James Bond retrospective 002: ‘From Russia with Love’ (1963)

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There were only three things missing from Dr. No: a theme song, a villainous henchman and an appearance by Q (Peter Burton played Major Boothroyd in Dr. No, but he was never billed as or referred to as Q).

Fortunately the remaining elements of the Bond formula were all added for this first sequel and the end result is highly regarded and often lauded as the best Bond ever.

> Buy the complete James Bond collection on Blu-ray.


The plot

SPECTRE are back, led now for the first time by the (currently) headless, cat-stroking Blofeld, and they’re trying to stoke the Cold War.

A beautiful Russian agent says she has a coding machine and is willing to defect, but only with James Bond, with whom she claims to be in love. It’s an obvious trap but can they, and we, resist…?


The good guys

Sean Connery returns as James Bond for the second time and the character he nailed straight out of the gate is much the same. But this time Connery knows it for sure and the James Bond swagger is even more prominent. He gets with more girls, has far more bruising fights and exudes a charm that positively shines on screen.

There’s no Felix Leiter this time, but instead we have Pedro Armendáriz as Kerim Bey, the British Intelligence station chief in Istanbul. A very different prospect to Bond, he’s a calm, family-oriented man (or at least he employs his sons in multiple capacities) who exists in a world where everybody follows everybody else and not much of consequence actually happens. Of course the arrival of Bond ups the ante and fortunately he adapts with aplomb.

From Russia With Love

The stalwart two, now three, don’t change an awful lot unless the actors do. Bernard Lee as M is still Bond’s stern yet forgiving father figure. Miss Moneypenny harmlessly flirts, with Lois Maxwell in the driving seat as always. And now we have the introduction of ‘proper’ Q, Desmond Llewellyn.

Llewellyn was instructed to play the character as someone who has no time for Bond, to the point of almost dislike – after all, those gadgets never come back in one piece. This softened as the series progressed, but it’s nice to see that not everyone falls for Bond’s charm.


The bad guys

The wonderful Lotte Lenya plays the toad-like, knife-shoed Rosa Klebb to perfection. She’s handy with a knuckleduster and has no qualms dispatching anyone who underperforms. However, the role is perhaps tarnished by the way the character is portrayed as a predatory lesbian, which now leaves a slight whiff of homophobia to the characterisation.

From Russia with Love

Dr. No, for all his megalomaniacal charms, was no physical match for James Bond. So for the sequel the producers introduced the first of what would soon become a regular feature: the bruising henchman who nearly bests Bond before being despatched. Robert Shaw is supremely convincing as the steely-eyed Red Grant and their fight on the train is the stuff of legend. If only he knew not to eat red wine with fish then maybe he’d have triumphed.

There’s always got to be a failure of a sub villain. Vladek Sheybal is creepy, slimy and suitably arrogant in the role of Kronsteen, the chess Grandmaster who thinks he can plan every move. He soon learns the error of his ways.

Why is Blofeld, the most iconic Bond villain ever and the self-styled Number 1, coming in at number four on this list of bad guys? Because he’s still only the puppet master at this point and we don’t yet get to see his face. We’ll come back to him once he has more to do.


The girls

Daniele Bianchi plays the innocent, bewitching Russian agent who may or may not wish to defect. Of course once, Tatiana Romanova actually meets James Bond her knees go weak and her defection goes from improbable to definite. She doesn’t have an awful lot to do other than look pretty and turn her own hair into a comedy moustache, sadly, but she does that very well.

From Russia with Love

Sylvia Trench is back! She was supposed to appear in a few more films after this, but that plan never came to fruition, which is a shame. This time around she’s taken Bond boating and for a picnic, and once again she tempts Bond into ignoring his duties. But really, who could resist her charms?

