The James Bond Challenge – Thunderball (1965)

Thunderball PosterIn which SPECTRE plan to extort £100 million in diamonds (that’s £1.35 billion in today’s money, so it’s a lot of cash) or else two atomic bombs will be dropped on either a major US or English city – later revealed to be Miami. M and his team can’t allow that to happen, so Bond is sent to the Bahamas, where he eventually finds the hidden bombs, kills a lot of SPECTRE’s henchmen underwater and the world is saved. Good man, Bond!

SPECTRE's lairAs the films got grander and longer, so did the budgets continue to increase. The budget for Thunderball was $9 million – three times that of Goldfinger – but with an overall box office take of an estimated $141 million, this was a wise investment. In the original plan, Thunderball was meant to be the first film in the series, but an extended legal wrangle made this impossible; a compromise was eventually reached that credited Kevin McClory (who had always claimed he had co-written the story of Thunderball with Jack Whittingham) as Producer of the movie, with Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman named as Executive Producers. Along with the return of Richard Maibaum as screenwriter, alongside John Hopkins, this makes for quite convoluted opening credits!

Bond and La PorteGuy Hamilton, who had directed Goldfinger, was asked back, but he was too “Bonded Out” to feel the necessary creativity, so he next went on to direct Oliver Reed in The Party’s Over. As a result, Terence Young returned to the job, having already directed Dr No and From Russia With Love. This would be his final Bond film. Once again, the cinematography was by Ted Moore, with Peter Hunt as supervising film editor (film editing credited to Ernest Hosler), and production design by Ken Adam. John Barry was, of course, again responsible for the music, all apart from Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme. Bob Simmons was the stunt choreographer and puts in an amazing performance as Mme Bouvar (not) getting thwacked to a pulp by Bond in the pre-titles scene.

Bob Simmons as Mme BouvarThunderball was published in 1961 and was the ninth in Ian Fleming’s series of James Bond novels. As outlined earlier, it was written as a collaboration between Fleming, Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham, Ivar Bryce and Ernest Cuneo, as a novelisation of an earlier, unused film screenplay. As a result, it’s unsurprising that the film and the book tell very much the same story, with only a few minor changes. As an aside, this wasn’t the only film to be made from the Thunderball novel – 1983’s Never Say Never Again, which was Sean Connery’s Bond swansong, also follows the plot of this book. But that’s a matter for another time!

thunderball novelIn the novel, it is explained that M has sent Bond off to the health farm, Shrublands, because he was getting unfit through drinking and smoking too much; but the film just places Bond in the health farm without explanation. The character of Fiona doesn’t appear in the novel, and Emilio Largo is described as SPECTRE’s No 1, because the identity of No 1 kept changing for security reasons. In the film he is No 2, only Blofeld could hold that honour. Fleming liked to borrow his real-life experiences and use the names of people he knew, or knew of, throughout his stories; Blofeld is named after Tom Blofeld who was a contemporary of Fleming’s at Eton and whose son is Henry Blofeld of cricketing fame.

Odeon AylesburyThinking back, and remembering how I saw From Russia with Love, Diamonds are Forever, Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice in double-bills at the Odeon Aylesbury with my schoolfriend John, I am pretty sure that I hadn’t seen Thunderball before. It’s amazing how such a well-known film can completely escape one’s attention. Still, better late than never.

underwaterBoth book and novel received generally favourable reviews. Of the novel, the Guardian wrote: “it is a good, tough, straightforward thriller on perfectly conventional lines”; and the Financial Times called it: “an exciting story skilfully told”, with “a romantic sub-plot […] and the denouement involves great events.” Of the film, the Financial Times regretted the fact that there was much less attempt made at establishing Bond as a “connoisseur playboy”. I find myself agreeing with American film critic Danny Peary, when he said “it takes forever to get started and has too many long underwater sequences during which it’s impossible to tell what’s going on”. My own reaction to the film is that it’s as though they went and bought some underwater cameras and were going to absolutely get their money’s worth.

funeralThe opening credits appear unchanged, with Maurice Binder’s iconic glimpse of Bond walking across the screen whilst being captured by the barrel of a gun, only for him to turn around, see us, and shoot; and then for the blood to start filling up the screen. However, because this movie was filmed in widescreen Panavision, it had to be re-shot; so this is the first time that the actor playing Bond appears in the opening credits – stunt man Bob Simmons had featured in these credits in the first three films. As usual, we are taken straight into the opening scene. We witness Bond at the funeral of one Colonel Jacques Bouvar, SPECTRE’s No 6, where his widow is mourning in the grand tradition of black veils and garments. Bond, however, isn’t satisfied, and when she gets back to her grand house, she locks herself into a sumptuous room only to discover Bond is there waiting for her. She turns out to be a he; Bouvar himself has faked his death, and there follows a thoroughly extravagant fight scene between the two – Bond, cool calm and collected, Bouvar in high heels and stockings.

Aston Martin getawayEventually Bouvar is overpowered and slung into the fireplace to die, a contemptuous bunch of tulips being chucked over his head by Bond as an afterthought. Bond flees to the rooftops to make his escape, but he is followed by SPECTRE henchmen, and just when you think he’s going to get caught – up he flies into the air wearing a jetpack, safely landing beside his Aston Martin DB5 and colleague from the French service, Madame La Porte. The bullet shield emerges from the back of the Aston, and emits a water cannon to keep the henchmen at bay.

opening creditsOnce again our first sight of Bond shows him doing all those things he does best. Looking cool, fighting and killing ruthlessly, being up to date with all the best gadgets. We instantly move into the rest of the title sequence. Getting a little more daring year by year, these credits feature naked bodies for the first time, which Maurice Binder filmed, originally, in black and white. As they swim, silhouetted, Binder created a vibrant colour backdrop of reds, blues, greens and purples, and it’s a very attractive and arresting sequence. This is also our opportunity to hear the title song, Thunderball, sung by Tom Jones. In comparison to its two predecessors, this is, imho, quite an underpowered and forgettable song, which certainly made no impact on me as I was watching it. I note the single only made No 35 in the UK chart. Allegedly, Tom Jones fainted in an attempt to maintain the last big note of the song. Not sure it was worth it.

