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From Russia With Love

From Russia With Love(1964)

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teaser From Russia With Love (1964)

From Russia with Love (1963), the second entry in the internationally popular James Bond series, is often considered one of the best. Although the character of weapons expert Q was introduced here (but called Boothroyd), and a crucial moment hinges on an exploding briefcase he devises for 007, much of the action still centers on Bond's strength, skill and cunning, rather than the gadget-heavy plots of future films in the series. It also set the formula for all Bond films to follow: the pre-credit action sequence, the hit title song, the first appearance of arch-enemy Blofeld (here just called "Number One") with his trademark white cat, a distinctive John Barry score, and even more exotic locations - and beautiful women - than the first time out.

From Russia with Love also has what many consider to be one of the sharpest scripts, filled with Bond's characteristically barbed one-liners, and a clever story centered around a plot by the renegade evil SPECTRE organization to pit the Soviets and the West against each other. In the process, they plan to lure Bond to his death with the promise of obtaining a top-secret decoding machine and bedding an alluring Russian agent.

The Ian Fleming novel on which this is based was chosen for the second Bond film largely on the basis of a fortuitous PR boost. According to an article in Life magazine, President John F. Kennedy named From Russia with Love as one of his ten favorite books of all time. That and the huge success of the first film, Dr. No (1962), convinced producers Harry Saltzman and Albert "Cubby" Broccoli to double the budget over the earlier picture to $2 million. Some of that, of course, went to new star Sean Connery, who understandably wanted some monetary compensation for his indelible contribution to the Bond mystique. The money also went into sumptuous scenes and spectacular action sequences filmed in Venice, Madrid, Scotland, Wales, various spots in England, and Istanbul and other parts of Turkey, in addition to work in London's Pinewood Studios.

The story underwent a few changes, however, for the movie version of From Russia with Love. In Fleming's original, the Soviets were the nemesis, but screenwriter Richard Maibaum was instructed to avoid such sensitive Cold War politics (not long after the Cuban Missile Crisis) and make the enemy the fictional SPECTRE once again, albeit with rogue Russians working for them and against their own state.

Several actresses were considered and tested for the part of Tatiana, the beautiful Russian who unwittingly becomes a pawn in the plot against Bond, until the producers settled on Italian Daniela Bianchi, a runner-up in the 1960 Miss Universe pageant. Bianchi had the right appeal and definite chemistry with her leading man, but her accent was so thick that once again the filmmakers were forced to dub her lines, as they had done with Ursula Andress in Dr. No.

Better-known performers were cast as the unforgettable villains. German stage star Lotte Lenya, best known for roles in plays created by her husband, composer Kurt Weill, was vicious as Rosa Klebb, who wields a lethal blade concealed in her shoe. Classically trained stage actor Robert Shaw, whom audiences will recognize from The Sting (1973) and Jaws (1975), had to undergo extensive physical training-and a hair-dye job-for the role of master assassin Grant.

On the friendlier side of the scale, the part of the Turkish agent who helps Bond, Kerim Bey, was played by Latino actor Pedro Armendariz, despite his suffering from a fatal illness. Armendariz hoped to complete this one last role to leave some money to his family. Director Terence Young rearranged the shooting schedule to get all of Kerim Bey's scenes done in one two-week segment, with the intention of playing the part himself in reverse shots done over the character's shoulder. When shooting of Armendariz's segments was done in May 1963, Young threw a going-away party for the actor. Armendariz and Fleming, himself seriously ill, had hit it off on first meeting and spent much of the party discussing Armendariz's friend Ernest Hemingway, who had committed suicide not long before rather than face a lengthy terminal illness. A month later in Los Angeles, Armendariz took a pistol from under his pillow and shot himself. Fleming died just over a year later.

The From Russia with Love production had its share of technical and budgetary challenges. Producer Cubby Broccoli caused a seven-day shooting delay when he decided the wind was blowing the wrong way for the speedboat chase sequence and insisted on waiting until the direction changed. Another problem was posed by an English law forbidding the use of live rats on any production. To get what he needed for an escape scene in an underground sewer, Young first had his crew use tame rates that had to be dipped in cocoa to give them the correct brown color, but these "extras" soon became lethargic and more intent on licking the cocoa off each other than on acting. Finally the production moved to Madrid, where a rat catcher was hired to round up 200 wild brown rats and heard them through a tunnel toward the camera.

Terence Young and assistant director Michael White also had a near-fatal accident when the helicopter they were flying in to scope out a location flipped in a sudden violent wind and plunged into the water. White had fallen out of the copter just as it hit the water and sustained only a bruised right elbow, and the pilot's safety belt had been severed allowing him to escape. But Young was trapped in a small air pocket in the passenger compartment ten feet underwater and had to be pulled bleeding from the wreck after the crew quickly smashed open the canopy. He suffered many cuts and bruises but was back at work within an hour.

To capitalize on the popularity of the new screen hero while Dr. No was still fresh in everyone's minds, post-production was rushed to get the picture out less than two months after principal photography was completed. Young and editor Peter Hunt worked overtime to ready From Russia with Love for release less than six months from the time filming began. Their work paid off; the movie was a monster hit internationally and became the first film to play at four major London theaters at the same time. It turned a profit on the basis of British box office receipts alone.

Director: Terence Young
Producers: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman
Screenplay: Richard Maibaum, based on the novel by Ian Fleming adapted by Johanna Harwood
Cinematography: Ted Moore
Editing: Peter Hunt
Art Direction: Syd Cain
Original Music: John Barry
Cast: Sean Connery (James Bond), Daniela Bianchi (Tatiana Romanova), Pedro Armendariz (Ali Kerim Bey), Lotte Lenya (Rosa Klebb), Robert Shaw (Red Grant).
C-115m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning.

by Rob Nixon

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