Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Bond Is Forever: "From Russia with Love"

Evil terrorist organization SPECTRE is planning to steal a Lektor, a cipher machine, from the Russians. Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya), aka #3, a member of SMERSH who defected from Russia, gives an assignment to agent Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi), who is unaware that Klebb is a member of SPECTRE. Tatiana informs MI6 that she is defecting to the UK with the Lektor, and she will only do so with superspy James Bond (Sean Connery). Red Grant is assigned with the task of assassinating 007, but only after SPECTRE has retrieved the Lektor. Meanwhile, Bond travels to Istanbul to obtain the cipher machine, teaming up with head of Station T (Turkey), Ali Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendáriz).

From Russia with Love introduces two recurring characters to the series. One was Q, whose name is Major Boothroyd, and who actually made an appearance in the previous year's Dr. No (portrayed by Peter Burton). But Q as played by Desmond Llewelyn became associated with Bond's gadgets. Boothroyd in Dr. No only gave 007 his Walther PPK. In From Russia with Love, Q supplies Bond with what would technically be the very first gadget of the cinematic series: an attaché case containing a sniper rifle, with hidden ammunition, knife and money. And for good measure, there would be an unpleasant surprise for anyone who did not open the case properly. Making his debut in the series is SPECTRE head, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. You only see his hands in this film, as he lovingly strokes his cat. Anthony Dawson plays Blofeld (or, rather, plays Blofeld's hands), and he also portrayed the villainous Professor Dent in Dr. No. Blofeld's voice was provided by actor Eric Pohlmann. He and Dawson both reprised the role in 1965's Thunderball.

With a pre-credit teaser and the addition of gadgets, the only substantial difference between the second Bond film and next year's Goldfinger (as well as future 007 films) is the lack of a title song. Like Dr. No, only music plays over the opening credits. However, the film does have a title song (of sorts), near the end, composed by Lionel Bart and sung by Matt Monro. SPECTRE desiring revenge for Dr. No's death is not the only connection to the previous Bond outing. Near the beginning of From Russia with Love, Bond is enjoying some time with Sylvia Trench (you can also hear the title song on the radio). Fans may recall that 007 met Ms. Trench in Dr. No while gambling, and it is to her that the spy introduces himself as, "Bond. James Bond."

During production, actor Armendáriz was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. He finished his scenes, and afterward checked himself into a hospital. Sadly, he committed suicide before the film was released. His son, Pedro Armendáriz, Jr., has a small role in a Bond film, Licence to Kill (1989). Martine Beswick, who plays one of the feuding gypsy women (and who is inaccurately billed in the opening credits as "Martin Beswick"), also appeared in Thunderball as Paula, one of Bond's allies. Fans of Hammer Films may also recognize Beswick from her significant roles in Prehistoric Women (aka Slave Girls) (1967) and Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971). The actress playing the other gypsy woman, Aliza Gur, was roommates with actress Bianchi during the 1960 Miss Universe pageant (Gur was Miss Israel, Bianchi Miss Italy), and both ladies were runners up. Walter Gotell, who plays a henchman on SPECTRE Island, would later portray General Gogol, head of the KGB, in numerous Bond films, beginning with The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).

In a key scene, a billboard for the 1963 film, Call Me Bwana, is clearly displayed. The movie starred Bob Hope and Anita Ekberg, and was produced by Bond producers Harry Saltzman and Albert "Cubby" Broccoli (along with a number of From Russia with Love crew members). Call Me Bwana is the only film produced by EON Productions that was not related to 007.

During production, Terence
Young, art director Michael White, and a cameraman were in a helicopter scouting locations (for the boat chase near the end) and crashed into a lake. Fortunately, they were so close to land that other members of the crew helped them ashore, and Young went right back to filming. Similarly, while on the way to film a scene, actress Bianchi was in an automobile accident, and her face was swollen so badly that she was unable to film for two weeks. Ms. Bianchi was helped from the wreckage by her superspy co-star, who had been following in another car.

Editor Peter Hunt, who had worked on Dr. No and would edit subsequent Bond releases, as well as directing On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), played an important part in the completion of From Russia with Love. With a film over its budget and behind schedule, director Young turned over duties to Hunt and allowed him much liberties. Hunt altered the order of particular sequences (e.g., the chess scene was initially later in the film, instead of immediately following the opening credits), and suggested several "tricks" to save time and money. With so many rewrites, the sequence of Blofeld discussing the mission with Klebb and Kronsteen (aka #5) had to be reshot. Blofeld's dialogue was not a concern, since his face is not shown. Hunt's solution for Klebb reshoots was to, in lieu of rebuilding the set, use a previously shot scene as a matte. Actress Lenya was filmed in a chair, and that image was placed atop an earlier shot of Lenya, so that the actress literally covers herself up (all so that the set in the background can be seen). Peter Hunt's work resulted in a wonderfully paced movie that keeps everything moving.

