007: In Too Deep #2: From Russia With Love (1963)
♣ Spoilers. All the spoilers.
♦ While I try to keep things tame on my normal posts, I will get very profane here.
♥ All screen captures fall under the rubric of Title 17, Section 107 of the United States Code as regards Fair Use of copyrighted materials for critique and parody.
Hot on the heels of Dr. No comes another adaptation of Ian Fleming’s book series: From Russia With Love! Like the first movie, this one was chosen out of sequence from the novels. Dr. No had been adapted in 1962 because it was topical to delays and setbacks in the American space program. FRWL was chosen next after John F. Kennedy mentioned in an interview that the book was one of his favorite stories. It was apparently the last movie he ever watched, before his fateful visit to Dallas.
This is often considered the movie that refined the style first established with Dr. No. The action is bigger and more spectacular. It introduces more of the classic tropes and hits more of those old-school 007 notes. It was also a much harder recap to write…because there’s a LOT of stuff going on here.
Right off the bat, that graphical gun barrel opening is definitely tighter and more refined, even though it uses pretty much the same footage as before. It’s a lot more musically oriented, closely timed to the cues of the Bond theme. The theme is a new rendition that’s richer and a bit jauntier, with more restrain on the brass and more percussion, played in a slight swing feel. Dr No‘s opening may have been the originator, but FRWL‘s is definitely what people think of when they think of the archetypal 007 opening. It will also start the trend of Bond movies using a different recording of the theme for each gunbarrel opening. Though they will recycle visual footage in the future, each song is just a little different.
And then we’re in the movie already? That was fast.
James Bond is hurrying through a well-manicured garden at night. He’s looking rather pale and sallow, and very panicked. He’s being followed slowly but determinedly by a big blond guy. It’s a duel to the death! They both sneak around the hedges, but James is making some sloppy mistakes, losing his composure and making too much noise. The blond guy readies some sort of garrote watch, gets the jump on Jim…and kills him? OK, that’s a wrap people, movie over!
A wall of floodlights snaps on to reveal the garden is part of an old mansion staffed by men in black speaking Spanish. The duel was some sort of sinister deadly training exercise, and the victim was only wearing a mask. Ah, so that’s why Bond looked a little “froggy” before.
Cut to the credits! These feature a new theme song, a lush and super-’60s instrumental version of English crooner Matt Monro’s “From Russia With Love”. The sequence also introduces another staple to the Bond credits: LAYDEEZ! They dance and pose in close-up as the credits are projected onto them. It’s groovy, swingin’, and stylish…but it does render some of the titles pretty much illegible.
But there we have it. THE basic Bond intro. Gun barrel set to the Bond theme, cold open, credits with gals and a new theme song. From now on, every 007 movie will use this formula, at least up until Daniel Craig’s entries.
Venice! The final match of a chess championship is playing out in tense silence, in a gorgeous palatial chamber. Canadian Macadams versus Czechoslovakian (still a country back then) Kronsteen, who’s more than a little creepy.
An attendant gives him a new glass of water, and on the bottom is a simple summons signed with an ominous death’s-head seal. Oooh!
Kronsteen takes the time to finish the match anyway before briskly heading out.
He arrives at a huge yacht staffed with tall guys in black with submachine guns. And inside is…holy crap, Blofeld! We never see his face, or even much of his body at all. Only his fluffy white cat in his hands, adorned with a black cameo-style ring with the same seal as before. With him is a short, intense-looking older woman played by pre-war German film veteran Lotte Lenya. She is Rosa Klebb, a senior Soviet intelligence commander who is secretly the third in command of SPECTRE. Blofeld is showing her his fighting fish, while using them as a metaphor to expound on his philosophy of playing the world powers against each other to exhaust them.
In comes Kronsteen, Number Five in the organization. He has devised an operation to trick the British into stealing them an important Soviet encrypter, using an unsuspecting Russian officer. They can also use the incident to raise tensions between the Eastern and Western blocs, and kill James Bond in scandalous fashion as revenge for the death of Dr. No. The British may very well know the operation is a trap, but Kronsteen predicts they will dive in anyway, responding to the scheme as a challenge.
