster. Llewelyn would reprise the role of Q in nearly every Bond film up until his death in 1999, appearing in more Bond films than anyone else (17.) Fans fell so deeply in love with the Bond gadget master that producers were force to bring him back after he failed to appear in Roger Moore’s first Bond turn, Live and Let Die (1973). The Welsh actor was mystified by Q’s popularity telling one interviewer he had no idea why a character with a total screen time of less than 20 minutes in all his appearances combine struck such a cord. (Ed. Note. I think Llewelyn was being conservative in his estimate of screen time, but the point is taken.)

List of Gadgets: Other than a camera that doubles as a tape recorder, Bond has only one real gadget, a briefcase. But this puppy has more surprises than a Swiss army knife. Q describes the standard double O issue as “an ordinary briefcase” before going on to show Bond the 40 rounds of ammo hidden in spring loaded compartments, a flat throwing knife that pops out with the push of a button, and fifty gold sovereigns hidden in lining. Inside is an AR7 snipers folding rifle, .25 caliber with an infrared telescopic sight. (Super cool technology in 1964.) Nothing makes me happier than to hear Q say something like “Now watch very carefully..”, whatever’s coming next is the good stuff. In this case (pun intended) “an ordinary can of talcum powder” containing a tear gas cartridge. When attached to an inner wall of the case, the gas is set to be triggered by flipping the catches that open the case, giving the unsuspecting victim a “nasty little Christmas present.” That is, unless the catches are turned to the side; then the case can be opened safely. One of the more fun Bond games is looking at the gadgets he receives at the beginning of the film and then figuring out how he will use them …because you know they will be employed in one manner or another.

Gadgets/British Government Property Bond Destroys: Bond does indeed use everything in the case and I can’t say for certain if a tear gas canister deploying in a leather briefcase destroys it but I assume it would. So, one briefcase; small potatoes in the Bond universe.

Other Property Destroyed: Ahem…. a lot. There is the gypsy camp that gets shot up and burned thanks to Bond’s presences (yet he gets the two women as a reward.) There is the sleeping cabin on the Orient Express. Then there’s the helicopter (exploded), the several SPECTER speed boats (wall of fire) and a flower truck gets bang up (grenades from the helicopter.) I’m sure this all cost a few pounds but the bill for the above pales in comparison to the international incident Bond nearly sparks in Istanbul. In order to seize the Lektor, Bond simply walks into the Russian consulate under the guise of acquiring a visa while Kerim plants a bomb in the catacombs directly under the building. Bond looks at his watch and then asks if the time on the wall clock is correct. “Russian clocks are always correct!” an indigent desk clerk snaps, and then BOOM. Let’s forget about the damage to this beautiful ancient building, Bond’s lucky he didn’t start World War III. Anyway, while the entire joint goes into a panic, James waltzes into the decoder room, grabs the Lektor and Tatiana, and escapes in the catacombs where Kerim leads them on their escape. This seems like a good time to bring up the second Spielberg film of the entry, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). While running through the underground tunnels, our party comes across avalanche of rats before they emerge, via a hatch, onto a street crowded with pedestrians. With Love also features a camera panning a map to show the path of the Orient Express a la the Indy films. And the climatic boat chase shares elements with the Last Crusade’s Venice boat chase. Finally, this film ends up in …Venice. Oh, and who plays the elder Jones in that film? Keith Richards famously said he nicked every riff he’s ever played and Spielberg is clearly a geniuses, so I say this not as a slam to Spielberg, but more as a nod to Young for creating something so classic that it inspires the best in the biz. One of the biggest joys for me as a fan is seeing how film makers (and musicians) are inspired by past works and make it their own. Listening to the Stones should make one want to learn about the blues that inspired them, likewise I can’t help but frequently think of the how the Bond films created the blue print for modern action/adventure pictures.

