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From Russia With Love

After taking a LOOOOOOONG break from the Bond Project, I’m finally heading back into it. Maybe I’ll even be able to finish it at some point!

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1957)

Written by: Ian Fleming

For some reason, I just barely remember the movie, so I should be able to do a pretty unbiased review of the book. It went by pretty quickly, maybe quicker than any of the other ones have so far.

From Russia With Love takes place probably about a year after the events of Diamonds Are Forever. Bond barely even remembers the last time he saw any action. Tiffany Case has left him for some rich American. He cried his tears (as he seems to do MUCH more of in the books than the movies) and is just trying to move on. He almost married her, you know?

Jesus.

Meanwhile, SMERSH (the Russian kill squad) is out to kill a spy. If only they could come up with a good plan…and a good spy to kill that will basically break down the entire Western spy ring.

Wait…there’s always that pesky James Bond! The plan that SMERSH and their leader, the revolting Rosa Klebb, come up with involves a young woman named Tatiana Romanova. They will send her to meet Bond under cover of defection. She will make Bond fall in love with her and they will make sure that everyone on the West knows that he has fallen for a Russian spy. In their story to get Bond there, Tatiana has fallen in love with Bond’s picture and will only work with him. She will bring a coding machine called a Spektor to him as a peace offering.

The whole time, though, they will have a cold-blooded killer named Krassno Granitsky following them. “Red” Grant, as he’s sometimes called, defected to Russia because he wanted to be a killer. He goes a little…funny…in the head when there’s a full moon. He HAS to kill. If he doesn’t, he feels sick.

So, Bond goes to Turkey to meet Tatiana. Before he makes contact with her, though, he meets Darko Kerim, M’s man in Turkey. By the time Bond and Tatiana meet (she sneaks into his room and lies, naked, under the covers waiting for him), he and Darko have become fast friends and have saved each others’ lives multiple times.

The rest of the book is basically Bond, Tatiana and Darko on the Orient Express trying to get the hell outta Dodge. Darko, of course, doesn’t make it, getting killed by one of the Russians who was sent to follow them out of Turkey. In Yugoslavia, Granitsky makes contact under the guise of being M’s man in that country. He drugs Tatiana and almost kills Bond. Fortunately, James gets the better of him in one of the more brutal and bloody scenes in the series so far.

There is, of course, the final showdown between Bond and Klebb where her animal instincts really come out…along with the requisite blade in the shoe trick, which will make an appearance in the film.

This is also where Bond’s old friend Mathis comes into play. I really like that character and it pisses me off more and more that they killed him off in the movie of Quantum Of Solace.

Strangely, the book ends with Bond seeming to die! He gets hit with Klebb’s poisoned shoe and falls over. Fin! No more! I kind of want to start reading Dr. No right now to see how they saved him!

This was John F Kennedy’s favorite book and I can kind of see why. It takes a while to build, but the action is great and the suspense pretty fulfilling. So far, it may be my favorite of the series. It’s certainly better than Diamonds Are Forever and is a return to form for Mr. Fleming.

It’s also where Fleming starts to kind of experiment to see what he can get away with with his audience. Bond isn’t even mentioned for the first five chapters (37 pages). Then he’s not physically introduced until Chapter 11 (page 72). That’s nearly half way through! That first half is all the Russians trying to come up with a plan. We really get to know these people and how they think.

According to Fleming, all of the buildings and agencies (and even some of the people) are real. He has been into the buildings and wrote them from his memory. He has worked against SMERSH and knows how they work. It’s a very interesting part of the series that tells us more about the enemy than I ever thought we would get out of these books. It really shows how the West thought of Russians at the time. They were extremely intelligent, but evil in every way…almost animalistic.

It also, unfortunately, shows their views of lesbians. Rosa Klebb, who is the worst Russian of all, makes a pass at Tatiana during her interview. Klebb is described almost as a devil. Just a horrible, disgusting person. Of course, that’s how lesbians are, right? We’ll see more of Fleming’s thoughts on homosexuality later in the series. It’s not particularly enlightened, but neither were the times.

