Given the runaway success that Dr No had been, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were determined to build on that success right away, and immediately started working on the next Bond movie in the series, which will prove to be even more successful than the previous one.
The Ian Fleming book chosen to be adapted for the next movie was From Russia with Love. The book was written at a time when sell figures for the Ian Fleming spy novels were at an all time low. Fleming was so disillusioned with this, that he’d even considered killing off James Bond at the very end of that book. Indeed, Bond was put into hospital at the end of the novel after Rosa Kleeb had nearly killed him with one of her poisonous shoe blades. Author Raymond Chandler convinced him otherwise, and the fact that the book was included on a list of the then President of the United States’ John Fitzgerald Kennedy favourite books, only helped his case. It was the inclusion on this reading list, which was the determining factor in convincing both Broccoli and Saltzman that they had to adapt it next. Once again, screenwriter Richard Maibaum was brought in once again to pen the script. All other crew members, and most of the recurring characters from the previous movie were once again called upon with the exception of Peter Burton, who’d played the part of Q on Dr No, and was sadly unavailable to reprise his role, and Production Designer, Ken Adam, who was currently working with Stanley Kubrik on Dr Strangelove. Neither did Maurice Binder. The release schedule of the movie was so tight that there wasn’t any time left for Binder to do his usual elaborate credits sequence. Instead, the job fell on the shoulders of Canadian artist Robert Brownjohn, who had the idea of proyecting the credits of the crew and cast on the girl chosen to act on the credits sequence. Apparently this idea was suggested to Brownjohn after his wife walked in front of a slide proyector by mistake. Desmond Llewelyn took over as Q and pretty much for the remainder of the series until come The World is not Enough (1999), after which he was replaced by John Cleese, and Art Director Syd Cain would replace Adam, who would be back for the next entry in the franchise. Terence Young always considered From Russia with Love to be one of Fleming’s best, if not the best, of his books, and it would end up making for one of the more realistic, grounded and solid of the Bond movies ever released. After that, and with Guy Hamilton taking over for the next installment, the Bond series would definitely step into the realm of the outlandish and tongue-in-cheek adventures that would become the series’ hallmark.
With a director, technical crew and principal actors pretty much in place, it was time to start looking for the next Bond girl and the new villain or villains of the piece. For this they went with a former Beauty Contest participant, the italian Daniella Bianchi as Tatiana Romanova, with Austrian actress Lotte Lenya to play the part of SPECTRE operative Rosa Klebb, Robert Shaw as deadly assassin Red Grant, and Pedro Armendáriz as Head of Station T in Turkey, Ali Kerim Bey. The part of Ernst Stavros Bloefeld would be played in this movie, and the next directed by Terence Young, Thunderball (1965), by actor Anthony Dawson, who’d played the role of Professor Dent in Dr No (1962), but would be voiced by another actor, Eric Pohlmann. Unlike in the book where the enemy against which Bond was facing off was the Russian organization SMERSH, the decision was made that they would be changed to SPECTRE, the criminal organization led by Ernst Stavros Bloefeld, that had been later on created by Ian Flemming, Jack Whittingham and Kevin McClory for the books, and would be the main point of contention in a legal dispute between Fleming and McClory over the legal use of said organazation in future films that ended up with McClory retaining the rights to use it, along with the rights to Fleming’s Thunderball novel.
Filming started in Instambul, Turkey, Scotland, Spain and Pinewood Studios, England, where the main sets like M’s office, Karim’s office, a replica of the Gypsy camp in Instambul, and above all, the interior of the Orient Express, which was meticulously recreated and, where one of the most tense and violent fist fights of the entire saga would take place. Other parts of Pinewood, like the garden area where the pre-credit sequence takes place, and which also doubles up as SPECTRE’s training camp.
