We tend to get the movie heroes we deserve,
and I suppose nowadays that means James Bond.
- Thomas Wiseman, Sunday Express (October 1963)
From Russia With Love
Film: 1963 (#2)
Book: 1957 (#5)
The masterminds at SPECTRE decide they will humiliate British intelligence by offering Bond a Russian cipher machine and a beautiful woman (a little something for everyone), then killing Bond and the woman, and keeping the cipher machine for themselves. It might have worked except that British intelligence is not that stupid, and besides, the woman knows a good opportunity when she sees one ....
Book vs. Film
A second faithful adaptation. The difference of primary importance to us is that, as in the book of Dr. No, SPECTRE does not exist. The plan is hatched by Smersh (about which more below). The difference is handwaved away in the film by Klebb having previously been with Smersh - in fact they are unaware of her defection. Smersh chooses Bond as their target because he has been instrumental in the deaths of Le Chiffre, Mr. Big, and Hugo Drax, the villains of the first three novels - although Drax is not explicitly aligned with Smersh. (The fourth novel, Diamonds Are Forever, does not involve the international spy/terrorism business at all.)
Nearly a third of this book happens before Bond enters the action. The first part of the book, in fact, is from the Smersh point of view, and provides insight into their workings and operation. The plot is actually to generate a massive sex scandal - the idea being not just that Bond will be found dead, but will be found dead while in a liaison with a Russian. The Spektor cipher machine (in the film it's a Lektor, there already being one SPECTRE in play) is rigged to explode when examined, according to Grant.
Apart from that, there are only minor differences: the characterization of Darko Kerim (Kerim Bey, in the film); Grant shoots Bond on the train but Bond has slipped his cigarette case into the magazine he's holding and it stops the bullet; Rosa Klebb does stab Bond with the shoe dagger, and he passes out, fate unknown, as the book ends.
Although it can be argued that diminishment of British power is a theme in the books from the beginning - the books and films have both been characterized sometimes as a fantasy for British nationalists, where that nation still punches above its weight - in From Russia With Love it is made fairly explicit, notably in a conversation between Bond and Darko Kerim where Bond admits, in so few words, that England has become diplomatically toothless.
For the most part this book was well-received - the serious negative commentary didn't begin until Dr. No. The great SF and mystery editor and author Anthony Boucher, though (who was consistently anti-Bond), wrote (in The New York Times) that the book was "[the usual] sex-cum-sadism with a veneer of literacy, but without the occasional brilliant setpieces" of prior ones. I quote this remark in particular because it will be relevant below.
Well-balanced. We don't get a lot of panache opportunities, but he does get to demonstrate that he wears a suit well, adapts readily to non-British surroundings, and can be extremely charming when he wants to. We also don't get much outright brutality - that's mostly Grant's job - but the train fight with Grant definitely shows Bond's rougher side to advantage. Disarmingly confused as to why a Russian woman would be infatuated with a file photo of a British agent. Treats Tatiana with care; he is amused by her naivete, but mostly not contemptuous. Is perfectly okay with his boss asking him to seduce a woman for queen and country (contrast this to Bond's reaction to a parallel situation in Tomorrow Never Dies).
Or, in this case, the woman (in terms of Bond's flirtations and liaisons, anyway; Rosa Klebb doesn't count). Apart from Tatiana, there's just the dalliance with the "Gypsy" women, of which probably the less said the better. Tatiana isn't a bad character as these things go. Any objections I may have to the way she's written are completely undermined by Daniela Bianchi having so much visible fun in the part.
"I suppose it would depend ... upon the man."
Bond sometimes teases her - and at one point, when he thinks she may be complicit, threatens her - but on the whole, he needs her to pull off the scheme and he takes her part in it seriously. So does she.
After the success of Dr. No, UA gave EON double the budget of the first film, plus a very large bonus for Connery. They were rewarded for this; on a budget of two million, the film made twelve million in initial UK release alone (that'd be some $95,000,000 in today's dollars), and much more than that later on.
Terence Young and John Barry were pretty much automatic choices to repeat their jobs. Richard Maibaum is the official screenwriter, but Johanna Harwood did substantial cleanup and, as with Dr. No, got screen credit for it. Two former assistants stepped in for their former bosses: Ken Adam was working on Dr. Strangelove and unavailable, so Syd Cain was hired instead; Maurice Binder was in dispute over royalties from the previous film, so Robert Brownjohn did the titles (in Binder-ish style).
