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?
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 revenge. So they hatch an elaborate scheme for a clerk at the Soviet Consulate to defect to Britain, overseen by the one and only 007 in exchange for a Lektor Cryptographic device. It’s clearly a trap, so it’s up to Bond to stay one step ahead of his enemies to determine the true intentions of the lovely Soviet clerk, escape the clutches of SPECTRE, and get the Lektor whoozy-whatsit back to Britain.
The plot is definitely more complicated than the glorious simplicity of Dr. No, but the movie carries it off well. We haven’t gotten overly complex yet. The execution is actually very light and entertaining–nothing is too difficult to follow and there are enough explosions to keep things moving. Plus there’s a gypsy fight and a SPECTRE agent in a skimpy towel.
Desmond Llewelyn makes his first appearance as Q, and Bond gets his first real gadget in the form of a trick briefcase. Q made a brief appearance 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. We also get a set structure for the Bond films: an opening gun-barrel sequence, a pre-title action sequence followed by the theme song and, finally, the movie. This structure will be followed by every subsequent Bond movie. The pre-title sequence here establishes what will be a common pre-title subject: trying to trick the audience into thinking 007 has been killed.
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 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 kind of dull as dishwater. The most gorgeous dishwater ever, but still. Producers used the “is she good or bad?” angle as a marketing ploy and a hook for the plot, but they weren’t actually very interested in toying with it. As such, Romanova is all promise but little execution.
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 single scene in this film basically reduces her to a nag begging James not to leave her again. 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 (even if this appearance isn’t counted on the official Bond Girl register). 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.
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. 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 portray 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 Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya), who recently defected to SPECTRE from SMERSH (a Soviet counterintelligence agency). Klebb is dowdy, angry, and downright ruthless. Lenya tears into her role with vigor, making Klebb an unhinged badass with poison-tipped knives in her shoes to prove it. But she feels like more of a henchwoman than an outright villain since her orders come from Blofeld. And her actual henchman has both more screentime and more of a sense of danger. Just as Rosa starts to get her own hands dirty she’s defeated by a chair. I wish I was kidding.
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. He certainly steals all Klebb’s thunder–and not just because he looks good nearly-naked.
Even though producers did a great job nailing the Bond-movie format in the first two movies, they curiously bungle handling the theme song here. You barely even hear it in the movie because the title sequence uses a sped-up instrumental version to better pair with the visuals of gyrating gypsies. You only hear the actual song as background music halfway through the movie. The song itself is good but it’s kind of like a light version of Sinatra–although it establishes the opening flourish that would become a staple of Bond themes. Meanwhile, the gyrating women in the opening credits are another first, and the series will not let this go for … well, ever. Nowadays the women don’t shake as much, but they’re still pretty naked. Objectifying women during opening credit sequences is part of the franchise.
Bond stealthily sneaks into a palatial garden, alternately stalking and being stalked by Red Grant. Grant gets the best of 007 and strangles him with a wire hidden in his watch. As Bond’s dead body falls to the ground spotlights illuminate the area, revealing the whole thing was a training exercise and the dead man was simply wearing a Bond mask.
FRWL is disappointingly light on truly iconic moments, but I’m going to go with the moment 007 returns to his hotel room to find Tatiana Romanova waiting to introduce herself to him in his bed. This scene has been used in auditions for numerous Bond (and Bond Girl) hopefuls because it near-perfectly captures the series’ delicate balance between seduction and danger.
Grades: Movie: 5/5; Bond Girl: 4/5; Villain: 1/5; Henchman: 5/5; Theme Song: 3/5