PalmyraAnd the locations? The film takes us from Paris, back to the UK, and eventually on the Bahamas. Bond’s opening-scene fight with Bouvar was filmed at the Château d’Anet, near Dreux, in North-West France; I recognised a pub in Beaconsfield as the site of the hotel where Derval was killed by Angelo. Shrublands Health Spa scenes were shot at Chalfont Park House, near Chalfont St Peter. The car chase between Bond, Lippe and Fiona was filmed at Silverstone Racing Circuit in Northamptonshire; Largo’s grand estate, Palmyra, was filmed at the exclusive Rock Point home of a Philadelphia millionaire family, the Sullivans, who liked to watch the filming and used to have friends over for drinks who mixed with the cast and crew when not working. Other elegant locations included the Café Martinique and the Coral Harbour Hotel in Nassau. The climactic underwater battle was shot at Clifton Pier, Nassau, and was choreographed by Ricou Browning, famous for his underwater stunt work – he also created the cheeky dolphin, Flipper. He also staged the cave sequence and the battle scenes beneath the Disco Volante and called in his specialist team of divers who were essentially underwater stunt extras during the underwater fights.

BondBond, James Bond. Sadly we don’t get to hear Sean Connery utter those magnificent words this time round. Connery earned a tidy $800,000 for making this film, but he became very impatient with the heavy media attention in Nassau, which may have been partly due to his marital troubles with his wife at the time, Diane Cilento. He was also very nearly eaten by a shark, when filming in the pool at Largo’s property; the Plexiglas divider that was meant to hold the sharks back from where Connery was in the pool wasn’t – to coin a phrase – watertight, and a shark snuck in to where Connery was swimming. Apparently no one has ever jumped out of a pool faster.

Home SecretaryBoo-boos. There are some continuity errors and mistakes as always, but the only one I noticed at the time of actually watching the movie was right at the beginning, where you hear Bond say “As I said, later” to Madame la Porte, his mouth is clearly saying something different! When Bond arrives at M’s office, there’s a modern white light switch by the door. When he leaves, it’s a bronze double switch; curious. Roland Culver’s character is referred to as the Home Secretary, but in the final credits he’s listed as the Foreign Secretary – now, which is it? And Leiter is sometimes in long trousers and sometimes in shorts whilst he’s piloting the helicopter – that’s an impressive quick change. Bond constantly checks his Breitling Geiger Counter watch to see if he’s near the atom bombs; on one occasion, however, it’s a Rolex – smart, but no cigar. This is not an exhaustive list – there’s plenty more for you to read about on the Internet!

PatriciaThe Bond Girl. As in Goldfinger, it takes the audience a while to work out who exactly is The Bond Girl in this film. It’s no surprise that there are a number of women who take his fancy as the film progresses. In one of his first conversations with Madame La Porte, she asks if there is anything else the French station can do for him. His reply, “later, perhaps”, accompanied by a slightly naughty grin implies he is attracted to her – but this goes no further, maybe because she’s a married Madame. Bond’s first interest is with the attractive physiotherapist at the spa, Patricia Fearing. Their banter is direct and their shower scene even more so – it almost won the film an X certificate, which would have been a box office disaster. Patricia is a nice dalliance for Bond until he leaves the spa, then she’s history. Such a cad. She was played by Molly Peters – although her voice was dubbed by Barbara Jefford – who appeared in a few films in the 60s but whose career was short-lived mainly due to legal wrangles.

PaulaThen we meet Paula Caplan, working for the CIA in Nassau, she shows a lot of early potential as a Bond girl but when she is captured by SPECTRE henchmen Vargas and Janni, she chooses suicide by cyanide capsule rather than be tortured to reveal any secrets of Operation Thunderball. Now that’s what I call a spy. She was played by Martine Beswick, who had previously appeared in From Russia with Love, as the fiery fighting gypsy girl, Zora. She had a long and varied career in TV and films, and is now semi-retired.

DominoHowever, the real Bond Girl in this film is Domino, played by Claudine Auger. She’s Largo’s mistress, and Bond convinces her to help him when he reveals that Largo killed her brother. From then on, she’s a mole in his camp. When he realises that she is working against him, he captures her with intent to torture her; luckily Largo’s nuclear physicist Kutze also decided to jump ship and frees her, just in time for her shoot her harpoon gun through Largo’s heart and save Bond. Hurrah! Claudine Auger was on holiday in Nassau when Kevin McClory spotted her and asked her to audition. Originally, the role of Domino was written as an Italian girl, but Ms Auger impressed them so much they recruited her and changed the role to a French one. Previously, she had been Miss France and was runner-up to Miss World in 1958; and she had a long and varied film career.

DominoWhat Bond Girls Are Like. From the first three films, we came to the conclusion that Bond Girls are: sexy, exotic, unpredictable, as equally likely to attack Bond as to support him, strong and self-reliant up to a point, sometimes tragic, professional and scary. Domino doesn’t throw many more attributes into the mix, apart from one: a desire for revenge.

LargoThe Villain. Of course the ultimate Villain is SPECTRE No 1, Blofeld, seen occasionally stroking his pussycat. But the “active” villain in Thunderball is No 2, Emilio Largo, played by Adolfo Celi. Largo is a rich, powerful, ruthless psychopath with a penchant for sharks and a black eye patch for no apparent reason. For me, personally, I didn’t find him as scary or intimidating as any of the previous villains we’d encountered; not that he wasn’t villainous, and he certainly looks the part, but I think by now I’m made of sterner stuff when it comes to Bond villains. Adolfo Celi was a Sicilian actor and singer, with notable performances in Von Ryan’s Express and the TV series The Borgias. His voice was dubbed by Robert Rietty who had a prolific career in the US, UK and Italy.

