00 Saturdays Week #3 – From Russia with Love Movie Review

“There’s a saying in England: Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” – James Bond

Welcome back to 00 Saturdays here at Film Seizure.  This is our weekly walk through the Bond films.  We continue in this third week with 1963’s From Russia with Love.

Dr. No, released just one year prior was a huge hit.  While it didn’t exactly get the greatest of reviews at the time, it hit big with audiences in both the United States and in the United Kingdom.  It also ushered in a brand new style of action hero that also had some darker undertones to his demeanor as well.  With that success, United Artists immediately greenlit a sequel to be released in October of 1963.  Better yet, they doubled the production budget.

Dr. No introduced Bond, James Bond.  From Russia with Love would make him a mainstay superstar of film.

The Story

In the first ever opening action sequence, we find Bond sneaking through a courtyard, and stalked by the buff, blonde, Irish assassin Donald “Red” Grant (Robert Shaw).  Grant captures Bond and uses a garrote hidden in his watch to kill him.  Morenzy, a SPECTRE trainer, praises him on the success of the exercise.

Number 5, a member of SPECTRE and chess master, as well as defected Soviet member of their intelligence department, and Rosa Klebb (Number 3 in SPECTRE), meet with Blofeld, the head of the agency.  They discuss the need to wipe out Bond through the use of a Soviet cipher clerk, Tatiana Romanava, in Istanbul to lure Bond to his doom.  Klebb is introduced to Grant and she sends him to Istanbul to report directly to her.  In Istanbul, Klebb uses the fact that only the highest members of the Soviet intelligence and government communities are aware of her defect to meet with Tatiana.  Klebb says she must do whatever James Bond tells her to do – even love him.  She then is to report back to Klebb herself and tell no one.  Any refusal to accept the mission or do as directed and she will be killed – a classic villain move.

Bond is contacted by MI6 about the defection of the Soviet cipher clerk from Istanbul who has fallen in love with Bond through a picture in him in a file.  She will give England a cipher machine called a Lektor.  Once in Turkey, Bond gets help from the head of Station T, Ali Kerim Bey.  Kerim helps him navigate through some nasty business with some Bulgarians sent to kill Kerim and nearly gets Bond stuck in the crossfire.  With the Russians’ Bulgarian friends out of the way, with some help of Grant to keep Bond alive, Tatiana sneaks into Bond’s room to give herself to him and tells him where he can get the Lektor.

Bond and Kerim use a bombing to smuggle Tatiana and the Lektor out of the Russian Consulate.  Bond and Tatiana board the Orient Express, but they do not know they have been followed by Grant.  Kerim is killed and Bond is left to face Grant alone in an incredibly close quarters, and vicious, fight on the train.  However, a narrow escape from the train leads to a dizzying sequence straight out of Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest when Bond is chased on the ground by a helicopter.

One final chase finds Bond and Tatiana being attacked on the water where they continue their globetrotting from Turkey back to the west.   With SPECTRE hot on their tails, Bond lets loose barrels of fuel uses a flare gun to explode them and burn the SPECTRE goons all to hell in one of the better kill moments in Connery’s era.  In the final moments, Bond is in Venice with the Lektor and is attacked by Klebb in disguise as a maid.  Ultimately, it is Tatiana who chooses Bond over Mother Russia by killing Klebb and saving 007’s life.

The Bond

Sean Connery’s second outing of Bond is an opportunity for him to get even more comfortable in the role.  While he is outfitted with some gadgets from the head of Q Branch, Major Boothroyd (the first of a whole bunch of appearances from Desmond Llewelyn), in a tricked out attache case containing some gold sovereigns, a throwing dagger, a tear gas booby trap when the case isn’t opened properly, and concealed pieces of a sniper rifle.  While Bond has always been part Connery’s creation to begin with, he feels a little more confident.  He seems natural.

Bond also gets significant help from the head of Station T in Istanbul – Ali Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendáriz in his final role).  After Kerim is killed, Bond does turn on the darkness seen at times in Dr. No.  Not totally sure if Tatiana is who she says she is, he believes she may have had something to do with Kerim’s death.  It’s a cold scene between Connery and Daniela Bianchi that reminds us that Bond isn’t always the guy who will romance a woman away from her Soviet allegiance.  He’s still a man on a mission and, sometimes, a cold son of a bitch.

In the showdown between Bond and Grant on the Orient Express, you’re taken for a bit of a ride as Bond knows that Grant drugs Tatiana but he is also ultimately outwitted when it’s a bit fuzzy whether he wants the Lektor or Tatiana, when Bond really would like to have both.  Where Connery really sells his Bond’s intelligence despite being outwitted is that he keeps Grant talking to learn more about what SPECTRE’s true plans are.  It’s the first of many, many times a villain will tell Bond just enough to help him get out of a jam.

What is hugely fascinating is that Robert Shaw’s steely eyes, cut physique, and blonde hair makes him look almost exactly like future James Bond, Daniel Craig.

