Tanya: Oh, James, James, will you make love to me all the time in England?
James Bond: Day and night!
Sean Connery returns in From Russia with Love in the best of all of Ian Fleming’s stories. Filled with sex, violence and incredible suspense, it was this film that elevated the adventures of James Bond to a new entertainment high, virtually guaranteeing the huge success that was to follow.
Working from a novel that was one of President John F. Kennedy’s favorites, director Terence Young and screenwriter Richard Maibaum introduce a blackmail and assassination plot so formidable that it could spell the end for James Bond.
S.P.E.C.T.R.E.—The Special Executor for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion—returns to seek revenge for the death of its Dr. No operative in the Caribbean. Fiendish Ernst Stavro (Anthony Dawson, uncredited; voice: Eric Pohlmann) assigns the task of humiliating Bond to three of his best agents— Kronsteen (Vladek Sheybal), the master planner who treats life like a chess game; Colonel Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya), a Russian defector who specializes in torture and murder; and, finally, the ruthless and seemingly unstoppable Red Grant (Robert Shaw), a platinum blonde-pated killer who strangles his helpless victims with a retractable wire in his wrist watch. Their bait: a Lektor decoding machine that can decipher top secret Russian signals and a voluptuous Soviet cypher clerk named Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi). Thus begins one of James Bond’s greatest adventures. Arriving in exotic Istanbul, spy capital of the Balkans, he immediately joins forces with British Intelligence’s local spymaster, the resourceful Ali Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendariz) who has been approached by the defecting Romanova. Little do Bond and Kerim know that she is an innocent dupe in the ingenious S.P.E.C.T.R.E. plot that will eventually trap Bond on the Orient Express. Bond’s only trump card—a gadget-rigged briefcase supplied to him by Q Branch.
From the fiery gypsy camp where two hot-blooded females fight to the death over a common lover, to the rat-infested sewers where Kerim spies on the Russian Embassy, to the moody interior of St. Sofia mosque, Bond is kept alive by S.P.E.C.T.R.E. until he meets Romanova and successfully steals the Lektor. In the bridal suite of 007’s hotel, their passionate lovemaking is even filmed by an enemy film crew—another knot in the rapidly tightening S.P.E.C.T.R.E. noose around James Bond’s neck.
Escaping from Istanbul with his prizes, 007 boards the Orient Express where a final showdown with Grant becomes one of the most suspenseful sequences ever filmed in the Bond series. Combine that with a cat-and-mouse battle with an enemy helicopter and a high-speed motorboat chase and From Russia with Love proves itself as one of the greatest spy adventures ever filmed.
Released with little fanfare in early 1964, From Russia with Love was nonetheless a major hit in the United States, even more so when, after the success of Goldfinger, it was later re-released on a double bill with Dr. No. Connery was confident in the role that would soon guarantee him international stardom. Sadly, Pedro Armendariz was dying of cancer during the filmmaking and would soon return to the United States where he committed suicide. Daniela Bianchi, so beautiful in the film, would appear in only a few more films, including Operation Kid Brother (starring Neil Connery), before retiring to private life. Lotte Lenya, wife of Threeenny Opera’s Kurt Weill, shines as the frightening Rosa Klebb, an abrupt departure from her career as a top European musical star. Eunice Gayson makes her last appearance as fetching Sylvia Trench, while those Bondian stalwarts, Bernard Lee (M), Desmond Llewelyn (Q) and Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny) appear together for the first time.