FionaOther memorable characters? Surprisingly few. At one stage you might even have thought that Luciana Paluzzi’s Fiona might have ended up Bond Girl – and she very nearly did. Ms Paluzzi was originally considered for the role of Domino, but missed out – and was cast as Fiona instead, which she ended up enjoying more because there was more pizzazz in the role. Strictly one of the Baddies, she’s a SPECTRE agent who becomes François Derval’s mistress and assists Largo in Nassau. Bond can be persuasive with the ladies, but not that persuasive. She too gets her come-uppance when she’s shot in the back at a dance. Luciana Paluzzi appeared in a number of films in the 60s and 70s, and in 1980 married American media mogul Michael Jay Solomon, a former president of Warner Brothers International Television. They now live in New York and Rome.

LeiterRik Van Nutter brings a livelier, more proactive characterisation to the role of Felix Leiter than we have seen in the previous films by Jack Lord (Dr No) or Cec Linder (Goldfinger), although he’s still a relatively minor figure in the story. Rik Van Nutter was married to Anita Ekberg at the time and was invited to play the role without an audition.

Moneypenny and the Old ManAs usual, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn reprise their familiar roles as M, Moneypenny and Q. Once again M catches Moneypenny talking unguardedly in her reception area – I’m surprised she hasn’t learned by now. Q is even more contemptuous of Bond’s disregard for his amazing gadgets as they meet in Pinder’s shop, “out in the field”.

tom_jones_thunderballAnd what about the music? As usual, we start with the main James Bond Theme, written by Monty Norman, as part of the title sequence, and that’s the last you hear of that. The rest of the film soundtrack is pure John Barry; apart from the title song, Thunderball, whose lyrics are by Don Black. Originally the title song was to have been Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, sung by Dionne Warwick, but timing issues, legal issues and the fact that it wasn’t called Thunderball meant it was withdrawn fairly late in the day, so John Barry had to write a new theme double quick. In style, it’s very similar to Goldfinger, although it’s not as impressive or memorable as either the Goldfinger theme or Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

helicopterThe soundtrack is generally pleasant, but not much more; there’s one recurring theme that hits the dramatic spot nicely. It’s the track entitled simply 007, and you hear it when Bond escapes into the Junkanoo, when he leaves the helicopter to join the underwater battle to the death, and when he clambers aboard the Disco Volante to sort Largo out once and for all. It had been written for From Russia with Love, but this time with a much more arresting arrangement. The theme entitled Switching the Body also has a very ethereal vibe and adds to the suspense. King Errisson, and his combo, who play the Kiss Kiss Club, has had a long and successful career, supporting various luminaries such as Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Michael Jackson, the Jackson Five, and many others; he has also toured with Neil Diamond’s band since 1978.

car on fireCar chases. There’s one car chase; it’s short, brisk and full of surprises! It’s when Bond leaves the Spa in his Lincoln Continental and is pursued by Count Lippe in his Ford Fairlane Skyliner. As the Count gets closer, Bond is more than surprised to see him blown up to smithereens by the wicked Fiona, using a rocket launcher on her motorbike. And although it’s not a chase as such, there’s also Fiona’s suspenseful 100 mph plus drive to Nassau that has Bond looking more nervous than I’ve ever seen him.

BaccaratCocktails and Casinos. Whilst staying at Palmyra, Bond and Largo indulge in some Rum Collins – that’s a Tom Collins made with rum rather than gin. No need for him to ask for it to be shaken and not stirred. At the casino Bond rather extravagantly orders some Dom Perignon 55 to go with the Beluga caviar – nice. Bond’s first meeting with Largo is at a casino table, playing Baccarat I believe. His henchman Vargas is playing opposite him, so presumably Largo wins either way. Bond replaces Vargas at the table and wipes the floor with him; Domino confides that Largo “is going to be impossible tonight if his luck doesn’t change”, which I understand to be a subtle hint of some domestic abuse there.

Q and BondGadgets. It’s gadget overload right from the start! The jetpack that thrusts Bond away to safety, and the bullet shield and water cannon on the Aston Martin already take your breath away, and that’s before the opening credits! Q’s magic bundle for Bond includes a Breitling watch that acts as a Geiger counter, an underwater camera (two a penny nowadays, of course), a pill that acts as a Sat Nav device (same observation applies) and an underwater flare that is jolly useful as both a distress signal and for when you get lost and need a little light trying to find submerged atomic bombs. The cassette recorder hidden inside an old book looks rather tame by comparison – useful though it may be. The breathing mouthpiece comes into its own as Bond tries to outsmart the sharks; and there’s also the skyhook that rescues Bond and Domino at the end of the film.

In MemoriamIn Memoriam. Dr No had a death count of approximately 11 as well as all those who go up in smoke in his lair at the end; From Russia with Love notched up at least 40; Goldfinger came in at a more modest 23-ish, plus everyone who died at Fort Knox. Where does Thunderball stand on this count? Let’s briefly remember those who gave their lives so that Bond and Domino can go up, up and away in their beautiful skyhook:

1) Whoever is in the coffin that appears to be that of Jacques Bouvar.

2) No 6 – Colonel Jacques Bouvar.

3) No 9 (electrocuted by Blofeld and his body submerged underground.

4) Derval, killed by Angelo, looking like Derval.

5) Would-be assassin by the window at the spa.

6) 5 pilots gassed on board the Vulcan Bomber.

7) Angelo, his air supply cut underwater by Largo.

8) Lippe, chasing Bond, ambushed by Fiona.

9) Quist, eaten by a shark at Palmyra.

