In which James Bond is summoned to Istanbul to meet Tatiana Romanova, who has allegedly fallen in love with him after seeing his photo, and who offers to defect to the West, bringing with her a Lektor cryptographic device which Bond is to take back to M. However, Tatiana is herself a pawn in a plot by SPECTRE to steal the Lektor from Bond and then kill him. Obviously, that doesn’t happen, otherwise there’d be no more Bond films! But how does he survive….? To find out, you’ll have to watch the film, and remember, careful what you read here, there will be spoilers!
Following the artistic and financial success of the first Bond film, Dr No, the budget for this next film was doubled to $2 million – $150,000 of which was spent on the set for that brief scene at the beginning, where Kronsteen beats Macadams at Chess. With an eye to realism, the game that is being played out is actually a re-enactment of Boris Spassky’s victory over David Bronstein in 1960! Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman chose From Russia With Love as the next adaptation because, apparently, it was one of President John F Kennedy’s favourite books. Once again it was to be directed by Terence Young, with a screenplay by Richard Maibaum (originally it was to be Len Deighton, but he wrote too slowly!), cinematography by Ted Moore and editing by Peter Hunt – the Dr No dream team reunited. Amongst the changes in personnel, the production designer was Syd Cain (who had been art director on Dr No), the title designer was Robert Brownjohn (who would also design the titles for Goldfinger), Peter Perkins was the new stunt co-ordinator, and John Barry composed the soundtrack.
From Russia with Love was published in 1957 and was the fifth in Ian Fleming’s series of James Bond novels; ironically, it immediately preceded the novel of Dr No, but in the films, the order was switched. There is a story – which may just be a rumour – that Fleming originally had thought this would be the last James Bond novel – he was getting bored with his creation – but its good reviews (see later) and even better sales made him think again. As with the adaptation of Dr No, the bulk of the story is reasonably faithfully portrayed in the film; but there are a few alterations. In the book, SMERSH, the Soviet counterintelligence agency, are the “baddies”, and the cryptographic device is called a Spektor; in the film, it’s SPECTRE who want to steal the device – Saltzman and Broccoli didn’t want to emphasise any Cold War aspects to the plotline – and the device is called a Lektor (because Spektor would have got confused with SPECTRE!) Neither the helicopter chase nor the boat chase are to be found in the book – they were added to the film for some extra kapow! factor; as was the SPECTRE training school, which was inspired by the Gladiator school in the film Spartacus. Both the book and the film have the “sea of rats” scene – but they come at different times in the story. The book also ends on a cliff-hanger, with Rosa Klebb having kicked Bond with her poisoned switchblade-shoe, leaving him fighting for breath and collapsed. In the film, however, Tatiana shoots her dead. I told you there would be spoilers! Interestingly, Ian Fleming had himself tried to steal the German Enigma machine during his time in the Naval Intelligence Division in the Second World War. This no doubt gave him the idea for the Spektor/Lektor device.
I’m sure I’ve seen From Russia with Love at least once before. I believe it was at the Odeon, Aylesbury, in the 1970s, when it was on as part of a double-bill with Diamonds are Forever, and I saw it with my school friend John. The fact that we almost certainly spent the film gossiping and giggling means I had absolutely no recollection of the plot at all. This would have been one of the many occasions when the Cinema Manager would have told us to shut up or get out. Ah, the follies of youth.
Widely considered to be both of one of Fleming’s best novels and one of the best films in the series, the author was delighted with his reviews. Fleming’s “tautest, most exciting and most brilliant tale” said Julian Symons in the Times Literary Supplement. The critic for the New York Herald Tribune wrote that “Mr Fleming is intensely observant, acutely literate and can turn a cliché into a silk purse with astute alchemy”. However, The New York Times described it as Fleming’s “longest and poorest book”. Of the film, Time magazine called it “fast, smart, shrewdly directed and capably performed”. Penelope Gilliatt in The Observer said the film manages “to keep up its own cracking pace, nearly all the way. The set-pieces are a stunning box of tricks”. The critic for The Times wisely noted that “the nonsense is all very amiable and tongue-in-cheek and will no doubt make a fortune for its devisers”. It would actually be the last James Bond film that Ian Fleming saw; it was released on 10th October 1963 and he died on 12th August the following year.
