The Bond: Sean Connery again, who’s even sexier and more confident than before. Thanks to Connery’s newfound celebrity, huge crowds gathered during an outdoor shoot at the Istanbul train station and a crew member literally hung off a balcony across the street to draw them away so filming could resume.
The Release: October 10, 1963 in the UK and May 27, 1964 in the US. The film became not only the highest grossing film of the year in Britain, but the highest grossing film in the country’s history up to that point. It also made significantly more at the American box office, though still nowhere near foreign grosses. Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman and distributor United Artists were so confident the film would do well that they promised James Bond would return in Goldfinger in the film’s closing credits, a practice that continues to this day.
The Girl: Daniela Bianchi, an Italian, as Tatiana Romanova. She may not have as memorable an entrance as Honey, but Tania–as she’s often called–is more knowingly sexy. There’s also the gypsy girls Vida and Zora, played by Aliza Gur and Martine Beswick, respectively. As it happens, all three women were beauty queens. Bianchi and Gur both competed for Miss Universe in 1960 with Bianchi placing third.
The Villain: Unlike most Bond films, Russia‘s villain isn’t a single person, but the mysterious organization known as SPECTRE. (In the book, the evil conglomerate was the Russian SMERSH, a contraction of Smiert Shpionam meaning Death to Spies, but it doesn’t really make a difference.) The organization also funded Dr. No’s activities in the first film, which is why they target Bond in their plan to steal a Russian Lektor machine. While we get our first glimpse of an unnamed Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Robert Shaw’s assassin Red Grant and Lotte Lenya’s Rosa Klebb are the faces of SPECTRE here. While Grant’s role as the silent, sinister enemy spy who helps Bond only so he gets a chance to kill him is great, it’s Klebb who leaves the strongest impression. Lenya–a former German cabaret star fresh off a Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone–makes Klebb so vicious and repulsive that by the time she gets in a room alone with Bond, you’re genuinely concerned for his well-being.
The Gadgets: This marks the first appearance of Desmond Llewelyn as Q, thereby establishing the tradition of introducing all the gadgets Bond uses for his mission at the beginning. Here, it’s a tricked-out attaché case. Bond uses every single feature–from the easy-to-assemble sniper rifle to the gold sovereigns stashed in the edges. There’s also Grant’s garrote wire watch and Klebb’s poison-tipped dagger shoe,which is my pick for best gadget.
The Song: “From Russia with Love” by Matt Monro, an internationally famous crooner known as The Man with the Golden Voice. The lyrics are sappily romantic and filled with more yearning than Movie Bond is probably capable of feeling, but Monro sings them with such a swooning quality it’s impossible not to get swept up in them. Still, the full orchestra playing hints of John Barry’s incredible score is the best part, the swelling strings and the periodic shakes of a tambourine recalling the film’s insane gypsy fight. Unlike future songs, this one appears over the end instead of the opening credits as well as on a radio during the scene where Bond seduces then ignores Sylvia Trench (in her second and final appearance).
The Book: Like its predecessor, From Russia with Love‘s biggest changes are to the characters. In the book, sexual deviance from heteronormativity is used as shorthand for villainy. Grant is described as asexual and Klebb is likely either bisexual or pansexual (Fleming describes her as a “neuter”). The film doesn’t find a reason to clarify Grant’s sexual proclivities, but Klebb only shows a risqué-for-the-time interest in Tania.
Kerim Bey’s (Pedro Armendáriz) sexual practices are also altered. While taking away his wife makes his womanizing harmless, it also spares us the story of their awful “courtship”: he kidnapped her from a remote village, broke her spirit by chaining her naked under his dining table and then she “chose” to stay when his mother demanded he return the girl to her family. Seriously.
As in Dr. No, Movie Bond’s edges are rougher than Book Bond’s. He seems to have no qualms about “pimping for England” and sleeps with both gypsy girls after their fight instead of just asking their chief to spare their lives. More importantly, he never slaps Tania. Unlike Movie Bond, Book Bond wasn’t in the habit of slapping women (the only instance is in The Man with the Golden Gun when he attempts to snap a girl out of shock).
There is, however, one major change to the story. Ian Fleming was considering ending the series by killing off Bond and the threat of death carries throughout the novel. The final page has him passing out after being stabbed with the poison-tipped dagger in Klebb’s shoe, fate unknown. In the film, however, Tania shoots Klebb after a moment of hesitation and then she and Bond ride a gondola into the sunset.
The Movie: Get into a discussion with a Bond fan about which film is best and From Russia with Love is sure to come up. However, despite how strong it is onscreen, making it was no cake walk.
This was the film that made big action sequences a staple of the franchise and by far the biggest is the explosive boat chase. Though it wasn’t exactly easy to shoot. The first time the stunt team set the charges, someone ignited them during a rehearsal while cameras weren’t rolling and the scene had to be restaged the next day.
Far worse, midway through filming, Armendáriz discovered he had terminal cancer and the shooting schedule was rearranged so he could finish his scenes Just as an aside, this wasn’t a purely selfish decision by the production. Armendáriz wanted to finish the film. He killed himself not long after doing so on June 18, 1963. Bianchi was also involved in a car accident that left her face so swollen that shooting was delayed and thanks to the protracted shoot, the film was over budget. Director Terence Young was still doing reshoots in August, a mere two months before the film’s release. Shockingly, none of that is evident onscreen. From Russia with Love, regardless of whether it’s actually the best film in the series, is a great Bond movie.