Our Bond retrospective continues with Sophie’s look at From Russia With Love, a European set thriller which finds Bond in a deadly game of cat and mouse between MI6, the KGB and SPECTRE.
After introducing cinema audiences to Bond a year previous, 1963’s From Russia With Love wastes no time establishing the formula we have come to know, for better or worse. Everything here feels more confident and assured than its quirkier, jaunty predecessor. The Caribbean beaches of Dr.No have been replaced by the historic streets of Istanbul and Venice, and it’s clear that it’s here where Bond is in his element. Mixing with high society, drinking all the expensive booze and being a bit of an elitist, entitled arse has always been his raison d’être, more or less.
From Russia With Love is the first of the Bond flicks to introduce his long running adversary, the legendary feline enthusiast Ernst Stavro Blofeld the evil CEO type figure of secretive terrorist organisation SPECTRE. Also making his first appearance is Desmond Llewelyn’s Q who pops up and gives Bond an unusually subtle contraption in the form of a booby trapped suitcase. It’s also the first – and only – film to show Bond being killed, when Robert Shaw’s SPECTRE assassin Red Grant stalks him through a hedge maze and strangles him in the opening sequence. Fortunately a mask is then torn off his corpse revealing it to be some other poor bloke, whose promising career as some kind of evil-Bond pretender is tragically cut short.
The arch-villain here is – as Blofeld is usually – a faceless threat. However Grant cuts an imposing figure as a hard-as-nails assassin, whose taste in wine turns out to be his biggest weakness against Bond’s shameless good taste. He’s the Aryan James Bond; ruthless, but ultimately an inferior imitation. With his platinum blonde hair and puffed out chest he has more than a touch of the Rutger Hauer’s about him. Elsewhere there is Rosa Klebb, a senior agent within SPECTRE who is so butch that it reaches slightly offensive levels, especially when there’s little doubt that this was Ian Fleming’s idea of a lesbian (something that was insinuated more strongly in the book).
There are a few Bond women here too, and unsurprisingly he’s a total bastard to most of them on at least one occasion. Main Bond girl Tatiana is a Russian spy who has been sent to seduce him and steal the macguffin: the Lekter cryptographic device. Turns out she is an unwitting pawn in SPECTRE’s grand plan, and not at all an agent of the KGB as she believes. She spends the film’s duration a love-sick bore; even getting slapped in the face only elicits a defiant ‘but I love you!’, which is baffling considering their brief courtship (he can’t be that good in bed).
If you can look past its occasional eye-rolling elements, it’s clear why this is considered one of the strongest entries in the franchise. Frankly, it’s probably Connery’s best; Goldfinger is the definitive Bond, but From Russia With Love is a strong espionage thriller in its own right. Yes, he shoots from the hip and the baddies have poisonous shoe knives, but this feels like saner, cleverer fare than anything he has to offer before or after. It’s slick, stylish and action packed, and he is the cold, calculating, borderline alcoholic he’s meant to be. Bond rarely gets better than this.
Bond theme: Matt Monro is on singing duty, but his crooning feels subdued compared to the likes of Shirley Bassey. Bond is yet to find its characteristic bombastic theme tune, but that’s just round the corner.
Best one liner: ‘She should have kept her mouth shut’. Sounds crass and misogynist (which it pretty much is), but it comes across more like an oddly specific comment on a very bizarre scenario.
Glamorous Locations: Mainly Istanbul and Venice, although he does travel through Zagreb when he’s on the train. He begins the film as he means to end it though: in a boat, getting cosy with a gorgeous woman. After Dr. No, it would appear he has a penchant for ending films in such a fashion.
Gadgets: This being the first ever appearance of Desmond Llewelyn’s Q (credited as Boothroyd), the amount of gadgets are actually fairly sparse. Of note is his booby trapped attache case stuffed with hidden knives, gold sovereigns and surplus ammunition. He also has a camera which doubles as a tape recorder, which is handy when you’re wanting to interrogate folk whilst taking in the local tourist attractions.
Girls: Russian spy Tatiana (Daniela Bianchi) seduces Bond under the orders of SPECTRE’s Rosa Klebb, but she’s utterly useless against Bond’s ‘charms’. Before Tatiana we learn that Bond is still carrying on with Sylvia Trench (Eunice Grayson), who appears to have been eagerly awaiting a reunion after the events of Dr. No. He also gets it on with two Romani Gypsy women, Zora and Vida, after watching them fight viciously over the affections of another man. Bloody women and their jealousy, eh?
Classic Moment: After Robert Shaw’s Grant drops his English spy act and pulls out his handgun, Bond recalls the lunch they had on the train earlier. ‘Red wine with fish… well that should’ve told me something.’ After all what self-respecting Brit would partake in such culinary ignorance? Damn unsophisticated foreigners.
TELSTAR’S BIG BOND COUNTDOWN WILL RETURN WITH… GOLDFINGER