The opening credits start precisely as they did for Dr No, with Maurice Binder’s iconic glimpse of Bond walking across the screen whilst being captured by the barrel of a gun, only for him to turn around, see us, and shoot; and then for the blood to start filling up the screen. Then, before any opening titles, we then go into the first scene. Bond, dressed in his habitual dinner jacket, is walking through a grand, ornate twilit garden when he realises he is being followed. He hears a footstep on twigs and turns around in a heartbeat (the background music also sounds a stabbing, terrified note) but Bond still can’t see who or where. A little further… the music continues to quiver in the background… the sound of footsteps and owls hooting. Bond is beginning to look anxious. He turns; he shoots; he misses. We see the prowler continue to stalk Bond. Behind a fountain they walk, the violins getting more jumpy, Bond, with his pistol in his hand just ready to strike; then we see the prowler pull out a garotte cord from inside his wristwatch, and as Bond walks in front of him in the shadows, the prowler emerges from the darkness, pulls the garotte around Bond’s throat, as 007 seemingly falls to his knees and dies.
Then the lights go up on the big house in the distance and we realise that we are at a training ground; a henchman (Morzeny) comes up and tells the prowler “exactly one minute fifty-two seconds, that’s excellent” – although his mouth never moves, curious that, the first gaffe of the film comes very early. The camera falls to the dead man on the ground, a hand reaches out to its throat and, it’s not Bond after all, but some poor sap wearing a Bond mask, sacrificed in the quest for the perfect spy mission. So who was killed in Bond’s place? (we never find out!) Apparently, the extra who originally played this fake Bond accidentally looked surprisingly like Sean Connery, so they had to re-shoot with a moustachioed man, so as not to confuse the audience! And who is the prowler? (That we definitely do find out!) And what happens next?
What happens next is a return to the rest of the title sequence. Robert Brownjohn created a semi-glamorous, semi-seedy vision of the titles being projected onto the scantily-clad body of an exotic dancer, the words floating and contorting as they reflect over the dancer’s undulating form. The dancer was actually the same one who takes part in the gypsy scene, Leila, who, apparently, danced with the Lebanese National Ballet in Iran for the Shah’s coronation! Whilst she is dancing we hear John Barry’s Latin American/Middle Eastern jazz arrangement of the From Russia with Love theme, mashed up with his James Bond Is Back theme. Musically, it’s very arresting! And as the credits come to a conclusion, the lights go up on a very familiar sight…
And the locations? … gondoliers on the waters of the Grand Canal in Venice. The first scene after the opening titles take place at the Venice International Grandmasters Chess Championships, where Czechoslovakian Kronsteen is taking on the Canadian Macadams. The rest of the film takes place in London, then Istanbul, and then Bond and Tatiana work their way back to Venice on the Orient Express, via Zagreb and Belgrade. However, all the railway station scenes were filmed at the Sirkeci station in Istanbul. Almost all the interior shots took place at Pinewood Studios: M’s office, SPECTRE island, the Venice hotel and even on board the Orient Express. The gypsy camp scene was originally to be shot at Topkapi in Istanbul, but funding required that it be shot in the UK, so a mock-up was created at Pinewood. Other short scenes were filmed in Argyll and Scotland, with the “rats” scene filmed in Spain.
Bond, James Bond. Although the book features that famous phrase, Sean Connery doesn’t get to utter it in this second film. However, he did get a considerable pay increase, from the $100,000 he pocketed for Dr No to $250,000 for this film; and his wages never decreased as the series continued. The success of From Russia with Love truly sealed his own personal success as an actor and he never looked back. Apart from the pay, and the success, the other thing that Connery got out of this film was the chance to wear eight Savile Row suits, each one costing approximately $2000. But then he always was something of a clothes horse.
