RECAP: From Russia with Love

From Russia with Love (1963): Terence Young

Following the modest success of Dr. No, United Artists gave Eon Productions twice the budget for its sequel. The movie barley made it to theaters in time, but the audiences didn’t care. They embraced the movie with glee.

Everything about From Russia with Love is more than its predecessor. More run time, women with more beauty and more women with beauty, more locations, more characterization, more gadgets, more one-liners, and more explosions. And yet, in nearly every way, the movie supersedes the original Bond installment. That’s a feat in and of itself.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: Global criminal syndicate SPECTRE, seeking vengeance against James Bond for the death of one of its agents, uses the spy and Britain in a plot to steal a coding machine from the Soviet Union. 

Hero (4/10)

James Bond (Sean Connery) opens From Russia with Love in a punt, relaxing with a sexy dame. That’s his nature, on or off duty, to make it with a slammin’ babe. If we didn’t figure that out from Dr. No we damn well get it now.

So it’s little wonder that Bond leaps at the chance to help his country by escorting a slammin’ babe who wants to defect from Russia (OK, Soviet Union, whatever, same diff) to the United Kingdom. Oh, and she plans to bring along a long-desired Lektor decoding machine.

That’s the story Bond believes for most of the movie. He’s not privy to what the audience is. Diabolical terrorist organization SPECTRE, led by an unidentified cat lover known only as Number One, hatched this defection story specifically to ensnare Bond for his role in killing SPECTRE agent Dr. No.

The first act of From Russia with Love smartly plots the twists and turns that will test Bond’s mettle. Bond cheerfully embarks for Istanbul to meet the beautiful (duh) Tatiana Romanova (former Miss Universe runner up Daniela Bianchi), who he believes is above board in her desire to defect to a capitalist pig nation.

Bond is tailed from the airport, exactly as in Dr. No, but this time the driver is on his side, and knows he’s being tailed. The game is played a little differently. Russians and the West don’t make much secret of their casual, day-to-day spying. Everyone’s cool about that stuff.

Bond spends most of the movie being the king in a chess match between the Soviets, British, and SPECTRE agents. A Soviet agent working for SPECTRE orders her Soviet underling (Romanova) to follow Bond’s orders. Another agent named Grant (Robert Shaw) guards Bond’s life while ensuring he possesses the Lektor machine.

The king is the most important piece in chess, and also one of the least effective. That’s Bond. He doesn’t know he’s being tailed by Grant or manipulated by SPECTRE until much later. He’s nearly killed several times. He spends most of his energies having sex with slammin’ babes.

When Bond thinks he’s onto something, he’s not; he’s only peeled back one layer of subterfuge. Bond, leaning heavily on local contact Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendáriz), mistrusts Romanova, despite her declarations of love. He interviews her one afternoon about the machine, when all she wants to do is make love. Bond thinks he’s outsmarted her. He hasn’t. His foolishness/overconfidence gets Kerim killed later. 

Perhaps Bond isn’t capable of sinking to the depths of his enemies. He calls SPECTRE a “sick collection of minds” after he learns of their plan. Part of their plan included filming Bond and Romanova having sex.

As is often the case, Bond’s tactical skills rise above all. He outfights Grant, a man who doesn’t flinch from a brass knuckle punch, graduate of SPECTRE’s world-class training program. Bond out pilots three boats of heavily armed gunners and kills them all with one shot. He shoots a man in a helicopter, resulting in the helicopter exploding from a dropped grenade. And at least he can spot a bugged room. These are the skills keeping him alive.

Villain (4/10)

Bond’s primary, immediate opposition is a silent assassin named Grant. The hulking blond killer doesn’t speak for the first half of the movie, and in the second half he pretends to be a British agent. There’s a good chance we never hear the villain’s real voice.

Grant opens the film by killing Bond. Or, rather, a person pretending to be Bond at a training facility on SPECTRE Island. (Why would they put a mask on someone for a training exercise?) Grant kills the man in less than two minutes, an impressive time, we are told.

Robert Shaw is shark-like as Grant.

