2012 marks the 50th anniversary of James Bond on the big screen. To celebrate, SFX’s Nick Setchfield revisits each and every 007 adventure in a week by week countdown to Skyfall…
MISSION 2: FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963)
EAST BY NORTH EAST Armed with twice the money of Dr No, From Russia With Love emerges as a handsome, well–tailored espionage tale, one that sees Bond stride towards true global phenomenon status. Life magazine had recently revealed that Fleming’s original novel was one of John F Kennedy’s favourite reads, and the endorsement of the free world’s ultimate alpha male bestowed the kind of heat that no publicity budget could buy. While Dr No flirted with an atomic age sense of the fantastic, this sleek Cold War caper feels in thrall to Alfred Hitchcock, Hollywood’s sly, portly monarch of suspense. The Lector machine is a perfect Hitchcockian MacGuffin while leading lady Daniela Bianchi is the kind of glacially immaculate blonde that fuelled the director’s darkest fantasies. 1959’s North By North West is the clear inspiration here, from the cross-country romance and intrigue of the train journey to the sequence where Bond is hounded by a low-flying helicopter, just like Cary Grant being buzzed by a pernicious cropduster. Hitchcock was wooed to direct a Bond in the earliest days of the franchise, but that’s one masterpiece the cinema gods cruelly denied us.
WORLDS WITHIN WORLDSFrom Russia With Love is the Bond saga’s definitive spy story, and its landscape is a mirror-maze of deception and illusion. Istanbul feels like an ever-shifting puzzlebox in the eternal war of nerves between East and West, its dark, haunted alleyways and decaying buildings masking all manner of chicanery. Bond’s ally Kerim Bey takes him on a boat ride through the secret, flooded city beneath its streets, where rats throng in the shadows and a crafty periscope peers into the Russian consulate. Elsewhere a giant movie poster on the side of a house hides its own secrets, the oversized smile of a starlet transforming into a private escape hatch for enemy agents. Hotel rooms are infested with listening devices, mirrors conceal the whirring gaze of cameras, a humble attache case is a deadly arsenal, SMERSH is really SPECTRE and even the lovely Tatiana is a honeytrap, a ruse to ensnare Her Majesty’s secret servant. Trust no one, Mr Bond…
“A NASTY LITTLE CHRISTMAS PRESENT” Bond’s weaponised briefcase isn’t the first gadget we see him with – he has a geiger counter in Dr No and uses a then thrillingly futuristic pager and car phone in his introductory scene in this adventure. But it’s the first true “Bond gadget” as we know it, where an everyday object is loaded with some cunningly lethal modifications and emerges as the kind of hardware a vicious but imaginative schoolboy would blueprint. Disguised as “An ordinary black leather case”, it conceals 20 rounds of ammunition, a flat throwing knife, an AR7 folding sniper’s rifle with infra-red sight, 50 gold sovereigns and a talcum powder tin stocked with tear gas. Its latches, naturally, are booby-trapped. Desmond Llewellyn makes his debut as Q, MI6’s resident tweedy tech-head, and in years to come the scenes where he gifts the gadgets to a wryly amused 007 would become a beloved part of the Bond ritual, the mantra “Now this may look like an ordinary…” soon a familiar cue for excitement.
THE TRAIN FIGHT The climactic brawl between Bond and Red Grant on the Orient Express is one of the tensest, most adrenalised fight scenes in cinema. What makes it so effective is that it’s a battle of equals – “We’re pros, Mr Bond,” says the SMERSH hitman, clearly as coldly proficient a killer as Mi6’s finest. But it’s a sequence spiced with a seething undercurrent of rivalry and just a twist of psychosexual weirdness. Facing Bond, Grant radiates disdain and envy – his choice of red wine with fish has just exposed him as a sham sophisticate – and he orders 007 to “Crawl over here and kiss my foot.” And then a bullet takes out a light, a train window shatters and the two besuited bruisers crash between the carriages in a choking swirl of teargas. There’s no music, just the sound of fists on flesh, the rattle and the gallop of the train wheels, the evil whisper of Grant’s garrot wire. Bond stabs him in the arm and then, finally, throttles him with his own wire, a death that feels rewarding, hard-earned. Adjusting his tie, our hero’s face is a mask of sweat. For once there’s no blackly comic quip, just a dismissive snarl of “Old man,” Grant’s own snide catchphrase. Shot with three cameras in a confined space, stuntmen only employed for one shot, it’s a brutal, bruising masterclass in screen combat.
FROM RUSSIA WITH KINK For its time, this is an amazingly sexy movie. Take the title sequence – we’re still a long way from the provocative silhouettes of later Bond films, but there’s a genuine erotic shimmer in the shots of credits being projected on the bodies of glittering, bejewelled bellydancers. It’s a lo-fi solution that conjures a cool burlesque vibe. Elsewhere two flashing-eyed gypsy girls fight to the death, all claws and cleavage. Bond actually stops the bout – and takes both of them to bed, still the only cheeky threesome in the franchise’s long history of sauce. There’s a perverse tingle, too, in the scene where Rosa Klebb places her hand on Tatiana’s knee. “You are a fine looking girl,” declares the SPECTRE gorgon, as the beautiful cypher clerk flinches. Bianchi – a former beauty queen – looks immortally alluring in her little black choker, and her seduction scene with Bond deploys one of the most outrageous double entendres in Bond history: “I think my mouth’s too big,” she frets. “No, it’s the right size,” Bond reassures her. “For me, that is.” The fact that SPECTRE agents are secretly filming their romp through a two-way mirror only adds to the frisson of kink.
THE VILLAINS While Dr No found Bond facing a single threat in Crab Key’s cold-eyed mastermind, From Russia With Love fields no less than three villains. Vladek Sheybal is Kronsteen, SPECTRE’s reptillian chessmaster, while Robert Shaw earned one of the defining roles of his career as Donald “Red” Grant, a convicted murderer and Dartmoor escapee (“Homicidal paranoiac – superb material…”). A physical match for Connery, the black-gloved Grant is a cool, watchful presence for the majority of the film, forever in the shadows – unseen, he even quietly saves Bond’s life at one point. But the most memorable player in this fiendish troika is Lotte Lenya as Rosa Klebb, a Russian defector in poison-spiked shoes. Lenya may have played Klebb as a dowdy toad, all bottle-glasses and prison warden hair, but in one of the great, forgotten ironies of the screen she first found fame as a glamorous cabaret star in Weimar era Germany.
TRIV AND LET DIE:
We see the tentacled-skull SPECTRE symbol for the first time in this film – it’s a note on the bottom of a glass, summoning Kronsteen.
It’s also our tantalising first glimpse of Blofeld, SPECTRE’s enigmatic Number One, though this incarnation has a whole head of glossy black hair.
Blofeld’s hands belong to Anthony Dawson from Dr No, who also did screentests with potential Bond girls. The voice is Eric Pohlman.
The billboard escape hatch advertises Call Me Bwana, another Broccoli/Saltzman production. The star is Anita Ekberg (Marilyn Monroe in Fleming’s novel).
SPECTRE replaced SMERSH as the principal threat to avoid upsetting the USSR.
Daniela Bianchi also appeared in 1967 Bond spoof Operation Kid Brother, alongside Sean’s true-life sibling Neil.
Peter Burton was unavailable to reprise the role of Boothroyd, so Desmond Llewellyn won the role of Mi6’s “equipment officer” instead.
The Bond/Tatiana bedroom scene is still used to screentest potential new Bonds.