I am a lifelong fan of Bond movies, and my writing partner, Holmes, is a man with experience in intelligence and covert operations. This week, we’re continuing our look at this iconic movie series with a few comments about From Russia with Love.
This second Bond film from 1963 is another fun, tongue in cheek spy movie based on the fifth Bond novel from Ian Fleming, who was, himself, an elite MI-6 agent during WWII. If you are looking for a serious espionage drama this isn’t it. If you want a little relaxing humor and some cool action scenes, have at it.
In this movie, MI-6 receives an offer of a “new” high-end Russian cypher machine, and although they are sure the offer is an entrapment, the prize is just to good to ignore. Little do they know that SPECTRE, the Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion, is playing both the USSR and the USA to get the machine and kill Bond.
Here’s what a belly dancer and a spook have to say about this movie classic. . . .
As I watched this movie, I laughed, remembering Holmes’ comment in our first installment of The Love Doctors. “Dating for me was beautiful Russian women appearing out of nowhere and pretending to love me, and me pretending to believe them.”
As a belly dancer, I’m delighted to have a belly dance scene to address. “Leila,” a.k.a. Lisa Nelson, is the perfect example of what I always tell my students. Do simple things well, and you’re in the game. She had only danced a few years when she made From Russia with Love. I’m sure there are still accomplished dancers up and down the West Coast and throughout Turkey who curse her name to this day for succeeding out of turn, but that only goes to prove another thing I tell my students. Dancing and entertaining are two different things. Few people are accomplished at both, and when it comes to the public, entertaining matters more.
Leila’s dance takes place in a Turkish gypsy camp. The Turkish Rom have a very distinctive style of dance, which is based on a box step and includes what I call “Turkish abuse.” . . . Striking different parts of the body with a closed fist or the butt of the hand in a traditional, stylized fashion. Leila’s dance, on the other hand, is Turkish cabaret, with no “steps,” and very pronounced movements. Nothing subtle about this girl, which is typical of both Turkish cabaret and newer dancers. However, like I said in the last paragraph, she does simple things well, and she does them with a confidence and panache that carry more entertainment weight than her inexperience.
The other thing that jumps out at me as a woman is the portrayal of Tatiana Romanova played by Daniela Bianchi. It seems her only talent as a Russian cypher clerk is to sit around being beautiful. She contributes nothing to the accomplishment of the mission, but Holmes assures me she is crucial to the Plot that Men Love, which is an element of all Bond movies.
Personally, I think Bianchi’s contribution of feminine, obedient, ego-puffing eye candy is very much a product of the early 60s mainstream social environment. Back then, women were still largely regarded as helpless creatures meant only for pleasing men and raising children with the assistance of “Mother’s Little Helper.” That’s “valium” for you young folks. While I appreciate this earlier Bond film for being true to the tone of Fleming’s character, I don’t mind that the later films, as we shall see, have stronger, more relevant female characters.
One of the funniest parts of the movie is a bit subtle and must have been an intentional mistake for the sake of humor. The cypher machine is a “new” model, but Bond responds to the information by mentioning that they have been trying to get it for years. From the brief view of the machine in the film, it appeared to me to be a commercial version of the Model 32 Easy-Cypher Teletype Unit.
My favorite character is the hilarious “Rosa Klebb,” played by the very talented Austrian actress Lotte Lenya. In real life, Lotte was always a favorite member of any stage or film crew. She had a reputation for generosity and compassion. But in this movie she convincingly portrays a Vaudeville style vile, heartless villain in the form of SPECTRE’s Number 3. You just can’t help wanting to put a few hollow points into that nasty Rosa Klebb.
The train scenes take place on carefully restored cars from the Orient Express. I found the fight scene on the train to be well-choreographed and skillfully filmed in very confining spaces—in the actual train.
The director and producers wanted a very convincing fire scene for the boat chase. The concept of defeating the pursuers with leaking fuel was a bit lame, and they needed to provide a good visual impact for the movie goers to pull it off. They succeeded all to well. If it looks like the actors are really are on fire, that’s because they are. The fire got out of control, and three members of the crew ended up in the hospital.
An interesting drama within the drama is the story of Pedro Armendariz. He played the Turkish MI-6 contract station manager. Born in Mexico to an American mother and a Mexican father, he was known as a cheerful man who had no enemies, and he had been a favorite of American movie mogul, John Ford. Pedro acted in a Ford production with John Wayne that was filmed in the canyons west of St George, Utah, downwind from a concurrent surface nuclear weapons test in Nevada. The crew of that film suffered more than three times the expected cancer incidence over the next twenty-five years.
During the early stages of filming From Russia with Love, Armendariz was diagnosed with cancer and told that he only had a few weeks to live. He wanted to complete the film before returning home so they rearranged the filming schedule to get all of his scenes done first. Pedro eschewed pain medication during the filming and finished his parts. The limp that you see in the movie was very real. He returned home to Los Angeles and died a few days later.
If you want some realism nit picking, here it is. That “sniper rifle” is not a “.25 caliber” anything. It’s a .22 caliber, back-packable AR-7 that they could have purchased at K-Mart where I bought mine when I was 15. I got rid of it quickly because it was the least accurate rifle I had ever purchased, until I made the unpardonable mistake of buying an Italian Caracano. Since you don’t know my real identity, I can safely confess the Caracano to you. My wife doesn’t know about the Caracano purchase during my youth, and I’m never going to tell her. But as for the AR-7 in the film, it’s great for rabbits, and only slightly better than a slingshot for sniper work.
AR-7 Rifle — Making rabbits cower
Also, a well-trained, well-armed security team would have transported Bond, the machine, and the alleged defector to a waiting transport plane at a NATO air base in Turkey. Escorted by four F-105 Thunder Chiefs, the plane would have flown to the UK with a fueling stop at a NATO base in Italy without ever entering Soviet controlled air space over eastern Europe. At the refueling stop, expert interrogators would get on the plane for subtle and friendly interrogation of the defector, and that process would continue (in a relaxed and friendly way) for months. Bond and the machine would get off the plane and enter a separate transport. To soothe the defector’s ego, a high level MI-6 big shot carrying some pricey, cold champagne would get on the plane for the red carpet schmooze job. No way in hell anybody is getting on that train with that machine. But that would have been pretty boring so for our sake they took the train.
For many Bond fans, this film is the best of the bunch. Holmes and I rate it at a .357 Magnum*. The only reason we exclude it from our top .44 Magnum rating is because it lacks any “life changing qualities.” Your life won’t be changed by this film, but you’ll probably enjoy it.
Do you prefer the Bond girls to be eye candy, or to have more relevant roles? Is From Russian with Love one of your favorites? Why or why not?
All the best to all of you for assassin-free train rides.
Piper Bayard—The Pale Writer of the Apocalypse
Holmes—Student of Sex, C4, and Hollow Points
*Click here for our full rating system.