10) Underwater henchman (under the Disco Volante) with air supply cut.

11) Paula.

12) Henchman stabbed by Bond in the shark pool.

13) Fiona, shot accidentally at the Kiss Kiss Club by a henchman.

14) A shark. (They have feelings too, you know.)

15) Vargas.

16) At least 26 people harpooned underwater during the battle between the henchmen and the NATO forces.

17) Whoever dies when the back half of the Disco Volante blows up.

18) Largo.

19) And whoever was left in the front of the Disco Volante when it bursts into flames on the rocks.

That’s probably somewhere in the ballpark of 50 people (and a shark.)

flowers Humour to off-set the death count. Following his jokey remarks whenever someone died in the previous movies, here are some more throwaway lines to send some poor souls on to heaven:

After the fire during the car chase, Bond is late for the important meeting of all the “00s”. Apologising, Bond explains “Some people on the roads really burn you up these days.”

When Bond dumps the freshly shot body of Fiona at a drinks table, he apologises to the others there with: “Do you mind if my friend sits this one out? She’s just dead.”

After he harpoons Vargas, Bond says “I think he got the point.”

Plus there’s Bond’s rather dismissive chucking of the flowers all over the dead Bouvar.

sexismAny less frothy elements? So once again it’s time to consider if there are any outstanding themes or elements that don’t sit well with today’s audience. As usual, I couldn’t perceive any obvious homophobic or racist elements, but when it comes to sexism, where do you start? Let’s remember that definition of sexism, so that we know where we’re at. Sexism is: “(Behaviour, language, etc, reflecting) the assumption that one sex, esp. the female, is inferior to the other; prejudice or discrimination, esp. against women, on the grounds of sex; insistence on (esp. a woman’s) conformity to a sexually stereotyped social role.”

Kiss Kiss ClubBy now we’re used to the fact that there’ll be female bodies on display during the opening credits. This time they’re actually naked, although impossible to see due to the stylistic editing. As the images are more artistic and abstract, I don’t feel this is as sexist as in previous films. The scene that really concerns me is early on when Bond literally forces himself upon Patricia the physiotherapist. She says no, but still he persists. As this is Bond-world, naturally she was only teasing to make him even more randy. But, after he has nearly been killed by Lippe on the spine-stretching machine, and Patricia takes the responsibility for the machine having gone wrong when he knows full well it wasn’t her fault at all, when he says that his silence on the matter “could have its price” – i.e. so that they can have sex in the shower room – this really feels uncomfortable nowadays. Bond’s response to Fiona’s request when she’s in the bath for him to get her something to put on – and he brings her a pair of shoes – is probably more witty than sexist. The camera’s lingering on the performing dancer at the Kiss Kiss Club is, however, definitely suspect.

austin-powersBizarre other stuff that occurred to me and a few observations.

Basically this is the plot that’s satirised in Austin Powers!

I know that clambering over a roof is difficult at the best of times, but surely it’s unlike Bond to drop a gun?

Whilst it starts off really pacey, the film suffers, retrospectively speaking, from all those underwater scenes. Once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, and your mind wanders.

The scene where the pilots in the Vulcan Bomber are gassed and Lippe takes over; this was before any commercial airline had ever been hijacked.

Lovely to see Leonard Sachs as the Group Captain, we all remember him as the host to TV’s The Good Old Days. How wonderful it would have been if he had stood up and proclaimed “Once again, good evening, ladies and gentlemen!” and thumped his gavel on M’s head.

How did Bond know how that he would meet up with Domino when he goes snorkelling? Convenient! We never find out.

Bond’s double, swimming underwater in the shark pool, doesn’t look anything like Connery.

The script between Fiona and Bond once the heavies have arrived addresses all the criticisms (almost verbatim) that had been made of the previous films. A very rewarding way of getting your own back!

Am I the only person never to have heard of a Junkanoo? Largo describes it as “our local Mardi Gras”; apparently, it’s a street parade held in the Bahamas on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. Odd that no one has any Christmas decorations up in that case.

The fifteen-minute underwater fight scene at the end was only one page of script. A lot of it wasn’t scripted – they just went with the flow of what all these paramedics and diver experts got up to.

Kutze’s change of heart, when he goes against Largo’s order and helps Domino to escape, seemed highly improbable to me.

“Codename Thunderball”, says M, introducing all the secret agents to the task of preventing the potential atomic disaster of SPECTRE’s grisly plans. But what is a thunderball anyway? What relevance does it bear to the story? I looked it up and this is what I discovered: Thunderball was a military term used by U.S. soldiers to describe the mushroom cloud seen during the testing of atomic bombs. It’s relevant because if SPECTRE’s threat to detonate the two atomic bombs, there’d be two of them. Perhaps it would have been more accurate to call it Thunderballs.

When Patricia asks Bond when she’ll see him again, he replies, Another Time Another Place, which just happened to be the name of the first film in which Sean Connery had a major role.

Whether or not he received expert health advice at his time at Shrublands, this is the first 007 where Bond doesn’t smoke.

How does Lippe escape from that steam bath?

OscarAwards: John Stears won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects; and Ken Adam was nominated for the BAFTA for Best Production Design, but I don’t suppose he minded losing as he won it for his work on The Ipcress File instead.

you_only_live_twice_-_uk_cinema_posterTo sum up. From a box office perspective, Thunderball continued Broccoli and Saltzman’s winning streak and was more successful a Bond film than any before. Whilst there are some memorable scenes and, there’s no doubt, the underwater photography was enormously advanced for its time, and probably held a huge wow factor for its contemporary audience, I don’t think it has aged well. Where I criticised Goldfinger for its remarkable silliness, at least it wasn’t boring – and I’m afraid I was bored by Thunderball at times. I realise that I would sooner have silliness by the bucketload rather than yet another scene of men being harpooned underwater. I ended up downgrading my score by 1 sparkle, simply because I think the sin of boredom is the worst thing you can impose on an audience. I’d be fascinated to hear your opinions of Thunderball – and whether you agree with me! Please leave a comment below. Next up, the film the world had to wait two years for – the first time that Bond skipped a year – and You Only Live Twice!