Film editor Peter Hunt realised whilst making Dr No that it was vital to keep everything moving as quickly as possible, so that the audience doesn’t start to analyse the plot. It’s got to be here and now entertainment. And as in that previous film, as a result, there are a number of gaffes and continuity issues that remain in the film due to this keenness to move on and make it all at breakneck speed. For example, one scene was cut right at the very last minute because, at a private screening, Terence Young’s 12-year-old son pointed out that it contained a character – the Bulgarian Agent constantly pursuing Bond – who had been killed earlier on in the film. When Kronsteen plays the winning move in his championship match, the chessboard on the wall shows the movement of Queen from F4 to E4, but one moment later, after Macadams has conceded, it’s back on F4 again. When Klebb arrives at the SPECTRE training camp and meets Morzeny, they’re clearly saying the word “pool” whilst their voices say the word “lake”. No time to retake, perhaps? There’s no way that Bond could have put his shirt on that quickly when he has his first phone call with Moneypenny. The bath that he runs when he comes back after Krilenku’s death only has steam coming out of the tap even though you can distinctly hear water pouring out. The Flower truck changes from being a Ford F-350 Flatbed to a Chevrolet C30. Minor errors each one, but when you add them up, it clearly shows that pace and effect was more important than accuracy!
The Bond Girl. We last saw Sylvia Trench attempting to get a hole in one in Bond’s bedroom just as he was being called for Dr No duty in Jamaica. Here she is again, up to her elbows in romance, snuggling up to Bond in a punt on the river Cam (I presume – the punter who goes past is punting from the Cambridge end) when, once again, he gets the call to action – no, a different kind of action. Originally there was to be a running joke throughout all the films that Sylvia and James would be just about to shake their groove thangs when M would insist on his being sent to some other part of the globe. But the powers that be decided this would be an unnecessary distraction, and I reckon they got that right. So this is the second and last appearance of Miss Trench attempting to tee something up with Bond.
Instead, meet Daniela Bianchi, at 21 years old, the youngest to perform the role of Bond Girl. In 1960 she was runner-up to Miss Universe, and it’s not hard to tell why from her extraordinary good looks. From 1958 to 1968 she appeared in a string of movies, mainly performing in her native Italian; and at the grand old age of 28 she retired from acting, to marry a Genoese shipping magnate and bring up a family. Because her accent was too strongly Italian, her lines were dubbed by Barbara Jefford, the first of three times that Ms Jefford would provide the spoken words for a character in a Bond film.
What Bond Girls Are Like. From watching Dr No, we came to the conclusion that Bond Girls are: sexy, with an exotic background, unpredictable, as equally likely to attack Bond as to support him, strong and self-reliant up to a point, and sometimes tragic. I think it’s fair to say that Tatiana fulfils all those descriptions – apart, perhaps, from tragic; the end of the film suggests that they could go on to have a long and happy relationship….as if that would be likely with James Bond!
Interestingly, the scene where the SPECTRE agent is secretly filming Bond and Tatiana in bed together caused some problems with the film censors. They didn’t like what they felt was the extreme voyeurism of the arrangement; and to make it more palatable for the censors, the film doesn’t dwell on the agent doing the watching.
The Villain. It’s not so easy to identify just one “villain” in From Russia with Love. In one respect, the villain is the entire SPECTRE community. In another, it’s the unnamed, uncredited character Number One, who lounges in his comfy chair, stroking his pussycat. We know from subsequent films and stories that he is Blofeld; but at this stage, Bond’s cinema audience would only know him as Number One. In fact, he was played by Anthony Dawson, who played Professor Dent in Dr No; although the character was voiced by Austrian actor Eric Pohlmann.
Other memorable characters? For me the big memorable character is the icily sinister Comrade Colonel Rosa Klebb, formerly with SMERSH, now “Number Three” in SPECTRE. With a face like a ripped trainer, she socks wannabe SPECTRE agents in the stomach to check their strength, lingers dubiously long over the prettiness of Tatiana in a rather icky way, and is ready to despatch Bond to the Pearly Gates with one flick of her poisoned-bladed boots. It’s a brilliant performance by Lotte Lenya, whose first husband was Kurt Weill, responsible for the music in The Threepenny Opera and other collaborations with Berthold Brecht as well as a range of classical compositions. She had a long and wide-ranging career, and was a renowned singer as well as actress.