On an aside, was Julius No the former Number Two? He certainly seemed pretty damn powerful, and as we shall see, SPECTRE doesn’t always lose sleep over the loss of just any top member.
It’s a great intro for a fantastic cast of villains. Kronsteen is creepy and conceited. Klebb is gruff, stern, full of nervous energy, and clearly resentful of having to manage Kronsteen’s plan. And we have the teaser introduction of the secretive Number One, whose presence will continue to haunt the 1960s Bond movies. It’s cool how FRWL keeps continuity with Dr. No, giving us a tantalizing deeper look into SPECTRE while keeping them mysterious and bigger than just one or two movies.
The use of SPECTRE also puts a different spin on the world of 007. The original adversaries of the Ian Fleming books were SMERSH, a sort of Soviet super-KGB invested in all sorts of criminal and terrorist schemes. James Bond was the quintessential Cold Warrior, fighting against the machinations of global communism. Changing the foes to a secretive organization with no care for nations or ideologies gives the Bond films more of a “big picture” feel, especially in retrospect. The Cold War isn’t a battle of good and evil or clash of civilizations, but a dangerous and potentially self-destructive tangle of alliances ready to be exploited, something like the run-up to World War I.
Cut to the blond assassin relaxing in the sun with a woman. Hey, even a killer needs his time off. Klebb arrives by helicopter in front of the mansion we saw in the cold open. She’s greeted by the training instructor, Morzeny.
He welcomes her to…SPECTRE Island! God, that’s an awesome name for a secret base. The assassin’s name is Donald Grant, an escaped murderer who’s the best on SPECTRE’s list. Klebb is brisk and imperious, and has no time for delays or pleasantries. They march past a crazy firing range featuring live targets dodging bullets and flames. It’s the ultimate in supervillain training!
Finding Grant lounging, they call him to attention. Klebb intently inspects the statuesque agent, and then just socks him in the gut with a set of brass knuckles, to which Grant barely moves. She’s got her man for the job.
To Istanbul! Some young ladies get out from their jobs at the Russian consulate. The blonde woman leaves her friends behind, and makes her way to a shaded and very quiet neighborhood. Grant shadows her as she enters an old building to meet Rosa Klebb. The young woman’s name is Tatiana Romanova. She is to be Klebb’s patsy, a loyal Soviet cryptographer who has no idea Klebb is working for criminals. It will be her job to seduce James Bond as part of the master plan, as well as help him get the Lektor decoder SPECTRE wants.
Klebb is a stern and domineering taskmaster, complete with swagger stick. She’s almost perving on Romanova, though, as she inspects and briefs her. She makes Tanya take off her coat so she can inspect her figure, gets in close, and even lays hands on her.
Cut to an English couple boating down a pond while listening to…”From Russia With Love” the song? It’s a fourth wall gag in a James Bond movie! They’re actually a little more common than you might think; I’ll try to keep track of them.
On the banks of the pond, 007 is relaxing with none other than Sylvia Trench, the gambling lady who once broke into James Bond’s apartment! FRWL is just full of great callbacks to Dr. No, isn’t it? It is also interesting to see Bond stick around with one woman for multiple films.
He gets a beeper (high-tech gadgetry for the 1960s!) from MI6, and car-phones Moneypenny. He has to report to M, but Sylvia keeps messing around during the conversation and even gives Moneypenny a defiant remark over the lines. Funny thing is, Moneypenny doesn’t seem the least bit bothered, and even tacitly encourages Bond to take a little extra time with Sylvia.
Entering the Universal Exports office in high spirits, James starts to make a quip only to stop in mid-sentence, deflated, when he realizes M is in the room too, glowering at him. I love the chemistry between the MI6 members in these early movies. And waiting to the side is Q! Now the Home Office Triad is complete: Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn.
M isn’t actually that upset at Bond for his insouciant tardiness, as much as he is occupied with the seeming absurdity of the mission at hand. Romanova, that Russian cryptographer in Istanbul, has contacted Turkish intelligence in order to defect with a new Soviet encoder. But she’s obsessed with James Bond, and refuses to travel to London with any agent besides him. M and Bond know it stinks of a trap, but just like Kronsteen’s prediction, they decide to wade in anyway in the hopes they can get something out of it. Bond is definitely taken with Romanova’s photo…and he even seems to show a little performance anxiety!