The shoot would prove to be a difficult and strenuous proposition from the start, as the crew started having crowd control problems, and one of the main starts of the movie, Pedro Armendariz, was discovered to have developed an incurable type of Cancer that would only worsen during the first days of shooting. It was decided that Armendariz’s scenes would be pushed ahead in the schedule, so he could check himself into a hospital as soon as possible. It was thanks, in great part to Terence Young’s help, whose brother was the Queen of England’s surgeon, and was the one who treated Armendariz on the first stages of the sickness, and his quick and effective way of shooting, that the actor’s scenes could be finished promptly. There were also numerous re-writes done to the script by Maibaum during shooting, and thanks to the ingenious ideas of editor Peter Hunt, several scenes could be re-worked during the editing process, like the one where Rosa Klebb and Bloefeld discuss plans to steal the LECTOR decoding machine, where the footage of Lenya had to be reversed, and a re-shot shot of the actress placed in front of an existing one from a previous scene, and the background replaced by a background plate of the same location and used as back proyection. Those were the kind of tricks Hunt and co had to employ to save time and money. With other scenes, however, they weren’t so lucky. Even considering the difficulty of the helicopter chase scene that was shot in Scotland with a mixture of Live footage and miniatures, the boat chase scene, where Bond escapes a small flotilla of SPECTRE’s speed boats using barrels of Kerosene and a flare gun, had to be re-shot after an untimely explosion of the charges that Special Effects Supervisor John Stears had set to go off at the very end of the scene. That, and bouts of seasickness by actress Daniella Bianchi, forced Young and his team to re-schedule the shoot to be done in a water tank in one of Pinewood’s sets. The fight scene between Bond and Grant aboard the Orient Express was another cause for concern from a censorship point of view. There were concerns that the scene would be pulled out due to the considerable violent nature of it but, it was so expertly shot by Young, and performed by both Connery and Shaw ( the stuntmen for both actors were used in one small shot only), that they managed to get away with it. This was the very first time that Bond engineers his escape thanks to one of Q-Branch’s gizmos, a gas exploding suitcase with a concealed knife inside it, that would be the first of many gadgets to come in the series. It was actually the censors that would prove to be a bane in both the director’s and producers lives. Hunt was the one in charge of taking him around to the sets, and showing him the daillies at the end of the day, to make sure that everything was done according to Code regulations. Scenes, like the one where a model expertly concealed as Bianchi to shoot her nude scenes or the two gypsy women fight in the camp, the nature of which was way more graphic in the book, were so tastefully done that the Censors approved of them.
This movie achieved the rare feat of improving on both the quality and the box office takings of the previous movie. It was a major success in most of Europe, and especially, the UK. Wasn’t as much of a runaway success as Dr No had been in the States, though, due, in the most part, to a limited theatrical release. It wouldn’t be until the release of the next movie in the franchise, Goldfinger (1964), that Bond would forever cement his place in Cinema History, and become the household name that it is today. The success of Goldfinger would prompt United Artist to re-release the first two Bond movies as a double bill, becoming one of the most profitable double bill features of all time. This, in my opinion, would really be the most hard edge we’d see Bond act in a movie until Licence to Kill (1989), and would see Daniel Craig continue in this fashion for most of his tenure, especially in Casino Royale (2006), and Skyfall (2012). It was also the last really grounded 007 adventure we’d see for a while.
In spite of the numerous re-writes that the script was subjected too, it’s by far, one of the tightest scripts in the franchise. The movie moves at a very swift pace, it’s got one of the more sadistic and effective enemies that Bond has ever faced in Red Grant, Lotte Lenya gives Rosa Klebb both the right amount of evil and coldness that the character needs, Connery is thoroughly immersed and comfortable in the role, Armendariz is one of the best Inteligence Community’s counterparts that Bond has ever had, and Bianchi, admittedly not the best of actresses, lights up the screen with her beauty. The action set pieces, like the fight between Grant and Bond aboard the Orient Express, the Helicopter chase sequence, and the Boat Chase sequence are all very well executed and brilliantly edited. As I mentioned on my previous Bond retrospective, John Barry really does come into his own in this movie, delivering a score that is both tense and melodic at times. His style would be further refined in the next entry in the series, Goldfinger (1964) . All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable spy movie, that shares some of the tropes, but bears little resemblance to what Bond movies would come to be later on. If I had to qualify Bond movies in regards to their faithfulness to the source material, I’d say this, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) are the more faithful to Fleming’s writing. It’s by far the best of the three movies that were directed by Terence Young, and one of the most rounded and memorable of the entire saga. Scenes like the aforementioned Orient Express fight, the Gypsy Camp fight, the Boat Chase, and the highly suspenful last confrontation between Bond and Rosa Klebb and her poisonous concealed shoe blades, are among the best in the series. Connery was at his best on this one, and by the time Goldfinger came around, he’d already taken the world by storm, and became a household name overnight. James Bond was back with a vengeance. And was here to stay.
Thanks for reading.