And there’s also “Nash” – Bond’s associate with whom he meets up on the Orient Express, except that he isn’t really – he’s SPECTRE assassin Donald “Red” Grant, whom we meet in that first scene, successfully stealing up on the pretend Bond and garrotting him. Grant’s classic Aryan looks set the hallmark for future tough-guy henchmen. He’s a pure psychopath through and through. He was played by Robert Shaw, an English actor who appeared in a number of top roles in great films – A Man for All Seasons, Young Winston, Jaws, and so on. Sadly he had quite a tragic life, dying at the age of 51 through an alcohol-induced heart attack.
There’s a lot of fun lurking within the role of Ali Karim Bey, Head of MI6 Station T in Istanbul. He likes the good life – food, drink, women, and never seems to do much in the way of work, although he proves himself a fine marksman with the revenge killing of Krilenku. This excellent performance was the last that Mexican actor Pedro Armendáriz gave, as he died from suicide during the filming, as a result of a diagnosis of terminal cancer of the hips. He was apparently in great pain whilst the film was being made – you can see him limping in many scenes – and actually only took on the job to provide additional income for his wife/widow. Curiously, like Robert Shaw, he too was only 51 when he died.
It’s a small role, but superbly judged: Vladek Sheybal as Kronsteen, the Czech Grandmaster who also works for SPECTRE and who suffers at first hand the displeasure of Number One. His seriously dour countenance was perfect for this humourless, arrogant character. It was actually Sean Connery who recommended him for the role, as they were already friends, and he went on to have a hugely successful career, mainly playing villains in dozens of films in the 60s – 80s. Born in Poland, he became a British citizen and was a very familiar presence on our screens.
Just briefly to check in at M’s office; Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell reprise their usual roles, and Desmond Llewelyn appears for the first time as Q – a role he would undertake with true devotion 17 times in all. There’s a very funny scene where M cuts off Bond’s recording as he is about to share a dubious story about him with Tatiana, and which everyone around the table would have ended up hearing. Spoilsport!
And what about the music? So of course we have the main James Bond Theme, written by Monty Norman, which remains as iconic and attention-grabbing as ever. The rest of the incidental music is written and arranged by John Barry, and it works extremely well. The sequences in the Russian embassy (007 Takes the Lektor), on the Venice canal and accompanying the closing credits are (IMHO) outstanding.
But the main song this year was “From Russia with Love”, sung by Matt Monro, and written by Lionel Bart, two men who were pretty much at the top of their respective trees. Matt Monro’s biggest hit Portrait of my Love was released in 1960 and he had a string of chart hits for six or so years that ended with his superb cover version of the Beatles’ Yesterday. In that period he represented the UK at Eurovision in 1964 (with a song that didn’t chart) although his second-most successful single, Walk Away, was a translation of that year’s Austrian entry, Warum nur warum. But perhaps his most famous track is the title song from the film Born Free. He died in 1985, but his son Matt Monro Jr is still performing his dad’s old numbers.
Lionel Bart was most famous for writing Oliver! along with a few other musicals, plus a few odd songs like Livin’ Doll for Cliff Richard and Little White Bull for Tommy Steele. He had something of a rollercoaster career, with incredible highs and lows. Although the phrase “from Russia with love” is repeated throughout the song, there is no crossover between the lyrics and the story of the film, which John Barry perceived to be a weakness and decided shouldn’t happen again. We first hear the song on the radio when Bond and Sylvia are reclining in their punt, and then not again until the final credits.
Car chases. Well, rather disappointingly, there aren’t any. Instead, we have a helicopter chase and a boat chase. I guess they thought it was important to take a step-up from the car chases of Dr No. The helicopter chase was inspired by a scene from Hitchcock’s North by Northwest and the boat chase by a scene from The Red Berets, also directed by Terence Young. The helicopter was a model – all very clever cinematography – but the boats were real enough, and they were so highly tuned that they didn’t make a sufficiently “turbo” roar to make the scene exciting, which was a challenge for the sound editor. Although there are no car chases, we do get to see Bond with his beloved Bentley, a 1935 3.5 litre model. Perhaps even nicer, depending on your taste, is Karim Bey’s Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith.
