00 Saturdays Week #4 – From Russia with Love Music Review

“To Russia I flew, but there and then
I suddenly knew, you’d care again”

Welcome to week #4 of 00 Saturdays here on Film Seizure.  Last week, I talked about the 1963 follow up to the immensely popular Dr. No, From Russia with Love.  This week, we’re going to look at the musical theme to the movie.

Not only does From Russia with Love introduce the idea of the gun barrel opening followed by the now required pre-title sequence which then led into those beautiful opening titles by Maurice Binder, but it also brought in my favorite film composer, and the guy who would be synonymous with Bond music – John Barry.

Theme Song

From Russia with Love opens with a brief segment of the James Bond theme with the same gun barrel opening with Bond shooting an unknown, potential assassin.  Unlike Dr. No, this film does not go directly into the opening titles, but instead sends us into an opening sequence, or “cold open”, to introduce us to our main villain, assassin Red Grant.  It’s at the conclusion to this cold open that we get our opening titles that I’ll discuss in the third section of this review.

I wanted to start there, because the theme song, sung by baritone Matt Monro, is NOT used in the opening title sequence.  Again, see below for a discussion of how the theme song IS used.   Monro’s vocal version of the theme is used twice in the film – on the radio when Bond is “reconnecting” with Sylvia Trench, and again during the final credits.  It is the first true lyrical theme for the Bond films despite “Under the Mango Tree” and “Jump Up” being popular tunes from Dr. No.

“From Russia with Love” came at a time in Monro’s career when he was certainly on the rise.  He would go on to become a very popular singer in the 60s and 70s.  He’d be dubbed “The Man with the Golden Voice” which, come to think of it, should have been the natural choice to sing the theme song from The Man with the Golden Gun in 1974, but I digress.  Interestingly, Monro’s albums and songs were produced by an extremely influential music producer – George Martin.  Of course, Martin would be best known as the producer for The Beatles.  While Monro enjoyed a great deal of popularity in what I’d probably call the Adult Contemporary genre, sadly, he battled alcoholism in the 60s and was a very heavy smoker.  He died in 1985 at the age of 54.  His son, Matt Jr., has carried on his legacy helping to have some posthumous albums and recordings get released.

In his theme song for the movie, the combination of his deep voice, the musical love letter style of lyrics, and John Barry’s beautiful music makes this one of my favorites of the Connery era.  It sets a lovely romantic tone that fits nicely with the general plot of the movie while also remaining slightly subdued much like the more earthy feel of the continent-spanning action.  Interestingly, I only know Monro for this song.  I’ve actually never heard any of his other recordings.  Everything I mentioned in the previous paragraph comes from a Wikipedia article for him.  That said, just from this song, I feel like he is very similar to the type of crooners we always see playing in nightclubs and on the main strip in Vegas in movies about organized crime.

And, to be totally honest (at least from the perspective of “From Russia with Love”), I dig it.

Score (and Other Songs)

Oh boy…  This begins the intertwining of the Bond films and my all-time favorite music composer, John Barry.  His connection to the Bond series actually began with Dr. No.  In the waning weeks before the release of that movie, he arranged a version of the “James Bond Theme” music provided to him by Monty Norman.  Norman went on to score the rest of the movie, and, kind of appropriately, take credit for the most famous theme song ever written and produced, but John Barry would not be forgotten.

Barry would be brought back into the fold as composer for 11 films total beginning here.  Naturally, most of the compositions in the movie will be variations of the one used below in the title sequence.  It’s an upbeat version of the orchestral music used in Monro’s theme song that was written by Lionel Bart.  There would be one more piece, written by Barry, that would be used for many more Bond movies even beyond the Connery era.  That piece is called “007” and it is a secondary theme for James Bond.

Seriously, how does a guy get TWO awesome theme songs?  Considering I don’t have one, I sincerely believe that Bond somehow got one that was supposed to be given to me.  But seriously, Barry’s “007” was often used in chase scenes or scenes that were fraught with a little more tension, and ultimately appeared in four films.  If Norman’s “James Bond Theme” was to emphasize James Bond doing something cool, “007” was to heighten the adventure or action of a particular scene or sequence.  The horn stingers with the sliding strings has a movement to it that brings you to the edge of your seat.

Sadly, at least to this point, “007” hasn’t been used since 1979’s Moonraker in a chase through the Amazon.  I’ve to see it used once more in the soundtrack for a landmark Bond film.  Hey!  The 60th anniversary is just a couple years away…  It’d be cool if plans are already in place for a new Bond, a new film, and a tip of the cap of the history of awesome that led up to that point.

The Opening Title Sequence

Alright, let’s talk about the opening titles, yeah?  While Maurice Binder would go down in history as the great titles designer, and the inventor of the famous “gun barrel” thing that start each movie in the classic era, he does not get any credit for the title sequence for this film (or the next) beyond the gun barrel.  This film’s credits were designed by Robert Brownjohn.  Brownjohn would do something very smart – take a particularly enticing aspect of the film and use that as the basic design of the sequence.  One of the things that plays out in an almost featured set piece in the film is a sequence in which James Bond and Turkish spy pal Kerim go to a gypsy camp to hide out from some Bulgarian bad guys.  In this scene, not only do we get lots of gypsy culture, but we also see two gypsy babes duke it out over a man.  However, before the fight, the opening act is a sexy belly dancer performing for Bond and Kerim.

This is such an important piece of the feel for this movie, the opening credits use it in a very fun and interesting way.  Well, you know, if you are into the idea of watching ladies shake body parts while credits are projected onto said body parts…

Need I say much more?  As the films continue and times change, there is a lot more emphasis on the sexual teasing of lady bits and cleverly disguised nudity.  But for now, I think we just have to accept 007 projected onto a pair of shimmying breasts and Sean Connery’s name projected onto an undulating tummy while Daniela Bianchi’s name is put onto the shapely inner thighs of a belly dancer.

Goddamn I love these movies.

The music played here, as mentioned earlier, is not Monro’s loungy “From Russia with Love”, but instead is a John Barry arrangement that starts with a jazzy number called “James Bond Is Back” that melds into that upbeat version of the Lionel Bart song that then leads into Norman’s piece to round out the credits and place us right back into the world of 007.

I’ll always prefer the lyrical theme songs in the credit sequences, but this is a rather exciting piece.  As I just stated, it does throw you right back into that world.  It comes just after we watched a beefy Robert Shaw garrote “James Bond” in a wicked game of cat and mouse.  Of course we know right away it isn’t Bond, but still…  We’re energized for a new adventure nonetheless.

Oh, and 007 projected onto a pair of shaking and shimmying boobies.  That will always make magic happen.  Always.

Join me next week for a look at the third Bond film, Goldfinger.

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