My rating: 2 Sparkles

4 Sparkles4 Sparkles





All photos from the film of course belong to their various copyright holders.

The James Bond Challenge – From Russia With Love (1963)

From Russia With LoveIn which James Bond is summoned to Istanbul to meet Tatiana Romanova, who has allegedly fallen in love with him after seeing his photo, and who offers to defect to the West, bringing with her a Lektor cryptographic device which Bond is to take back to M. However, Tatiana is herself a pawn in a plot by SPECTRE to steal the Lektor from Bond and then kill him. Obviously, that doesn’t happen, otherwise there’d be no more Bond films! But how does he survive….? To find out, you’ll have to watch the film, and remember, careful what you read here, there will be spoilers!

Chess matchFollowing the artistic and financial success of the first Bond film, Dr No, the budget for this next film was doubled to $2 million – $150,000 of which was spent on the set for that brief scene at the beginning, where Kronsteen beats Macadams at Chess. With an eye to realism, the game that is being played out is actually a re-enactment of Boris Spassky’s victory over David Bronstein in 1960! Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman chose From Russia With Love as the next adaptation because, apparently, it was one of President John F Kennedy’s favourite books. Once again it was to be directed by Terence Young, with a screenplay by Richard Maibaum (originally it was to be Len Deighton, but he wrote too slowly!), cinematography by Ted Moore and editing by Peter Hunt – the Dr No dream team reunited. Amongst the changes in personnel, the production designer was Syd Cain (who had been art director on Dr No), the title designer was Robert Brownjohn (who would also design the titles for Goldfinger), Peter Perkins was the new stunt co-ordinator, and John Barry composed the soundtrack.

LektorFrom Russia with Love was published in 1957 and was the fifth in Ian Fleming’s series of James Bond novels; ironically, it immediately preceded the novel of Dr No, but in the films, the order was switched. There is a story – which may just be a rumour – that Fleming originally had thought this would be the last James Bond novel – he was getting bored with his creation – but its good reviews (see later) and even better sales made him think again. As with the adaptation of Dr No, the bulk of the story is reasonably faithfully portrayed in the film; but there are a few alterations. In the book, SMERSH, the Soviet counterintelligence agency, are the “baddies”, and the cryptographic device is called a Spektor; in the film, it’s SPECTRE who want to steal the device – Saltzman and Broccoli didn’t want to emphasise any Cold War aspects to the plotline – and the device is called a Lektor (because Spektor would have got confused with SPECTRE!) Neither the helicopter chase nor the boat chase are to be found in the book – they were added to the film for some extra kapow! factor; as was the SPECTRE training school, which was inspired by the Gladiator school in the film Spartacus. Both the book and the film have the “sea of rats” scene – but they come at different times in the story. The book also ends on a cliff-hanger, with Rosa Klebb having kicked Bond with her poisoned switchblade-shoe, leaving him fighting for breath and collapsed. In the film, however, Tatiana shoots her dead. I told you there would be spoilers! Interestingly, Ian Fleming had himself tried to steal the German Enigma machine during his time in the Naval Intelligence Division in the Second World War. This no doubt gave him the idea for the Spektor/Lektor device.

Odeon AylesburyI’m sure I’ve seen From Russia with Love at least once before. I believe it was at the Odeon, Aylesbury, in the 1970s, when it was on as part of a double-bill with Diamonds are Forever, and I saw it with my school friend John. The fact that we almost certainly spent the film gossiping and giggling means I had absolutely no recollection of the plot at all. This would have been one of the many occasions when the Cinema Manager would have told us to shut up or get out. Ah, the follies of youth.

FRWL NovelWidely considered to be both of one of Fleming’s best novels and one of the best films in the series, the author was delighted with his reviews. Fleming’s “tautest, most exciting and most brilliant tale” said Julian Symons in the Times Literary Supplement. The critic for the New York Herald Tribune wrote that “Mr Fleming is intensely observant, acutely literate and can turn a cliché into a silk purse with astute alchemy”. However, The New York Times described it as Fleming’s “longest and poorest book”. Of the film, Time magazine called it “fast, smart, shrewdly directed and capably performed”. Penelope Gilliatt in The Observer said the film manages “to keep up its own cracking pace, nearly all the way. The set-pieces are a stunning box of tricks”. The critic for The Times wisely noted that “the nonsense is all very amiable and tongue-in-cheek and will no doubt make a fortune for its devisers”. It would actually be the last James Bond film that Ian Fleming saw; it was released on 10th October 1963 and he died on 12th August the following year.

Is it Bond?The opening credits start precisely as they did for Dr No, with Maurice Binder’s iconic glimpse of Bond walking across the screen whilst being captured by the barrel of a gun, only for him to turn around, see us, and shoot; and then for the blood to start filling up the screen. Then, before any opening titles, we then go into the first scene. Bond, dressed in his habitual dinner jacket, is walking through a grand, ornate twilit garden when he realises he is being followed. He hears a footstep on twigs and turns around in a heartbeat (the background music also sounds a stabbing, terrified note) but Bond still can’t see who or where. A little further… the music continues to quiver in the background… the sound of footsteps and owls hooting. Bond is beginning to look anxious. He turns; he shoots; he misses. We see the prowler continue to stalk Bond. Behind a fountain they walk, the violins getting more jumpy, Bond, with his pistol in his hand just ready to strike; then we see the prowler pull out a garotte cord from inside his wristwatch, and as Bond walks in front of him in the shadows, the prowler emerges from the darkness, pulls the garotte around Bond’s throat, as 007 seemingly falls to his knees and dies.

