2012 marks the 50th anniversary of James Bond on the big screen. To celebrate, SFX’s Nick Setchfield revisits each and every 007 adventure in a week by week countdown to Skyfall …
MISSION 2: FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963)
WORLDS WITHIN WORLDS From Russia With Love is the Bond saga’s definitive spy story, and its landscape is a mirror-maze of deception and illusion. Istanbul feels like an ever-shifting puzzlebox in the eternal war of nerves between East and West, its dark, haunted alleyways and decaying buildings masking all manner of chicanery. Bond’s ally Kerim Bey takes him on a boat ride through the secret, flooded city beneath its streets, where rats throng in the shadows and a crafty periscope peers into the Russian consulate. Elsewhere a giant movie poster on the side of a house hides its own secrets, the oversized smile of a starlet transforming into a private escape hatch for enemy agents. Hotel rooms are infested with listening devices, mirrors conceal the whirring gaze of cameras, a humble attache case is a deadly arsenal, SMERSH is really SPECTRE and even the lovely Tatiana is a honeytrap, a ruse to ensnare Her Majesty’s secret servant. Trust no one, Mr Bond…
THE TRAIN FIGHT The climactic brawl between Bond and Red Grant on the Orient Express is one of the tensest, most adrenalised fight scenes in cinema. What makes it so effective is that it’s a battle of equals – “We’re pros, Mr Bond,” says the SMERSH hitman, clearly as coldly proficient a killer as Mi6’s finest. But it’s a sequence spiced with a seething undercurrent of rivalry and just a twist of psychosexual weirdness. Facing Bond, Grant radiates disdain and envy – his choice of red wine with fish has just exposed him as a sham sophisticate – and he orders 007 to “Crawl over here and kiss my foot.” And then a bullet takes out a light, a train window shatters and the two besuited bruisers crash between the carriages in a choking swirl of teargas. There’s no music, just the sound of fists on flesh, the rattle and the gallop of the train wheels, the evil whisper of Grant’s garrot wire. Bond stabs him in the arm and then, finally, throttles him with his own wire, a death that feels rewarding, hard-earned. Adjusting his tie, our hero’s face is a mask of sweat. For once there’s no blackly comic quip, just a dismissive snarl of “Old man,” Grant’s own snide catchphrase. Shot with three cameras in a confined space, stuntmen only employed for one shot, it’s a brutal, bruising masterclass in screen combat.
THE VILLAINS While Dr No found Bond facing a single threat in Crab Key’s cold-eyed mastermind, From Russia With Love fields no less than three villains. Vladek Sheybal is Kronsteen, SPECTRE’s reptillian chessmaster, while Robert Shaw earned one of the defining roles of his career as Donald “Red” Grant, a convicted murderer and Dartmoor escapee (“Homicidal paranoiac – superb material…”). A physical match for Connery, the black-gloved Grant is a cool, watchful presence for the majority of the film, forever in the shadows – unseen, he even quietly saves Bond’s life at one point. But the most memorable player in this fiendish troika is Lotte Lenya as Rosa Klebb, a Russian defector in poison-spiked shoes. Lenya may have played Klebb as a dowdy toad, all bottle-glasses and prison warden hair, but in one of the great, forgotten ironies of the screen she first found fame as a glamorous cabaret star in Weimar era Germany.
TRIV AND LET DIE:
SPECTRE replaced SMERSH as the principal threat to avoid upsetting the USSR.
The Bond/Tatiana bedroom scene is still used to screentest potential new Bonds.
JAMES BOND WILL RETURN IN GOLDFINGER