Wednesday 3 June 2009

From Russia With Love (1963)

Wednesday 3 June 2009
One of few direct sequels in the Bond canon, From Russia Love is also something of a bridge between its semi-realistic predecessor Dr. No and its fantastical successor Goldfinger. Here, James Bond (Sean Connery) travels to Istanbul to exchange a Soviet decoder (a "Lektor") for Russian defector Tatiana Romanova's (Daniela Bianchi) safe passage to England. A woman who has apparently fallen in love with 007 after seeing his photograph...

In Turkey, Bond notes the spy-games stalemate between the Turks and their Russian neighbours (cabs tailing each other openly), and is shown his contact Ali Kerim Bey's (Pedro Armendariz) subterranean reservoir, where a Royal Navy periscope has been built to spy on the Russian consulate nearby. These early Bond's are noticeably thrifty when it comes to the big action sequences that would later dominate the series, and instead focus on simple espionage. Amusingly, as in Dr. No, the full Bond Theme even blares out for an innocuous scene of Bond idly searching his hotel room for bugs... and not even finding any!

For the first time in the series, sex becomes a dangerous element of Bond's life and is infused into the texture of the film: the iconic foreplay with Tatiana in a bridal suite, regarding her mouth's aesthetic ("it's just the right size... for me, that is"), a villain escaping through the red-lipped mouth of an enormous Anita Ekberg poster, and a sexually-alluring fight between two gypsy girls in a local camp (they were only missing some baby oil.) Later, Bond is surprised his bedroom antics have been recorded by the enemy to discredit him, remarking that "it must take a pretty sick collection of minds to dream up a plan like that." How fortunate Connery's Bond never had to content with the age of kiss-and-tell tabloid scoops, eh?

The plot itself is a masterplan of SPECTRE, orchestrated by chess grandmaster Kronsteen (Vladek Sheybal) for the unseen, cat-stroking "Number 1" (Anthony Dawson), who will come to be known as Blofeld. SPECTRE have sent their top assassin, Red Grant (Robert Shaw), to kill Bond after he procures the Lektor with Tatiana's help, and avenge their operative Dr. No's death in the process --allowing SPECTRE to retrieve the Lektor and ransom it back to the Russians.

Throughout it all, Sean Connery sparkles as the debonair spy, who actually spends his time spying and is less the indestructible superhero Bond would later become. The character's sexism bleeds through in brief moments, although it's usually the other male characters who are seen salivating over a beautiful woman. Bond's slightly above all that hormonal feminine worship, but he's not afraid to slap a girl across the bottom or face, for opposing reasons.

From Russia With Love introduces quite a few Bond film tropes, too: it features the franchise's first ever pre-credits action sequence (featuring the "death" of Bond that maybe inspired latter-day Mission: Impossible's obsession with rubber masks); debuts gadgetman Q (Desmond Llewellyn), who replaces Dr. No's "armourer" character; introduces recurring villain Blofeld; Bond's use of flippant puns and one-liners is more evident; features the first Bond theme song (complete with naked ladies in the opening titles); and composer John Barry takes over the music, creating leitmotifs that will inform his illustrious tenure and become indelibly associated with Bond, '60s cinema, espionage and macho cool.

directed by: Terence Young written by: Richard Maibaum & Johanna Harwood (based on the novel by Ian Fleming) starring: Sean Connery (James Bond), Daniela Bianchi (Tatiana Romanova), Lotte Lenya (Rosa Klebb), Robert Shaw (Red Grant), Vladek Sheybal (Kronsteen), Pedro Armendariz (Ali Kerim Bey), Walter Gotell (Morzeny), Bernard Lee (M), Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny), Desmond Llewellyn (Q), Eunice Gayson (Sylvia Trench), Anthony Dawson (Ernst Stavro Blofeld), Aliza Gur (Vida) & Martin Beswick (Zora) - United Artists - $2 million (budget) - 115 mins.