Pop Culture

La Fin Du Bond: From Russia With Love

On April 10, the 25th (official) James Bond movie hits theaters. No Time to Die also marks the (allegedly) last time Daniel Craig will don the tuxedo. While this (probably) doesn't herald the end of 007, it's a significant milestone nonetheless. And you know what that means: that's right, it's nostalgia time.

That release date is a little less than two months from now, not enough time to do a movie-a-week retrospective (maybe there would have been if I'd thought of this sooner than three days ago). Then again, nobody wants to read a 1,500-word defense of Quantum of Solace.*

Therefore, in the dwindling time remaining between now and what will surely be the greatest film of 2020, I'm going to recap some of the highs and lows in the almost 60-year-old Bond franchise I'm calling La Fin Du Bond. And we're starting off with one that a not-insignificant number of folks consider the greatest 007 film: From Russia with Love.

Released in 1963, FRWL is one of the few 007 movies which links directly to its predecessor. The plot here concerns efforts by SPECTRE to trick British intelligence into stealing a Lektor decoder device from the Soviets, with the added bonus of exacting revenge on James Bond (Sean Connery) for killing their operative Dr. No in a movie I can't recall the title of.
It also introduced the character of SPECTRE big kahuna Blofeld (though he goes by "Number 1," and actor Anthony Dawson wasn't credited) and Desmond Llewelyn as "Q," who would play the role in every movie (except Live and Let Die) until his death in 1999.

From Russia with Love is also the fourth-shortest movie in the series, which — if you'd asked me years ago — I would've sworn was impossible. The film just felt longer, thanks to a protracted sequence involving belly dancing and a gypsy catfight (that's mercifully broken up by the arrival of Bulgarian ruffians), and because half the movie takes place on a train.

There's also a relative lack of the goofiness that would plague the franchise in later years. For example, Bond's briefcase from Q Branch *only* contains conventional weapons and some gold coins, which is basically what the State Department tells you to take with you to Mexico these days.

Unfortunately, Bond's inherent grossness is still on full display, and I don't just mean Connery's chest pelt. In addition to the aforementioned gypsy catfighters (he beds them both, natch), he slaps double-agent/lover Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) to get her to come clean, and do he and Sylvia Trench (we also met her in Dr. No) have an open relationship or what?

Not that I'd expect to be blamed for succumbing to Ursula Andress's belted bikini charms.

From Russia with Love is the second of three movies directed by Terence Young (and the second of *seven* for cinematographer Ted Moore), which confers a tonal consistency we'll find lacking in later films. It also features some of the best casting in the series. Austrian singer Lotte Lenya plays the sinister Rosa Klebb, who — along with Robert Shaw's "Red" Grant — end up some of Bond's more memorable foes. Indeed, the climactic train fight between Grant and Bond remains the most brutal, at least until the Daniel Craig era.
Not to be overlooked is Pedro Armendáriz as MI6's Turkish station chief, Ali Kerim Bey. Armendáriz was suffering from terminal cancer during filming (contracted when he appeared in The Conqueror), adding a macabre dimension to his wonderful turn as one of Bond's many doomed sidekicks.

FRWL is also one of the only movies where Bond's abilities aren't always up to snuff. Let's face it: what passes for tradecraft in these flicks is barely above the level of Spies Like Us ("I'll knock three times." Oh, you mean like everyone on the planet?), and Grant has to intervene twice so Bond can obtain the Maguff ... er, "Lektor."  At this point it was still conceivable (though admittedly unlikely) that the character wouldn't survive (especially if you'd read the novel).

This approach would ultimately be short-lived. Goldfinger was released a year later to massive critical and commercial success, establishing the template for almost every subsequent film. It's interesting to contemplate what directions the Bond series might have taken had this not been the case, or whether there'd even *be* a series. For while From Russia with Love earned accolades of its own, it's hard to imagine 007 would enjoy the same success in the coming decades as a more sober and grounded effort.

Well, "relatively" sober. There's still a Gypsy catfight. And a poison knife-shoe.

Stray Bullets:

> Who knew a .25 caliber rifle could take down assassins *and* helicopters?
> Where the hell is "SPECTRE Island?" How has such a promising location been completely ignored since? Did it become Love Island after SPECTRE declared bankruptcy?
> Alec Trevelyan was only half right: Bond "failed to protect" nearly as many of his allies as he did his lovers.

Next up: the franchise heads in pretty much the opposite direction with You Only Live Twice.

*You're getting one anyway.