Dr.No was a huge success, and James Bond films were here to stay. For their next film, the producers decided to adapt the novel that, in the novel continuity, took place before Dr.No-From Russia With Love, although with modifications to the story that would continue the SPECTRE storyline. Over 50 years since it’s release, it’s still considered one of the best Connery Bonds, if not the best, and some even hold it as the best in the whole series.
While Dr.No didn’t reveal the villain of the film until the last twenty minutes or so, From Russia With Love wastes no time introducing them after the gunbarrel (Which now starts with the Bond theme instead of the strange noises that started Dr.No), as we see Bond wandering around a fancy garden-and seemingly it looks like they’ve overdone the makeup a bit. However, there’s probably a reason for that.
He’s being stalked by Red Grant (Robert Shaw)-yes, the same Robert Shaw who you might also know as Quint from Jaws. A testament to the guy’s range that he’s able to do both the Chameleonish, quiet but well-dressed Grant, and the more vulgar, unkempt Quint. Both sort of fall due to their own egos though….
Grant quickly subdues and uses his garrote-watch to kill Bond, although it’s revealed it’s not really Bond, but just a guy wearing a Bond mask. He’s congratulated on his record kill by Morenzy-another villain in the film (although one in a supporting role.); and they retreat to a mansion.
Next we’re given our title sequence, the first to really introduce dancing or posing girls among the opening credits, something that would be perfected in “Goldfinger”. Here, we’re given a lot of belly dancers with the credits projected on them…
Of particular note is the music too-a mix of a sort of exciting preamble, as well as an instrumental version of the “From Russia With Love” theme, and a more exotic, fast-paced version of the Bond theme. The preamble music must have made an impression on future Bond composer David Arnold, as it returns in the Pierce Brosnan films he scored. Matt Munro’s theme-heard during the film and later at the end-is kind of slow-paced on it’s own and perhaps wouldn’t have worked that well as an opener.
We’re next introduced to Chess ace Kronsteen, a sort of Peter Lorre looking fellow who’s a chess wiz, who, after receiving a summons from SPECTRE via custom drink coaster, quickly wins the chess tournament.
Maybe this would’ve been a cool piece of merchandise for the later Bond film SPECTRE.
Although I’m not sure Heineken would’ve approved.
We’re quickly introduced to SPECTRE’s No.1, Blofeld-and from right off we’re given his ruthless philosophy.
Blofeld: Siamese fighting fish, fascinating creatures. Brave but of the whole stupid. Yes they’re stupid. Except for the occasional one such as we have here who lets the other two fight. While he waits. Waits until the survivor is so exhausted that he cannot defend himself, and then like SPECTRE… he strikes!
This sort of sums up Blofeld’s later plot in “You Only Live Twice” as well-pit the powers against each other until SPECTRE’s there to pick up the pieces.
Here we’re given several of Blofeld’s trademarks-the SPECTRE ring, his cold nature, and of course, the Persian cat. However, we’ve yet to see his face, and a view from behind shows him with hair, instead of the trademark baldness he’ll later have in You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and with his ‘death’ in For Your Eyes Only. I suppose plastic surgery-something Blofeld utilizes to create doubles in “Diamonds Are Forever”-can be credited with his changes in appearance (Can’t really explain quite as well Bond, Moneypenny, Felix and all the other characters who change faces all the time though!). It also can be noted the cat kind of looks different in every film it’s in too-same breed of course but largely different coats. There’s also another, far goofier explanation-that the cat is the real Blofeld all along, and each Blofeld is a different ‘host’.
Blofeld’s guest in addition to Kronsteen is Rosa Klebb, former head of operations for SMERSH (In the novel, she still works for SMERSH as they’re the villains in the book, and not SPECTRE). Klebb is of course the prototype for later “evil schoolmarm” villains such as Irma Bunt and the parody character Frau Frabusinna in the Austin Powers movies. Her actress, Lotte Lenya, was actually a HUGE theater star as well.
Kronsteen’s got a plan to trick the British and the Russians into practically handing over a LEKTOR encoder, and also to kill and humiliate James Bond in the process, who as we saw in the pre-title sequence, is pretty much on SPECTRE’s radar after killing Dr.No in the last film. Of course, the second part of the plan hinges on Bond actually being the agent assigned to the task, which is a bit of a stretch, although not nearly as much as the Bond being well-known for a “secret” agent plot that “Diamonds Are Forever” was particularly guilty of.
It’s interesting at this point in the movie the film hasn’t really shown Bond yet, unless you count the gunbarrel and and the imposter. Pretty much every Bond film from this point on-with the notable exceptions of Roger Moore’s first two films (save his dummy in Man With the Golden Gun)-would pretty much introduce Bond right away (World Is Not Enough even has the gunbarrel revealing his face right away!), or at least after some initial plot build up (Like You Only Live Twice, Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker). It’s kind of nice as it gives some dimension to the film’s villains and plot, instead of jumping right into the action. It’s a slow burner, but it’s a good one.
Klebb’s next port-of-call is SPECTRE island-and it’s actually called by that name. As far as Bond lair hideout names go-Crab Key, Piz Gloria, The Whyte House, Atlantis, Moonraker etc. It isn’t the most imaginative title, but it’s an interesting location nonetheless, with it’s “training area” foreshadowing many of the Q lab scenes in later movies (as well as Tiger Tanaka’s castle in You Only Live Twice)…although this place is far more nefarious and lethal than the sometimes goofy Q gadgets.
Klebb tests Grant-who we learn is “superb material” since he’s homicidal and paranoid-by punching him in the gut with brass knuckles, and he barely flinches.
Next scene is still not Bond, but introduces our leading lady, Tataina Romanova, in the film’s principal location of Istanbul, Turkey (A setting that would be revisited in later Bond films, notably the World Is Not Enough and Skyfall, although this film by far makes the most use of it. Although TWINE of course uses it for a bad joke….) A Russian cipher clerk, she’s an unwitting pawn in SPECTRE’s plot involving the LEKTOR and Bond. She’s unaware that Klebb now works for SPECTRE, and is convinced she’s only going to stage a defection on orders from SMERSH-but even now, she seems kind of reluctant, in part due to Klebb’s creepy nature. Although Daniela Bianchi’s voice was dubbed in post-production due to her own heavy accent…
Her expressions and body language perfectly capture her inner revulsion of Klebb, especially as the scene closes on Klebb’s line:
“Come, come, my dear. You are very fortunate to have been chosen for such a simple, delightful duty. A real.. labour of love, as they say.”
And speaking of “Love” the main music theme with lyrics starts for “From Russia With Love” on a radio and we’re finally properly re-introduced to Bond enjoying a “picnic” after some canoeing….
Next: Bond heads to Turkey.