I think From Russia with Love is one of the greatest Bond films. It was only his second time as 007, but Connery seems to have already mastered the role, alternately charming and lethal. Director Young and editor Hunt created an action-packed movie, with memorable scenes, such as the fight between Bond and Grant, and a sniper sequence with Bond and Kerim Bey. Italian actress Bianchi is excellent (she was dubbed by Barbara Jefford, who would dub actresses in future Bond films), a worthy and distinguished "Bond Girl." Lenya makes an outstanding villain, and Armenáriz is likewise superb.

Bond Is Forever will return next month with The Man with the Golden Gun (1974).


  1. Sark, this is still my favorite bond film (Goldfinger a close second) What really makes this film work for me is Peter Hunt's pacing, John Berry's score and the first great Bond "bad guy" in Robert Shaw. The fight on the train is still the best Bond fight ever. I agree that Sean "got it right". We have to remember (and it's hard with Roger Moore) that under all the "charm ,"007 is a world class killer. that is point was brought back to me by the author ,and screenwriter Steven Barnes, who told me that Daniel Craig has that side of 007 down and Sean got closer to it in this film.

  2. Sark, this is your best Bond write-up yet, full of interesting details that I didn't know (and I'm pretty well-versed at the Bond films...can still whip them off in chronological order at the top of my head). Though DR. NO is enjoyable, I think FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE was a quantum leap in the series. It's second only to GOLDFINGER in my rankings. It was sad to learn Pedro Armendáriz's fate; he was quite good in FROM RUSSIA, contributing some nice humor film's mid-section (e.g., his "back to the salt mines" comment as he returns to the bedroom with a beautiful woman). I agree that Sean and Daniela had great chemistry. I had forgotten how well I liked her as the female lead until just watching the film again recently. Two things I noticed during my last viewing: Bond doesn't appear until 18 minutes in the film and, like Joseph Wiseman, Lotte Lenya isn't in much of the film--though she makes quite an impact. By the way, Matt Monro was known as the "British Frank Sinatra" because of his vocal styling (he was never as successful, of course). His biggest hit was the title song from BORN FREE, written by John Barry. This was a sensational entry in your BOND IS FOREVER series, Sark. I'm already looking forward to the next one!

  3. Sark, Wonderful write up on the movie From Russia with Love. I have not made up my mind which is more exciting, the movie.. or what went on behind the scenes.

  4. Excellent post on a great Bond film, Sark. It is one of my favorites. It has great villians in the plot. I love the sinister Blofeld and his beautiful white spoiled kitty. An evil man who loves his cat. The fight scene with Robert Shaw is awesome and one of the best in the Bond series. The ending is spectacular and the best in all the Bond films in my opinion. My husband said he did miss Ursula Andress as the Bond girl.

  5. Thanks to everyone for the kind words. I agree with Aki and Paul that the fight scene on the train was most excellent. And Paul, I agree that Connery played Bond with a harder edge than others. I like the second still with him. He's on his knees with his hands in his pockets, and Grant's got the drop on him. But just look at his face. He's almost smirking, and you can see something dangerous in there. He's most definitely not scared. It makes me more concerned for Grant than 007, and Grant's got the gun. Rick, I, too, noticed that Lenya wasn't in the film much when I last watched FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. As you said, she makes quite an impression with what little screen time she has!

  6. Sark, I forgot to mention that this has one of my favorite pre-title sequences. Also, a toy manufacturer made a 007 attache case for kids (though I never had one). I think it's something of a collector's item these days. Finally, you're spot on about the great job Peter Hunt did as editor. I'm looking forward to discussing his Bond directorial debut with OMHSS, one of my favorite 007 outings.

  7. Wow! What an exemplary essay, Sark! From Blofeld's seemingly gentle hands to Klebb's unexpectedly sharp shoes, "From Russia with Love" is classic Bond. I loved meeting Q and his remarkable gadgets that became more complex and better in later Bond films. Sark, your passionate Bond essays have imbued a 007 revival in our home. Loved your research and writing!

  8. Just watched on blu ray....much more detail. Did anyone catch the background in blofeld's yacht? It's the scene where the man is kicked and dies by poison, look at the background, it has three goats drinking out of a cup, looks pagan, anyone noticed these? very interesting, never caught before..

  9. Fine post on one of my favorite Bond films. The train sequence is right out of Eric Ambler and Graham Greene, and reminiscent of the film Night Train to Munich. Matt Monroe also did the song for The Quiller Memorandum.

  10. I do not think the cat gets enough fanfare....

    While I think the old Bond films hold up, isn't it funny to see techology depicted that was hypothetical at the time but old hat today?

    And the first film with Desmond Llewelyn...I was sad that Time had to catch up to that character...