In comes Q, to demonstrate the Bond series’ first Q gadget of all time- an intricate briefcase full of hidden goods. It’s got gold coins for transactions and bribery, a disassembled AR-7 sniper rifle, throwing knife, and a tear gas boobytrap triggered by opening the case the wrong way.
On the way out, Bond and Moneypenny flirt around a bit, but M interrupts them with a perfectly timed beep. He has to leave Tatiana’s photo behind, so he signs it for her.
Once more unto the breach via Pan Am!
At the airport, Bond exchanges codewords with a valet who is to be his contact with Turkish spy chief Kerim Bey. A Groucho Marx looking fella shadily follows them out.
Red Grant is waiting at the airport turnaround too, but he just hangs back while Marx gets in his own car to chase them. Bond notices their tail right away, but the Turkish agent is unconcerned. There are “gentlemen’s rules” to the spy game in Turkey, and the two blocs stay pretty non-belligerent in their activities. Theirs is just the Soviet chase car for the day.
They head into a carpet store in the Grand Bazaar. It’s actually a front for the avuncular spy patriarch Kerim Bey. He runs his outfit as a family business. Wait, are his men literally all his sons, or is it more in the Mafia sense? If he’s being literal, the man must sure get busy!
Anyway, he too thinks this mission is a uselessly risky trap, and urges 007 to relax and then just go home.
But outside, Grant has jacked the Soviet spy car and kidnapped the driver, leaving Groucho behind and very confused.
And then it’s hotel time. Interesting isn’t it, there’s a real sense of romance surrounding hotels in these early Bond films. Not that travel lodging can’t be classy and luxurious in the 21st century…but you get a real feel of distinction and even personality from these depictions of foreign hospitality in the ’60s, that doesn’t seem to resound in the modern commercial image of high-end hotel chains and resorts.
This Istanbul hotel’s maybe a little too epic though. The real bombastic Dr. No version of the Bond Theme is blasting loudly as he deliberately walks around and inspects his suite for bugs. Rather undercuts that slow, tense espionage feel, doesn’t it? It’s a scene that the first movie nailed a lot better.
The room is tapped after all, but the reception only have the bridal suite ready as an alternative for him. The staff glance at each other like they’re in on something…
Grant drops off the stolen car in front of the Soviet consulate for the security to find, with the driver dead inside. Klebb is there to give him a ride. The plan is underway to frame Bond and stoke East-West tensions.
The next morning, Kerim Bey’s mistress wants some lovin’, but he is preoccupied and very cranky. She manages to coax him away from his desk just in time for…
Bond visits later to inspect the scene. The bomb was Soviet retaliation for the dead driver, but the two of them don’t know that. Seeking answers, they head underground into the old Byzantine sewers.
Under the Russian consulate, Kerim has…a full-scale submarine periscope just looking into the secret parts of the building?! He says his people snuck it in as part of a renovation, but has no one in the building ever noticed any strange openings or unaccounted-for spaces in between rooms? Cleaning lady never found a funny-looking lens on the floor?
Inside the consulate’s secret conference chamber, the military intelligence higher-ups are in a furor. Three of them are the usual suspects, but the odd man out is Krilencu, an assassin who hasn’t been in Turkey for a while. He’s known for his viciousness, and was kept out of Istanbul in the past in order to keep tensions low. Kerim Bey suspects him of the bomb job. In comes Tatiana as well, likely to deliver a coded message. Bond can’t see her face, but he’s eager to meet her in the flesh.
Kerim Bey feels Bond’s hotel room is too dangerous for the night, so he drives him out of town to a Gypsy camp where he feels there’s more protection. He uses them to do his dirty work the way the Soviets employ Bulgarian spies in Turkey, and now the two groups hate each other. Good job, asshole.
