History, Legacy & Showmanship

(Attempted) Murder on the Orient Express: Remembering “From Russia with Love” on its 55th Anniversary

January 8, 2019 - 9:35 am   |   by
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From Russia with Love

Coate: In what way was Daniela Bianchi’s Tatiana Romanova a memorable Bond Girl?

Chapman: I think she’s more of a “normal” character that most other Bond girls: an ordinary young woman caught up in events beyond her comprehension. Rather like Kara in The Living Daylights (which is quite similar to From Russia with Love in a lot of ways). She’s not a professional smuggler or adventurer a la Tiffany case or Pussy Galore, and not a professional agent like Anya Amasova or Jinx.

Cork: Daniela Bianchi is a strikingly beautiful woman. Terence Young, who maintained an apartment he couldn’t really afford in Rome insisted that the producers look for Tatiana there, claiming that Rome was filled with the most beautiful women in the world. Having succeeded in dubbing Ursula Andress, Young had no concerns over Bianchi’s limited English. She, like Andress, was cast late in the process after months of debates, a screentest, and push from some quarters to cast a more established American actress. I love Bianchi’s performance. Tatiana’s fragility comes through, although the dubbing does take some of the intimacy away from the character.

Barbara Jefford did the re-voicing work, and she did an amazing job. She knew Robert Shaw and Sean through her work with Sean’s wife. When she arrived to re-voice Daniella, she had neither seen the film nor read the script. She referred to her approach as “instant acting,” basing her line-readings almost solely off Terence Young’s “meticulous” directions. She is a brilliant actress, and her work on From Russia with Love complements Daniela’s performance.

Scivally: Tatiana is a very sympathetic Bond woman, an unwilling pawn in a game of international intrigue. Chosen to act as a lure to draw Bond into the trap, she follows orders dutifully but then falls in love with the British agent. Though not a very accomplished actress, Daniela Bianchi is easy on the eyes and just manages to bring enough depth to her characterization to pull it off. She’s particularly good in the scene where she first encounters Bond, sneaking into his hotel bed. The banter between her and 007 is so well written that the scene became a standard one for screen-testing future Bond actors.

Coate: Where do you think From Russia with Love ranks among the James Bond movie series?

Chapman: For me it’s one of the very best, possibly even the best of the series. It seems a much more confident and assured film than Dr. No, where Terence Young and the producers were to some extent still finding their way. But there’s still a freshness about it, it hasn’t got bogged down under the weight of expectations.

Cork: From Russia with Love is my favorite Bond film. It only edges out Goldfinger by a hair, and I reserve the right to change my mind, but aside from the wacky back-projection of Bond’s hand unspooling SPECTRE’s film into The Grand Canal, and the too-static shot of the helicopter exploding, I’m not sure I would change a frame.

Scivally: For me, it’s the best of the series story-wise, though Goldfinger has a brisker pace and is more of a crowd-pleaser. From Russia with Love is more of an international chess game between the superpowers, with Bond and Tatiana as willing pawns — and the superpowers themselves are pawns of Ernst Stavro Blofeld and SPECTRE, an ingenious touch not in Fleming’s original novel. The only gadgets Bond has are a collapsible sniper rifle (used not by him but by Kerim Bey) and his exploding-talcum-powder-briefcase with hidden knife, and Bond’s quips are amusing without being groaners. It’s a more “grown up” Bond film, with a screenplay that stays close to Fleming’s book, assured direction from Terence Young, and a cast of great actors: Pedro Armendariz, Vladek Sheybal, Robert Shaw, Lotte Lenya and Sean Connery, at the top of their game.

From Russia with Love 35mm film clipCoate: What is the legacy of From Russia with Love?

Chapman: It’s curious that a film that many Bondologists rate among the very best is not in fact wholly representative of the series. Many of the ingredients we associate with the Bond style aren’t there: no Ken Adam sets, no Maurice Binder titles, even the big pitched battle comes at the mid-way point rather than at the end.