The script was constantly in a state of flux throughout principal photography, and apparently was only turned into a coherent film after the fact by editor Peter Hunt. Some footage was rearranged (and one scene apparently used a second time in reverse!) but some material would need reworking, notably some SPECTRE exposition. Redubbing Blofeld was easy since his face isn't seen, but new lines were needed for Klebb which would seem to require her sitting in sets which had already been destroyed. Hunt back-projected the old material and had Lotte Lenya sit in front of it to speak new lines in exactly the same position (thus masking her previous work with her own body, in effect). Look carefully at some of her scenes where she is speaking to Blofeld and you may be able to tell she is sitting in front of a projection and not a set.
Daniela Bianchi was a former beauty pageant contestant who decided to stop acting not long after this film. She was picked after a fairly involved search. Rumor has it that one factor in her selection was that she was Connery's preference. Her English was deemed not good enough and she was dubbed by British actress Barbara Jefford.
People are always a bit taken aback when they hear that Robert Shaw is in this film - "you mean the crazy guy from Jaws?" But Shaw, who also was an author and an occasional screenwriter, was a much less unlikely bit of casting than Lotte Lenya, known primarily for her association with Berthold Brecht and her husband Kurt Weill, and for the part of Jenny in "The Threepenny Opera." She did mostly stage work, and originated the role of Fraulein Schneider in "Cabaret." In short, this film is a deviation from the rest of her career, and audiences and critics at the time found her casting jarring for this reason. (Imagine if, say, Patti LuPone suddenly turned up as a gun-toting villainess in an action flick. Come to think of it, LuPone would probably enjoy that.) It's amusing to find people who only know her because of this role. Lenya herself said that after this film, the first thing anyone did upon meeting her was look at her shoes.
By the by, as frightening as Grant can be in this film, this is not Shaw's scariest performance. For that you must find and watch the original The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. You will be rewarded for this search in many ways.
Pedro Armendariz was diagnosed with terminal cancer either shortly before or during the filming. Some say he already knew, but didn't tell the producers because he didn't want to lose the job - he wanted the money to provide for his family. His performance is doubly affecting when you know he was in constant pain at the time. His scenes were moved ahead in the shooting schedule and trimmed down, and he just barely managed to finish them before being hospitalized. Not long afterward he took his own life.
They were going to ask Peter Bernard to be the Armourer again, but he was unavailable. Desmond Llewellyn stepped in, and thus we were ensured of at least one good scene in almost every Bond film for the next thirty-six years.
For a Bond plot that seems like it should be quintessential, involving appropriately espionage-y things like double agents and cipher machines, this one's surprisingly hollow. Which isn't to say it's a bad film, quite the contrary; I list it second on my overall rankings. It's a well-balanced film, with a well-balanced Bond. But it's not a showy film. As Boucher said, it has no big setpieces. (The only show-off set is Kronsteen's chess match, which is a little ridiculous considering how underused Kronsteen is in the film.) Some would say that's to its advantage.
If I had to put my finger on the biggest weakness of the film, it's that Bond is, once again, fairly passive, being dragged around by events rather than shaping them himself. It's hard to notice this when all of the supporting performances, even the bit parts, are so good, especially Armendariz. This may be why I think the film begins to outstay its welcome once Bond and Tatiana get on the train and Kerim Bey is no longer available to help the pace. There's nothing much there except the fight with Grant. It's worth noting that others disagree: The book Kiss Kiss Bang Bang describes the train sequence as the point where Bond "transforms effortlessly into The Most Dangerous Man in the World." To each their own.
"The game with the Russians is played a little differently here."
The decision to make the villains SPECTRE here instead of Smersh is interesting for what we might call policy reasons (and not just because it will cause issues later - see Thunderball). Smersh was a real organization, a Russian counterintelligence and anti-infiltration force. Fleming made it bigger and more KGB-ish, but the point is that Smersh is and was a Russian organization, a Cold War organization, and no one has ever tried to conceal that. SPECTRE, on the other hand, is a cartoon supervillain, a neutral, as determined to do havoc to the Russians as they are to anyone else. They are, in their way, apolitical. By making SPECTRE the villains of these films, and ignoring Fleming's Smersh until long after there was no real danger of any Cold War association (see The Living Daylights), EON and crew were saying: these films are not taking a stance. We're not getting involved in any of this real-world stuff. This is fantasy.