Cocktails and Casinos. Again, I expect the producers wanted to move away from that aspect of Bond, putting him in a different environment. So there are no cocktails and no casinos in this film. We do discover, however, how Bond takes his Turkish coffee – medium sweet – although at breakfast time his only stipulation is that it is “very black.” In other alcohol-based news, the scene in the restaurant car on the Orient Express is where Bond realises that his associate Nash is not all that he seems. Red Chianti with sole? Unthinkable!
Gadgets. Another year, another set of gadgets. Bond has a pager in his punt – it would have been the envy of all hospital staff in the 80s. Q issues Bond with a terrific briefcase, which contains an Armalite AR-7 folding sniper’s rifle with infrared telescope and detachable suppressor, 50 gold sovereigns concealed in a strip, a tear gas cartridge disguised as talcum powder, set to discharge when the briefcase is opened incorrectly, and a spring-loaded throwing knife concealed within the case. Bond wouldn’t have won his fight with Grant without it! There’s a bug checker under the phone, which is useful for all those times when you need to know who’s listening in. There’s a mobile phone in his car – it looks like an ordinary receiver of the time, which is kinda cute. Bond’s charming old Box Brownie camera (which would have surely been archaic in 1963) reveals its secret as a tape recorder.
Bond’s not the only one to have a decent gadget – Grant’s garrotte wire within a wristwatch is a pretty neat trick. And of course, the lektor, around which the whole film revolves, could be considered the ultimate in gadgets. And have you seen the size of the walkie-talkies used Krilenku and his cronies? They’re bigger than a rifle!
In Memoriam. Dr No had a death count of approximately 11, plus all those who perished in his lair when it explodes at the end. Can From Russia with Love do any better? Let’s briefly remember those who gave their lives so that Bond and Tatiana can go off in that boat in the end scene for some nookie (just like Bond and Honey did in Dr No):
1) SPECTRE man who was killed at the beginning who we all thought was Bond.
2) Bulgarian agent trussed up in the back of the Citroen hijacked and killed by Grant.
3) Guard at the gypsy camp, murdered by Krilenku by hurling a machete in his back.
4) All those who perish in the gypsy camp skirmish. Impossible to judge really, but I counted at least 14.
5) Krilenku, shot through Anita Ekberg’s mouth in a poster for Call Me Bwana, a 1963 film which was also produced by Eon productions and had largely the same crew as Dr No. Canny!
6) Bulgarian Agent who followed Tatiana into the Saint Sophia, killed by Grant.
7) Russian embassy guard.
8) Anyone who may have died in the explosion at the embassy.
11) Station Y officer who should have met Bond at Zagreb, taken into the toilet at the railway station by Grant and mysteriously never seen again.
12) Grant. The fight that ends with his death is under two minutes in the film but took two days to shoot.
14) Two guys in the helicopter.
15) Everyone who died on the boats (approximately ten people including Morzeny)
16) Rosa Klebb.
That’s at least 40 deaths. Dr No’s death count is chicken feed in comparison with that lot!
Humour to off-set the death count. Following his jokey remarks whenever someone died in Dr No, Bond continues that morbid sense of humour. Here are the throwaway lines that marked some of the deaths in this film:
After Bond has helped Karim Bey to shoot Krilenku dead as he climbs through the window, framed by the smiling lips of the Anita Ekberg poster, Bond helpfully observes: “She should have kept her mouth shut”.
When the helicopter that’s been chasing him, finally blows up, killing the two guys inside, Bond says “I’d say one of their aircraft is missing” – referring to the 1942 film of (nearly) the same name.
After he’s shot the petrol barrels that explode in flame killing those pursuing Bond and Tania on the boats, he says to her “there’s a saying in England, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
And after Tatiana has shot Rosa Klebb dead, Bond observes, “she’s had her kicks”.
Any less frothy elements? So once again it’s time to consider if there are any outstanding themes or elements that don’t sit well with today’s audience. As in Dr No, I couldn’t perceive any obvious homophobic or racist elements, but when it comes to sexism, it’s quite another story. Once again I think it’s important to remember that definition of sexism, so that we know where we’re at. Sexism is: “(Behaviour, language, etc, reflecting) the assumption that one sex, esp. the female, is inferior to the other; prejudice or discrimination, esp. against women, on the grounds of sex; insistence on (esp. a woman’s) conformity to a sexually stereotyped social role.”
