Friday, May 28, 2004

Re-visiting Bond - II

This blog shall be re-visiting (periodically), pre-Brosnan Bond movies probably in chronological order. The series continues today with a look at "From Russia with love", the second James Bond flick.

From Russia With Love (1963) Rating: **/*****

The second installment in the James Bond franchise was “From Russia With Love”. Sean Connery plays Bond again with Daniela Bianchi as Tatiana Romanov, the Russian cipher clerk who defects from the Iron Curtain. Robert Shaw and Lotte Lenya play the villains Red Grant and Rosa Klebb in this 1963 flick directed by Terrence Young.

The movie opens with the now customary pre-credit sequence. “Bond” is trying to find his way out of a maze of hedges and is being stalked by a killer. After a brief fracas, the killer takes “Bond’s” life. We find that it is actually someone else masquerading as Bond and that it was a test for the killer.

Kronsteen (Vladek Sheybal) is a chess grand master. He is also #5 in SCEPTRE (Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion). He draws a plot to serve to serve atleast three purposes – obtain a Russian coding machine, the Lektor and kill James Bond and in doing so, avenge the death of Dr.No. He reports to #1, a bald man always petting a furless cat and whose face is never shown. #1 enlists #3, Rosa Klebb (former Smersh high ranking official) who in turn recruits Red Grant, an English criminal (the killer from the opening sequence) for the purpose. As per Kronsteen’s plan, Klebb contacts Tatiana Romanov, a cipher clerk at the Russian mission at Istanbul. Feeding her the story that she’s working on a secret assignment for the motherland, Klebb persuades Tatiana to contact MI-6 with an offer to defect with the Lektor. Tatiana claims to have fallen in love with Bond after seeing his pictures and wants Bond to come to Istanbul and escort her to London.

Meanwhile Bond’s back from Jamaica after destroying Dr.No’s lair and is in a picnic with a lady (the same lady he meets at a casino just before he leaves for Jamaica in Dr.No?) when he receives M’s call. He meet’s M who briefs him about the developing situation in Istanbul and that he has to leave to Istanbul immediately to escort Tatiana back to London. M and Bond suspect a trap but the lure of the Lektor is too good for the MI-6 to ignore and of course for Bond, the gal’s a offer he can’t bear to refuse. Bond leaves for Istanbul with the latest model attaché case developed by Q.

Bond gets to Istanbul and with the help of Karim Bey, a MI-6 sympathizer with a large family (all his trusted employees are his sons) gets Tatiana into the train (the Orient Express?) bound for the Yugoslavian border. Red Grant is obviously following them and gets on the train too. He kills Karim Bey and then contacts Bond in the pretense of being a MI-6 agent sent to contact Bond and accompany them to London. He drugs Tatiana and pistol-whips Bond to unconsciousness. Bond wakes up to find the pistol pointing at him, but manages to overpower Grant with the special tear gas and a metal wire included with the attaché case. When the train stops at a point that has already been decided up by Grant, Bond gets off with Tatiana and commandeers the truck that Grant has arranged to pick him up. After fighting off SCEPTRE agents on a copter and a trio of speedboats, the lovers reach Venice.

Meanwhile #1 puts Kronsteen to death by lethal injection delivered from the heel of a shoe and warns Klebb that she’ll face the same fate if she does not deliver the Lektor to him. Klebb gains access to Bond’s room dressed as a maid. Tatiana recognizes her, but after a brief scuffle with Bond, Tatiana, who has really fallen in love with Bond, kills Klebb.

The movie introduced the pre-credits sequences in Bond movies. It must also be only of the very few Bond movies to introduce the villain too. Speaking of introductions, this movie introduced Q in the “obviously disgusted with Bond’s juvenile behavior” demeanor as we know him. Blofeld’s character is anonymously introduced as #1. It is only in You Only Live Twice that we get to see Blofeld’s face. This movie also introduced the concept of the special gadgets. Bond was never the same again.

Trivia-wise, this movie has a couple of junkets. The “Frau Farbissina” character in the Austin Powers franchise is modeled obviously on Rosa Klebb. Ian Fleming is supposed to be in one of the frames of the movie when Bond and Tatiana get off the train after killing Grant. There’s one anomaly in this movie. Ian Fleming wrote From Russia With Love in 1956. However he did not create SCEPTRE till 1961 for his book, Thunderball, which incidentally was filmed as the fourth installment of the Bond franchise. Hence, technically SCEPTRE should not have been a part of this story which is set before Thunderball.

This must probably the only Bond movie where the villains motive is not world domination – at least not directly. This movie is considered to be one of the very best Bond movies ever, though I fail to see why. The girl first feigns love for Bond and then ends up falling in love in real and this in the space of a minute or two. If she believed Klebb’s intentions were real, even while falling in love with Bond, she hides the emotional tug of war that happens usually. She never clarifies to Bond what her intentions where, even after Klebb dies. And some of the lines are corny, even considering that Bond lines are as corny as they can get. Hence, overall this movie did not touch base with me.

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