I’m continuing with my project of re-watching all the 1960s James Bond movies. It's becoming a sort of Bond blogathon. The second of these movies, From Russia with Love, is something of an oddity.
While the first movie, Dr No, was a kind of transitional stage between the spy movies of the previous eras and the classic 1960s over-the-top spy romps with with the James Bond franchise is usually associated, this is even more true of From Russia with Love. Until the last 15 minutes or so this is quite an old-fashioned movie, very much in the style of the classic British suspense thrillers of the 40s and 50s. Having much of the action set on a train links it even more closely with an earlier style of spy thriller.
None of which is intended as a criticism. This is an excellent movie. Surprisingly perhaps it follows Ian Fleming’s novel fairly closely. The one major change is that in the novel Bond is up against the (real-life) Russian counter-intelligence agency SMERSH while the movie has the (mythical) SPECTRE organisation playing off the British and SMERSH against each other. This makes virtually no difference to the story and the only reason for it would appear to be to provide a stronger link with the Bond movies to come (it already being obvious that there were going to be more movies in this series).
A junior Russian cypher clerk in the Soviet embassy in Istanbul, the beautiful Tatiana, wishes to defect, her story being that she has seen Bond’s file and has fallen in love with him. And she is offering a top secret Russian coding machine to sweeten the deal. Bond flies off to Istanbul. Working with the head of British intelligence in Turkey Bond makes contact with Tatiana, not knowing that a renegade British assassin (played quite chillingly by Robert Shaw) is stalking him. Bond and Tatiana flee Istanbul by train but they will have to avoid the attentions of both SPECTRE and SMERSH.
This movie had a considerably bigger budget than its predecessor, and was destined to be an bigger hit. Terence Young was again in the director’s chair and again does a great job. Large parts of the movie were shot on location in Istanbul, adding the necessary touch of exoticism.
Sean Connery by this time had already made the role of Bond his own. Newcomer Daniella Bianchi provides the obligatory glamour as Tatiana. The most interesting member of the supporting cast is famed German singer Lotte Lenya as Tatiana’s psychopathic boss Rosa Klebb.
Connery’s version of Bond is much more self-confident than Fleming’s original. The novel (one of the best of the Bond series) is notable for the number of mistakes Bond makes, and for his own realisation of his errors and the price that others may have to pay because of them. But spies who were beset by self-doubts had been fairly common in earlier spy movies (such as Ashenden in Hitchcock’s Secret Agent) and so making Bond a more arrogant and more large-than-life figure in the movies was probably an understandable decision. The emphasis in the movies was to be on action and adventure.
After this production the Bond movies were to become much more tongue-in-cheek and much more reliant on spectacular action sequences and high-tech gadgetry. From Russia with Love remains a classic Cold War spy thriller with links to both the spy movies of the past and those of the future. But it’s certainly no less enjoyable for that.