Oddly, perhaps, From Russia with Love didn’t really have much of an influence on the films that followed, which with Goldfinger, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice moved decisively away from the spy thriller mode and embraced technological fantasy. But it tends to be the reference point when the series periodically wants to come back “down to Earth” after excursions into fantasy: For Your Eyes Only and The Living Daylights are perhaps the closest in style.

Cork: The legacy of From Russia with Love is strange and complex. When released in October 1963, it became the highest-grossing film of all time in the UK. Studios took note. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. got its final network greenlight for the production of a pilot in November, 1963. Before From Russia with Love’s release in the US, plans were put in place to mount a Matt Helm series, to make Len Deighton’s The Ipcress File, and to make Our Man Flint. The first true quasi-Bond spoof out of the dock was Carry On Spying, but by then many others were in the works. While the success of From Russia with Love was not the start of the Bond phenomenon, and the books were selling incredibly well around the globe by 1963, it was the final tipping point where everyone was grabbing on to the Bond bandwagon.

The film proved to be very influential in film editing. Peter Hunt liked to say he was a perfect match for Terence Young because Terence didn’t shoot everything like a perfect jigsaw puzzle. Hunt said he would “fight with the film.” Thus, he started tossing rules out the window, cutting much faster than studio films of the era, using shots to convey emotion rather than matching continuity. Every modern action film owes a debt to Peter Hunt’s editing style.

The film also altered action films. The fight on the train was like a gauntlet thrown at the feet of future generations of filmmakers. The raw violence in the film upped the ante for action films. In most films up until From Russia with Love, fight scenes had been relatively short affairs or quasi-comic barroom brawls that seemed to go on for hours. Real mano-a-mano beatings were rare, and when they did exist, they rarely felt real, with actors trading absurd roundhouse punches or the camera panning away as we hear the violence but don’t see it. Stunt coordinator Peter Perkins choreographed the train fight like a dance scene, but Terence Young insisted that it feel real, that Connery and Shaw grapple more than punch, that the scene be partially shot with a handheld camera. The result was groundbreaking.

There is also the legacy of John Barry. While he did not write the lovely title song (that’s Lionel Bart), this is his first full Bond score, and nothing can top it. It is a score where he knows when to go big and knows when to stay small. With this film, John Barry creates a sound that, along with his arrangement of The James Bond Theme and his theme for Zulu, comes to redefine the boundaries of motion picture soundtracks.

Time and again, filmmakers will talk about a spy-themed project, and when asked about James Bond, they will say that they hope to make something more in the vein of From Russia with Love, a believable thriller with all the elegance, sexuality, spectacle, and violence that we have come to expect in the genre. The legacy of From Russia with Love is we are still looking for a spy film that comes close to matching it, even fifty-five years later.

Scivally: From Russia with Love’s most lasting legacy is that it was the first 007 film to have a pre-credits sequence, something that became standard from that point forward. It also helped to further establish Sean Connery’s James Bond as a box-office draw, and Connery’s performance in this film is more assured and relaxed than in Dr. No; at this early stage, he was settling into the role, but hadn’t yet become bored with it, as he often seems in You Only Live Twice. It was also one of the rare instances of a sequel being better than the film that preceded it, and as such helped stoke the anticipation for the next one in the series, Goldfinger.

Coate: Thank you — James, John, and Bruce — for participating and sharing your thoughts about From Russia with Love on the occasion of its 55th anniversary.

The James Bond roundtable discussion will return in Remembering “Quantum of Solace” on its 10th Anniversary.

From Russia with Love

IMAGES

Selected images copyright/courtesy 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, CBS-Fox Home Video, Danjaq LLC, Eon Productions Limited, MGM Home Entertainment, United Artists Corporation.

 

SPECIAL THANKS

Sheldon Hall, John Hazelton, and Dave Worrall

 

- Michael Coate

Michael Coate can be reached via e-mail through this link. (You can also follow Michael on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)

From Russia with Love (Blu-ray Disc)

 

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