Though really, it is an extremely appropriate metaphor for the Cold War at large- the world powers creating discord by fueling proxy conflicts between local countries. Considering the geopolitical bent of FRWL, I wonder if that was intentional or not.
Unfortunately, Krilencu’s gang has not been fooled, and is already waiting to strike as Bond and Kerim Bey arrive.
I don’t know what Romani in Turkey were like in the 1960s, but the Gypsies in FRWL are real fanciful and medieval, with tons of rich fabrics, music and dancing, swarthy men, and bewitching ladies.
Maybe too much with the ladies.
There’s a rather extended belly dancing scene, and then two young women engage in a vicious catfight to the death to determine who will get the chief’s son’s hand in marriage. I really mean a catfight, with claws and hissing even! The whole thing is a bit gratuitous, distracting, and rather interrupts the escalating spy tension, especially as the Bulgarian assassins are sneaking in at the same time. Grant is there too, stalking in the background with a distinctive broomhandle Mauser (think Han Solo’s gun) that really suits him.
One of the ladies is straight-up about to glass the other in the face when they are mercifully interrupted by the plot, in the form of the Bulgarians busting down the gate. And speaking of sci-fi references, I swear that gate just made the original Star Trek door sound!
Total chaos erupts. Fistfights, knives, bullets and fire! It’s the birth of another staple of 1960s Bond- the ensemble battle!
Kerim Bey is shot in the arm, but manages to keep up the fight. James is running around helping out, though some of his actions look like they’re threatening friend and foe alike. Like here, he just cut this burning carriage loose and it’s about to run into this fight.
The whole time, Grant is simply hiding and watching. When Bond is about to be killed from behind, Grant takes aim…and saves his life! 007 has his own personal guardian devil now! After all, SPECTRE still needs him alive to fulfill their plot. Feeling the tide turning, Krilencu calls a retreat.
For saving the chieftain’s life, Bond is honorarily adopted by the chief. As his son, he uses his newfound power to call off the ladies’ duel to the death. The chief allows him to decide who will marry the chief’s son. And he…sleeps with both of them?
Oh Jim, you devil.
And they seem to have given up their feud completely, judging by how content they seem to be sitting next to each other.
Wait, what happened to the chief’s son? The guy we haven’t seen, over whom the women were fighting? Is he OK with this little usurpation?
Or did he die in the fighting? If that’s the case, isn’t it a little too soon for this kind of stuff?
Whatever. James Bond hath charms to soothe the savage beast.
Later at night, Bond and Kerim Bey set out to personally assassinate Krilencu. Wow, the intelligence community has really gone to hell since 007 showed up. So far I’d say SPECTRE is winning. Krilencu’s hideout is an otherwise unassuming building with a giant movie poster- for a comedy Eon Productions was producing at the time, no less! Does that count as another fourth wall gag? The two stand right out on the street with Bond’s collapsible rifle, when some cops round the corner.
Fortunately they’re actually Kerim Bey’s spies, there to startle Krilencu out of the building by coming a-knocking. Kerim Bey wants to get revenge himself despite his wounded arm, and Bond offers his shoulder as a rest (take that, Fury Road!). Krilencu escapes out of Anita Ekberg’s mouth, in one of the strangest scenes from a Bond movie.
The 007 franchise does have its occasional moments of true bizarreness. Look forward to more “no comment” scenes like this in the future.
Anyway, Kerim Bey makes the shot, and Bond makes his first truly flippant quip of many more to come (he was a little more low-key in Dr. No).
007 returns triumphantly to the hotel, but he hears someone else in his suite. It’s Tatiana at last, butt-naked and in total seduction mode. She introduces herself by saying her friends call her Tanya. James Bond says his friends call him James Bond. Haha. Yeah, that is kinda badass. Tanya is self-conscious about the size of her mouth, but he reassures her it’s just the right size…for him.
No really, how did they get away with a line like that in 1963?
But James isn’t just a horndog, he’s got a job to do and starts asking about the Lektor right away. Because it’s not clear how much Tatiana knows about the ultimate plan, it’s unclear just how deliberately she’s stringing him along by insisting on business strictly after pleasure. They get in bed and…OH SHIT! SPECTRE are making a secret sextape behind a false mirror! Rosa Klebb is personally there to watch and have a smoke.