Miss. Moneypenny: Bond once again enters Miss. Moneypenny’s office by ring tossing his hat upon the rack, but his line “For my next miracle …” is cut short when he sees M in the room, once again playing the killjoy. However, when Bond leaves after his briefing he has one of the most loving and engaging Bond moments I can think of. After some classic back and forth with the ever suffering Monnypenny, Bond tells her “I’ve never looked at another woman” and goes to whisper something in her ear before M’s voice interrupts via the intercom. Bond and Monnypenny look up smiling, cheek to cheek, both giggling to themselves at the never ending string of missed opportunities without actually laughing. The shot is classic and incredibly endearing. In this one moment Connery and Maxwell give these characters an intimacy beyond sex and demonstrate how Bond is closer to Monnypenny than any of the women he beds. It’s these small moments in addition to the incredible action that make From Russia With Love something more that a “Bond film.”

M: Other than the fascinating tease that suggests Bond and M experienced some kind of racy time in Tokyo, M is once again simply the guy with the pole up his ass who sends Bond out to do all the work.

Felix Leiter: No Felix in this picture. Bonds contact is instead an Arab working at the British consulate in Istanbul, Kerim Bey. Kerim is played by the veteran Mexican actor Pedro Armendariz who was recommended for the part by none other John Ford. Kerim as played by Armendariz was something like Sallah in the first Indy film (not the cartoon he became in the third); a humors native fixer who is smart enough to know all the angles and cunning enough to keep our hero one step ahead of the local pitfalls. Kerim was such a cool and interesting character you could see him become a part of the James Bond universe. Sadly, With Love would be Armendariz’s last film. The actor knew he had cancer but as shooting began the actor’s condition worsened exponentially and he became extremely ill. There was a palpable feeling among cast and crew that the end was near. Armendariz however felt obligated to finish the film and Young rearranged his schedule to shoot all the Kerim scenes as quickly as possible. Despite being in great pain, Armendariz delivers a deep three dimensional performance, displaying incredible timing and humor. As he sits on the train with a gagged prisoner, Kerim lights a cigar saying “I’ve had a particularly fascinating life. Would you like to hear about it?” As the man nods a violent no, Kerim sits back smiling “You would?” Sadly, Armendariz would never see the finished film.

Best One Liners/Quips: While Kerim and Bond are tying up the above mentioned prisoner, Bond takes a look at the guy and off handedly quips “I’m not mad about his tailor, are you?”

Bond Cars: I don’t think he ever drives in the film. He is driven from the airport, and he hijacks the flower truck, but he makes the driver man the wheel. He does drive a boat but no car.

Bond Timepiece: Bond looks at this watch in the Russian consulate but we don’t see it.

Other Notable Bond Accessories: Other than the briefcase Bond gets to sport some fantastic hats in this film.

Number of Drinks 007 Consumes: 4 drinks, all wine. Bond and Silvia share a bottle. 007 has a glass before the gypsy battle and pulls of a bottle following. His fourth glass is shared with Grant on the dinning car of the Orient Express in what turns out to be a very un-Bond like moment. Bond orders the fish and glass of white while Grant, posing as a fellow British spy, orders a glass of red with his fish. Bond later admits he should have caught the glaring faux pas but by then it’s too late; Grant has a gun at his head. “You may know your wine, but you’re the one on your knees, old man.”

Bond’s Gambling Winnings: Sadly, Bond does not get an opportunity to gamble in the film.

