Wednesday 29 April 2009

From Russia With Love

Over the past few weeks, I’ve watched, at long last, the first three James Bond films. From Russia With Love was the follow-up to Dr No, and it introduced a number of trademark features, including a score by John Barry, and the debut of Desmond Llewellyn as Q, the technical wizard. Again, I thought the film had worn well, considering its age – thanks partly to the excellence of Sean Connery in the lead role, and largely to a tight and fast-moving screenplay, packed with incident.

In this movie, the villainous organisation SMERSH plays Russia off against Britain, and Bond is meant to be the fall guy. We don’t get to see the face of the evil mastermind Ernst Stavro Blofeld, but are allowed a few shots of him stroking a cat with gleeful menace. His henchman include Rosa Klebb (memorably played by the legendary Lotte Lenya), Walter Gotell, who regularly appeared on tv in my youth, and that notable tough guy actor Robert Shaw, who was born in Lancashire – though you’d never guess it from this performance. When one thinks of Shaw’s very different role in The Sting, one realises what a good actor he was, and apparently he was also a novelist of some distinction.

Pedro Armendariz, a Mexican actor, also had a key role in the story, as Ali Karim Bey, who assists Bond before falling victim to assassination by Shaw. I was sad to read that, while the film was being made, Armendariz was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and that he committed suicide shortly after the film was completed. His performance in the movie is very likeable, and he is deservedly remembered for it.

As usual, I enjoyed the John Barry soundtrack. Monty Norman is credited, as usual, with writing the James Bond Theme itself. But, having failed to be commissioned to score the movie, he must have been further and very understandably irked to see his name misspelt on the final credits.


Frank Loose said...

FRWL is my all time favorite Bond movie. A lot of folks pick Goldfinger, which has some nice moments, but i think FRWL holds up better. Has any movie ever had a better staged, more dramatic fight scene than the train fisticuffs between Connery and Shaw? If so, I'd like to see it.

Scott D. Parker said...

FRWL, along with FYEO, are my two favorite Bond films. Sure, GF and TB are more fun but, until CR, FRWL and FYEO felt more real. FRWL is not a story with a megalomaniac out to rule the world. It is a small, intimate story: get the cipher. And the villains, Red Grant and Rose Klebb, are out to kill Bond for no other reason than he is the enemy. FYEO is like this, too. And I may be in the minority but The Living Daylights also falls in with these films.

So, Martin, how was it you never saw these films?

Nik Morton said...

The bonus of these early Bond films (Dr No, From Russian With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, OHMSS) was that their scripts stuck quite closely to the books.

Martin Edwards said...

Many thanks for these comments. Soctt, I've realised more clearly in recent times how many gaps there are in my knowledge and I'm gradually trying to fill a few of them. The first Bond film I saw, not long after it came out, was Thunderball - but I just never got round to watching the earlier ones until now.
Nik, I agree about the scripts.