Training schoolThen the lights go up on the big house in the distance and we realise that we are at a training ground; a henchman (Morzeny) comes up and tells the prowler “exactly one minute fifty-two seconds, that’s excellent” – although his mouth never moves, curious that, the first gaffe of the film comes very early. The camera falls to the dead man on the ground, a hand reaches out to its throat and, it’s not Bond after all, but some poor sap wearing a Bond mask, sacrificed in the quest for the perfect spy mission. So who was killed in Bond’s place? (we never find out!) Apparently, the extra who originally played this fake Bond accidentally looked surprisingly like Sean Connery, so they had to re-shoot with a moustachioed man, so as not to confuse the audience! And who is the prowler? (That we definitely do find out!) And what happens next?

Opening creditsWhat happens next is a return to the rest of the title sequence. Robert Brownjohn created a semi-glamorous, semi-seedy vision of the titles being projected onto the scantily-clad body of an exotic dancer, the words floating and contorting as they reflect over the dancer’s undulating form. The dancer was actually the same one who takes part in the gypsy scene, Leila, who, apparently, danced with the Lebanese National Ballet in Iran for the Shah’s coronation! Whilst she is dancing we hear John Barry’s Latin American/Middle Eastern jazz arrangement of the From Russia with Love theme, mashed up with his James Bond Is Back theme. Musically, it’s very arresting! And as the credits come to a conclusion, the lights go up on a very familiar sight…

VeniceAnd the locations? … gondoliers on the waters of the Grand Canal in Venice. The first scene after the opening titles take place at the Venice International Grandmasters Chess Championships, where Czechoslovakian Kronsteen is taking on the Canadian Macadams. The rest of the film takes place in London, then Istanbul, and then Bond and Tatiana work their way back to Venice on the Orient Express, via Zagreb and Belgrade. However, all the railway station scenes were filmed at the Sirkeci station in Istanbul. Almost all the interior shots took place at Pinewood Studios: M’s office, SPECTRE island, the Venice hotel and even on board the Orient Express. The gypsy camp scene was originally to be shot at Topkapi in Istanbul, but funding required that it be shot in the UK, so a mock-up was created at Pinewood. Other short scenes were filmed in Argyll and Scotland, with the “rats” scene filmed in Spain.

Hat trickBond, James Bond. Although the book features that famous phrase, Sean Connery doesn’t get to utter it in this second film. However, he did get a considerable pay increase, from the $100,000 he pocketed for Dr No to $250,000 for this film; and his wages never decreased as the series continued. The success of From Russia with Love truly sealed his own personal success as an actor and he never looked back. Apart from the pay, and the success, the other thing that Connery got out of this film was the chance to wear eight Savile Row suits, each one costing approximately $2000. But then he always was something of a clothes horse.

SteamFilm editor Peter Hunt realised whilst making Dr No that it was vital to keep everything moving as quickly as possible, so that the audience doesn’t start to analyse the plot. It’s got to be here and now entertainment. And as in that previous film, as a result, there are a number of gaffes and continuity issues that remain in the film due to this keenness to move on and make it all at breakneck speed. For example, one scene was cut right at the very last minute because, at a private screening, Terence Young’s 12-year-old son pointed out that it contained a character – the Bulgarian Agent constantly pursuing Bond – who had been killed earlier on in the film. When Kronsteen plays the winning move in his championship match, the chessboard on the wall shows the movement of Queen from F4 to E4, but one moment later, after Macadams has conceded, it’s back on F4 again. When Klebb arrives at the SPECTRE training camp and meets Morzeny, they’re clearly saying the word “pool” whilst their voices say the word “lake”. No time to retake, perhaps? There’s no way that Bond could have put his shirt on that quickly when he has his first phone call with Moneypenny. The bath that he runs when he comes back after Krilenku’s death only has steam coming out of the tap even though you can distinctly hear water pouring out. The Flower truck changes from being a Ford F-350 Flatbed to a Chevrolet C30. Minor errors each one, but when you add them up, it clearly shows that pace and effect was more important than accuracy!

PuntingThe Bond Girl. We last saw Sylvia Trench attempting to get a hole in one in Bond’s bedroom just as he was being called for Dr No duty in Jamaica. Here she is again, up to her elbows in romance, snuggling up to Bond in a punt on the river Cam (I presume – the punter who goes past is punting from the Cambridge end) when, once again, he gets the call to action – no, a different kind of action. Originally there was to be a running joke throughout all the films that Sylvia and James would be just about to shake their groove thangs when M would insist on his being sent to some other part of the globe. But the powers that be decided this would be an unnecessary distraction, and I reckon they got that right. So this is the second and last appearance of Miss Trench attempting to tee something up with Bond.

TatianaInstead, meet Daniela Bianchi, at 21 years old, the youngest to perform the role of Bond Girl. In 1960 she was runner-up to Miss Universe, and it’s not hard to tell why from her extraordinary good looks. From 1958 to 1968 she appeared in a string of movies, mainly performing in her native Italian; and at the grand old age of 28 she retired from acting, to marry a Genoese shipping magnate and bring up a family. Because her accent was too strongly Italian, her lines were dubbed by Barbara Jefford, the first of three times that Ms Jefford would provide the spoken words for a character in a Bond film.

Tatiana looking sexyWhat Bond Girls Are Like. From watching Dr No, we came to the conclusion that Bond Girls are: sexy, with an exotic background, unpredictable, as equally likely to attack Bond as to support him, strong and self-reliant up to a point, and sometimes tragic. I think it’s fair to say that Tatiana fulfils all those descriptions – apart, perhaps, from tragic; the end of the film suggests that they could go on to have a long and happy relationship….as if that would be likely with James Bond!