List of Locations: Ironically, Russia is not a location in From Russia With Love. (Nor is the U.S.S.R., but that’s a history lesson for another time.) London is of course featured, but the majority of the action happens in the beautiful exotic city of Istanbul. As soon as Bond lands at the airport the city is full of intrigue. By the by, 007 must get M to do something about the leaks at MI6 because like the Kingston airport in the previous film, this hub is full of people who are awaiting Bond’s arrival. Istanbul is set up as a city where the cold war is something of a game. While leaving the airport, Bond mentions to his driver that they are being followed. The driver informs him it’s the Russians “They follow us, we follow them, it’s an understanding.” There is something very English and sporting about the set up, but it also immediately raises the stakes for Bond, whose mission after all is steal an import piece of military equipment. Young uses the city for all its worth and the locations are striking and awe inspiring. When it comes time for Bond and Kerim to look in on the Russians, the two descend into an underground labyrinth of columns built by the Emperor of Constantine. The duo navigate the water filled catacombs in a boat till they arrive at Kerim’s perch directly under the Russian consulate. Though not as fantastic as the swears in The Third Man (1949), the vast underground tunnels rival the Mines of Moria from the Lord of the Rings films. Likewise, a mosque where Bond is to secretly meet Tatiana could be out of fantasy. But there it is, in marble and stone. Young once again demonstrates how to use a location as part of the story, and not simply window dressing. While hiding in the shadows of the impossibly lager room, Bond is tracking Tatiana. So is a Russian. And Grant is watching Bond. All of this business is handled while a tour of mosque is being conducted; the voice of the tour guide echoing among columns and chandeliers while our spies play their deadly game. With each shot Young builds tension with a slow burn. Unlike the shoot out at the gypsy camp which was clearly filmed on a sound stage (as my wife pointed out, people in head scarves carrying bails of hay does not a gypsy camp make) the location of the mosque is used to heighten all the action and Young crafts one the best sequences in the film. I have a lot of rules, and one big one for me is any film featuring a train is going to be good. While there are exceptions, With Love is not one of them. The famed Orient Express, founded in the 1880’s to transport the wealthy from Turkey through Romania all the way to Paris is more than a location, it’s a character in the film. All the scenes aboard the train and at the stations between provided a noir, classic spy feel rendering the outdated cold war theme secondary. (In fact, the Lektor itself is a MacGuffin.) Young uses the train, moving fast as the action picks up, to make this a story about who has the upper hand, and once Grant makes his presence known, it’s not Bond. The chess metaphor introduced at the top of the film is carried out and the stakes are pushed to the limit. The film ends up in Venice but it could have ended in Slough. I suspect this was a budget thing and most of the shoots in Italy needed to be scraped because for such a beautiful city, Venice gets no love. The best shoots of Venice are simply B-roll under the closing credits. In fact, the final scene with Bond and Tatiana in a gondola is so clearly faked I wonder why filmmakers even bothered.

Bonds Special Abilities Displayed: Nothing here that seems all that out of character for Bond. Again, his mission was to get a woman to fall in love with him, no stretch. He also uses his libido to broker a peace between two women who earlier in the evening were ready to rip each others eyes out. He’s a hell of a shot and skilled at hand to hand combat but he was a little slow to figure out SPECTRE was pulling the strings all along. Additionally, if it weren’t for Tatiana saving his skin, Bond would have been toast.

