From Russia With Love (Terence Young, 1963)

“The first one won’t kill you; not the second, not even the third… not till you crawl over here and you KISS MY FOOT!”

Introduction

The problem with Dr No was the lack of success it earned in the US. In fact, Dr No gained an audience slowly but surely in Europe so producers decided that From Russia with Love would capitalise on the European market it had already established. Additionally, the structure of this 007 adventure is unlike any other 007 film – rather than the crazy action films that became the genre-of-choice for James Bond, From Russia with Love was firmly rooted in the Spy-Espionage genre. Something fascinating about this film is how it is reminiscent of the train-espionage stories such as Murder on the Orient Express (1934) and The Lady Vanishes (1938) but, importantly, is missing Ken Adams as he was working on a little known film with a long title called Dr Strangelove or: How I Stopped Worrying and Love the Bomb with Mr Kubrick…

The Sequel to Dr. No

At the time, this was the only sequel to Dr. No. Nobody knew what was to become of this franchise. People say “the problem with James Bond and his women in the franchise, is how he ‘moves on’ so quickly”. You never see the break-up or any long-term relationships … well this is simply not true. In fairness to the producers, they attempted to include this element in From Russia with Love through the ongoing relationship Bond has with Miss Sylvia Trench. Who is she you ask? You simply need to skip back to the Dr No and ask who introduced us to 007 in the first place (“Trench, Sylvia Trench – and you are”/”Bond, James Bond”). There is even a mention of a scar James Bond has on his body … is this a subtle reference to the break-up between Bond and Honey Ryder – the knife-wielding shell-finding hottie. Imagine these subtle hints in 1963, whereby you know Dr No inside and out. Unlike the many Bond film, we even have to wait 17-minutes before we even see James Bond on screen again. We see a fake James Bond in the first 5-minutes, but the actual James Bond is not seen for nearly 20 minutes as the film carefully sets up the film – and indeed sets up the franchise with a bigger reveal of SPECTRE.

Even Dr No himself is referenced as we see the-man-with-the-cat (no name as yet…) introduce Col. Klebb (Lotte Lenya) to Chess-Master Kronsteen (Vladek Sheybal) to concoct a plan to steal the Lektor and set-up Russia against England. Though setting up the franchise, you know the producers had no idea how big this would be as the ‘more-than-the-previous-installment’ selling-points are included: “Bond is back, and this time there are More locations, More bad-guys and More Women.

Indeed, if they continued to double-up the amount of women in comparison to the previous film, by now, the 23rd James Bond film would be wall-to-wall women-on-women action with James Bond in the centre holding his … gun. From Russia with Love shows how the ‘bad guy’ Red Grant gets a massage by a female masseuse who wears only her underwear (why? that is surely not professional etiquette). The love interest, Tatiana, hops into bed completely naked (Bond still as the voyeur … remember Dr No when we see, unknown to Honey, Bond observing her emerge from the water…). Kerim Bey’s mistress writhing about on the bed, nearly falling out of her dress whilst a gypsy-fight midway through is clearly only there for arousal as it finishes to show the two women, not only content in putting aside their differences for James Bond, but also taking part in some love-making, together, with James Bond.

Setting Up The Future

Through setting up SPECTRE for multiple films planned for the future, unknown to the filmmakers, many other components date back to From Russia with Love. Desmond Llewelyn is on screen for the first time as gadget-master ‘Boothroyd’ – aka, Q. He would become a part of the series through to The World is not Enough. At this point, he has no problems with Bond – he explains the briefcase, the basic weapons and his scene is complete. The Q laboratory is not seen – but I believe it is clear that the island of SPECTRE, whereby we see the training SPECTRE assassins receive, predates the Q-lab and it appears that, to include it again in Goldfinger, they had to create the same type of lab for the good-guys – turning what was once SPECTRE’s “lab” and becoming Q’s lab.

But the hugely exotic locations are even more classical and inviting to see – the tunnels underneath Istanbul and the San Sofia Mosque are a few locations which, aesthetically, show a real beauty that the blue-sea and beaches of Dr. No couldn’t hold a candle to. But, this was inevitably something that now had to be ‘topped’ in future films – ensuring that the next Bond film would be almost action-film postcards of exotic locations.

Inevitable Sex, Swinging and the Sixties

But this is still 1963 and no James Bond is good without a good dose of sexism – and we do indeed get this through the banter between Kerim Bey and James Bond. Constantly James Bond laughs about Kerim Bey’s multiple children – and wives, whilst Kerim Bey mocks James Bond’s job – stating that, regarding the questioning of Tatiana, Kerim states “is that all you want?” and the two laugh. After all – women are only there for sex.