Later, Grant receives a massage that doesn’t prevent him from standing at attention immediately when called. He’s been convicted of murder, and he can take a brass-knuckled punch without flinching. In short, Grant is the perfect assassin.

Grant spends the first half of the movie following Bond in Turkey. He snipes men trying to kill Bond using a pistol from 50 yards, an impressive feat. He makes certain that Russian agents don’t get between Bond and the Lektor machine.

Grant opens his mouth in the second half after he kills a British agent awaiting Bond in Zagreb. Grant and Bond exchange pleasantries and set up their escape from the train with the Lektor machine and Romanova. It’s not long before Bond figures out Grant is a phony, though he doesn’t know his employer for a spell.

Bond and Grant speak for some time on the train crossing Yugoslavia. Grant has the upper hand after he knocks out Bond with a blow to the head from his pistol grip.

“I’ve been your guardian angel,” Grant says, explaining his role at the Gypsy camp. He also calls Bond an “old man,” which really chafes 007. Bond offers Grant 50 gold sovereigns, which interests the assassin, and double whatever SPECTRE is paying him to come work for MI-6.

Bond shoots himself in the foot, metaphorically, when calls Grant a lunatic. Lunatics don’t like being called lunatics. The two fight it out for some time after that. Bond wins, killing Grant with his own choking wire.

Grant is sent on his quest at the behest of SPECTRE and its Number One–Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Blofeld appears only when holding his famous Siamese cat, Mr. Biggleswo–no, that’s a different movie. Blofeld runs SPECTRE, and he dispatches Grant to take care of Bond as revenge for killing Dr. No.

We don’t see much of Blofeld, in the narrative sense and the physical sense, but he leaves an impact. He does not tolerate failure. Anyone who fails is killed. That’s plenty ruthless, as any terrorist organization should be, but it doesn’t engender room for growth. Even as Number Five dies, Blofeld times the death and laments that the venom could kill faster.

Action/Effects (4/10)

Grant and Bond face off on the train as it crosses the Balkans.

Grant, interested in 50 gold sovereigns, opens the MI-6 trick briefcase the wrong way. He gets tear gassed, allowing Bond an opening to fight. He and Grant toss each other about the train car, shattering the car’s window. Bond does the old jacket pull down move, to immobilize Grant’s arms, and kicks Grant into the adjoining room, where Romanova remains unconscious from the mickey Grant slipped her in the dining car.

Grant recovers enough to kick Bond into the wall. Bond delivers Grant a kick. Somehow Bond gets above the floor enough for Grant to get between Bond’s legs and tackle him into the bench. The pair wrestle into all the doors. Bond is hurting Grant. Perhaps Grant only doesn’t feel brass knuckle punches, but kicks he feels.

Grant responds with several left and right hooks to a defensive Bond, forcing him backward. Bond grips a metal bar above a door to deliver a double kick to Grant’s chest. He comes in to finish Grant, but the assassin gets Bond in a sleeper hold. Grant pulls choking wire from his watch and wraps Bond’s neck.

This knife about to bust out and into Grant’s arm.

Bond is in deep trouble, but he’s near to his trick briefcase. He fumbles around for a release and WHAM, he’s grabbed the throwing knife in the case and stabs Grant in the arm. Bond uses Grant’s wire against him and kills him. He stands and straightens his tie. Bond takes back the cash Grant stole from him. “You won’t be needing this…old man,” he says.

Sidekicks (6/8)

Kerim Bey is Bond’s contact in Istanbul, and he proves an invaluable resource. Kerim is a local, but he supports Britain all the way. His desk carries a framed photo of one person–Winston Churchill.

Kerim practically runs Istanbul. He seems to have sole proprietorship of the millennia-old cisterns beneath the city. Well, he and the rats. His organization is run entirely by Kerim and his sons. In fact, “My whole life,” he says, “has been a crusade for larger families.” I believe that’s code for “I like to bone.” He’s done it so much that he likens sex to going “back to the salt mines.”

