The slow Bond marathon continues with 1963’s From Russia With Love. Like Dr. No, it follows the original novel closely, although Fleming’s usual antagonist SMERSH is explicitly replaced with SPECTRE. The Soviets are still Britain’s Cold War rivals, but the plot is altered slightly so that Rosa Kleb has defected to SPECTRE and the criminal/terrorist organization is playing both sides of the Iron Curtain off each other.
This is the second Bond film. Some of the usual tropes are falling into place. Moneypenny is fleshed out a little more, the flirty receptionist who knows a lot more than you might expect. Desmond Llewellyn debuts as Q, but like his predecessor in Dr. No, the scene is forgettable. We don’t really see the Q we know and love until Thunderball. He does come bearing gadgets in the form of a briefcase equipped with a pop-out knife, tear gas, a disassembled gun, and gold coins. Not exactly an exploding pen or a laser cigarette lighter, but already the die is cast.
Still, Bond has more in common here with Alfred Hitchcock than Goldfinger. Connery is a bit hornier in this one, his steady girlfriend Sylvia Trench in her final appearance. He also cracks wise more often. (“She should have kept her mouth shut,” he quips in reference to a door in a billboard behind Doris Day’s mouth.) Daniela Bianchi is one of the most beautiful Bond girls ever, but her lines were dubbed over by a British actress.
From Russia With Love has a terrific supporting cast. Ali Kerem Bey is probably my favorite sidekick. In an era when “men were men,” Kerem is probably the most fun to watch. Rosa Klebb is a dark, cold operative later parodied in the Austin Powers movies. Kronsteen, SPECTRE’s mastermind behind the plot to kill Bond and get the Lektor decryption unit, comes off as a smug, too-smart-for-his-own-good type who supposedly plans for every contingency. Too bad that, as Blofeld informs Kronsteen and Kleb, that this organization does not tolerate failure.
And, of course, we can’t talk about this movie without talking about Robert Shaw’s Red Grant. A killing machine trained and honed to a fine edge by SPECTRE, Grant enjoys his work. Shaw is cold, silent, and malevolent before turning on the charm when he assumes the identity of Nash, an MI6 agent he kills on the way to meet Bond. Robert Shaw is more like Robert Patrick in Terminator 2: Judgment Day until he has to look normal to Bond. And he doesn’t look a thing like Quint from Jaws, 13 years in Shaw’s future at this point.
As the archetypal Bond film, it’s not even on the radar, as is Dr. No. As a Cold War thriller, it stands on its own quite nicely. And that’s why From Russia With Love rates highly on most people’s lists of Bond movies.