But the sixties was also a time for swinging – it didn’t matter who you are or where you are from, men and men, women and women – it was all ok. So we see a hint of lesbianism in Col. Klebb – a very butch woman in a dominant, masculine military role for the time. She touches Tatiana to hint at how attractive she finds her – and it is abundantly clear that her feelings are more than platonic.

But hey, that’s the sixties. Cinematically, the sixties also proved to be the high-point for Alfred Hitchcock as he always gained success at the box-office. Hitchcock noted how he enjoyed the traditional train journey and this is exemplified in films such as Strangers on a Train, The Lady Vanishes and North by Northwest. Hitchcock and James Bond are often intertwined through history and From Russia with Love is the most overtly influenced Hitchcock-James Bond. Not only do we have the train journey but, as soon as he sets foot on the train, the whole narrative becomes ‘Hitchcockian’. In the style of the best ‘who-done-its’, Kerim Bey is murdered and Bond has to find out who has committed the crime. Additionally he begins to realise that he is completely unaware of the true threat – originally assuming it is Russia. He retreats to his cabin and questions Tatiana – the elegant, blonde haired and blue-eyed love interest – a woman who is as beautiful as Grace Kelly and Kim Novak. Getting off the train, it becomes even more obvious as a helicopter swoops down to hit Bond – completely referencing North by Northwest. It would not be until Marnie in 1964, that Connery himself would work with Hitchcock.

But Why, oh Why …

Some funny problems with the film. As much as I love it – it is not set in Russa. At All. We see Istanbul, Belgrade, Zagreb and Venice. But no Russia. I assume we are talking about Tatiana, who is Russia herself. Or the Lektor, as it is sent from Russia, with love… but, ultimately, we never see Russia and though a great title, I think most people go into the film in the hope of seeing Russia at the centre.

In the finale, Klebb tries to kick him with a poisoned-spike in her shoe (we will see this shoe again in Die Another Day). It is a clever plan and, when used previously, Kronsteen is killed because he doesn’t see it coming. Klebb, the fool, reveals the spike early into her fight highlighting what Bond needs to steer clear of. Even if it wasn’t poisoned, it would bloody hurt.

Finally, at the very end, as Bond and Tatiana sail on a gondola through Venice, he holds the film-reel that shows the two having sex and Tatiana asks “what is it?” and he replies: “I’ll show you and then he kisses her and they move out of screen. Are they going to have sex? In a gondola?? An open-top gondola for everyone in Venice to see??? That is nuts. He clearly won’t show her, and is putting her into an uncomfortable position before she wil re-emerge and say “can we go back to the hotel as this is very public”.

Still The Best

Despite these concerns, it is my favourite James Bond film. It is not cheap and it shows a style of James Bond that the current producers should try hark back to. The fight at the end alone shows how incredible James Bond is: the deep blues and shadows, a fight that is rough and aggressive, fist on fist, grabbing, and dangerously holding each close to sharp shards of glass from broken windows.

It is a brilliant film and, as a starting point, this shows a the type of James Bond, on-screen, that should have continued. Fact of the matter is that Goldfinger made more money so, Mr. Accountant, you do the Math.

I have recently read Licence to Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Franchise by James Chapman and at the same time, I am re-listening to The Hollywood Saloon podcasts, titled Bond Never Dies. I would highly recommend these books and podcasts as many ideas and parts of my research would be credited to both these sources.
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2 comments

  1. Well, that's Kerim's mistress, not his wife. And Tatiana Romanova (accent on the second syllable) is from Russia, hence the title. Grant is making a comment on upper crust “Old Boys School” British chaps…he has no respect for Bond or his service, thus the “put upon” accent..plus, he'd sound like less of a threat. Spot on with your link to Hitchcock, but remember, the Bond's like Hitchcock's thrillers are antidotes to traditional spy-intrigue films, with tongue firmly in cheek, and turning cliches on their head…at least that's what the Bond films used to do, when they lead, rather than followed the trends.

  2. Wow! That has correct my few concerns right there – I shall adjust the post ASAP.

    Briefly, the fact that it is kerim's mistress (and I could get it confused with a possible wife) shows how objectified women are in thefirst instance.

    And you are completely right – in these early Bond films it is quite clear that 007 was setting a trend – not following one like they begin to do from DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER and beyond…

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