His horniness keeps him alive, literally, when a bomb aimed to kill him at his desk explodes. Kerim was in bed at the moment, on the other side of his office. Yes, he has a bed in his office. This bomb, coupled with a dead Russian agent left at the gate of the Russian consulate, is meant to agitate Britain and Russia against each other. Kerim decides to take Bond to a safe house in the best, most welcoming location he knows, a Gypsy camp outside of town.

Kerim Bey, perhaps hornier than James Bond.

One of Kerim’s enemies follows them there and nearly kills everyone before being beaten back. Also, many animals were disturbed, and you don’t do that. Kerim has his sons help retaliate by triggering the enemy to flee his house and find a bullet in his gut, shot by Kerim as he fled through the mouth of a movie poster.

Kerim is first to mistrust Romanova. I guess he gets laid more. “Give a wolf a taste, then keep him hungry,” he says of her manner with Bond. He’s a crafty, observant fellow.

So it’s a shame when he’s killed by Grant while babysitting another Russian agent on the train from Istanbul. A pawn is a pawn–if it reaches the end of the board it dies.

Tatiana Romanova works in Istanbul’s Soviet consulate in the coding office. For one hour each workday she works with the Lektor machine, one of the most desired items in the spy world. Romanova receives orders from her boss, Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya), in the latter’s capacity as Soviet intelligence officer, to allow Bond to boss her around. Romanova accepts the mission, because refusal means she’ll be shot.

Tatiana Romanova wants to defect to the United Kingdom, or does she?

Romanova dives into her role as enchantress and nails it. Bond never suspects anything of her. She claims her love for Bond often, and her desire to forget the Lektor machine and make love instead. Tough to turn that down. Often Bond does not.

Romanova and Bond have terrific chemistry. They play a married couple on their train ride, and Kerim declares he’s never seen a handsomer couple. I see a bright future for these two.

Henchmen (5/8)

Grant is a classic henchman, but his role in the film elevates him to villain status. His bosses are the ones taking the sidelines.

Most interesting of these bosses is SPECTRE Number Three, Rosa Klebb. Klebb is also a colonel in Soviet intelligence, so she probably knows some of the worst secrets in the world and wields more power than all but a dozen people on Earth. Yet she’s only third at SPECTRE. (We don’t know who Number Two is.)

SPECTRE agent and KGB agent Rosa Klebb.

Klebb calls the plays on the ground. In her role as Soviet intel chief she recruits Romanova to steal the Lektor machine and give it to Bond. She orders Romanova to do exactly as Bond tells her. If she accepts the job she could be promoted. If she rejects the job she will be shot. Let no one say that tyrannies do not give people choices. Klebb also flirts with Romanova and discusses her three past lovers, proving that those in power will often sexually harass their charges. And the glasses she wears–egads!

Klebb was terrific in her brief scenes. She sports a shoe dagger tipped with poison, punches Grant in the gut with brass knuckles, saying “He seems fit enough,” sexually harasses Romanova, and is not above posing as a hotel maid to infiltrate a room. She’ll do anything to make her look like a creep.

SPECTRE’s brilliant plan to steal a Lektor machine and kill Bond comes from the mind of master Czech chess player Krontsteen. SPECTRE’s Number Five, Kronsteen is exceptionally confident in his planning skills, which we believe because he begins his role by winning a prominent chess championship in Venice.

Number Five, after his “perfect” plan fails.

He declares that his plan is “perfect,” and he’s foreseen all possibilities. He says this with a straight face, as if he actually believes such a thing possible. Keep it up and you might make it to Number Four!

Stunts (2/6)

A huge set piece shootout occurs at the Gypsy camp. Bond, Kerim, and their hosts want to enjoy some entertainment and possibly not be killed for the day. The Bulgarian assassin Krilencu, working for the KGB, decides against it.

Krilencu arrives at the camp with literally a truckload of goons. Grant is also there, but apart from Krilencu. The Bulgarians attack in the middle of a fight between two women for the hand of the chief’s son, taking everyone by surprise.

