From Russia With Love recap / Men's men and women with killer boots
From Russia With Love recap: men's men and women with killer boots
This Sunday afternoon at 12.45pm, ITV1 screens the second James Bond film – which perfectly captured Fleming's incorrigible spy, and brought us the unforgettable Rosa Klebb
From Russia With Love
Production year: 1963
Cert (UK): PG
Runtime: 118 mins
Directors: Terence Young
Cast: Bernard Lee, Daniela Bianchi, Lois Maxwell, Lotte Lenya, Pedro Armendariz, Robert Shaw, Sean Connery
"Oh James, James, will you make love to me all the time in England?" - Tatiana
After a period of being tucked away on Sky, the James Bond films are back where they're supposed to be – filling up huge swathes of the ITV weekend schedule until it's time to show all the Harry Potter films in order again. This is undoubtedly a good thing. James Bond is as much a part of ITV as Ant and Dec and those upsettingly sexually aggressive e-cigarette adverts. So, to welcome him back, here's a recap of 007's second cinematic outing, From Russia With Love.
From Russia With Love is over 50 years old now, and it stands a perfect document of James Bond as he was meant to be, before prevailing fads of the times made him too jokey or too gadgety or too politically correct or deliberately not politically correct enough. It's set in the time it was written, when M was a man and Bond wasn't sporadically distracted by John Cleese honking around like a ninny. It's one of the best films in the series, and I'll kick anyone who disagrees with me in the leg with a spike.
"Red wine with fish. Well that should have told me something" - James Bond
Sean Connery as James Bond and Daniela Bianchi as Russian agent Tatiana Romanova in From Russia With Love. Photograph: Sportsphoto/Allstar/Cinetext Collection
In retrospect, there's a case for calling From Russia With Love the first real James Bond film. Dr No might have introduced the character, but it was just as interested in Brylcreemed young service operatives in nice cardigans as it was with anything else. From Russia With Love, though, struck upon all the old tropes that we still see to this day; a pre-title sequence (with that old chestnut, the dead Bond fakeout), gratuitously hammy titles that are approximately 98% boob, the introduction of Q and the promise that "James Bond will return".
Excluding the very start of the film, where he leaps out at you like a toddler with a waterpistol; and the initial lookalike, we don't even meet James Bond until almost 20 minutes in. And, having laid out the building blocks of his chief characteristics in Dr No, the set-up to his introduction here is minimal. It's just him with his belly button out, getting off with a girl in a boat. Which is, more or less, how he ends the film. It's a different girl, though. What a cad.
Despite all this indiscriminate swordsmanship, the film also contains the first signs that James Bond might actually be a human being. When discussing his plans to seduce Tatiana with M, he makes a couple of asides about whether he'll be handsome or charismatic enough to manage it. It's a nice moment, allowing Bond to be vulnerable without physically making him weep in the shower fully clothed like he does now. And let's not forget, his heart is officially too soft to be a Gypsy. On the other hand, this is the film that birthed Bond's immortally icky pick-up line: "[Your mouth] is just the right size … for me, that is." He might be vulnerable, but he's still a complete bastard.
"One day we must invent a faster-working venom" - Blofeld
Lotte Lenya as Rosa Klebb. Photograph: Ronald Grant Archive
After the relative disappointment of Dr No who, despite being the titular character of the previous film, pretty much just recounted an evil plan and then fell into a cooling vat, this time we get a spectacular array of villains. This is where we first meet Blofeld – although here he's credited as "?" – and then there's Red Grant who, despite his role in the film's most unbearably tense scene, looks too identical to Daniel Craig to be a real menace. In my head at least, Grant is a future version of James Bond sent back to the past to kill Sean Connery before he can go on to commit the crimes of racial insensitivity demonstrated in You Only Live Twice.
But the real baddie of From Russia With Love, the real draw, is Colonel Rosa Klebb. The woman is a force of nature. Her poison-coated shoe-spike is one of the all-time most iconic Bond weapons. She flinches at unsolicited human contact, as all sensible people do. And, on top of all that, she travels all the way to SPECTRE Island and back just so that she can punch one solitary man in the stomach. Klebb is so mighty that the film went to some lengths to dilute her impact – the book originally ends with Klebb kicking Bond almost to the point of death. She's brittle and brutal and permanently looks ill at ease in her own skin. My ideal woman, in short.
• I'll be dipping in and out of the James Bond films as ITV airs them over the next six months or so. Full disclosure: I'm only doing this because it means I'll get to write about On Her Majesty's Secret Service in a few weeks. Expect much gushing.
• Another undying 007 trope set out by From Russia With Love: grown men walking around with their tummies sucked in. Thanks Red Grant!
• Today in Things Were Different In The Past: James Bond calls a woman "mental".
• Moneypenny's seduction technique: rubbing her face against someone like a cat trying to clear out its sinuses. No wonder it never works. Moneypenny is an idiot.
• It's interesting to see Desmond Llewelyn as a pre-eyeroll Q. In fact, his scene is incredibly dry here, like watching an Open University operating exploding suitcases programme.
• At least this film proves that there's one thing James Bond is terrible at: throwing film into the sea and then waving at it.