Other than that, I HIGHLY recommend this book if you’re at all interested in reading the series. I think Fleming hit his stride just after the rather light Diamonds Are Forever.

GLOBE HOPPING: Turkey, France and every country along the Orient Express line.

CONQUESTS: Just Tatiana…many, many times.

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963)

Directed by: Terence Young
Written by: Richard Maibaum/Johanna Harwood
Based on book by: Ian Fleming

Yeah. After watching the movie, I realized just how little I remembered of it. It’s really weird. It’s as if it was just about the only one that was NEVER played on Sunday nights when I was growing up. This one and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. BUT, it’s one of the most famous ones.

Anyway, the plot is basically the same as the book with only a few changes here and there. It opens with Grant (Robert Shaw nearly 15 years out from becoming a master shark killer) killing a James Bond look-alike. Then we get the first real James Bond opening with titles projected onto beautiful young ladies. Still no lyrics to the sequence, though. Those will come with the next movie…with a vengeance.

Cut to a chess game where Kronsteen (Vladek Sheybal) is beckoned to meet with his superiors…not with SMERSH, but with SPECTRE. (The coding machine is now called a LEKTOR.) Blofeld is leading SPECTRE to kill a spy and trying to make it look like it was the Russian agency, SMERSH. Rosa Klebb (played with creepy aplomb by Lotte Lenya) and Kronsteen are working for both agencies, hoping to start a war between Russia and the West, so that SPECTRE can come in a reap the benefits.

How this really helps anyone is beyond me.

(This Blofeld scene is pretty brilliant. First off, we never see Blofeld’s face…only his cat and hands. Then, the scene takes place on a boat and the camera is constantly moving with the waves, keeping us off balance. We’re just about as frightened as Klebb and Kronsteen. Director Terence Young only directed three of the films, but his stamp stayed with the series for a long time.)

They come up with the same plot against Bond (Sean Connery) using the same girl, Tatiana (the beautiful and non-English speaking Italian actress Daniela Bianchi…her voice was dubbed). In this version, though, she’s already stationed in Istanbul where Klebb interviews her…already showing her lesbian tendencies as she constantly touches Tatiana, making the young woman very uncomfortable.

Bond goes to Turkey, after flirting pretty hardcore with Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), to find the young lady who is in love with his picture…and hopefully pick up a LEKTOR along the way. Little does he know that Grant is hot on his tail.

Bond meets Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendariz…decidedly NOT someone who looks like John Rhys-Davies, as I really wanted Darko Kerim to look like) and becomes fast friends with him, as in the book. Unlike the book, after two attempts on Kerim’s life, Bond is ready to kill the enemy in cold blood. Connery’s Bond is a bit colder than the Bond of Fleming’s books. Fleming’s Bond was almost made sick by Kerim’s killing of this man. (Also, in the book the man comes out of a billboard with Marilyn Monroe’s face on it. Here, he comes out of Anita Ekberg’s mouth. That’s because she was starring in Call Me Bwana, a film also produced by Broccoli and Saltzman.)

Eventually, all four of our principles get on the Orient Express…with only one extra Russian who is fairly easily distracted. Kerim and Bond just confront him and tie him up. Unfortunately, the results are the same. He and Kerim kill each other. Then Grant uses the code that has been used throughout the film to cozy up to Bond, making him think that he’s a British spy, too. The same turn of events cause Tatiana to be drugged and asleep while Bond is trapped by Grant. Thanks to Q (Desmond Llewelyn in his first turn as the gadget man), though, Bond gets the better of Grant and kills him with his own Windsor knot.

That’s almost the end of the book, but the movie goes on. Bond and Tatiana barely escape the train, hop on a truck and are chased by a helicopter. Bond blows it up and then they’re on the water, being chased by MORE Russians. (There’s FAR more action in the film than there was in the book…of course.)