The next day, Bond and Romanova arrive separately at Hagia Sophia so she can surreptitiously drop off a floor plan of the consulate in her cosmetic mirror. Agent Groucho Marx has shadowed her there, though. Oh no, now the Soviets suspect her too? Now everyone’s in hot water. Marx intercepts her drop, but Grant silently kills him and leaves it behind for Bond.
Bond then meets with Kerim Bey, but he’s produced his own architectural drawings for the consulate anyway! What, what was the point of that earlier handoff then? Was it just a test of her trustworthiness? Was it just because 007 didn’t know if Kerim Bey’s people could produce blueprints in time? It was a good tense scene, but now it seems kinda superfluous…
Anyway, Kerim’s leery of the whole plan as always, but Bond sticks to the mission single-mindedly…well, not entirely single-mindedly. He does have a fancy for Tanya, after all.
James meets her on a midday cruise down the Bosphorus. He’s brought a nifty gadget, a wireless transmitting tape recorder hidden in an old-timey camera, and he’s ready to talk business. She’s nervous and reticent after discovering the Soviets shadowed her, but he coaxes her into describing the technical details of the Lektor. She keeps diverting into romantic talk while MI6 and other intelligence officers awkwardly listen in London. Moneypenny seems especially amused.
But the home office conclusion is that the encoder is legit, so 007 gets the all-clear to work on pilfering the device, and sets a date with Kerim Bey.
Bond shows up at the Soviet consulate, in the guise of an ordinary man seeking a visa arrangement. Considering the spies that have been tailing him, how the gate guards don’t recognize him is beyond me. Though maybe regular staff just didn’t get told any of the intelligence details, and so wouldn’t know who he was. It would also explain why we see Tatiana working in the cryptography room later as if she’s not in trouble.
Kerim Bey has set up explosives under the building. Holy shit, that’s a risky maneuver! Isn’t that tantamount to an act of war?
In the ensuing panic, 007 strolls right through into the basement and high-security areas. He’s even brought a gas mask for the tear gas security measure in the hallways. Working her shift in the inmost cryptography room, Tatiana is surprised to see Bond. Apparently he showed up a day ahead of schedule. Huh, why? Maybe that was because he didn’t quite trust her yet, and wanted to make sure nothing got leaked.
Kerim Bey is waiting to usher them out through the smoking new hole in the wall, but their planned route is interrupted by…
So they are forced to exit onto the streets.
They need to skip town now, and fast. The three of them jump on an Orient Express train just as it’s working up steam. Benz, one of the consulate’s chief spies, spots them and leaps aboard as well. And Donald Grant is already on board, coolly watching as is his wont.
Kerim Bey has everything covered for the escape, with rooms, fake passports, and a cover story as a married couple. They’re to jump train at an unscheduled stop where Kerim’s agents will drive them out.
The train trundles out of Istanbul. Now that the risky business of stealing the encrypter is over, Tatiana and James seem to be really falling for each other. He’s even bought her some new clothing. When he found the time in between all that spy skulduggery, I’m not sure.
In the corridor, Kerim Bey spots Benz trying to listen in. He decides to detain the Soviet agent in his room so he can’t try any funny business while they prepare for their escape. For such an easygoing, older guy, Kerim still knows how to do the rough work. But while he regales the bound and gagged Benz with tales of his life exploits, and Bond and Romanova kill some time together before the dropoff, Grant shadows behind.
It’s now time to jump train, but there’s been a startling development. Both Kerim Bey and Benz are dead, from what looks like a knife fight! The escape plan is off, and the Turkish getaway drivers watch in confusion by the jump point as the train keeps rolling through.
Bond is devastated and furious at the loss of his friend, and suspecting Tanya, he takes it out on her, outright smacking her down.
But come on Jim! Even disregarding the cruel anger…you’re smarter than this!
Do you really believe the two spy chiefs killed each other? Do you really think Romanova was in on it as some sort of Soviet plot? You know SPECTRE is out there! You know there’s something fishy about the whole mission! And you KNOW an unknown third party killed the Groucho Marx agent in Hagia Sophia!