[Note: I don't write "Smersh" in all caps because I believe that in the film world it is meant to mean "Smert Shpionam," death to spies, and you don't write other abbrevated compounds like "Stasi" in all caps. If you prefer to believe in the elaborate acronym given on the Wikipedia page above, then feel free to substitute "SMERSH" in your head. Besides, it makes it more visually distinct from its SPECTRE stand-in.]
This is the first we see - or don't see - of Ernst Stavro Blofeld. We don't see his face at all, and he is listed onscreen as being played by a question mark. In fact the body is Anthony Dawson (Dent from the previous film) and the voice is Eric Pohlmann.
Walter Gotell turns up in the pre-credits sequence - he will later be the beloved General Gogol. Martine Beswick is the catfighting "Gypsy" Zora - she will later be Bond's doomed assistant in Thunderball and is reportedly one of the dancing silhouettes in the opening credits of Dr. No.
Speaking of those "Gypsies" - I am opposed to this term because it is defamatory, but that's what the film calls them and that's what we're stuck with here. The sequence is one of the few really embarrassing bits of the film, to say the least ... but all you can blame the filmmakers for is deciding not to cut it; the scene is straight from Fleming (and the catfight is described in more detail and with more obvious relish in the book, including a scene where one of the women bites the other's breast, which Fleming was reportedly disappointed couldn't be in the film).
In the same vein, if you think Klebb's implied lesbianism is over-the-top in the film, you should see the book, where it is explicit. Fleming handles lesbians with the same ill grace he does gay men, but with more leering.
This film had a great deal of location shooting - unusual for the time, the studio, and the budget. That really is the Hagia Sofia, the Great Bazaar, etc.
Most of the train fight between Grant and Bond was done by the actual actors, not stuntmen.
Nikki van der Zyl dubs the hotel receptionist, and probably also dubs Sylvia Trench for consistency. As noted at the previous film, the idea was to have Trench turn up in each film and never get her fun with Bond because he always has to run off. The idea was mercifully dropped.
Director Terence Young felt that Bianchi's legs were not good enough, apparently; he reportedly trimmed a number of sequences because he felt her walk was ungainly, and when we see Tatiana's legs during the periscope sequence ("Things are shaping up nicely"), it is not Bianchi but a substitute.
There's a cut line where Grant taunts Bond about the film taken of him and Tatiana making love in the hotel: "What a performance!" Bond's line later about the film was kept in ("He was right, you know") even though it now makes less sense.
The British censors had a problem with that scene. No, it wasn't the sexual activity that bothered them - it was the presence of the SPECTRE agents filming it. They were concerned about the voyeurism aspects. EON was instructed to make the presence of the cameramen far less obvious.
The take-apart rifle was an actual production rifle, a Armalite AR-7 .22 caliber (not .25 as Q says).
I'm told that the chess game has the same sequence of moves as a famous chess game played by Boris Spassky. My interest in chess lore being less than nil, I have not bothered to confirm this.
The sequence with the helicopters, oil barrels and motorboat doesn't look like it's around the Aegean because it was filmed in Scotland. This sequence, one of the last in principal photography and already behind schedule, did not go well. A misunderstanding about the explosion timing led to reshoots; a cameraman lost a foot; and director Young nearly drowned (accounts vary) and finished photography with injuries.
The scene with the rats was an anomaly - it was filmed not on location or at Pinewood, but in Spain. Filming with wild rats was illegal in Britain, and the trick they had tried - filming white rats which had been painted with cocoa - didn't work out.
In the book, Krilencu's escape hatch is through a movie ad, but the movie is Niagara. This was changed for the film to the Anita Ekberg film Call Me Bwana, very possibly to avoid having to pay for rights ... as the latter film was produced by two gents named Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman.
There is an anecdote in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang from Terence Young about he and Connery arriving in America for the film's premiere. Even though they tried to sneak out of the airport's side entrance, "there must have been 700 or 800 people" ... a woman asked Connery to sign an autograph and when he did, "she looked horrified. 'No, no,' she said. 'I wanted James Bond.' She looked at Sean and Sean kind of crumpled. It suddenly occurred to him that he was no longer a human being, he was a sex symbol." An early warning of Connery's increasing disgruntlement with the role.
Leonid Brezhnev reportedly secured a print of the film from the British Embassy - and watched it three times.
One of the factors in choosing this book as the second film was apparently that it was a personal favorite of John F. Kennedy. Even though it was not released in the US until April of the following year, he did apparently get to see it, in a private screening on 20 November. It was his last film.
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