From Russia with Love: The foundation for 007
James R | On 24, Feb 2020
Director: Terence Young
Cast: Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Lotte Lenya, Richard Shaw
It’s rare for a franchise to begin with a film that’s named after a villain, so it’s perhaps apt that 007’s second outing is the one that begins to flesh out its leading man properly. With Dr. No successful enough to warrant a sequel, director Terence Young and Sean Connery reunited to make the most of a budget that was twice as big.
That sees Bond head to Turkey, where he is tasked with bringing in defecting Soviet consulate clerk Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) – all while evil organisation SPECTRE plans to take advantage of the situation and get revenge against Bond for the death of their agent Dr. No. How? Firstly, by playing Brits and Soviets against each other through the promise of a Lektor cryptography device, with Tatiana working as a double-agent. Second, by putting Rosa Klebb (the fearsome Lotte Lenya) in charge of taking him out. And third, by introducing assassin Red Grant (Robert Shaw) as an imposter pretending to be a Brit on 007’s side.
As well as scaling up the rogue’s gallery, From Russia with Love brings in some notable staples for the franchise, including a helicopter set piece, a post-credits sting, a pre-title sequence, gadgets (including the introduction of Desmond Llewelyn’s Q, here called “Boothroyd”, after the character in Fleming’s novels) and the ominous Blofeld, as the anonymous head of SPECTRE, plus John Barry’s stellar soundtrack.
But the key to the film’s success is understanding Bond as a character. Richard Maibaum and Johanna Harwood, who worked on Dr. No, adapt Fleming’s character for the screen with the right balance of his best and worst elements. Even the opening credits, by Robert Brownjohn rather than title designer extraordinaire Maurice Binder, seems to tap into Bond’s sexist nature by essentially projecting the titles on to belly dancers – setting the tone for a story in which the women are largely underwritten and used for mostly one thing. There’s also a hefty dose of Romani stereotypes, as Bond visits a gypsy camp and witnesses a fight between two women – the kind of perception of a foreign culture that you’d expect from a suit-wearing Brit who went to Eton and chills his bottle of Taittinger Blanc de Blancs in freshwater streams.
Connery’s Bond would later influence Dalton and Craig, in particular, in the way that he balanced the suave, smiling charisma with a physical streak – not only does he slap women and shoot people in cold blood, he also holds his own in one of the franchise’s harshest punch-ups. Which brings us back to Grant. Shaw’s formidable henchman is an all-timer for the franchise, not least because he bases his whole fake persona on Bond himself, resulting in a dark mirror-image of our protagonist. He’s proud, elitist and not afraid of using his fists. Tellingly, it’s only Grant’s inability to pick out the right bottle of wine that highlights the difference between him and Bond, the authentic, genuine Etonian with the superior taste. A chauvinist who’s more than capable of brutal violence? Meet James Bond, your new national hero.