Author: Ian Fleming
The Plot: SMERSH wants to send a message to Western intelligence agencies, and selects Bond as the target. They send assassin Donovan "Red" Grant, a British turncoat, to murder Bond, and Corporal Tatiana Romanova, a naive honey trap, to destroy his reputation.
As in Diamonds Are Forever, Fleming starts the book with a flowery description of something with many legs. (In Diamonds it was a scorpion; in Russia it's a dragonfly.) I like it. He does it well, and it's a nice scene-setter that helps the reader recalibrate out of the real world and into the book. And this one allows Fleming to slowly build up his description of Grant, one which gets increasingly disturbing.
Fleming calls Grant a manic-depressive whose cycles coincide with the moon. I doubt any of today's psychiatrists would agree with that diagnosis — it sounds more like the "Dark Triad," with antisocial personality disorder and homicidal sociopathy, with a side of malignant narcissism and mild schizophrenia for dessert — but maybe "manic depression" is what it was called at the time. Meanwhile, the lunar cycle detail is a clever bit, playing on our atavistic fears of "lunacy" and lycanthropy. There were a lot of werewolf movies in the 1940s and '50s!
I asked my wife why the masseuse disrobed, when Grant wasn't interested in sex (although I felt like it was implied to be part of the service). She said, "Because Ian Fleming wrote it."
Ha! That's hard to argue with. Not only because we've seen Fleming wade hip-deep into male-fantasy elements before, but because he lingered on physical description. ("Her ... fine breasts shone with health," "The beautiful upper half of her body was already shining with sweat."). Grant wasn't interested, but Fleming wanted to paint a scene his male audience would think about.
The masseuse is made uncomfortable by Grant's asexuality, or maybe something else she can't put her finger on. But she is repulsed by him, which has an effect on the reader. At least it did on me.
Grant's lack of sexual interest in the attractive masseuse (or anyone) is an excellent touch. Instead, he gets sexual satisfaction from the act of murder. Fleming wanted to create a monster, and with this, he succeeded.
Grant gets a call from SMERSH and flies to Moscow, and we get an interesting travelogue.
Grant's villa is in Crimea in Ukraine, which in 1957 was a federated state of the U.S.S.R. and occupied by the Russians. In 2023 Crimea is part of a free Ukraine, but is still occupied by the Russians. The more things change, etc.
Grant flies over Kharkov (aka Kharkiv), then and now Ukraine's second-largest city. In 1957, it was behind the Iron Curtain. In 2023, it's a free Ukrainian city defended by the most impressive civilian army in the world. Some things do change, and sometimes for the better.
"General Grubozaboyschikov" is a mouthful, and Fleming implies that's why most people just refer to him as "G." But it also makes him a fine counterpoint to M.
Grubozaboyschikov is the head of SMERSH, which is described as "the murder apparatus of the MGB," what today we call the KGB. Yet the head of intelligence of MGB is at G's meeting, and seems subordinate. So do the heads of intelligence for the G.R.U. (Army intelligence) and R.U.M.I.D. (intelligence for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs). They all seem a bit subordinate to G — after all, he summoned them, not the other way around. I don't really know how the various intelligence agencies interrelate in Russia today, much less the Soviet Union of 1957. But it seems odd to me that G is calling the shots instead of, I dunno, the head of the MGB.
Oh well, it doesn't matter. We're never going to see any of them again.
In the conversation about who to pick as the SMERSH's target, Grubozaboyschikov, and the three other agency reps briefly consider René Mathis, which I'm glad to see, given his poor treatment in the 2006 Casino Royale movie. But poor Felix Leiter doesn't make the cut of people SMERSH considers dangerous! Not for the first time, the U.S. is described as not very good at espionage. "Americans try to do everything with money," says the Ministry of Foreign Affairs guy.
