Friday, 11 December 2015

3 Guys, 1 Spy: From Russia with Love



As news of the new Bond film surfaced, we sat down to watch the second film in the series - From Russia with Love.
 
Nick kicked things off with a bit of historical background:
 
1963:
 
In January, the Viet Cong win their first major victory in the Battle of Ap Bac while back in the States, African-American student Harvey Gantt enters Clemson University in South Carolina, the last state to hold out against racial integration.
 
From February to May, travel, financial and commercial transactions with Cuba by United States citizens is made illegal by the Kennedy administration; The Beatles record their debut album at Abbey Road Studios; Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary closes and Lawrence of Arabia wins Best Picture at the 35th Academy Awards.
 
Over the summer, Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc commits self-immolation to protect the oppression of Buddhists in Saigon; the Moscow-Washington hotline is established; the Great Train Robbery takes place in England and Martin Luther King Jr delivers his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in front of over 250,000 people.
 
On October 8th, Sam Cooke and his band are arrested after trying to register at a “whites only” motel in Louisiana. In the months that follow, he records the song “A Change is Gonna Come.”
 
On November 22nd, President John F. Kennedy is assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald during a motorcade in Dallas Texas.

 
 
Next up was me, Jamie, with some facts about the film itself. From Russia with Love was chosen as the second of Ian Fleming’s books to be filmed largely thanks to President Kennedy naming the book as one of his favourites in an interview with Life magazine. The film would become the last seen by Kennedy in the White House before taking his ill-fated trip to Dallas.
 
With double the budget of Dr. No, the film would go on to exceed its predecessor in takings with over $78 million in box office receipts and is widely regarded as one of the best entries in the franchise.
 
The film introduced many of the conventions we now associate with Bond, namely the cold open, gadgets, a helicopter sequence and the words “James Bond will return” at the credits.
 
The character of Blofeld was also introduced here, albeit referred to in the film as Number 1. In the end credits Blofeld is credited with a question mark.
Desmond Llewellyn made his first appearance in the film as Boothroyd from Q branch and of course he would go on to be known simply as Q and appear in all but 2 films in the series until his death in 1999.
 
If the Kennedy and Q facts didn’t bring you down enough, here’s another sad story. Pedro Armend√°riz who plays Kerim Bey in the film - Bond’s contact in Istanbul with what appears to be about 50 sons - was diagnosed with inoperable cancer while filming. Though in pain, he continued to work until he was unable. He returned home and took his own life.
 
That’s enough death for one blog, he’s one more snippet of factual goodness before we talk music. The 2005 videogame From Russia with Love saw many of the cast return to provide their voices - including Sean Connery who allowed his 1960s likeness to be used and recorded the character’s dialogue, returning to the role of Bond after a 22 year absence.
 
 
Finally, Rich told us about the music of the film. The title track was sung by Matt Monroe and composed by Lionel Bart, though the vocal version doesn’t appear until later in the film, as music played from a radio. The title sequence is largely instrumental before turning into the James Bond theme.
 
The main soundtrack to the film was composed by John Barry, who joined the film crew on location in Turkey, with the intention of recording music from the region. The local music wasn’t dramatic enough for his tastes though and he ultimately composed his own, albeit with Turkish instruments to add an authentic, oriental feel.
 

With the intros done, we set off with the film. From Russia with Love follows Bond on a mission to aid the defection of a Soviet clerk named Tatiana Romanova who is bringing with her a Lektor cryptograph. All the while shady organisation SPECTRE tries to prevent this (as they want the Lektor to sell back to the Russians) and extract revenge on Bond for killing Dr. No.
 
From Rosa Klebb’s comedy walk while she has her boot-blade out to Kerim Bey’s seemingly never ending supply of sons: “This steam train is also my son.” - From Russia With Love has things to laugh at, though it is free of the camp and the gimmicks we would see later in the series. It has a stately pace that today’s audiences are simply not used to, but when the action scenes kick off, the frantic camera work and music give it real momentum.
 
You can’t mention From Russia with Love without talking about the fight scene on the train between Robert Shaw and Sean Connery. Doing their own stunts, the pair knocked seven-bells out of each other in the small confines of the train compartment and it still stands up today as one of the best fight scenes in any of the Bond films - recently echoed in the new film Spectre.
 
From Russia with Love has always been one of my favourites and it is rightly seen as one of the better Bonds. But next up is the film that many believe tops the list: Goldfinger.

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