FilmingInterestingly, the scene where the SPECTRE agent is secretly filming Bond and Tatiana in bed together caused some problems with the film censors. They didn’t like what they felt was the extreme voyeurism of the arrangement; and to make it more palatable for the censors, the film doesn’t dwell on the agent doing the watching.

BlofeldThe Villain. It’s not so easy to identify just one “villain” in From Russia with Love. In one respect, the villain is the entire SPECTRE community. In another, it’s the unnamed, uncredited character Number One, who lounges in his comfy chair, stroking his pussycat. We know from subsequent films and stories that he is Blofeld; but at this stage, Bond’s cinema audience would only know him as Number One. In fact, he was played by Anthony Dawson, who played Professor Dent in Dr No; although the character was voiced by Austrian actor Eric Pohlmann.

KlebbOther memorable characters? For me the big memorable character is the icily sinister Comrade Colonel Rosa Klebb, formerly with SMERSH, now “Number Three” in SPECTRE. With a face like a ripped trainer, she socks wannabe SPECTRE agents in the stomach to check their strength, lingers dubiously long over the prettiness of Tatiana in a rather icky way, and is ready to despatch Bond to the Pearly Gates with one flick of her poisoned-bladed boots. It’s a brilliant performance by Lotte Lenya, whose first husband was Kurt Weill, responsible for the music in The Threepenny Opera and other collaborations with Berthold Brecht as well as a range of classical compositions. She had a long and wide-ranging career, and was a renowned singer as well as actress.

GrantAnd there’s also “Nash” – Bond’s associate with whom he meets up on the Orient Express, except that he isn’t really – he’s SPECTRE assassin Donald “Red” Grant, whom we meet in that first scene, successfully stealing up on the pretend Bond and garrotting him. Grant’s classic Aryan looks set the hallmark for future tough-guy henchmen. He’s a pure psychopath through and through. He was played by Robert Shaw, an English actor who appeared in a number of top roles in great films – A Man for All Seasons, Young Winston, Jaws, and so on. Sadly he had quite a tragic life, dying at the age of 51 through an alcohol-induced heart attack.

Karim BeyThere’s a lot of fun lurking within the role of Ali Karim Bey, Head of MI6 Station T in Istanbul. He likes the good life – food, drink, women, and never seems to do much in the way of work, although he proves himself a fine marksman with the revenge killing of Krilenku. This excellent performance was the last that Mexican actor Pedro Armendáriz gave, as he died from suicide during the filming, as a result of a diagnosis of terminal cancer of the hips. He was apparently in great pain whilst the film was being made – you can see him limping in many scenes – and actually only took on the job to provide additional income for his wife/widow. Curiously, like Robert Shaw, he too was only 51 when he died.

KronsteenIt’s a small role, but superbly judged: Vladek Sheybal as Kronsteen, the Czech Grandmaster who also works for SPECTRE and who suffers at first hand the displeasure of Number One. His seriously dour countenance was perfect for this humourless, arrogant character. It was actually Sean Connery who recommended him for the role, as they were already friends, and he went on to have a hugely successful career, mainly playing villains in dozens of films in the 60s – 80s. Born in Poland, he became a British citizen and was a very familiar presence on our screens.

QJust briefly to check in at M’s office; Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell reprise their usual roles, and Desmond Llewelyn appears for the first time as Q – a role he would undertake with true devotion 17 times in all. There’s a very funny scene where M cuts off Bond’s recording as he is about to share a dubious story about him with Tatiana, and which everyone around the table would have ended up hearing. Spoilsport!

John_BarryAnd what about the music? So of course we have the main James Bond Theme, written by Monty Norman, which remains as iconic and attention-grabbing as ever. The rest of the incidental music is written and arranged by John Barry, and it works extremely well. The sequences in the Russian embassy (007 Takes the Lektor), on the Venice canal and accompanying the closing credits are (IMHO) outstanding.

matt-monroBut the main song this year was “From Russia with Love”, sung by Matt Monro, and written by Lionel Bart, two men who were pretty much at the top of their respective trees. Matt Monro’s biggest hit Portrait of my Love was released in 1960 and he had a string of chart hits for six or so years that ended with his superb cover version of the Beatles’ Yesterday. In that period he represented the UK at Eurovision in 1964 (with a song that didn’t chart) although his second-most successful single, Walk Away, was a translation of that year’s Austrian entry, Warum nur warum. But perhaps his most famous track is the title song from the film Born Free. He died in 1985, but his son Matt Monro Jr is still performing his dad’s old numbers.

Lionel BartLionel Bart was most famous for writing Oliver! along with a few other musicals, plus a few odd songs like Livin’ Doll for Cliff Richard and Little White Bull for Tommy Steele. He had something of a rollercoaster career, with incredible highs and lows. Although the phrase “from Russia with love” is repeated throughout the song, there is no crossover between the lyrics and the story of the film, which John Barry perceived to be a weakness and decided shouldn’t happen again. We first hear the song on the radio when Bond and Sylvia are reclining in their punt, and then not again until the final credits.

HelicopterCar chases. Well, rather disappointingly, there aren’t any. Instead, we have a helicopter chase and a boat chase. I guess they thought it was important to take a step-up from the car chases of Dr No. The helicopter chase was inspired by a scene from Hitchcock’s North by Northwest and the boat chase by a scene from The Red Berets, also directed by Terence Young. The helicopter was a model – all very clever cinematography – but the boats were real enough, and they were so highly tuned that they didn’t make a sufficiently “turbo” roar to make the scene exciting, which was a challenge for the sound editor. Although there are no car chases, we do get to see Bond with his beloved Bentley, a 1935 3.5 litre model. Perhaps even nicer, depending on your taste, is Karim Bey’s Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith.