The Villains

The reach of SPECTRE expands.  Where Dr. No failed, it’s time for Erntz Stavros Blofeld, the head cheese of the international evil organization gets much more involved.  To deal with Bond, another high ranking member of SPECTRE, Russian officer Rosa Klebb (German cabaret star, Lotte Lenya) steps into the role of dealing with this pesky MI6 agent.  There are several things about Klebb that are incredibly memorable.

First, she is this rather hard edged Soviet/SPECTRE officer.  She’s almost more threatening than any man in a position of power in what would look to be an enemy outfit.  How this plays out in her first scene with Tatiana is wrought with tension – sexual tension.  In a movie loaded with subtlety, perhaps the most subtle moment comes when Klebb places her hand on Tatiana’s leg revealing her attraction to this extremely beautiful Russian cipher clerk being sent to Bond.  It’s an incredibly fascinating moment for what could have been a massively controversial interaction in 1963.  However, Klebb is best known for having a hidden, poisoned dagger in her shoes that she uses to try to kill Bond in the finale.

Perhaps, though, the more interesting villain in this movie is that of Red Grant played by Robert Shaw.  Grant is everything Bond is, and a little more.  He’s a perfect mirror to Bond in terms of a dashing, clever, and capable agent in his own right.  However, he’s a physical specimen as well.  Klebb may be the person Grant is answering to, and she to Blofeld ultimately, Grant is really more main villain as well as his own henchman.  It’s a fascinating duality within his character who, himself, is a darkly mirroring version of Bond.  Bond being trapped with Grant on the Orient Express is scary.  Bond is outmatched and in a small, confined space.  He’s a terror on a scale that isn’t often seen in the earlier Bonds because he is that brutal reflection of our hero.

The Girls

It’s like From Russia with Love looked at the women in Dr. No and decided to multiply their number by a factor of two.  Perhaps the most standout moment is when Bond and Kerim Bey visits a gypsy camp and view a battle to the death between two of the women at the camp.  The two combatants were played by former beauty pageant queens Martine Beswick and Aliza Gur.  Of course, the idea of two women completely given over to near animalistic anger and thrashing of each other is a pretty tantalizing sight.  Not to mention, two women from a little more exotic culture, adds a little more passion to it all too.  Even before the battle can begin, we’re even treated to nice belly dance from one of the women at the camp.  The fact that the movie basically slows down the plot long enough for us to ogle a belly dancer and two warring women willing to literally kill each other over a man…  Well, that’s nice.

In fact, check back next week, because this scene is such a centerpiece to the sensuality and sexual presence of the movie as a whole, gypsy culture is used in the opening credits sequence.

Sylvia Trench returns for a single scene with Bond as they reunite after six months of being apart.  This will be the last time the character is seen.  I suspect it is decided that it would be best for her not to be the woman waiting at home while Bond gallivants across the globe with the ordained “Bond Girl.

Oh an speaking of the Bond girl, holy cow is she an utter beauty.  Tatiana is played by Daniella Bianchi, another beauty pageant queen.  Bianchi is an Italian actress. She had been in a few movies and roles prior to From Russia with Love, but would retire from acting by the end of the 60s to marry a German shipping magnate.  Bianchi is a danger combination of beauty and playfulness as she plays at love with Bond before falling in love with him.  While Bianchi is dubbed like so many of the early Bond Girls were, her Tatiana is game for all the action and romance of the movie.  There is even a great deal of teasing nudity with her where she is often seen either crossing a room nude with only a sheer curtain hiding her bits and bobs and a lot of under the covers implied nudity.

When Bond tells Tatiana that he thinks she’s one of the most beautiful women he’s ever seen…  I have to agree.

The Summation

This Bond film does not have the luxury of Ken Adam and his beautiful set designs as he was picked by Stanley Kubrick to work on Dr. Strangelove.   It really doesn’t hurt this film to not have that for this outing.  This feels a little smaller, but in a good way.  This movie shows Bond as more of a sleuth and a spy and a little less of an action hero.  The novel is often considered one of the very best of Ian Fleming’s, and it was a very important undertaking for producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman as well as director Terrance Young to get it right.

Scenes with Connery and Bianchi are sexy.  The scenes with Connery and Armendáriz are wonderful.  Armendáriz is a fantastic presence on screen.  When it was revealed that he had inoperable cancer and had to painfully work through his final scenes, it broke the production crew’s hearts.  It’s understandable.  Connery and Shaw’s fight on the Orient Express is tense and exciting.  This is an all around fine Bond film and sets into motion so much more of what Bond will be for decades to come even beyond what Dr. No offered in style – particularly in terms of exciting action sequences peppered into an engaging plot with twists and turns a-plenty.

From Russia with Love is my father’s favorite Bond film “by far.”  It was the first one he saw as a young man.  Keep that in mind as I get to some of the movies that I treasure highly later on in this journey through the series because it is true what they say about “like father, like son” and all that jazz.

Join me next week for a look at the music of From Russia with Love.  In two weeks, I’ll be taking a look at the third Bond film, Goldfinger.

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