So those opening credits, where the words are projected onto the belly dancer’s body, aren’t really sexist; and the belly dancer’s entertainment sequence at the gypsy camp can in many ways be interpreted the other way – she’s revealing her skill, her ability to do something that the others can’t do, her sexiness (which is a gift) – in no way is this showing that women are inferior to men.
However, the rest of the film is not quite so straightforward. Karim Bey’s on-off girlfriend is dressed to show off her remarkable cleavage, and she does nothing else apart from pout and look sexy. But then Karim Bey would never be the kind of guy who’d want an equal for a girlfriend. The fight between the two gypsy women, Vida and Zora, to see who wins the hand of the guy they both love, is pretty degrading. True, in the old days, two gentlemen might have fought a duel to win the hand of a fair lady; but that would have been an honourable and somewhat clinical procedure. Aliza Gur’s Vida and Martine Beswick’s Zora get down and dirty, bosoms almost popping out of their colourful bras, in a scene that only lacks mud and a soft porn soundtrack, rather than John Barry’s more dramatic Girl Trouble theme. Then, to cap it all, they fawn over Bond, trying to make his stay as pleasurable as possible. Where’s their self-respect?
Tatiana shows less fighting spirit than Honey in Dr No, thereby taking on that sexually stereotyped social role that is the definition of sexism. The very idea that someone should fall in love with someone else just through seeing a photograph of them, so that they want to marry, defect, and risk their life is pretty appalling. I realise that Tatiana is forced into this position by SPECTRE – so I’m happy to accept that it’s SPECTRE who are sexist more than she is. The behaviour of Bond with “Nash” on the Orient Express is also very sexist. Bond insists that she doesn’t go to the restaurant car with the men. He slaps her on the bum. Together, they refer to Tatiana as “The Girl”. Again, she is on the receiving end of the sexism, but does nothing about it. I guess she still has her eyes on prize at the end – which is, not being killed by SPECTRE.
Bizarre other stuff that occurred to me. Once the film gets underway and the first scenes are of Bond at play, Bond being called into M’s office, Bond being sent to a foreign destination, Bond arriving at a foreign airport, and Bond being collected in a car… I wondered if I was watching Dr No again.
I know foreign travel and tourism has grown a lot in the last 55 years, but how on earth did they manage to film inside the St Sophia in Istanbul when it was so empty? We’ve been twice, and it’s been absolutely thronging with people both times!
Uncharacteristically lax of Bond to let himself get so trapped with “Nash” on the train. Where was his training? If it hadn’t been for Q’s briefcase, he’d be a gonner.
I had no idea Bond was so attached to his hat. In the most trying of circumstances, he’s still headgeared up. It never leaves his head even when he’s on the run, being strafed by helicopters. What a fashion hero!
Those fighting fish… the one that Blofeld says is being trained to wait until its rivals are exhausted… you can see the pane of glass that separates it from the others. Of course it can’t fight, it can’t reach them!
The scar that Sylvia tenderly fingers above Bond’s left hip suddenly disappears when he gets up out of the punt. Magic!
Terence Young didn’t like Daniela Bianchi’s legs. So she had a stand-in reveal her legs in that periscope scene under the Russian embassy.
Awards: Ted Moore won the BAFTA for Best British Cinematography (Colour). It was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Song (From Russia with Love), but it lost out to Circus World, from the film of the same name. Never heard of it!
To sum up. From Russia with Love feels like a much more mature film than Dr No, and its baddies (Klebb and Grant) are so superbly created and performed that you can really wallow and revel in their misadventure. The Istanbul (and to a lesser extent Venice) settings add a real taste of intrigue and I’m not surprised to discover that this is many people’s favourite Bond film, including Sean Connery himself. Although the budget was doubled to $2 million from the first film, it returned $79 million at the box office, $20 million more than Dr No. It’s a really enjoyable, escapist film that leaves you wanting more. I’d be fascinated to hear your opinions of From Russia with Love – and whether or not you agree with me! Please leave a comment below. Next up – Goldfinger!
My rating: 5 Sparkles
All photos from the film of course belong to their various copyright holders.