The attack opens with all the Bulgarians shooting at once as the truck crashes through a gate. They’ve killed the watchmen, so there’s no warning until the guns blaze.

The first guns fire as one woman is about to smash a bottle into the other woman’s face. So those guys are kind of heroes, in a way, for a moment. They throw it all away when they try to kill everyone.

Seriously, Krilencu has brought two dozen guys. Where did he find all these shooters? Krilencu and Kerim trade shots but miss. Bond shoots and misses. Kerim runs out of ammo. He upends a table when a goon runs at him.

Now it’s full on chaos. A goon sets fire to a covered wagon. Bond shoots him and nearly is shot by an errant arrow. He takes the arrow and tears down a tent to cover two guys fighting. Meanwhile, Krilencu shoots Kerim in the arm.

These guys all shoot from the hip. I can’t understand why. You want to sight down the barrel. I know little about shooting, but I know that. It’s why they keep missing.

Anyway, there’s blood, fire, horses running around. Two guys roll over a fire but are not set aflame. Bond runs around judo chopping people and cutting free items that run into and over other fighters. His is an interesting strategy. He’s causing a ruckus more than he’s killing people.

Up above we watch two guys fight their way off a ledge 20 feet high. Bond shoots a guy aiming at the Gypsy chief and upends a table to send two guys into water.

As a knife-wielding maniac is about to stab Bond in the back, we learn why Grant is there. He shoots the knifeman before Bond can be killed, which confuses Bond, who doesn’t know where the shot came from.

Aftermath at the Gypsy camp

Krilencu calls for a retreat. With more men, better guns, and the element of surprise, he can’t defeat the Gypsies.

Terrific stunts in this fight. People falling. Fires lit. Live animals. It’s a wonder no one was hurt. Maybe someone was.

Climax (3/6)

Bond and Romanova, having evaded all the trouble on the train with Grant and a helicopter trying to bomb them, find a speedboat that can take them to Venice, where defection will be a breeze. For some reason four oil drums are strapped to the back of the boat. You know those will come into play.

Later that day they come upon a couple speedboats hailing them. A wide shot shows three boats chasing Bond. One goon in pursuit has a rifle grenade that he shoots, but it misses badly. The bad guys have a guy on a megaphone to direct the attack. His men can’t kill Bond and Romanova because that might endanger the Lektor device.

One guy machine guns the four oil drums, which Bond releases into the water. He slows the boat to fake giving up. The other boats slow as well, right beside the oil drums. Bond takes a flare gun found earlier and shoots a drum. A wall of fire erupts behind the pursuit boats, turning the water to fire.

One shot kills three boats.

Suddenly all three pursuit boats are on fire. The megaphone guy catches fire just before his boat explodes.

Now, Bond and Tatiana are in Venice. Everything’s worked out nicely. Bond takes a call in their hotel room as a maid enters the room. Look out, James, it’s Klebb!

Pretty soon the jig is up and Klebb has Bond at gunpoint. She orders Romanova to take the Lektor machine from the room. As Klebb, smiling, is about to shoot Bond, Tatiana bursts back into the room and knocks away her gun. Klebb clicks her heels and reveals a shoe blade. Bond grabs a chair to counter this.

Bond pins Klebb to the wall with little effort as Romanova watches from the floor. Is she to be the third Siamese fighting fish, waiting to defeat a tired winner?

No, she shoots Klebb, who slides down the wall in anguish. Guns made Romanova nervous before. Now she’s fine with them. Her love of Bond turned out to be for real.

Jokes (1/4)

Eon Productions knew they found something with Bond quips and upped their game for From Russia with Love. After Karim kills his primary foe, shooting him as he climbs out of Anita Ekberg’s mouth in the poster for her movie, Bond quips, “She should have kept her mouth shut.”

Kerim settling a score.

Bond also tells Romanova that she has exactly the right sized mouth…for him. What’s with the mouth theme? There’s some other good ones, a trend that only gets more pronounced as the series progresses.