It is determined that Bond is to be the target, as he has interfered in some of their affairs (Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, Moonraker, all mentioned). Kronsteen, Head of Planning for SMERSH, is to come up with the plan, and Colonel Rosa Klebb, Head of Operations and Executions for SMERSH, is to execute it. The idea is to have an attractive young woman from the MGB cipher department offer the Spektor decoding machine, equivalent to the Germans' Enigma machine in World War II, as bait.
Oh look. "Spektor." There's that word again!
Anyway, the catch is that she will only give it to MI6 agent James bond, with the cover story that she has fallen in love with his picture while filing information about him. In reality, she will be a stalking horse that will have sex with Bond that is filmed and released (or maybe held as blackmail), while the machine she carries is a fake.
We meet Tatiana Romanova, who is to be the stalking horse. I won't get too far into it, but "Tatiana Romanova" is not what she'd be called in Russia, which uses patronymics over surnames. Everyone in Russia would call her "Tatiana [father's first name + ovna]" instead of Tatiana Romanova. The discussion about her surname being the same as the former czar's family being a problem is so wrong it's painful. Evidently, Ian Fleming is much more familiar with the names of different kinds of liquor than he is the naming conventions in Slavic countries.
Then I found it hard to believe Rosa Klebb would pick an amateur like Tatiana Romanova for such an important task. Wouldn't SMERSH have a bevy of femmes fatale in their employ for just this purpose?
But then I thought: Maybe they have a high burnout rate, in that as soon as young women were active in the field, the Western agencies would know what they looked like. Moreover, my wife suggested that maybe they needed someone who hadn't been hardened and sexually jaded by essentially working as a state prostitute, in order to fool a trained, experienced agent like Bond. They needed someone who could look him in the eye and tell him truthfully (as far as she knew) that no harm would come to either of them.
That convinced me. I was able to suspend my disbelief for the rest of it, especially since both Bond and M considered that this might be a trap. (Although both should have known from the outset that it was.)
One other thing: Was Rosa Klebb's attempted seduction of Tatiana genuine lust, a test, or just there to gross us out? I guess it could be all three.
Back in London, we discover Bond and Tiffany just ... broke up. Boy, Fleming didn't waste any time discarding her! I guess she was narratively inconvenient.
"May, his treasured Scottish housekeeper ..." Arthur Conan Doyle called. He wants his supporting character back at 221b Baker Street.
"Loelia Ponsonby ..." Well, now Bond's secretary has a name. And WHAT a name! Did I spell it right?
"Breakfast was Bond's favorite meal of the day." Confirmed! I've been gibbering about this for four books! (It's also the same basic menu, no matter what country he's in. Evidently, Fleming has a specific breakfast he really likes.)
Finally: Bond really loves M. Sometimes the gushing makes me a little uncomfortable.
Kerim Bey is a cliché, of course, so much so that he reminds me of Sala in the Indiana Jones movies. Which makes me wonder if Kerim Bey was the first of his kind of supporting character, and became a cliche because everyone copied it. Or maybe Kerim Bey is a copy of some earlier character.
Not that I wasn't moved when he was killed. He would have been a good character to have return in other books.
Stan Lee liked to use Gypsy tropes, first in horror/suspense tales in the 1940s and '50s, and then in superhero stories (See: Doctor Doom, Scarlet Witch). Movies like The Wolfman leaned on gypsy tropes, and "classic" gypsies even appear today in fare like Peaky Blinders.
Were there Cher-like "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves" camps in 1950s Europe? I would think, after the Nazi pogroms of WWII, they would be scarce. But maybe many still lived in traditional Romany style into the 1950s. And if not, writers certainly wanted us to think they did.
Then there's a cat-fight.
There's a joke so old I don't remember when I first heard it: "Q: Why do men like cat-fights?" "A: There's a good chance someone's shirt will come off."
Fleming went much further, with both girls basically nude by the time the fight was interrupted. This time, I didn't ask my wife why a woman in an Ian Fleming book was suddenly, gratuitously naked.