Thoughts on Film: Big. That’s the best way to describe a Bond film. Big sets, big set pieces, big laughs, big wardrobes, big music, big villains… sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. Here it works beautifully. Part of the films success is the story itself; a true Cold War spy thriller complete with espionage, coded messages, double agents, exotic locations and a train. But most Bond films have all that, what Young and Connery do with From Russia With Love is make it all mean something by making the small moments count. Small moments don’t come to mind when discussing Bond films, but here they are not simply filler between the “kiss kiss, bang bang.” They create a context for the action so both the action and the intimate moments serve the story as part of the plot; not simply as devices to push the plot forward. However, to be fair, I wonder if in someway it would be impossible to make From Russia With Love as say Bond Part 12 or Bond Part 23. An example; at one point Bond and Kerim have a discussion about how to best use Tatiana to get the Lektor. Bond feels after winning her affections, Tatiana will do anything he wants. Kerim is not so sure and suspects Bond himself may be comprised. Has Bond fell for Tatiana and therefore is 007 in the task at hand? Where do Bond’s loyalties lie, with getting the device or the girl? Of equal importance, who’s playing who? For Kerim, it all stinks; he points to his noise “This is an old friend of mine and it tells me something smells.” Further, he thinks Bond, in his arrogance and flip attitude maybe missing some of the angles. This could never happen in a later Bond film because we have too much of a history with the character, Bond would never be outplayed by a girl or anyone else for that matter. We as an audience would never buy it. But here, in only the second film, Connery is able to play 007 in a way where we think his over confidence may get the better of him. While everyone is telling him to watch out, it’s a trap, he laughs them off. Its possible Bond will get his comeuppance. This adds greatly to the tension and story telling of the film. We don’t know who’s the cat and who’s the mouse…who’s playing who? To add further tension, neither party knows that it’s been SPECTRE pulling the strings all along. This is fantastic story telling and Young handles it masterfully. That said, by the time we have 8, 10, or 18 Bond films, is it impossible to get true tension from this kind of smaller moment? After a while Bond becomes bulletproof, there is never a doubt he will make it, it becomes a question of how. This is perhaps why later Bond films became so big and bloated; we need something so over the top to feel the protagonist may actually be in danger. What makes this film stand out is these smaller moments serve to give resonance, meaning and context to the action sequences. In turn, the action sequences work better because something is at stake and they are presented as part of the story, not the story itself. Another element this film has going for it which is lost in future offerings is the Bond character himself. In 1963, James Bond embodies the very definition of hip. I’m currently reading Mark Harris “Pictures at the Revolution,” a must read for any fan of the great auteur movement of the late 60’s and 70’s. Harris’s premise is that 1967 was a watershed year for Hollywood and American film, a time where the young brash kids (New Hollywood) who were inspired by French New Wave set out to make a new kind of film outside the old studio system. In the very first chapter, Harris writes about how Bonnie & Clyde (1967) was conceived by two guys at Esquire Magazine, which in the early 60’s was reinventing reporting (New Journalism.) In 1963, the year of With Love’s release, Esquire printed an article defining what it meant to be “today’s man.” He was “urban, sophisticated, unshy about sexual appetite and a love of the good life, but also cynical, suspicious of cant, and contemptuous of mediocrity, conformity, and 1950’s-style groupthink.” Sound like anyone we know? That said, lets face it, Bond has more often been behind the times rather than ahead of them, a concept that Mike Myers milked for laughs in all three Austin Powers films. (Ed. Note, only the first one is worth a damn, and it’s incredible well done. After that…ugh. Goldmember (2002) is not only an assault on taste, but film itself.) Today, it’s truly amazing to think of Bond as representing a modern “today’s man” as dreamt up by the hippest writers and pop cultural thinkers of the day. But in 1963, there he was, ahead of Hollywood and the Production Code. Bond was the very embodiment of “new cool.” In a crazy irony, Bonnie & Clyde, only four years down the road, would launch a new film hero in Warren Beatty’s Clyde Barrow, who would quickly turn Bond into a dinosaur. Obviously, Bond has had to reinvent himself several times to span 6 decades, and the late 60’s anti-hero ascetic would force the first of those reinventions upon the creative forces behind the Bond films. Regardless, in From Russia With Love, Bond was the new hero, replacing the old World War II “man on a mission.” Bond is a cynic, a guy who literally mixes business with pleasure, and isn’t afraid to be bad (kiss kiss, bang bang) to be good. The one other element which I think contributes in making With Love one of the best films in the Bond canon is the pacing, and that obviously all goes back to Terence Young. The action is back loaded and once we get on the train, itself moving quickly, the action picks up. After the incredible build, the climatic chase sequences truly feel like a release. All of the above adds up to make not just a great Bond movie, but a great movie, period. From Russia With Love manages to treads the needle; it’s both a film of it’s time and timeless. The second Bond film is widely considered one of the best, if not the best film in the series and it manages to surpass even those incredibly high expectations.

Martini ratings:

One Response to From Russia With Love

  1. Pingback: Goldfinger « Blog, James Blog

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