James Bond is Back: “From Russia with Love” (1963)

James Bond AKA 007 (Sean Connery) is on the search for a Russian decoding machine- Lektor. Bond needs to find this machine before the evil S.P.E.C.T.R.E. organization discovers it. While being romantically linked w/ a young Russian K.G.B. agent, Tatiana Romanova (21 y.o. Daniela Bianchi), Bond works his way around Istanbul, while S.P.E.C.T.R.E. agents tries to kill him, incl. blonde/beefy Donald “Red” Grant (Robert Shaw) and redheaded/petite ex-K.G.B. agent Col. Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya). I learned that Klebb is one of the few female villains in the Bond franchise.

JFK listed Ian Fleming’s book as among his top 10 fave novels; this list was published in Life Magazine on March 17, 1961. Possibly as a result, the producers decided to make this the 2nd Bond movie. This was the last movie JFK ever saw (in a private screening in the White House) on November 20, 1963. This movie broke box-office records, and was responsible for launching Connery as a major star. Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman didn’t want the main enemy to be Russian; they decided on the fictitious criminal organization (S.P.E.C.T.R.E.) was seeking revenge for the death of their operative (Dr. No). The S.P.E.C.T.R.E. training school was inspired by the gladiator school from Spartacus (1960).

Bond: [in atypical self-effacement] Suppose when she meets me in the flesh I-I don’t come up to expectations?

M: Just see that you do.

Three beauty pageant queens are actresses in this movie: Bianchi (who is confident/natural onscreen), Martine Beswick, and Aliza Gur. Bianchi (Italy) and Gur (Israel) were roommates at Miss Universe 1960, in which Bianchi was 1st runner-up. Gur and Beswick (a former Miss Jamaica) play the the gypsy (Romany) women who fight over the same man. Beswick (who had a British father and Japanese/Portuguese mother) would return as Bond’s assistant (Paula) in Thunderball. M (Bernard Lee) and Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) are back, of course. This is the last appearance of Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson); she was intended to be Bond’s girlfriend, but producers decided otherwise. We meet a new version of Major Boothroyd AKA Q (Desmond Llewelyn); he’d go on to appear in several films in the series. We also meet Bond’s spy/friend in Istanbul, Ali Karim Bey (Pedro Armendariz- a veteran Mexican-American actor); he has many sons (who work for him), a big/fun personality, and can fight/shoot (when needed).

Special permission was granted to film in St Sophia’s Mosque which had never granted permission before. Over 3,500 people went to the Sirkeci Railway Station in Istanbul to see the filming, which caused delays. Director Terence Young had stuntman Peter Perkins create a distraction by hanging upside down from a balcony nearby- LOL! Several years earlier, Alfred Hitchcock had been considered to direct; the helicopter chase scene is an homage to his cropduster sequence in North by Northwest (1959). As one of the hosts on the Now Playing podcast commented: “It was like the trashy version of North by Northwest.” LOL! Product placements, brand, and promos included: Rolex, Taittinger Blanc de Blanc champagne, a billboard advertising another movie made by producers Saltzman and Broccoli (Call Me Bwana) starring Anita Ekberg and Bob Hope, and Bentley.

Bond: Red wine with fish. Well, that should have told me something.

Grant: You may know the right wines, but you’re the one on your knees. How does it feel old man?

The villains make this movie much more interesting than Dr. No; they get time to have some character development and seem like they could be a threat to Bond. The man in charge of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. (Blofeld) is shown stroking a white cat, but his face is hidden. I wasn’t that interested in the gypsy camp section (until the baddies burst in); in one case, Grant ended up saving Bond’s life. Did the Anglophiles notice this faux pas on the train? Grant (who some referred to as “a shadow Bond”) addressed Bond as “old man” when pretending to be Capt. Nash. He was also calling Bond as “sir”, so odd to use “old man” (when he’s not a friend or of same rank). The big fight between Bond and Nash inside the train compartment was tense and exciting; I think it holds up well even today! After reading the script, Shaw called it “rubbish” (trash), but his wife convinced him to reconsider. At that time, he was working in the London theater, and also had a young family to support. If you’ve never seen a Bond film, give this one a try!

[1] I loved From Russia With Love. If I had one minor problem with the film, it would be that I did find the film slow in places. But I cannot deny it is a tightly plotted and well acted James Bond thriller with superb action to boot. The film looks amazing, with wonderful cinematography and stunning locations, and the action is constantly fast paced and the stunts jaw dropping. The music score from John Barry is one of the more memorable scores in any Bond movie, with its brilliant main theme my favourite.

[2] Shaw is terrifying in his role and the fact he did it without much use of a voice that was one of the best in the English language, testifies to his ability as an actor. His confrontation with Connery on the Orient Express is one of the great fight scenes ever done on film.

[3] One thing I liked a lot was the inclusion of more comedy than in the previous adventure, which Bond’s one-liners being consistently amusing and lots of little odd touches (like Bond realising that Shaw is an impostor when he orders red wine with fish, of all things).

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

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