Bond maneuvers to save both the women (one was supposed to die), because, I guess, Western readers would expect chivalry from their hero. Also, Bond is promised both of them sexually until "their breasts fall" because, I dunno, gypsies pass their women around like trading cards? That doesn't seem very likely, but does fit nicely into a standard male fantasy.
I mention it only because yikes, where did that expression come from?
Bond doesn't meet her until 2/3 of the way into the book. (We had to make room for the gypsy cat-fight!) I'm not disappointed, because Fleming's romantic dialogue is often lame. ("My darling!") The gypsy stuff was at least weirdly interesting.
Also, I was pleased that even though Bond is falling in love AGAIN he had enough wits to keep considering that maybe this was a trick. (Good thinking, since it was.)
Also also, I guess that the MGB dropping films of Bond and Romanova having sex would hurt his reputation, or maybe give MI6 a black eye. Or be extortion material? I'm not sure how that would play out, exactly, but I'm sure it would be no bueno in the '50s.
However, as I've now lived through the celebrity sex-tape era, and a presidential candidate (and later president) bragging about sexual assault, it's hard not to snicker at how precious that is. Today, Bond would get his own reality TV show.
The Orient Express
Fleming goes out of his way to note that postwar Europe is crisscrossed with better trains, but that the Orient Express has history, and serves an important purpose in the Cold War (one part of the train going behind the Iron Curtain, another part not).
Maybe. But I think Fleming knew that most of his audience had at least heard of the Orient Express, even though none of them were ever likely to ride on it. And it would sound thrilling and exotic.
Norton Nash/Donovan Grant
Once over the frontier, Grant makes his move, trying to kill Bond and take the decoding machine.
But boy, that fight is over fast! I don't mind our guy winning, but ... man, this had been set up since Page 1! I expected a little more. My memories of a longer fight in the movie may be influencing me here.
One thumbs up is that Bond knew he had no chance against this beefcake and looked for a cheat immediately. I like it that our guy isn't Batman or Shang-Chi or somebody, but just an ordinary bloke, albeit a pretty fit one with a bit of combat training. Makes it easier for the reader to identify.
I did like Tatiana pointing out that "Nash" means "ours" in Russian. I didn't catch that, and it's clever.
There's something deeply misogynistic about Rosa ... and I don't care. Bond gets an evil woman foe in addition to an evil man foe and I can hate her equally. The knife in the shoe is vivid mental image.
The Death of James Bond
Yeah, Bond is poisoned by Rosa Klebb and appears to die. Some sources say Fleming was tired of Bond and was killing him off. But like Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes, Fleming changed his mind about Bond.
I assume that Bond will have a miraculous recovery at the beginning of Dr. No. (And that Tatiana will somehow disappear, even if she "is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.")
Fun Facts to Know and Tell
- I may have mentioned this before: SMERSH was a real thing, but not when the Bond books were written. It was folded into other Soviet security agencies in 1947, six years before Casino Royale and 10 years before From Russia, with Love. Fleming continues to use SMERSH as "the murder apparatus" of the MGB in his books, even though it no longer existed when he wrote them.
- Speaking of which, Fleming keeps using MGB (Ministry for State Security) when that's archaic, too. The MGB was changed to the KGB (Committee for State Security) two years before Casino Royale and six years before From Russia, with Love. And he still uses the archaic term Deuxième Bureau for the French foreign intelligence service. As I mentioned in another commentary, that ended in 1940, 23 years before Casino Royale.
- G makes reference to "revolution in Morocco," which places this book somewhere in late 1955 or early '56.
- Ukraine means "borderland" or "frontier." Russians always put a "the" in front of it, emphasizing that it wasn't really a separate nation, but just a region of Russia. Ukrainians, naturally, always resented that. The "the" is no longer in use in the West, as Ukrainians consider it an insult.
