From Russia with Love (1963)

With this second installment in the franchise, From Russia with Love, James Bond (Sean Connery) receives his first gadget: a black, rectangular briefcase filled with all sorts of neat stuff, none of which seems to be especially fantastic, as would often be the case in some of the later films. Where the movie does diverge radically from reality is in the fact that the Soviet Union knows what he looks like, and yet Bond is still being sent out into the field. In fact, when the movie starts, we see some guy running around in a James Bond mask at a Russian training camp where they practice killing James Bond. Whereas in Dr. No. (1962), Bond was at pains to keep from being photographed, in this movie, MI6 gets information that a female Soviet agent, Tatiana (Daniela Bianchi), having seen his photograph, has fallen in love with him and wants to defect, bringing with her a Lektor cryptographic device. In real life, once a spy’s identity and face is known, he is reduced to having a desk job from then on, but not so in the Bond franchise. And this is just the beginning. As future Bond movies were made, he began to acquire superstar fame, so that all the world has heard of him. Apparently, the producers of the movies figured that since everyone in the audience would already know who James Bond is, then the same would have to be true for the characters in the movie.

In the novel, it was the Russian agency SMERSH that Bond had to contend with, but here it is actually SPECTRE, a terrorist organization first introduced in the movie Dr. No. Ian Fleming said he recommended this change from SMERSH to SPECTRE in making Dr. No, because he was afraid that by the time the movie was released, the Cold War would be over, and the movie would seem dated.  Well, I remember those times, and nobody had any sense that peace was about to break out.  In fact, the Cuban Missile Crisis took place in the very month that Dr. No was released.  On the contrary, these films were made while the Cold War was still going strong, when Russians were still thought to be utterly evil, and so it seems strange that the movie would pull its punches in this way and make a terrorist organization be Bond’s nemesis instead.

I suspect capitalism is the answer. By not offending the Soviets, the movies could be shown in Russia and in any other country under their influence, thereby increasing the profitability of the franchise.  If I am right in my surmise, then it might be asked why Fleming did not just go ahead and say this was his reason for suggesting the change.  Well, how would it look for the author of James Bond novels to admit that he was willing to knuckle under to the Soviets for mere money?

SPECTRE’s chief strategist is chess champion Kronsteen (Vladek Sheybal), who comes up with the plan to get possession of the Lektor after Bond steals it from Russia with the help of Tatiana. The plan works pretty well, up to a point, but Bond ultimately foils it. Now, it should not be surprising that a spy of Bond’s caliber might triumph. After all, even a world chess champion will lose a game occasionally. The thing to do would be to get Kronsteen started on plan B. But no, we find out that SPECTRE does not tolerate failure, the penalty for which is death. And so, Kronsteen is murdered. This begs the question, Who would work for these people? A Russian chess champion would be able to live pretty well by simply playing chess. What would he have to gain by joining up with an organization so unforgiving of failure? Of course, the point is to convey to the audience just how ruthless SPECTRE is. But there is a difference between being ruthless and being downright ridiculous.

Anyway, after Kronsteen’s execution, Rosa Klebb (Lotta Lenya) gets to work on plan B.  She enlists one of those guys (Robert Shaw) who has been killing men wearing James Bond masks, figuring he is the man for the job.  Bond has not been spent any time killing men who wear masks looking like Robert Shaw, so he is at a disadvantage, but he manages to kill him anyway, bring the Lektor back to England, along with Tatiana, whom he gets to make love to, right after making short work of Klebb wearing shoes that really are stilettoes, poison-tipped and all.

Despite the flaws, this is still one of the best Bond movies ever made.

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2 thoughts on “From Russia with Love (1963)

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