Soon enough, though, they get away from those guys and end up in another hotel room. Of course, now the most famous bit comes when Rosa Klebb slips into the room and tries to kill Bond with her pointy shoe. Tatiana shoots her. The end…basically.

One of the best of the bunch to go with one of the best of the books (so far, anyway). It’s the introduction of some real gadgets and the first true John Barry score, so the formula is really starting to take shape in only the second film.

There is a lot of attention to details from the book, which is nice. The scene with the Gypsies is basically intact…except that the two girls don’t end up naked. Grant is introduced right away with action, but he still gets his massage, where he is introduced in the book. Tatiana’s introduction to Bond is exactly the same…wearing only stockings and a black ribbon around her neck. Nice. There is still an attack on the Russian consulate, but it’s combined with getting Tatiana out of the country with the LEKTOR. Also a nice touch.

Bond is quite a bit rougher with Tatiana here, too. He slaps her at one point when she won’t give up her secrets to him. (Not THOSE kinds of secrets. She gives those up pretty quickly.)

It kind of disturbs me how little I remembered of this movie. It’s really pretty awesome and, even if it moves a little bit slowly in the middle, it’s a great spy film. The book, also great, has very little spy work and Bond just kind of lucks into everything.

According to legend, this was the last film that Kennedy saw before he was killed. I’m glad he got to see the adaptation of one of his favorite books and I’m very glad that it was actually good and pretty faithful. Later books would not really get the same treatment from Broccoli and Saltzman…although there would be some great films, of course.

GLOBE HOPPING: ISTANBUL; Beograd, Serbia; Yugoslavia; Venice

CONQUESTS: Sophia from Dr. No (one of the few (possibly only) female characters to show up in two Bond films); two Gypsy girls? maybe?; Tatiana, who begs for it throughout the entire film…goddamn, Mr. Bond.

I’m a little behind on the whole Blu-Ray revolution, but seriously…the DVDs that I have JUST FUCKING CAME OUT less than five years ago. I’m not going to replace them AGAIN! I’ve bought these movies three times. They can fuck off with this new bid of trying to make more money. So here are the features on the final DVD special edition.

Fuck the Blu-Ray.

There are some really cool vintage interviews with Fleming that, while they’re pretty superficial, they do at least show us how Fleming acted and let us into his world, if only a tiny bit. The best one is an interview that Fleming does with hard-boiled detective novelist, Raymond Chandler.

I pooped.

The two novelists talk about their process and trade quips about their heroes. (Fleming never sees Bond as a hero, more of a “blunt instrument” used by MI6…sound familiar?)

There’s also the typical “Mission Control.” Stupid, once again.

The best of the features is a fairly long, new documentary about the making of the film. There are the typical tidbits (Lotte Lenya was SUCH a nice woman! The helicopter chase was inspired by North By Northwest!), but there are the bits that you wouldn’t know from watching the film.

The best tidbit is about Pedro Armendariz. The actor found out, about midway through filming, that he had inoperable cancer. He didn’t have long, but he wanted to finish the film. So Terence Young had sets built quickly so that they could get all of Pedro’s scenes filmed. They barely got them all shot by propping Pedro up to get some shots.

Pedro checked himself into a hospital in Mexico. Within a few days, before he is hooked up to life support and drugs, Pedro Armendariz shoots himself with a gun that he smuggled into the hospital.

On a lighter note, we find out that the scene on the boat was almost created in post. They had to reshoot some of the scene without the set. The editor had to do a LOT of slight of hand to insert the actors over themselves to use the original shots as a backdrop or reverse the film to make new shots. He also basically invented the quick cuts that we’re so used to in action films today.

An informative doc for a great film.

Another good on is Harry Saltzman: Showman. It’s a profile of the co-producer of the first nine films in the series. He was the showman of the duo, the man who got things done. He was also the more Bondian of the two producers, with a swimming pool on top of the house and a train set that lowered onto a poker table. He’s also the guy who came up with most of the gadgets or the sets. The map on the floor, the jet pack, Bond in a spin dryer…whatever. It was Saltzman’s.