Director: Terence Young
Writers: Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood
Stars: Sean Connery (James Bond), Robert Shaw (Donald "Red" Grant), Lotte Lenya (Rosa Klebb), Daniela Bianchi (Tatiana Romanova), Vladek Sheybal (Kronsteen), Anthony Dawson (Ernst Blofeld), Pedro Armendáriz (Ali Kerim Bey), Bernard Lee (M), Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny), Desmond Llewelyn (Boothroyd)
Notable Songs: "From Russia with Love," composed by Lionel Bart and performed by Matt Monro.
The Plot: "No. 1," the leader of the international criminal organization SPECTRE (Special Executive for Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion), wants the Soviet's Lektra decoding machine. The organization's No. 5, a brilliant chess grandmaster, conceives of a plan where a naive young woman in the KGB, with access to the Lektra machine, is ordered by a SPECTRE agent she thinks is her boss in the KGB to seduce James Bond, an agent of MI6, with the promise of sex and the machine. SPECTRE agents will film the two having sex, and their agent will steal the machine from Bond after he steals it from the Soviets. Then they will kill him and release the sex tape with a suicide note saying he killed the girl and himself. MI6 and the Soviets will be played against each other, and both will lose, and then neither will do anything after the operation is over, out of embarrassment. Meanwhile, SPECTRE gets the Lektra machine, which they will sell back to the Soviets for an exorbitant price. A bonus will be the death of Bond, who interfered with SPECTRE agent Dr. No (in the previous movie). What follows is a three-way battle between Bond, SPECTRE and SMERSH.
The movie opens with "James Bond" (John Ketteringham) stalking and being stalked by another agent, Donald Grant, who kills Bond with a wire garotte hidden in his watch. It turns out "Bond" is wearing a mask, and this is just a training exercise for Grant.
One wonders how they get someone to play "Bond" in these scenarios. What would be your reward if you survived by killing Grant? It's really kinda no-win, like being a henchman for The Joker.
Weirdly, the man wearing the Bond mask, when revealed, has a prominent and neatly trimmed light-haired mustache. The Li'l Capn was distracted by that, but the older Capn thinks, "They really wanted us to know that wasn't Sean Connery."
This opening is in contradistinction from the book, where we never see Grant being trained. We are, however, told of how he became the homicidal sociopath we meet on page 1.
That probably wouldn't translate to a movie very well, as it would require a huge exposition dump. This opening sells us well enough on how dangerous Grant is, and is very suspenseful — enough so that the Li'l Capn remembers it 50 years later — and is great foreshadowing.
I'm not alone in appreciating the SPECTRE training academy. Someone who was involved in the 1967 Casino Royale parody remembered it well enough to spoof it ("The James Bond Academy").
One change: Donovan Grant from the books becomes Donald Grant in the movie, for no reason I can see.
Observation: Robert Shaw's hair is brown, but was died platinum blond for this role. I'm sure that decision was made to make him look more like "Red" Donovan in the book. But it has the added benefit of making him unforgettable.
We hear an instrumental version of "From Russia with Love" by John Barry, which I can still remember five decades later. It's one of the few Bond themes I can summon up from memory. I don't much care for the lyrics version sung by Matt Monro. I prefer the instrumental version, with the sweeping horns evoking, at least for me, the sweeping steppes of Russia.
Czech chess grandmaster Kronsteen is playing Canadian grandmaster MacAdams (Peter Madden) in Venice. Kronsteen is surreptitiously summoned to meet with No. 1 of SPECTRE, like in the book, albeit by different method. He wins the game and leaves while refusing to shake anyone's hand. (I didn't notice that as a boy; I do as a grown-up.)
In the book, Kronsteen is Russian, not Czech, and is Head of Planning for SMERSH. Here he's No. 5 in SPECTRE. Kronsteen is played by goggle-eyed actor Vladek Sheybal, who is probably familiar to anyone who watched TV in the '60s
The game they are playing in From Russia with Love is a real one, where Boris Spassky won the USSR championships in 1960. I played on a chess team in high school, and this was fun for me.
I think No. 1's boat must be in a waterway near Venice, since Kronsteen gets there so quickly.
