For the love of entertainment
After the roaring success of Bond’s first cinematic adventure, Dr. No, producers moved quickly to capitalize on audience interest to further the series they hoped to create. Thus, a year after his first silver screen appearance Sean Connery was back in theaters as James Bond in spy thriller From Russia With Love. The budget was double that of its predecessor and the box office was even better. Clearly, Bond was becoming a hot commodity. In fact, by the time FRWL opened in the US production was already underway on the third film in the Bond series, Goldfinger.
Let’s take a look, shall we?
An improvement over Dr. No. The plot moves at a faster pace and there are bigger action sequences (not to mention more of them) now that the success of the first film boosted the budget a bit. SPECTRE, the villainous organization that repeatedly vexed Bond in the early films, also moves into a more primary role here. You see, they’re pretty pissed that Bond caused the downfall of their buddy Dr. No in the last movie. And they want them some revenge. So they hatch an elaborate scheme for a clerk at the Soviet Consulate (see Bond Girl section below) to defect to Britain, overseen by the one and only 007. There’s also a plot to steal a Lektor Cryptographic device because reasons. So it’s up to Bond to determine the true intentions of the lovely Soviet clerk, escape the clutches of SPECTRE, and keep the Lektor whoozy-whatsit out of their fiendish hands. Like I said, this time around things move more quickly and the movie doesn’t look so much like it was shot for budgetary reasons in somebody’s basement. So we’re moving in a good direction, but we haven’t really pushed it as far as we can yet. Stay tuned for Goldfinger for that to happen.
Notable Firsts: Desmond Llewelyn makes his first appearance as Q, and Bond gets his first real gadget in the form of a trick briefcase. The Q character made a brief appearance of sorts in Dr. No, but was called Major Boothroyd and played by Peter Burton (who was unavailable for FRWL). Llewelyn would become a fan favorite and remain with the series into the Pierce Brosnan years, when he transitioned the role to John Cleese. In other developments, we get to see Bond trot the globe a bit this time, beginning a grand tradition of exotic locations. We also get a set structure for the Bond films: an opening gun-barrel sequence, a pre-title action sequence or teaser, followed by the theme song and finally, the movie. This structure will be followed by every subsequent Bond movie.
Bond Girl: Coming off the high that was Ursula Andress, producers again hired a woman more for her beauty than her acting talent (or even an ability to speak the English language). And so we get Daniela Bianchi, an Italian runner-up for Miss World 1960, playing the very Russian Tatiana Romanova. In a twist that surprised absolutely no one, she became the second Bond girl to be dubbed because her Italian accent didn’t really lend much credibility to her portrayal of a Russian double agent. Given that so much of the action pivots around that double agent status, it’s a little disappointing that Romanova is absolutely dull as dishwater. The most gorgeous dishwater ever, but still. She might as well be window dressing. She also has a distressing concern with becoming Bond’s wife that any woman with an ounce of self-worth will recognize as outdated–especially considering that the two barely even know each other.
Supporting Bond Girl: Eunice Gayson makes her second and final appearance as Bond’s stay-at-home girlfriend, Sylvia Trench. This is a blessing because producers clearly had no idea what to do with her and her scene in this film basically reduces her to a harpy shrieking at James not to leave her again. From a modern perspective, it’s also a touch unsettling to know that Bond “keeps” a lady at home that he’s constantly walking out on and doesn’t have any emotional attachment to, anyway. But keep your chin up, Sylvia, because this also means you’re the only woman to play the same Bond girl in more than one movie. Attagirl. Now put your clothes on, collect your dignity, blast “I am Woman” on the ride home, and find yourself a man who appreciates you.
Villain: Ernst Stavro Blofeld, head of SPECTRE and 007-hater extraordinaire, makes brief appearances as the faceless overseer of all the bad deeds going on. He’ll get in on the action himself soon enough and become Bond’s recurring baddie–until the legal dispute over Thunderball grows to include a copyright battle over Blofeld, forcing producers to abandon the character. He’s played by Anthony Dawson here but dubbed (because everyone was dubbed in the early 007 movies) by Eric Pohlmann. Dawson would also appear as Blofeld in Thunderball, which makes him the only actor to have ever portrayed the character more than once. And you never see his face in either movie. Poor guy needed a better agent. The main baddie, however is one of his Russian operatives from SMERSH (a Soviet counterintelligence agency), Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya). Klebb is dowdy, angry, and downright ruthless. Lenya tears into her role with vigour, making Klebb the first 007 adversary to make much of an impression. She’s kind of an unhinged badass, and she has the poison-tipped knives in her shoes to prove it. The only mark against her (and it’s perhaps a big one) is that she answers to someone else, making her feel like more of a henchwoman than an outright villain. I guess the world wasn’t ready for Bond to face down a true villainess … and come to think of it, he never has faced a female villain who wasn’t a henchwoman. Get on that, producers!
Henchman: Much of the dirty work chasing down Bond falls to Klebb’s personally selected henchman, Red Grant, an operative who has literally been training to hunt and destroy 007 for a long time. He’s not much for words, as evidenced by the fact that he doesn’t utter a sound until over an hour into the movie, but Robert Shaw (the guy who played Quint in Jaws!) manages to cut quite the menacing figure even so. He’s like the Terminator with blonde hair and a teeny tiny towel around his waist to keep him modest.
Theme Song: Now that Bond’s theme music was established in Dr. No, this is the first chance we get to have a full-on Bond song and we get … Sinatra-light. Hmmm. To be fair, it isn’t an awful song. It’s just that “From Russia With Love” by Matt Monro really does sound like a Sinatra reject. The snake-rattle-sounding tambourine is a nice touch, but otherwise it’s a pretty lightweight entry. I’m not sure they realized what they were doing yet, because the worst crime of this whole song affair is that you barely even hear it in the movie. It’s background music in a scene halfway through the film. Instead, there’s an instrumental version with extra spy intrigue flair that plays over the opening credits. It’s hard to hate, though, because the shaking boobie tassels are very distracting. I mean … wait, what was I saying? Yes, producers fully latch onto gyrating women in the opening credits for the first time, and they will not let this go for … well, ever. Nowadays the women don’t shake as much, but they’re still pretty naked looking. This actually seems pretty darn tame considering the strides later Bonds made in objectifying women during opening credit sequences.
Iconic Moment: FRWL is disappointingly light on truly iconic moments, but I’m going to go with the SPECTRE meeting in which a very disappointed Blofeld (#1) chastises #2 Rosa Klebb and his #3 agent, with deadly consequences. It’s our first glimpse at the cold, mercenary deadliness that defines Blofeld, and a big sign of things to come in the series.
Grades: Movie: 4/5; Bond Girl: 3/5; Villain: 4/5; Henchman: 5/5; Theme Song: 2/5