From Russia With Love

Tania: woman.  Rosa Klebb: mm, not so much.

WHAT DOES THE BAD GUY WANT?  The bad guy is the mysterious, faceless, cat-laden “Number 1,” leader of SPECTRE.  SPECTRE, the super-criminal think-tank, as in Dr. No, wants to rule the world.  To do that, it is imperative that he gets his hands on a special decoder thingy.  We come to understand a good deal more about SPECTRE, its organization, its training methods and its structural politics in the movie.  However, what Number 1’s “Monday Morning” plan is remains undiscussed.  Is he prepared to rule the world once he gets it?  What are his plans for health care, security, taxation?

WHAT DOES JAMES BOND ACTUALLY DO TO SAVE THE WORLD?  Again, not a detective story.  Bond shows up late in the movie (18 minutes late, to be precise) and gets shown around Istanbul by FRIENDLY ANIMAL Ali Kerim Bei.  Kerim gets a whole bunch of screen time and the movie is almost a travelogue until 55 minutes in, when Bond finally meets Tania, a lovely Russian embassy worker who says she wants to defect (but is, of course, not what she appears to be).  Once Bond meets Tania, the movie kicks in and glides on rails.  Bond, by my count, does exactly three things: he plots to bomb the Russian Embassy in Istanbul, walks in and swipes the decoder thingy afterward, then gets Tania and the thingy on a train to safety.  Again, the rest of his time is taken up with people trying to kill him.  In a larger sense, however, the key to the narrative is Bond’s corruption of Tania.  Tania is an innocent embassy employee, recruited by mean lesbian (and SPECTRE “Number 2” [or 3, I got confused]) Rosa Klebb to seduce Bond and rope him into this scheme to snatch the thingy.  Tania believes she is using her womanly powers of seduction to get Bond into a trap, but Bond adroitly harnesses the captialist, free-thinking powers of his superior western genitalia to counter-seduce Tania.  In a way, that’s the whole movie — the power of Bond’s genitals to free the Eastern Bloc from its bondage.

WOMEN?  Four.  The first is the ladygambler from Dr. No, who has now acquired a name (it’s “Sylvia,” for those keeping score), then Bond scores a two-for-one deal with a pair of Gypsy women (the women are deadly enemies until exposed to Bond and his culturally advanced, egalitarian genitals), and finally Tania, to whom Bond remains loyal for the remainder of the movie.

HOW COOL IS THE BAD GUY?  Nowhere near as cool as Dr. No.  He’s got a yacht, a cat and some fish.  Yawn.  However, he’s got two of the best “second villains” ever — Robert Shaw, who is incandescent in this movie, and Lotte Lenya as the aforementioned Rosa Klebb.  Robert Shaw comes with a watch-wire garrot thing (which later shows up on the wrist of John Lithgow in Blow Out), Lotte Lenya comes with a pair of deadly shoes.  These guys make a great pair — Shaw is the proverbial brick shithouse, unstoppable and cunning, yet also utterly believable, and Lenya is tiny but a cruel, stone-hearted monster — and also utterly believable.  To make a measure of how good Shaw is in this movie, watch it and try to even imagine him, ten years later, as the Irish gangster Doyle Lonnigan in The Sting, much less twelve years later as the crusty seadog Quint in Jaws.  And yet all of those performances are highly stylized, not naturalistic at all — he’s practicing a kind of heightened naturalism, his choices specific yet cartoonish.  Lenya, on the other hand, knows she’s no physical match for Bond — the cowardice on her face in the scene at the end when she sneaks into the hotel room disguised as a maid is great — but you know that she’s so cold that her heart (or other body parts) could never be melted by Bond’s fiery western genitals.  Rosa is there as the anti-Tania, the “bad” woman, her soul locked behind an emotional Iron Curtain.

GADGETS?  A handful.  Bond gets a briefcase full of crap from Q.  Sniper rifle, exploding talcum powder, hidden knife, 50 gold sovereigns — all standard issue, we’re told.  Which leads me to ask: standard issue, pursuant to what?  These new gadgets seem to take Bond by surprise, as though it would have never occurred to him to need anything as obvious and vital as exploding talcum powder.  And yet why is Q dreaming up all this stuff?  Here’s what I’m saying: ideas come from somewhere.  Q’s not out in the field, he’s in his lab at Q division.  Agents are in the field.  Obviously, agents must be coming back from missions complaining about a crucial lack of exploding talcum powder.

Q. How was the mission, 006?
006. Oh, it was all right — tell you what, though — I really could have used some exploding talcum powder.
Q. You know, you’re the third agent to mention that this week.  Hang it all, that’s it — from now on, all agents shall carry exploding talcum powder in their briefcases at all timesWe cannot afford the endangerment of any more agents.
006. What briefcases?
Q.  W-why, your, you know, your briefcase — don’t you carry a briefcase?
006.  No one ever gave me a briefcase.
Q.  No br — !  All right.  All right.  That tears it.  God damn it, we’re sending agents out there naked!  I’m issuing a memo — all agents shall have a standard issue briefcase with exploding talcum powder.
006.  And a hidden knife.
Q.  Yes, yes — hidden knife, good —
006.  And a sniper rifle —
Q.  Well yes of course a sniper rifle —
006.  And fifty gold sovereigns.
Q.  Now how the devil am I going to get fiftygold sovereigns into a — never mind, I’ll figure it out.
006.  And —
Q.  Out!  Out!  I need to think.