No. 1's face is never seen, nor his name mentioned. Initially he was listed with a question mark in the credits, although the character's name (Blofeld) and actor's name (Anthony Dawson) have been revealed elsewhere. "Fluffy" gets screen time, too.
This varies from the book, where the lead bad guy is "G," head of SMERSH, the "murder apparatus" of the MGB.
Colonel Rosa Klebb also attends the meeting. In the book she is SMERSH's Head of Operations and Executions, but here she's a renegade KGB agent who is SPECTRE's No. 3. She is played by Lotte Lenya, an Austrian singer who somehow found her way into the movie. I was terrified of her as a child, and as an adult I'll say she looks exactly like Rosa Klebb ought to.
These characters are filling much the same story niches as they did in the book, but are actually working for another organization. That makes this a more complicated plot — and for my money, a better one.
No. 1 describes how fighting fish wait while other fish fight and then take on the exhausted winner. This is a good metaphor for Kronsteen's plan.
MORE SPECTRE ISLAND
I don't know where Spectre Island is supposed to be, but it must be close to Venice, where (I think) No. 1's boat is. Because both Klebb and a Bulgarian named Morzeny move back and forth quickly.
A masseuse (Jan Williams) shows up to massage Donald Grant, and immediately takes her clothes off (to a bikini) to do so. In the book, she takes it all off except for panties. I didn't expect a topless scene in a general-audience movie, so that's not a big deal. But, while I was glad to see fidelity to the book, it was such a throwaway scene that it didn't really give the audience a chance to understand what was really going on ... which is that Grant is such a freak he'd rather murder people than have sex with this hot chick. As a lad I just assumed it was an indication of how sleazy SPECTRE was, to assign sex slaves to their operatives.
I should mention this now while I'm thinking about it: The masseuse was zaftig, and so are many women in this movie. From Russia with Love falls into the era where American women were still trying to look like Rosalind Russell or Marilyn Monroe, and American men wanted them to. In just three or four years, they'd all be trying to look like Twiggy! OK, maybe not Twiggy, but certainly there was a sea change in fashion from the early 1960s to the late ones, from bouffants and modest outfits to straight hair and braless tank tops.
I mentioned it to my wife, who summed up the Monroe look with: "None of them were exercising then."
Rosa Klebb shows up to interview Donald Grant. This consists of her punching him in the stomach with brass knuckles. He doesn't much react, and she declares herself satisfied. Yep, that's straight out of the book (except that Donovan was naked in the book).
In this scene we first see Bulgarian killer Morzeny, played by Walter Gotell of the Legion of "Hey, It's That Guy!" He touches Klebb's arm and she gives him a venomous look.
In the book, Tatiana was recruited in Moscow. In the movie she works in the Russian Embassy in Instanbul. That helps the plot along, but it should have changed her. She wouldn't have been the book's sheltered, heavily-indoctrinated girl who had little contact with Western culture. Istanbul is about as cosmopolitan as it gets.
The Italian actress who plays Tatiana, Daniela Bianchi, is 21 and gorgeous. But when she first appears with her fellow secretaries, who are also presumably young and big-screen pretty, they are all dressed so dowdily that it looks like a PTA meeting. The eye makeup alone aged Bianchi 10 years. The bouffant and long skirt and jacket added 5 more.
Not that it matters to the plot. In one scene, Bond expresses appreciation of her looks where he's looking through a telescope, and all he can see is Tatiana from the waist down, and most of that is covered with a plain, brown skirt. What on Earth is leering at? Her ankle? (And Wiki tells me a leg model was used for the scene, not Bianchi.)
Anyway, as often happens in this movie, the dialogue lifts straight out of the book. Rosa Klebb, for example, questions Tatiana about her three lovers. I love it that the movie keeps doing this, even though without follow-through it can't make any impact on viewers who haven't read the book. Most of this fidelity to print probably went shooting over the audience's head, and made the movie feel a little disjointed.
