Musings on Bond at 50: From Russia With Love

Posted: 6 August 2012 in entertainment, film
Tags: , , , ,

From Russia With LoveBuoyed by the success of Dr No and with an increased budget from United Artists, Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman reassembled their production team to start work on the second James Bond film. The result was the film widely regarded as the jewel in the crown of the series: From Russia With Love.

Based upon Ian Fleming’s best book, the film is the acknowledged favourite of Sean Connery, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig, Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. Together with Goldfinger and The Spy Who Loved Me Cubby Broccoli included it in his top three and to this day the seduction scene between James Bond and Tatiana Romanova is used to screen test prospective 007s and Bond Girls.

Fleming’s original novel was a Cold War thriller that saw Bond travelling to Istanbul to escort a beautiful cipher clerk Tatiana Romanova and a Soviet decoding machine back to England, whilst being unaware that SMERSH were planning to assassinate him in such a manner as to bring discredit on him and the MI6. To avoid political overtones the film adaptation used SPECTRE as the villains of the piece. The British and the Russian secret services are manipulated and pitted against each other by the unseen Blofeld as part of his plan to obtain the decoding device and gain revenge upon Bond for the death of Dr No.

Much of the film’s action is set in Istanbul and extensive location filming was done in and around the Turkish city. Unlike the global travelogue feeling of later Bond films time is taken by the camera to impart the atmospheric nature of locations such as Basilica Cistern, Hagia Sophia, and the Sirkeci Station. Terence Young understood how to translate the “Fleming Sweep” of character, culture and location onto the big screen. Ian Fleming visited the production team in Istanbul and there are rumours that he cameoed during the footage of Bond and Tatiana escaping onto the Orient Express.

Most of the production team from Dr. No returned for the follow-up, including director Terence Young and writer Richard Maibum – though set designer Ken Adam was absent due to commitments to Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove, An important addition to the team was composer John Barry, who had realised Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme for the first film in the series. Beginning with From Russia With Love Barry originated the iconic “Bond sound” and ultimately would score 11 of the first 15 James Bond films up until 1987’s The Living Daylights. For many a James Bond film is not a proper entry in the series without Ken Adams’ extravagant sets and John Barry’s lush music.

From Russia With Love - Bond & QChanges occured in front of the camera too. Returning alongside Sean Connery from Dr. No were Bernard Maxwell and Lois Maxwell as M and Miss Moneypenny, but Peter Burton was unavailable to reprise his role as “the armourer” so Desmond Llewelyn was cast as Major Boothroyd, Head of Q Section, in his stead. Although the character of Q proper would not be born until Goldfinger it was here that he issued the first of 007‘s numerous life-saving gadgets. In comparison to the later overkill of technology that would blight the series the toys here are comparatively low-key. A briefcase containing an AR-7 survival rifle, 50 Gold Sovereigns, a tear gas cartridge and a throwing knife are pretty mild. All of them played an important role in the narrative once the film moved aboard the Orient Express.

It’s often said that a hero or heroine is only defined by the quality of their enemies and in From Russia With Love Bond faces off against two of the very best in the entire series: Rosa Klebb and Red Grant. Lotte Lenya was most famous for her Tony Award winning performance in The Threepenny Opera before Terence Young cast her against type as Rosa Klebb. Young’s choice was inspired with the mild-mannered and cultured Lenya conveying suitable repulsiveness and shudder-inducing fear as the SPECTRE harpy. For years after whenever anyone met Lenya the first thing they would do is look at her shoes in recollection of the scene where she attempted to stab Bond with a poisoned knife that had sprung forth from one of her shoes.

From Russia With Love - Train FightWith the appearance of Robert Shaw as Red Grant the standard for future “Bond Henchmen” was immediately set to a high standard. Already an established novelist and actor by the time he was cast Shaw built up his physique for the role as he needed to be a credible threat to Connery’s Bond during the extremely violent fight aboard the Orient Express. Utilising multiple cameras the bone-crunching confrontation took three weeks to film and it’s a testament to the physical abilities of Connery and Shaw that hardly any footage features stunt doubles. So equally matched are Bond and Grant in terms of intellect and physique it’s entirely possible to accept that 007 could lose.

From Russia With Love - Bond & Kerim BayTaking on the role of Kerim Bay, Head of Station T (Turkey) was Pedro Armendáriz. With a twinkle in his eyes and an effusive love of life, Bey was a perfect foil for Bond and his loss late in the film is a body blow for both 007 and the audience. In the character of Bey lies an example of why From Russia With Love is so beloved by fans: the narrative is populated with characters that one can believe have had lives before, and in some instances after, encountering 007. What is truly remarkable about Armendáriz’s performance is that he was dying during production. Armendáriz experienced increasing discomfort during filming in Istanbul and was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. The producers cancelled filming in Istanbul and moved production to Pinewood Studios so Armendáriz’s scenes, including the fight at the gypsy camp, could be shot without delay. When Armendáriz was no longer able to work scenes were completed with doubles, including director Terence Young. Armendáriz never saw the finished film as he took his own life in a Los Angeles hospital four months before its release.

From Russia With Love - Bond & Tatiana1Despite the high regard in which From Russia With Love is held there is a tendency to overlook the character of Tatiana Romanova in favour of showering accolades upon the more iconic Connery era characters of Honey Ryder from Dr. No and Pussy Galore from Goldfinger. This is unfair as Daniela Bianchi ranks as Connery’s best leading lady because she’s not just a dumb blonde falling for Bond’s charms but a real human being torn between duty and love. Bianchi was supposedly cast at the recommendation of Connery and the chemistry between the two actors makes it totally credible that Bond and Tatiana would start to fall in love. She’s one of the few Bond Girls it’d have been interesting to revisit in a future adventure.

From Russia With Love eschews gadgets and elaborate over-the-top action set pieces in favour of developing character and letting the narrative unfold gently within an intelligent well-thought out script. Whenever a Bond film attempts to reign in the excesses of a previous outing with the adoption of a “back-to-basics” approach it is the spirit of Sean Connery’s sophomore outing that is invoked. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, For Your Eyes Only, The Living Daylights and Casino Royale all follow this mandate and rank highly with fans of the literary 007 as a result.

Now we’re now two films into the series let’s start keeping a ranking chart:
1 From Russia With Love (1963)
2 Dr.No (1962)

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