The James Bond Rewatch: FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963)

James Bond’s second cinematic outing finds the series recognizing continuity (its plot evolves from the events of Dr. No) and introducing mainstays such as the villainous SPECTRE organization and Q, the master of gadgets. 

From Russia With Love (1963)

Directed by Terence Young, with Sean Connery as James Bond (for the 2nd time)

The Theme Song: “From Russia With Love” by Lionel Bart, sung by Matt Munro

The opening credits use a wordless number composed by Lionel Bart (linked above and here) that also incorporates John Barry’s classic Bond theme, all whilst psychedelic belly dancers writhe in the background. A version with lyrics sung by lounge singer Matt Munro appears briefly in the film and over the end credits, and is much more recognizable. It’s Sinatra-esque and evokes Bond’s world, while the lyrics are swoony and romantic.

The Plot

From Russia With Love picks up right where the last film left off, with the villainous SPECTRE organization looking for revenge on Bond for the death of Dr. No. Blofeld is glimpsed but not mentioned by name (he’s only “Number 1” here) and the plot hinges on another SPECTRE agent (Number 3 – Rosa Klebb) ensnaring Bond with the promise of a Lektor cryptographic device. The bait? The beautiful Soviet clerk Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi). Bond knows it’s a trap but his ego and curiousity send him off to Turkey regardless, eager to obtain the device, beat the baddies, get the girl, and look like a besuited badass all the while. Along the way Bond encounters a spirited ally in Ali Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendáriz in his final role before an untimely death), a rowdy gypsy camp, a lengthy sojourn on a train, and a deadly nemesis in Donald “Red” Grant (played by a young Robert Shaw of Jaws fame).

James The Fighter

From Russia ups the action quotient considerably from the more sedate Dr. No. The movie opens with the henchman Red Grant hunting and killing (!) Bond in a fakeout that reveals the victim to be an unlucky imposter. Red’s being trained at SPECTRE island – a kind of henchman school where “Flamethrowers 101” might be on the course list. It’s a very cool concept that’s not fully explored. The first large scale fight occurs around half way through, as Russians infiltrate a gypsy camp and Bond and Kerim fight alongside the gypsies to drive them off. Later there’s an extended sequence on board a train that ends with a climactic and brutal fist fight between Bond and Red. That segues into a car/helicopter chase AND a boat chase with spectacular explosions. All-in-all, Connery’s Bond gets a lot of opportunities to shoot and bludgeon his way through foreign lands, dropping pithy lines like “There’s a saying in England – where there’s smoke there’s fire,” as enemies writhe in pain and are incinerated alive.

James The Lover

In another nod to continuity, Bond is first seen in From Russia on a picnic/hook-up with Sylvia from Dr. No (“Nowww about that lunch” he purrs). He of course flirts with Moneypenny as well, writing “From Russia with love” on a postcard for her but keeping their relationship chaste (as always). Later, the gypsy chief sends two young women to Bond’s tent and it’s implied that Bond, being a cordial guest and possessor of legendary virility, has coitus with both of them! Scandalous. The main relationship is between Tatiana Romanova and Bond, with Bond’s initial debauched assessment of her (“Well, from this angle things are shaping up nicely. Yesss, I’d like to see her in the flesh”, when spying on her through a periscope) morphing into something resembling real feelings by the movie’s end. She’s meant to seduce Bond (and he knows it’s a trap) but they both reveal truer versions of themselves to one another and in the process, enrich the movie with a strong central pairing. The constant glibness and insanely backwards gender politics are still present (sample exchange: “I think my mouth is too big” “No, it’s the right size… for me that is”), but beyond that at least Tatiana is given traits and thoughts and feelings, as opposed to the jokey Honey Ryder from Dr. No (Tatiana also avoids a ridiculous nickname, although whether that’s good or bad is debatable).

Iconic Moments

Lots of great moments as the Bond world continues to grow and evolve:

  • The introduction of SPECTRE and its hierarchy, with the cat-stroking Blofeld sitting at the top
  • Q Branch is mentioned and Desmond LLeweyn (later to be named Q) shows Bond around a briefcase outfitted with hidden knives, teargas, gold sovereigns and more
  • Great action sequences – included the fisticuffs between Red and Bond, and the final chase sequences that culminate in a huge water-bound explosion
  • Blofeld’s proclamation of “We do not tolerate failure” as he orders the death of an incompetent colleague
  • again, the tragic death of Bond’s ally Kerim – it doesn’t pay to help Bond
  • the film ends (again!) with Bond bedding a woman aboard a boat, this time in a Venetian gondola with Tatiana

The Verdict

From Russia With Love is an improvement on Dr. No in nearly every way. The plot is twisty and gripping, and not just window dressing to get Bond from one scene to the next. Shooting on location in Istanbul, Turkey provides a lively backdrop to the Cold War machinations of Britain and the Soviets, and the film has more of a chance to stretch its legs with a longer runtime. Robert Shaw is great as Red Grant, the unstoppable (and for a large portion, wordless) henchman that nearly gets the best of Bond, and the action is plentiful and exciting. Connery continues to grow into the role and wears his suits like the armour of a gentleman. He’s a rough Bond, quick with a one-liner and quicker to the trigger, and Connery plays him as a blithe killer, ready to fight or screw at a moment’s notice. A globetrotting spy whose competence and poise is unmatched, Bond doesn’t get much of a chance to be vulnerable here but is nonetheless magnetic on screen.

Updated Rankings

  1. From Russia With Love
  2. Dr. No

James Bond will return in Goldfinger

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