I also appreciate Rosa putting her hand on Tatiana's thigh and the latter reacting like she'd been touched by a live wire. You don't need to read the book to know that Rosa was putting the moves on Tatiana, and she didn't like it.
Bond is on a picnic in a canoe on a river with Sylvia (Eunice Gayson), a zaftig chick in a bikini that he treats dismissively. That was probably pretty normal then, but it doesn't age well. I like that she makes an oblique reference to Dr. No which fits into the scene fine, but if you've seen the other movie, you go "Oh-h-h." Well done. (Bond: "I'll make it up to you." Sylvia: "The last time you said that you went off to Jamaica. I haven't seen you for six months!")
Sylvia isn't in the book. I can't wait to see if she's in Dr. No.
Bond gets his assignment, like in the book. It was heartwarming to see Bernard Lee still so young. And once again, my youthful memories stand up: Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny) is dowdy. Of course she was middle-aged in the Roger Moore movies 15 years later. But here she's young ... and dresses like a PTA mom with my mother's hairdo.
Bond gets the tricksy attaché case from a guy M introduces as from Q branch. (Llewelyn, of course, who is identified as Boothroyd in the credits.) Bond describes it as "a nasty little Christmas present."
I laughed out loud, because I literally got that attaché case as a Christmas present. The knife was rubber, but popped out much the same way as in the movie. There was a camera that turned into a pistol, and there were pieces inside that you could assemble into the rifle Bond uses against the helicopter. Those both shot actual pink, bullet-shaped projectiles that you couldn't sell to kids now.
Bond has a stilted conversation with Karim Bey's son at the airport. This exchange is a password test, which is repeated three more times, the last time between Grant and Bond, and drowned out by a train. But by then the observant viewer knew what they were saying and why. For the record:
Man 1: Pardon me, do you have a match?
Man 2: I use a lighter.
Man 1: Better still.
Man 2: Until they go wrong.
Kerim Bey says "You're in the Balkans now." Traditionally, the Balkans are considered to be the area and peninsula formed by the Balkan Mountains, but more recent definitions exclude Greece. At one time it was also known as "Ottoman Europe," as the area largely coincided with Ottoman holdings north of the Turkish straits. I don't think Istanbul fits into any of those definitions. When I think of the Balkans, I think of Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia, not Istanbul, Turkey, which is in the area usually defined as Anatolia. Ah, well, I'll allow it. But it did briefly yank me out of the movie.
Pedro Armendáriz, who plays Kerim Bey, doesn't look a bit like the former circus strongman described in the book.
There are two people following Bond. Some Slavic fellow in thick glasses, and Grant. I came to understand that the first is KGB, and the other is SPECTRE.
Glasses Guy is dispensed with at some point by Grant, and while that adds to the guy's murder toll, it doesn't advance the story much. Glasses Guy is, narratively speaking, a distraction. Meanwhile, Grant becomes Bond's "guardian angel" in a very sinister way, always appearing in the background with that unmissable shock of white hair. And where he goes, death follows.
The whole periscope-under-the-Russian-meeting thing is very much in the spirit of the book, and also sometimes literal to the book. The Phantom of the Opera canoe thing is a movie invention, but again, in the spirt of the book. We even see rats piling up in a threatening manner.
When Kerim Bey and Bond kill Krilencu (Fred Haggerty), it's exactly like the book. Two of Kerim's sons pretend to be police officers at the front of Krilencu's hideout, while Bond and Kerim wait outside his escape hatch at the back. Kerim uses Bond's shoulder as a mount for his rifle, demonstrating how these two men have bonded. And then Krilencu climbs out of his escape hatch, disguised as a billboard for the movie Niagara, starring Marilyn Monroe.
Oh, wait! When the movie came out Monroe was already dead, so using an old Monroe movie, which was fresh when Fleming did it, would have been in poor taste.