To play devil’s advocate, she continues to hide facts from him even now, saying she’ll only tell what she knows once they reach London. There’s little reason to suspect her of foul play, but she sure isn’t doing herself any favors by refusing to level with him now that their friends are dying.
We travel via a map montage (very unique for a 007 movie) to Belgrade, where one of Kerim Bey’s sons is waiting. Bond has to break the news to him, and requests help from MI6 getting out of Yugoslavia. Grant is stalking in the background as always.
The Orient Express thunders inexorably into Zagreb, and this time it’s Grant who steps out and Bond who waits in the passenger car. Grant, with his own keen spy skills, knows exactly who Bond’s MI6 contact is supposed to be. He has picked up the code words from watching Bond, greets the agent, takes him out offscreen in a restroom and takes his place. He’s not just a powerhouse goon or a sharp shot, this guy is frighteningly brilliant!
When he greets 007, Bond doesn’t suspect a thing yet, and they both hop on the train. He’s already concocted his cover story, complete with a fabulous old-timey English accent and jolly old-boy demeanor as “Captain Nash”, an identity likely stolen from the real agent. Bond and him confer about how to cross the Iron Curtain with the Lektor. They may just have to leap out en route. Nash wants to unwind and asks the two of them to supper. He escorts a still visibly shaken Tanya to the restaurant car, while 007 takes his time rearranging the weaponry in his Q case. Perhaps he does suspect something after all.
At dinner, Bond orders fish, and the other two follow suit. White wine all around, except for Grant who goes with red. This is actually something important to note.
He “carelessly” knocks over Tanya’s wine, and slips something into the glass when he refills it.
On the way back from dinner, she gets drowsy and passes out. Bond pulls his gun on Grant, having noticed his wine trickery earlier. But Grant still keeps in character, and gets him to calm back down by explaining MI6 wasn’t prepared to extract two people along with himself and the Lektor. He begins explaining the escape plan, then wallops Bond once he’s let down his guard, searches him, and holds him up.
007 knew something was fishy when Captain Nash ordered red Chianti with grilled seafood. A true MI6 agent always knows the right wine pairings! Grant seems almost relieved to be able to drop the deception and show his true side to Bond. He explains his involvement with SPECTRE and his role in Istanbul, as well as the fact that Tatiana Romanova is a patsy who knows nothing of the real plan. It’s his plan to kill her and Bond and make it look like a murder-suicide with a lurid, tabloid edge, complete with the hotel sextape and a crazed letter. The Lektor they want not to actually decode Soviet secrets, but to ransom back to Moscow.
It’s the old cliche that villains always explain their plans in the third act, but Donald Grant sells it well. Not just a stooge with a dirty job, he truly holds Bond in contempt and wants to see him suffer. He relishes explaining his exploits because he wants Bond to see just how brilliant he is, and what a fool Bond got played for. He’s also extremely volatile and insecure. 007 could keep jabbing at Julius No while he ignored him in stony silence, but it only takes one remark about Grant being insane for him to get angry. He won’t let anyone call him into question.
Bond’s opportunity comes when he requests a last smoke, and offers to pay Grant with the gold coins he’s carrying in his Q case. Knowing Grant, he probably won’t honor the request, he just wants that gold. Of course, he doesn’t know about the case’s security feature, and its tear gas canister explodes in his face. It’s no knockout punch, but it gives 007 enough time to leap to his feet. What follows is one of the franchise’s most acclaimed fight sequences. Grant and Bond throw each other around the small sleeping room, with only the rhythmic clattering of the train for accompaniment. The light gets broken and the two struggle in twilighty blue darkness. Grant finally gets leverage on 007 and chokes him with his watch, but Bond is able to scramble for his case knife, break his grip, and kill him with his own weapon.
No time for rest.
The Orient Express is nearing Grant’s intended escape point. A flower truck is “inconveniently” stuck on the tracks in order to force the train to stop. Tanya is in no condition to make a run for it, but James carries her out, then hides her in the bushes. Using the train to ride a few meters ahead, he gets the drop on the truck driver, who is waiting for Grant. He lays Tanya on a flatbed of flowers, then takes off with the bound driver as passenger. After all, he’ll need him to figure out where to go.
