“There’s a saying in England: where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
One of John F. Kennedy’s favourite Ian Fleming books, From Russia With Love (which no doubt helped boost sales even higher in the United States), served as the basis for the second film from the producing team of Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. Hot on the heels of the success of Dr. No, the producers selected the fifth book in the 007 series to be their second James Bond big screen adventure.
Adapted from the source material by Johanna Harwood and Richard Maibaum the film introduced a few more staples that would become trademarks of the series: the pre-titles sequence, more exotic locations, gadgets and even more beautiful women. It also gives us our first glimpse of an unnamed character we can assume will be revealed as Blofeld, as SPECTRE returns to menace world peace again.
Sean Connery returns as James Bond in a film that feels smarter and more well-crafted than its predecessor. Though Terence Young served as director for both features From Russia With Love comes across as a stronger, and more exotic film than Dr. No.
The film featured location shooting in England, Turkey and Scotland (for the helicopter and boat chase sequence) and is probably the closest to Fleming’s source material. It also has the arguably strongest cast of the early Bond films, Connery returning as 007, Bernard Lee as M, Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny, Desmond Llewelyn as Q, Pedro Armendariz as Kerim Bey, Eunice Grayson returning for her (sadly) final appearance as Sylvia Trench, Lotte Lenya as Rosa Klebb, and the brilliant Robert Shaw as Donald ‘Red’ Grant.
Walter Gotell made his first appearance in the series, as a SPECTRE operative, though he would return to the series in the 70s as the Soviet general Gogol.
And finally, there is Daniela Bianchi as the stunning Tatiana Romanova. Or perhaps it’s just the trousseau that so bewitched me. Bianchi is perfectly cast opposite Bond as a young clerk who works with a Russian device known as the lektor. It’s an encryption device and Romanova is used as part of a ploy by SPECTRE to put the West, represented by England against the East, Russia in a cat and mouse game which could lead to war.
Romanova is recruited by Klebb who she believes is part of the Russian military but is in fact taking orders from Number One, as Blofeld is referred to in these early films (in fact, Bond and Blofeld don’t share any screen time together until the fifth film in the series). She is told to say she will turn a lektor over to the English government if Bond is the one to come and get it, as she says she has fallen in love with his picture and wishes to defect and join him abroad.
Bond, and MI6 are suspicious, but the odds of getting their hands on a lektor outweigh the dangers. And armed with an attache case filled with a collapsible rifle, gold sovereigns, a throwing knife and an exploding can of talcum, 007 is on his way.
Ken Adam is missing from the production design of the film, but the legendary Syd Cain was more than ready to lend his considerable talents to the film, giving the film a slightly more grounded and realistic look, something that would diminish as set pieces and set design would become as symbolic of the Bond universe as the characters that inhabit it. And while Adam’s theatrical and expressive design isn’t necessarily missed in this film, it would have looked completely different had he been involved. That being said, the chess tournament set (built at Pinewood Studios) is suitably ostentatious, and is probably the one set that seems truly bigger than life in the film.
John Barry returns to deliver another score, and introduces his own theme for the character of Bond, appropriately titled, 007. It would recur throughout the series only a few times. But Bond music fans would always delight when the driving motif would dominate the soundtrack.
Maurice Binder, who designed the opening titles for Dr. No is missing from the production as well. But the opening titles for From Russia With Love feel very much in keeping with what the series would become. It follows a pre-credit sequence that shows Grant eliminating a thug disguised as 007, and though lacking vocals, the last film to do this until On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the film’s musical theme is heard as the credits are photographed on dancing and gyrating female bodies.
The vocal version of the song is heard as the film closes and features vocals by Matt Monroe.
Also returning were Ted Moore as Director of Photography, and Peter Hunt as the film’s editor, while John Stears came aboard to help out with the Special Effects.
And the film does feature some standout sequences. There’s the infamous girl fight, which would feature an actor who would return in a bigger role in the fourth film, Thunderball, Martine Beswick. In fact, there is a lot of returning cast and crew from the previous film, as the company begins to work together and turn themselves into a James Bond factory.
Anthony Dawson who plated the treacherous Professor Dent in Dr. No plays the physical form of Blofeld, simply referred to as ‘?’ in the credits, while Eric Pohlman lends his voice to the character. In fact in the early Bond films there are a lot of voice dubs. Barbara Jefford turns in a vocal performance as Tatiana, matching it to Bianchi’s actions and delivery. And Nikki Van der Zyl seduces with her voice as the pipes of Sylvia Trench.
Connery has not only settled nicely into the role, he’s definitely more suave and confident in this film as Bond’s wit begins to reveal itself, and his chemistry with Bianchi is palatable. Perhaps that is why their first scene together, with Tatiana naked in bed, but for her trousseau and Bond in a towel has been used as the audition piece and screen test of a number of actors who would try for the role over the years.
When it came to marketing trailers were longer, gave away too much. But the poster work continued to be amazing, the UK quad was designed by Eddie Paul, and features gorgeous illustrations, and also created one of the iconic Bond images, arms crossed with his pistol resting against 007’s left shoulder. This image, and variations of it would be used for almost all the Bond films.
The American poster is a little less dynamic and instead used a photo montage and some banner headlines.
Opening in London on 11 October, 1963, and gaining a wider release to the States in May of 1964 (can you imagine how that would go over today?), From Russia With Love was the first 007 film to have the iconic gun barrel opening, though it is very much not Sean Connery in the gun’s sights. It is, in fact Connery’s stunt double, Bob Simmons.
It also introduced the idea of the big henchman baddie, not just an army of interchangeable villains for Bond to shoot or maim. Robert Shaw’s Grant becomes a bit of a template for what would follow. The film would have the primary villain, in this case Klebb, since Bond doesn’t interact with Blofeld in this one. Nor does he interact with the chess grand master Kronsteen (Vladek Sheybal) who concocted the plan. Klebb would be the intellectual or psychological threat to Bond, while the capital H Henchman would embody the physical threat. And Grant really pulls that off, when we are first introduced to him in SPECTRE’s terrorist training camp.
Of all of Connery’s Bond films, From Russia With Love is the most like a superior spy thriller as opposed to a big super spy picture which is what they would become (not necessarily a complaint). Yes, it goes big (at the time) at the end of the film, blowing the competition out of the water, literally. But it also has a fairly well-grounded story which doesn’t quite strain one’s credulity as later entries in the film’s series would.
And as Bond waves goodbye to some recovered film, featuring his recorded tryst with Tatiana at the end of the film, we are reminded with a final text (which also became a tradition for the series) that James Bond will return in… Goldfinger.
Thanks to DK Canada for their assistance with their books, Bond By Design: The Art of the James Bond Films, James Bond: 50 Years of Movie Posters, and the James Bond Encyclopedia.
- Release Date: 10/11/1963