Sometimes Bond films leave themselves wide, wide open to criticism five decades on; the inclusion of Vida and Zora is one of those times. Bond and Kerim are staying at a Gypsy camp which is just an excuse to parade every Gypsy stereotype imaginable, where they must witness a fight to the death between two girls (played by Aliza Gur and Martine Beswick) who both love the same man. Unsurprisingly once a firefight breaks out their squabble is pushed to one side. More surprisingly Bond then persuades them into a threesome for the night and to repair his clothes in the morning.


The best bits

The train fight

This fight probably remains the pinnacle of all Bond fight scenes (the franchise itself has paid tribute to it no less than three times, in Live and Let Die, The Spy Who Loved Me and Spectre).

Within the claustrophobic confines of a train car, with a drugged and unconscious Tatiana on a nearby seat, Bond and Grant go fist-to-fist for what feels like an eternity (in a good way). Stunt doubles were only used in three shots for this fight, proving that Connery had what it took to truly embody the role.


He’s barely seen but he still makes an impact. Technically played by Anthony Dawson (Professor Dent in Dr. No), and voiced by Eric Pohlmann, our favourite supervillain spends his time stroking Persian cats and using Siamese fighting fish as a metaphor for his superiority. Dr. Evil tried his hardest to destroy his credibility but there’s something about his anonymity in this film that means he comes out of it all unscathed.

The knife shoe

Rosa Klebb is proper evil. We know this because she has ridiculous milk-bottle glasses and has poison-tipped knives in her shoes (last seen making Pierce Brosnan gag when he inexplicably gave them a sniff in Die Another Day).

From Russia with Love


The MI6 trio is complete. He can’t stand Bond, but he likes to invent a crazy gadget or seventeen. His first major one is the briefcase full of tricks, and as will soon become standard, if Q shows Bond something, Bond will use it. To be honest, he should stop making things that explode if he really wants them back in pristine condition.



Ian Fleming’s novel was listed as one of President John F. Kennedy’s top ten favourite novels of all time.

Director Terence Young nearly died when a helicopter being used to film a key sequence crashed into a lake.

Sadly Pedro Armendáriz was critically ill with cancer during filming and died at his own hands shortly after production had wrapped.

Pedro Armendáriz’s real-life son appears in Licence to Kill as President Hector Lopez.

Robert Shaw is over six inches shorter than Sean Connery so had to film his scenes next to him whilst standing on a crate.

Martine Beswick (incorrectly credited in the titles here as Martin Beswick) would return as another Bond girl, playing Paula in Thunderball. They got her name right that time.

The title song, Matt Munro’s From Russia With Love, is playing on the radio when Bond and Sylvia are picnicking in their boat.

Rosa Klebb’s knife shoes were an actual weapon used by the KGB.

At the end of the original novel, Bond is clipped in the shin by those poison-tipped shoes and collapses to the ground in a cliffhanger.

The end of the opening maze sequence had to be reshot because producers were worried that the audience would still think it was James Bond under the mask. So they added a moustache. Also, pub quiz teams, Sean Connery is here technically the first actor to return in a Bond movie as a different character.

Daniela Bianchi was dubbed by an uncredited Barbara Jeffords. Jeffords returned to the Bond franchise to perform similar duties for Molly Peters (Patricia Fearing) in Thunderball and Caroline Munro (Naomi) in The Spy Who Loved Me.

The climactic boat chase explosion extravaganza was so huge that they only had enough explosives to shoot it once. Due to a miscommunication the charges were set during a test run meaning they had to scramble to get enough material to reshoot the following morning.


The verdict

It’s a toss-up between this and Goldfinger as to which is the ultimate Bond movie before Daniel Craig turned up and put a spanner in the works with the bloody brilliant Casino Royale. But ignoring the recent renaissance, From Russia with Love may well be the perfect Bond.

From Russia with Love

It’s all here: a fantastic villain with an intelligible, if relatively low key, master plan; a proper adversary who is more than a match for Bond in a physical fight; the full gang present and correct at MI6; a beautiful girl for Bond to lust over; and some real, old school spying.


James Bond will return in Goldfinger.

> Buy the complete James Bond collection on Blu-ray.

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