In the daytime they’re buzzed by a light helicopter. SPECTRE’s got a pretty big contingency plan. Of course 007 refuses to pull over, and seeing Romanova in the back only confirms Grant isn’t in charge anymore. They respond by dropping grenades. Sheesh, they have to be careful if they want to get that Lektor intact! Bond draws them off on foot to play a dangerous game of helicopter jousting a la North by Northwest. But James has got his rifle. Not powerful enough to take down a chopper. But when the crew slows down to drop another grenade he nails the bombardier, causing him to lose his explosive fruit in the cabin and down the craft.
Tanya, now properly awakened, goes to embrace Bond but is interrupted by the violent delayed detonation of the wreckage. I’m not sure if that was timed or coincidence, but it’s a great action moment.
Venturing onwards, they come to the waterfront and SPECTRE’s original getaway plan, a heavily supplied speedboat. 007, a killer but not a total bastard, unties the truck driver and kicks him overboard to swim for shore.
Cut to Blofeld’s yacht. The boss is not amused. Kronsteen (oh yeah, I remember him!) is unflappably confident, but Klebb is shitting bricks, and they both blame each other. Blofeld calls in the chief we saw at Spectre Island, who reveals a poisoned knife tip in his boot. After making a show of blaming Klebb for the setbacks, he has Kronsteen killed. An egotist to the end, Number Five seems less afraid than simply shocked that Number One would be upset at him.
And by the way, did you notice that strange occult picture on Blofeld’s wall?
What’s the story behind that? SPECTRE’s origin and true nature is kept pretty nebulous throughout the movies, but I’m pretty certain there’s no other reference to the organization having a full-on cult angle in any of the later movies.
Bond and Romanova are speeding along on their way to Italy, but a group of boats heads them off. It’s a SPECTRE force lead by the training chief, and they begin firing to try and get our heroes to surrender. But they’re aiming a little too close, and puncture the boat’s ample supply of fuel barrels. This gives 007 an idea. He throws them overboard, then slows down to give the impression of giving up the ship. The SPECTRE armada is now stopped in the slick, preparing to board. Then he fires a flare gun into the fuel.
Total chaos ensues as all hands abandon ship. A lot of extras on fire.
Afterwards, Bond and Tatiana enjoy a much more relaxed moment at a hotel in Venice. Oddly enough, that’s where this whole plot started. They’re preparing to leave when the cleaning lady comes in. It’s Rosa Klebb, but 007 doesn’t notice at first, preoccupied with packing up and calls to London. It’s only when she holds him up that he recognizes her. Tatiana, falling back on her training in confusion, helps her take the Lektor out, but then jumps her rather than betray Bond. Klebb loses the pistol, allowing 007 to charge her, but she has her special poison knife shoe.
In the original novel, Bond’s gun fails, Klebb gets him with her poison, and he is narrowly saved by French agent Rene Mathis, who won’t get to appear in the film series until the next millennium rolls around. Dr. No takes place afterwards, and it is this incident M and Boothroyd are referring to when they mention 007’s old Beretta failed and he ended up in the hospital.
In the movie, Bond and Klebb struggle a little awkwardly before Romanova decides to shoot her former taskmaster in order to save him.
Now our heroes can safely escape to England!
In due time, that is. For now, they’re enjoying a boat trip through Venice. Some tourists with film cameras remind Bond he still has that sextape he took from Grant. Curiosity overcomes him, and he looks at a few frames before tossing it overboard and bidding farewell to the film.
The end credits are where we finally get to hear the full version of Matt Monro’s “From Russia With Love”. I’m not really into this style of music, but it is a really nice song. Lush and romantic, sentimental but very well-written and even rather poetic and personal.