Setting (3/4)

If you ever wanted to see what 1960s train cars looked like, this is your movie. Bond and Romanova have adjoining rooms, and much of the second act is spent shuffling these characters and Kerim around the train as it chugs from Istanbul to Belgrade, Zagreb, and Trieste.

Thin wood paneling stands up to grown men tossing each other into it. I can’t believe that would hold up; I’ve seen pamphlets thicker than that. There’s a solid dining car, though. These dining cars have long been the primary attraction for me of train travel. White-clothed tables and red chianti, jacketed waiters, multiple courses–give me all of that.

Istanbul was Constantinople.

Istanbul shines as a city dividing East and West. Bond and Romanova visit a mosque as tourists, showing off the city’s immense architectural and cultural heritage unmatched by all but a handful of cities. Kerim shows off the city’s underground, taking Bond on a tour of cisterns built by Constantine more than 1,600 years before.

Istanbul’s famed cisterns

Immaculate interiors are found in Klebb’s Istanbul office, with its red walls, and the shining floors in Kerim’s office. The buildings are as beautiful inside as they are outside.

The Gypsy camp is housed in ruins outside Istanbul, and is an excellent location for a big fight sequence.

Cities and trains are nice, but the clear winner in From Russia with Love (which, strangely, never visits Russia) is SPECTRE Island. Location unknown, the island is home to SPECTRE’s excellent training program. A huge Georgian mansion houses offices unseen, as the action occurs on the manicured grounds.

Come to SPECTRE Island for a Bachelor’s and Master’s in terrorist fighting.

Grant opens the movie chasing fake Bond in the sculpture garden. Later, he receives a complimentary rub down offered to all SPECTRE employees. Finally, Klebb and others walk through the huge firing range on the grounds, where assassins practice shooting all manner of weapons, including flamethrowers. Other agents practice dodging these shots. Lives are not valued highly in SPECTRE. It’s what makes them so ruthless, I guess.

Commentary (2/2)

SPECTRE wants to steal Russia’s Lektor machine and sell it back to Russia. Their plan is to let Russia and Britain battle each other, then swoop in after the two tire themselves out. This is the tactic of the Siamese fighting fish, a favorite of Blofeld.

We get a crash course in 1960s spy craft in From Russia with Love. Britain uses a local Turk to ferry Bond across Istanbul and set up the stealing of the Lektor machine. Kerim knows the city’s literal underground, and has so many connections that he’s installed a periscope to spy the Russian consulate. I can’t fathom that would work in real life.

Russians employ Bulgarians to do their dirty work. The assassin Krilencu tries to kill Kerim. So you have Russia and Britain fighting over a machine, but Bulgarians and Turks are doing the leg work. All this is happening in Turkey. Also, there’s a third organization pulling the strings. How did these spies keep track of all this?

Offensiveness (-1/-2)

For a Bond movie this one’s tame. That doesn’t say much. Bond’s “She should have kept her mouth shut” crack, given the series’s history, can’t be innocuous. It’s a wonder no one ever says, “Bitches, am I right?”

Let’s not ignore the fight between two women over a lover that Bond is supposed to solve. The women are escorted to his tent in the Gypsy camp, where he has all night to decide a winner. The women are smiling and friendly, even though they tried to kill each other earlier.

That said, they do a good job with Klebb. She’s high up in Russia and SPECTRE, and is never denigrated for being a woman.

Others

  • Along with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, this was the second straight movie I watched that quotes Henry V AND visits a Gypsy camp AND has a fight on a train. Guy Ritchie must have loved this movie.
  • Why doesn’t MI-6 send the troops to SPECTRE Island?
  • Amazing corporate synergy as Krilencu escapes through poster for 1963’s other Broccoli production of Call Me Bwana.
  • Bond suspected Grant when he ordered red chianti to accompany his fish.

Summary (33/68): 49%

With twice the budget, From Russia with Love generated nearly 40 times its costs in worldwide box office. It was tops at the British box office for the year, and cemented Bond’s status as a character movie studios could count on. Well, just one studio, Eon Productions, which exists only to make Bond movies.