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Release Year: 1964 (U.S.)
Genre: Action, Adventure, Thriller
Director: Terence Young
Writer: Richard Maibaum
Watching a classic James Bond film is like climbing into an Aston Martin-shaped time machine and zipping fifty years into the past.
Technology as we know it is virtually non-existent. The shorts are shorter. And Russia was probably engaging in secret global espionage.
Okay, the faces may have changed in the last half-century, but the hassles are still the same.
Agent 007's first outing, Dr. No,was a huge hit when it debuted in 1963, and U.S. audiences eagerly awaited Bond's return to U.S. shores the next year. And return he did. Bond actor Sean Connery and Dr. No director Terence Young teamed up for a second shot at spy magic with From Russia with Love. They managed to get the film released about two months after shooting ended so that they could harness the anticipation generated by the smashing international success of Dr. No (source).
The sequel had double the budget and three times the villains, replacing Dr. No (RIP, you claw-handed maniac) with a trio of shady SPECTRE malefactors—not to mention numerous assassins, goons, and crazed helicopter pilots on Bond's tail.
The SPECTRE super-assassin who's after Bond, Donald "Red" Grant, is played by Robert Shaw, who also hunted sharks in Jaws. Bond girl Tania is played by Italian actress Daniela Bianchi, who married rich and retired early. And hard-as-nails Rosa Klebb is played by Lotte Lenya, who was once a German opera singer and married the man who wrote "Mack the Knife”. (Maybe that's what she names the killer blade in the toe of her boot.)
All these characters come together to make the film's plot a complicated espionage mélange featuring a top secret decoding device, shenanigans across Istanbul, and a sultry Russian double agent who is just Bond's type (i.e. human, female).
Speaking of sexy spies, all the money must have gone to Sean Connery's salary and traveling to Turkey instead of clothes, because there's a lot of skin in this film by 1964 standards. Even though this was the swingin' 60s, the British Board of Film Classification (aka BBFC, aka "the censors") made 13 cuts to this risqué film (source). Viewers either didn't notice the censorship or didn't care. Fans made From Russia with Love the #8 top-grossing Bond film, adjusted for inflation (source.).
That's a lot of $1.00 movie tickets. (Now that's something that's really changed in the last fifty years.)
One blockbuster success could be written off as a lucky fluke, but two meant that the Bond franchise had staying power. In From Russia with Love we see the filmmakers continue to tweak and perfect the Bond formula. A little more technology here, a little more jiggle there. The censors, like SPECTRE, wouldn't be able to stand up to Bond for much longer.
From Russia with Love solidified the foundation upon which fifty years of Bond films would be built. It's a foundation that wouldn't be shaken…or stirred.
Hey, he doesn't actually say that classic line in this movie, so someone had to use it.
Spy thrillers are usually totally escapist romps, and From Russia With Love is no exception. Even so, it's important to check out the historical context in which the film was made, because real history has a way of leaking into even the most fantastical thriller films.
These days, the phrase "From Russia, with love" might make you think of the gift tag on a pile of confidential documents delivered to Julian Assange. But when this film was being produced, the threat of MAD, nuclear Mutually Assured Destruction, still hung in the air like a mushroom cloud. Soviet missiles had been massing near Cuba in 1962, and elementary school kids were being trained to "duck and cover" under their desks to protect them when the atomic bomb dropped. Seriously.
So instead risking heating up the Cold War even more, the filmmakers changed up some plot lines. Instead of making the Russians the villains like in Ian Fleming's novel, they changed the baddies to the mysterious SPECTRE, a group that was both anti-Russia and anti-Western powers (source). SPECTRE is an equal opportunity villain, betraying both Mother Russia and the English crown alike.
These plot changes show us how touchy the relationship between the UK/US and Russia was at the time. The filmmakers worried that making Bond fight the Russians might make the conflict worse. Boy, those Russians and their fragile egos. By tweaking the plot, and excusing Russia from any villainous activity on-screen, the filmmakers did their part to avoid the aforementioned Mutually Assured Destruction.
Don't get MAD…get glad.
If you want to be Bond but haven't the time to hack Connery's face into GoldenEye, you can pick up the 2005 video game version of From Russia with Love on the cheap. The developers even paid/blackmailed Connery into doing the voice work for his iconic character. (Source)
You may be shocked to learn this, but the filmmakers didn't actually blow up the helicopter that Bond blasted to spectral smithereens in the film's climax. The original copter was restored and auctioned off in 2006. Save your money to grab it when it comes around for another pass. (Source)
If you want to read Bond but are afraid you'll miss the colorful visuals of the films, you might be surprised to know that From Russia with Love, along with a few other Bond adventures, were adapted into comic strip form in the 1960s. Read one a day to get the full effect of the serialized format. The ink may or may not rub off on your hands. (Source)
Steven Spielberg said that his choice of Robert Shaw to play Quint in Jaws was because he was blown away by Shaw's performance as Grant. Shaw was a distinguished stage and screen actor even before To Russia With Love, but it was probably Jaws that propelled him to pop culture stardom. (Source)
Pedro Armendáriz, the actor who played Kerim Bey, was dying of cancer during filming and played through unbearable pain. He never lived to see the release of the film. After being released from the hospital for cancer treatment, he shot himself in June of 1963. (Source)
With birthday announcements and memorial tributes, the MI6 fansite has all the Bonds covered from birth to death.
Castle in the Clouds
Wishing your Bond news came with more word clouds? This fansite's for you.
Some critics argue that From Russia with Love brings Bond closer to "book Bond" than any other film. Read it and judge for yourself.
Without a Spectre of Doubt
Den of Geek argues that the SPECTRE in From Russia with Love was more effective than the SPECTRE in SPECTRE. Try to keep up.
From Britain to "U"
Film critic Peter Bradshaw gushes about his "favourite" Bond film. And that's "favourite" with a "u," the same way Bond would spell it.
Sign of the Times
The original Times review is written by Bosley Crowther, a man whose name sounds more suited for MI6 agent than film critic.
From 001 to 0024
Rolling Stone ranks all the Bond films. From Russia With Love is #002.
Alfred Hitchcock fans see his visuals and plot devices everywhere in From Russia With Love, from the helicopter chase to the train scenes to the icy blonde leading lady. Not to mention the Lektor decoder: the ultimate MacGuffin. Like many things, Hitch did it first.
Swear to Tell the Truth
James Bond being interviewed by one of OJ Simpson's defense attorneys sounds like really weird fan fiction, but reality is stranger than (fan) fiction.
007 in 128 bits
Connery says his character in the From Russia with Love game looks "better than original." We'd say the same about the video game if it featured a mini-game in which Bond tosses his hat on the rack to wow Miss Moneypenny.
The Music on the AM Radio
Thanks to YouTube you can listen to the title song without the characters from the movie talking over it.
Wearing Only a Sheet
This huge classic poster tells us everything we need to know about the film…if the film entirely consisted of scantily clad women.
Dark and Mysterious
We're not sure who the brunette is in this stylish fan-made poster.
The Name is Fleming. Ian Fleming
Here's the author of the Bond novels on the set of From Russia with Love. Very dashing dontcha think?
"He Seems Fit Enough"
You wouldn't want to mess with Grant. He doesn't flinch when Rosa Klebb punches him in the gut with brass knuckles. Some abs.
All Bond All the Time
Here's a nifty photo from the Eon website of all the Bonds in their films.