Well, the biggest problem I have with FRWL is Tatiana Romanova. Not her as a character, her screen time, or her performance, mind you. Her character arc. It’s incomplete. Her job is to seduce James Bond for what she thinks is a Soviet operation. By the end, she’s genuinely fallen for him and defects with him. Yet she’s pretty much the same throughout, clinging to him without any noticeable shift in her actions. What she really needed was a “reveal scene” where she discovers she’s been an unwitting patsy for SPECTRE, and decides to abandon her mission in order to escape with the spy she was supposed to set up. Without it, there’s practically no contrast between her early duplicity and later sincerity, and her arc comes across as half-baked.
Apart from that, FRWL is so busy it does sometimes feel like the filmmakers just crammed too much into the movie. With so many scenes, even some of the good stuff can seem tacked on and superfluous. Kronsteen, for instance, is cool and creepy, and helps set up a great introduction to the plot, but really doesn’t play any role in the rest of the story. The back-to-back vehicle fights near the end are sweet, and yet seem a little excessive and long, and make the final showdown with Klebb feel anticlimactic.
On the other hand, there’s just so much going on in this movie. If Dr. No was intimate, FRWL is labyrinthine. It’s a very complicated story, full of layers of deception, double and triple crosses, mystery, and well-employed dramatic irony. And yet it’s relayed to the audience crisply and clearly.
A lot of this has to be attributed to the editing of Peter Hunt, who arranged all these exceptionally disparate and diverse scenes so they would flow together into a coherent and paced narrative. It was his idea to take the scene of Grant killing the false James Bond from early in the movie, where it might have slowed down or distracted the plot from moving on to Istanbul, and make it a punchy cold open, a distinctive trope that has endured to this day in the movie series.
With all those balls to juggle in the air, it’s not surprising that a few inconsistencies made it through or were unavoidable, like Krilencu’s strange resurrection or the mysterious “third man” at the helicopter fight. After all, movie scenes do not get filmed in order, and it’s the editor’s job to just help make sense of it all. And From Russia With Love is a triumph of editing. Peter Hunt would continue to edit the 1960s Bond movies before getting to direct On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, a movie whose cinematography continues to inspire modern action directors like Christopher Nolan.
The action’s a lot more varied, larger in scale, and more intense: that chaotic ensemble battle, the visceral fistfight in the dark, those vehicle battles full of huge explosions. Really envelope-pushing stuff for the early 1960s.
The supporting cast are awesome on both sides. Turkish spymaster Kerim Bey is likeable and avuncular, the chemistry between everyone in M Branch is fantastic, and we get the first proper appearance of Q and his gadgetry.
And the villains! Oh, the villains! There are a whole bunch, and they’re all different and fun to watch, especially “Red” Donald Grant, not only quiet and hulking but intelligent and devious, an intimidating assassin who hangs over his scenes like a dark cloud. James Bond’s guardian devil. I also really like the continuity with Dr. No, as it continues to tantalize and build up the SPECTRE saga bit by bit.
The soundtrack of Dr. No was a little limited and dated, but the atmosphere of FRWL is boosted considerably by the greater presence of John Barry, who writes some real moody, pensive, or tense background music as well as some percussive action themes. Barry would go on to become a titan of 007 soundtracks, unarguably creating the sound of James Bond. As a songwriter myself, I’ve only recently come to realize how much John Barry’s music has influenced my musical sensibilities.
Just as Dr. No was a trendsetter, From Russia With Love is an equally or even more influential film. Everything is more refined, stylized, or envelope-pushing for its time than the last movie. It helped to define the tropes of 007 on the screen so much, that even other classic Bond movies will feel like they’re trying unsuccessfully to emulate parts of FRWL from now on. And when they succeed, it’s partially because they’re building on the foundation this movie laid down.
On a final note, SPECTRE arguably won out in this movie.
Sure, they failed to get the decoder or to get rid of Bond. But as for the goal of playing the Cold War powers off of each other? What started out as a spy scene with tacit rules and a code of honor is now home to assassinations, open gunfights, and embassy bombings. SPECTRE has successfully used James Bond’s presence in Turkey to ruin the peace in the Mediterranean intelligence community and make it look like his fault. Man, Blofeld’s long game is good…
Fourth-Wall Moment Count: 2
Bizarre Visuals Count: 1