NOTES: One movie into the series and already Bond is getting a little mannered, a little self-conscious.  He cannot kill anyone without adding a witty bon mot, and his seductive powers are already leaning toward camp.  He carries more than the weight of the western world on his shoulders, he carries the weight of his own reputation.  He’s James Bond, he must act like James Bond.

Narratively, a whole different ball game from Dr. No.  Apart from taking its sweet time getting started, we spend a whole lot more time examining the motives and machinations of the bad guys.  My favorite bit is Rosa Klebb flying from Number 1’s yacht to SPECTRE Island, where all the top SPECTRE bad-guys are trained.  She is escorted through a training field, filled with men running and shooting and killing and karate-chopping, until she comes to Robert Shaw sunbathing.  Shaw snaps to attention, Klebb punches him in the gut, says “he’ll do,” then turns around and leaves.  Doesn’t stay for lunch, doesn’t want to see anyone else, doesn’t have any papers or requistions to fill out — she spends an afternoon and god knows how much money flying to SPECTRE Island just to punch Robert Shaw in the gut.  Now that’s a bad guy.


22 Responses to “From Russia With Love”
  1. craigjclark says:

    I feel so left out of these. I’ve never seen any of the early Bonds. (Diamonds Are Forever is the earliest one I’ve seen.)

    • Todd says:

      Eek. Diamonds is one of my least favorites, with its hateful “mincing faggot” assassins and its lame moon-buggy chase. Ugh.

      • craigjclark says:

        It’s the only Connery one I’ve seen, which is probably why I haven’t been too eager to go back and see the other ones.

        • Todd says:

          Try Goldfinger — it’s the most representative.

          • craigjclark says:

            I’ve heard that.

            I think my other problem is I had the silly notion to watch them in reverse order, so (skipping over On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) the next one up for me was You Only Live Twice. I started watching that one of the billion times the Bond series was shown on TBS and, well, it just didn’t grab me. I’ve since read that it’s one of the weaker entries in the series.

            • Todd says:

              Oh, you should stick with it to the third act — that’s when the volcano stronghold with the monorail comes in.

  2. teamwak says:

    I always loved the baddies in this one. The fight with Robert Shaw on the train is just brutal, and I loved the knife in the shoes.

    she spends an afternoon and god knows how much money flying to SPECTRE Island just to punch Robert Shaw in the gut. Now that’s a bad guy LOL 🙂

  3. mikeyed says:

    This one’s my second favorite bond, next to Goldeneye.

    I like this one due to its interest in the side characters and Bond as more of a man in the middle of other characters. His love interest may be true or may not. Maybe she just wants to leave her boss, assuming she’s not completely entranced by Soviet work, which was filled with corruption and other goings on, being swept up by a young capitalist is a better preface for a relationship than most of the relations he has in the series. The two Gypsy women, though, well, ummm… you can’t keep a healthy, slightly-homicidal scot down?

    Robert Shaw just seems to be the most like a mirror image to Bond I’ve ever seen. Equal to him, just unlucky to get a gas grenade in the face is all. I like how the top most boss whom appears in the film, Klebb, becomes this desperate character trying to salvage her career after Shaw’s unfortunate death.

    The most out of place thing in the fil is the helicopter full of grenades. Why not a rifle? Or both? Just kind of rediculous. Of course, the boat chase was there just to set up the ending.

    I think what i liked most about the movie is that it took its time to getting to the main action. It didn’t rush to getting to bond. Not everything’s so bond-centric, I think. I might be wrong.

    • mikeyed says:

      Re: This one’s my second favorite bond, next to Goldeneye.

      oh, I was just thinking that maybe you could do a “The Matador” review after these Bond reviews, if you have yet to do so. Just seems fitting to finish up with a burnt-out Bond character, also I find the plot to be rather odd and was wondering what your thoughts are on it.

      • craigjclark says:

        Burnt-out Bond

        Along those lines, I also heartily recommend John Boorman’s The Tailor of Panama.

      • Todd says:

        Re: This one’s my second favorite bond, next to Goldeneye.

        Many people have suggested The Matador to me — I shall have to watch it sometime soon.

        • Re: This one’s my second favorite bond, next to Goldeneye.

          Y’know, I picked up The Matador on a lark, and it didn’t really appeal to me.

          I think they were going for some sort of deconstruction of the Bond myth, but I just found it kinda boring.

          Which is a shame, ’cause I think Kinnear & Brosnan are quite talented.

          • dougo says:

            Re: This one’s my second favorite bond, next to Goldeneye.

            Oh, that Matador. I thought you guys were talking about the Almodovar movie, and the bullfighter was some sort of metaphorical spy or something. Nevermind!

  4. dougo says:

    This one’s my favorite of the whole series. I love the technicolor early-’60s skinny-tie cosmo-European gestalt. Dr. No and Goldfinger are mostly in the boring Western Hemisphere, but this one has all the old-world charm. It also has the best soundtrack. Dig that Matt Monro!

    • Todd says:

      I was in a record store with my wife once and actually recognized Matt Monro playing on the sound system. She was like “who?” and I was like “Who? It’s Matt Monro, the British Frank Sinatra! He sang “From Russian With Love!” and then, based on the look she gave me at that moment, made sure to never bring the subject up again.

  5. jbacardi says:

    Apropos of nothing, my favorite Robert Shaw performance is as the tightly-wound subway train hijack mastermind in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. I just saw that one for the first time about four years ago and it blew me away.