Instead, Eon Productions used ... another movie by Eon Productions. Call Me Bwana, starring Bob Hope and Anita Ekberg, was used. In the book, Krilencu climbs out of Monroe's mouth. In the movie, it's Ekberg's.
In one scene, Kerim Bey whips out his breast-pocket handkerchief, mops his face and stuffs it back in his pocket — perfectly folded! I'm kind of sad that I missed that era of men's fashions, and never learned to do things like that. I can barely tie a half-windsor.
It's presented just like the book, where I've already pondered if such camps still existed in 1950s Europe. So my skepticism is accentuated by the fact that we're now in the '60s.
The belly dancer was really quite good. (They're not all good in movies and TV.) But the woman moving her belly muscles made my wife guffaw out loud, as it isn't remotely sexy. I laughed too. But I thought: My wife says women didn't exercise then. So any woman who could do something like that ... well, sexy or not, it's exotic, right?
In the book, Bond is promised both of the fighting women, with the implication being a ménage à trois. However, Fleming leaves it there. In the movie, we see that they are presented to him. Specifically for sex. Man, talk about male fantasy.
But at least the movie explains that the women aren't fighting over just any ol' man, but the chief's son. That makes a little more sense than in the book, where they're just fighting over some rando. In the movie they're fighting over a man with money, status and power. That's worth fighting over, if your alternative is basically washing everyone else's clothes in a gypsy camp until your "breasts fall."
It should be mentioned that Bond is a much better fighter in this scene than in the book, where he is praised as a good fighter but doesn't do much. In the movie he goes after Krilencu, and almost dies doing so. (Grant has to save him.)
Bond meets Tatiana on a ferry with a brown box camera. Those were like the height of technology back then, and people were really proud of them. Bond does them one better, by having a tape recorder in the camera. He makes Tatiana describe the Lektra, so that the boys back in London can make sure she's not selling them a pig in a poke. In the book, everyone just takes Tatiana's word for it.
There's a weird reference that implies that Bond and M had some sort of embarrassing adventure together in Tokyo. That didn't ring true for me; M and Bond have more of a father-son relationship, when it's not straight up boss-employee. Sometimes a screenwriter should resist the easy gag.
It's not clear in the movie, but on a second watch, I realized that Bond moved up the day they're sneaking into the Russian Embassy by one day, because he didn't trust Tatiana. One must intuit this, as no explanation is given.
There was no Embassy scene in the book — Tatiana had the Spektor from the get-go.
THE ORIENT EXPRESS
Kerim Bey got rid of most of the Russian agents on the train in the book. (Once again, Bond was almost peripheral in his own story.) When Kerim was killed fighting the last one, I expected that this was some sort of dodge, and Kerim Bey would show up later. But nope, he was just arbitrarily dead. In the movie, he's killed by Grant, which makes a lot more narrative sense.
Bond slaps Tatiana and demands that she come clean with him. That makes Sean Connery two-for-two on slapping girls in this commentary, the other being Diamonds Are Forever. In both cases, the girls were hiding something, and Bond was playing No More Mr. Nice Guy because the situation had turned deadly. So while I'm generally not in favor of slapping girls, Bond had good reason — and it underscored, for me, how quickly Sean Connery could switch from charming to dangerous.
Roger Moore slapped a girl in Live and Let Die, too, but I doubt it hurt.
In the dining car scene, I caught Donovan's wine gaffe. The killers in Diamonds Are Forever also make a wine gaffe, but I didn't catch it because I don't know anything about clarets, or most wines in general. But even I know you don't drink red wine with fish. The horror!
The fight with Grant in the movie is much better than the book, as I mentioned above.
"You might know the right wines, but you're the one on your knees." Great line, delivered with malevolent relish by Robert Shaw.
In the book, Bond is really irritated that Grant keeps calling him "old man." In the movie, the screenwriter uses it cleverly, and lets Bond get in the last word. Connery, of course, delivers it with acid deadpan.
I love that Q's gadgets don't save the day, but simply give the hero a fighting chance. That's what we want to see in our adventure stories.
