From Russia With Love

  • russiaYear:  1963  /  1964  (U.S.)
  • Director:  Terence Young
  • Series Rank:  #4
  • Year Rank:  #11  (1964)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Visual Effects, Sound Editing
  • Bond Girl:  Daniela Bianchi (Tatiana Romanova), Eunice Grayson (Sylvia Trench)
  • Bond Villain:  Lotte Lenya (Rosa Klebb), Robert Shaw (Grant), Vladek Sheybal (Kronsteen), ? (Ernst Stavro Blofeld)
  • Bond Support:  Bernard Lee (M), Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny), Desmond Llewelyn (Q), Pedro Armendáriz (Ali Karim Bey)

The Film:  The order of the books had already been dispensed with.  After all, because the rights to Casino Royale were tied up (it had been made into an episode of the television show Climax! in 1954) you couldn’t start at the beginning.  Dr. No, the first film, had been the sixth Bond book (there are several parts of the book that reference earlier books in the series).  So, at this point, when it was assured that there would be a second Bond film, the filmmakers had some leeway in terms of what book to adapt next.  Except, they already knew what novel to do next because of something that had happened before filming had even begun on Dr. No.  In 1961, Life Magazine had run an article detailing President Kennedy’s 10 favorite books and From Russia With Love was on the list.  The producers knew what film they had to make next.  Though it would not get a full U.S. release until 1964, it was screened for Kennedy in the White House just before his fatal trip to Texas.

This film begins some traditions, continues some on and ends one early one.  The filmmakers had originally envisioned Sylvia Trench to be a recurring character, the girlfriend that Bond keeps leaving behind, but this would be her final appearance.  That is contrasted against the first appearance of Desmond Llewelyn as Q, a role that he would continue to play through five Bonds and only finally would be replaced after he had died.  He is not yet quite comic but he will soon begin to be the primary comic link through all the Bond films.  This film continues the light banter between Bond and Moneypenny as well as a slightly more serious banter between Bond and M (there is also a humorous scene when Moneypenny is taking dictation for M and Bond is a bit too playful on that recording).  We get the initial scene of action before the credits role, this time with a man we are supposed to think is Bond, only to realize he is not, he is just a man the assassin is practicing on (an assassin played by Robert Shaw, which actually took me a while to figure out because he doesn’t speak until late in the film and because of his blonde hair).

russiashoeThis film will give us the first great Bond villain and one of the best villain gadgets: Lotte Lenya as Rosa Klebb, complete with poison-tipped shoe, battling Bond in the conclusion.  The plot is a MacGuffin, not only in terms of the film, but also in terms of the plot itself.  Bond is being enticed to make off with a Russian cryptographic device (obviously they would need one, since Turing was dead) and to get a beautiful Russian blonde in the process.  That’s just the plot enticement to get Bond moving.  What he doesn’t know is that the Russians are just pawns in this – it’s actually SPECTRE who is trying to get revenge on Bond for killing Dr. No (that this movie references a previous Bond film is an idea that won’t stick around for long).  In the books, SMERSH, the Soviet spy organization is the primary antagonist, but the films moved away from the Cold War mentality (used ironically here, as not only Bond, but also Tatiana, the Bond girl, believe that SMERSH is the villain, only finding out their mistake late in the game) and gave a more politically neutral antagonist to go against Bond.  That works quite well, partially because Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the head of SPECTRE isn’t seen in the film and the conceits (no face shown, stroking a cat) are just beginning and have a long way to go before they become clichés, and partially because Lotte Lenya is so creepy as Rosa Klebb.

maxresdefaultThis film carries over both a weakness and a strength from Dr. No: the Bond girl.  In this case the Bond girl is Daniela Bianchi, playing Tatiana Romanova, a Russian secretary supposedly in love with Bond from afar.  Really she’s working for Klebb (and for SMERSH, she thinks, but actually for SPECTRE), but of course she does fall in love with Bond and goes off with him to England (and is never heard from again).  She is quite beautiful; I have never been partial to blondes, but of all the blonde Bond girls I think she is the most beautiful by far (she had been a Miss Universe runner-up and forget Andress in the bikini, I’ll take Bianchi any day).  Unfortunately she’s really not an actress and so, like Andress, her voice is completely dubbed and in the end, I prefer a Bond girl who can be more useful and who can actually give a good performance.

But overall, this shows what the series could do.  It’s only the second film and already they’ve achieved greatness.  Over 50 years later and this film still stands up as one of the best of the Bonds and one of the best of its kind.