Bond gets off the train near Belgrade, and uses Grant's plan and agents to get out of Communist-controlled countries to Trieste, Italy, with a drugged Tatiana and the Lektra.
Along the way Bond does North by Northwest.
My wife objected to this scene, specifically to how "flimsy" the helicopter looked. She's somewhat younger than me, so I had seen plenty of this style of helicopter on TV when I was young and didn't bat an eye. The first time I saw a Huey on TV was probably war footage from Vietnam.
This is a good action scene that doesn't appear in the book.
MORE SPECTRE BOAT
No. 1 executes Kronsteen for failure. I guess the audience was supposed to get the idea that SPECTRE was ruthless and terrible, and we do. But it must be noted that No. 1 is a terrible boss, who is going to fail at everything because he really can't manage people.
I mean, Kronsteen was useful. Why kill him? Where are you going to find another grandmaster? He's obviously the smartest guy in the room, so killing him is a waste of human capital. And as Kronsteen himself points out, his plan didn't fail, Klebb's operatives did, so No. 1 should have killed Klebb. And No. 1 ends up losing Klebb too. Sooner or later people are going to stop working for this guy.
Morzeny, who has a poisoned knife hidden in his shoe, does the honors. As we will see later, Klebb has a shoe-knife, too. Maybe it's standard SPECTRE issue.
This scene is not in the book.
I can only assume the Danube is where the boat chase happens. They were in Belgrade, Serbia, and then they were on the water, and that says Danube. But it may be a different waterway somewhere between Serbia and faraway Trieste, which is on the Adriatic Sea.
And what is it with Bond and boat chases? He had one in Live and Let Die and another in Moonraker, too. Three boat chases in five movies! Vague memories from my youth tell me that this isn't the last one, either.
Oh, well, it was pretty well done. The scene of Bond shooting the flare gun was released as a photo, and it was everywhere in 1964. And Gorzeny gets his.
This scene is not in the book.
Klebb tries to kill Bond with the shoe-knife. In the book, she succeeds (temporarily). Here, she is killed — after some hesitation — by Tatiana.
I didn't buy the hesitation; at this point in the movie Tatiana has declared her love for Bond, even after the slap, and maybe more importantly, all her chips are with MI6. She is persona non grata for both SPECTER and SMERSH. She needs Bond to stay alive.
Bond throws the sex tape into the water in Venice (got to have a gondola scene if you're in Venice) and waves bye-bye. I could have lived without that bit.
Fun Facts to Know and Tell
Pedro Armendáriz (Kerim Bey) was dying of cancer in this movie. He was unable to perform his last few scenes, where a double was used. He committed suicide after filming.
Anthony Dawson, who plays Blofeld, played Professor Dent in Dr. No.
Donald Grant is played by Robert Shaw, who most people know as Quint from Jaws. He is four inches shorter than Sean Connery, so in some scenes he had to stand on a box.
Desmond Llewelyn isn't quite "Q" yet in this movie, playing a character named in the credits as "Boothroyd," whom M introduces as from Q branch. He replaced Peter Burton, who played "Major Boothroyd" in Dr. No.
The name Boothroyd comes from a Bond (and gun) enthusiast who wrote Fleming that Bond's .25 Beretta was a lady's gun and that he should use something like a Walther PPK. Fleming liked the suggestion, but it was too late to incorporate into From Russia, with Love. Presumably I'll see this reflected in the next book, Dr. No. The movies, of course, used Boothroyd and the Walther PPK from the get-go.
If it's not obvious, M and Q don't stand for names. M means "Missions" and Q means "Quartermaster." That's why when they're replaced, the new guys keep the same code names.
The comma in From Russia, with Love was dropped for the movie and theme song.
From Russia, with Love was one of John F. Kennedy's favorite books. From Russia with Love turned out to be the last movie JFK would ever see.
Fleming describes Bond as having thin, cruel lips. By golly, I think that describes Sean Connery pretty well.