Turkish CoffeeCocktails and Casinos. Again, I expect the producers wanted to move away from that aspect of Bond, putting him in a different environment. So there are no cocktails and no casinos in this film. We do discover, however, how Bond takes his Turkish coffee – medium sweet – although at breakfast time his only stipulation is that it is “very black.” In other alcohol-based news, the scene in the restaurant car on the Orient Express is where Bond realises that his associate Nash is not all that he seems. Red Chianti with sole? Unthinkable!

Phone bugGadgets. Another year, another set of gadgets. Bond has a pager in his punt – it would have been the envy of all hospital staff in the 80s. Q issues Bond with a terrific briefcase, which contains an Armalite AR-7 folding sniper’s rifle with infrared telescope and detachable suppressor, 50 gold sovereigns concealed in a strip, a tear gas cartridge disguised as talcum powder, set to discharge when the briefcase is opened incorrectly, and a spring-loaded throwing knife concealed within the case. Bond wouldn’t have won his fight with Grant without it! There’s a bug checker under the phone, which is useful for all those times when you need to know who’s listening in. There’s a mobile phone in his car – it looks like an ordinary receiver of the time, which is kinda cute. Bond’s charming old Box Brownie camera (which would have surely been archaic in 1963) reveals its secret as a tape recorder.

Walkie talkieBond’s not the only one to have a decent gadget – Grant’s garrotte wire within a wristwatch is a pretty neat trick. And of course, the lektor, around which the whole film revolves, could be considered the ultimate in gadgets. And have you seen the size of the walkie-talkies used Krilenku and his cronies? They’re bigger than a rifle!

In MemoriamIn Memoriam. Dr No had a death count of approximately 11, plus all those who perished in his lair when it explodes at the end. Can From Russia with Love do any better? Let’s briefly remember those who gave their lives so that Bond and Tatiana can go off in that boat in the end scene for some nookie (just like Bond and Honey did in Dr No):

1) SPECTRE man who was killed at the beginning who we all thought was Bond.

2) Bulgarian agent trussed up in the back of the Citroen hijacked and killed by Grant.

3) Guard at the gypsy camp, murdered by Krilenku by hurling a machete in his back.

4) All those who perish in the gypsy camp skirmish. Impossible to judge really, but I counted at least 14.

5) Krilenku, shot through Anita Ekberg’s mouth in a poster for Call Me Bwana, a 1963 film which was also produced by Eon productions and had largely the same crew as Dr No. Canny!

6) Bulgarian Agent who followed Tatiana into the Saint Sophia, killed by Grant.

7) Russian embassy guard.

8) Anyone who may have died in the explosion at the embassy.

9) Karim.

10) Metz.

11) Station Y officer who should have met Bond at Zagreb, taken into the toilet at the railway station by Grant and mysteriously never seen again.

12) Grant. The fight that ends with his death is under two minutes in the film but took two days to shoot.

13) Kronsteen.

14) Two guys in the helicopter.

15) Everyone who died on the boats (approximately ten people including Morzeny)

16) Rosa Klebb.

That’s at least 40 deaths. Dr No’s death count is chicken feed in comparison with that lot!

Petrol drumsHumour to off-set the death count. Following his jokey remarks whenever someone died in Dr No, Bond continues that morbid sense of humour. Here are the throwaway lines that marked some of the deaths in this film:

After Bond has helped Karim Bey to shoot Krilenku dead as he climbs through the window, framed by the smiling lips of the Anita Ekberg poster, Bond helpfully observes: “She should have kept her mouth shut”.

When the helicopter that’s been chasing him, finally blows up, killing the two guys inside, Bond says “I’d say one of their aircraft is missing” – referring to the 1942 film of (nearly) the same name.

After he’s shot the petrol barrels that explode in flame killing those pursuing Bond and Tania on the boats, he says to her “there’s a saying in England, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

And after Tatiana has shot Rosa Klebb dead, Bond observes, “she’s had her kicks”.

sexismAny less frothy elements? So once again it’s time to consider if there are any outstanding themes or elements that don’t sit well with today’s audience. As in Dr No, I couldn’t perceive any obvious homophobic or racist elements, but when it comes to sexism, it’s quite another story. Once again I think it’s important to remember that definition of sexism, so that we know where we’re at. Sexism is: “(Behaviour, language, etc, reflecting) the assumption that one sex, esp. the female, is inferior to the other; prejudice or discrimination, esp. against women, on the grounds of sex; insistence on (esp. a woman’s) conformity to a sexually stereotyped social role.”

LeilaSo those opening credits, where the words are projected onto the belly dancer’s body, aren’t really sexist; and the belly dancer’s entertainment sequence at the gypsy camp can in many ways be interpreted the other way – she’s revealing her skill, her ability to do something that the others can’t do, her sexiness (which is a gift) – in no way is this showing that women are inferior to men.

Fight!However, the rest of the film is not quite so straightforward. Karim Bey’s on-off girlfriend is dressed to show off her remarkable cleavage, and she does nothing else apart from pout and look sexy. But then Karim Bey would never be the kind of guy who’d want an equal for a girlfriend. The fight between the two gypsy women, Vida and Zora, to see who wins the hand of the guy they both love, is pretty degrading. True, in the old days, two gentlemen might have fought a duel to win the hand of a fair lady; but that would have been an honourable and somewhat clinical procedure. Aliza Gur’s Vida and Martine Beswick’s Zora get down and dirty, bosoms almost popping out of their colourful bras, in a scene that only lacks mud and a soft porn soundtrack, rather than John Barry’s more dramatic Girl Trouble theme. Then, to cap it all, they fawn over Bond, trying to make his stay as pleasurable as possible. Where’s their self-respect?

Tatiana's nightieTatiana shows less fighting spirit than Honey in Dr No, thereby taking on that sexually stereotyped social role that is the definition of sexism. The very idea that someone should fall in love with someone else just through seeing a photograph of them, so that they want to marry, defect, and risk their life is pretty appalling. I realise that Tatiana is forced into this position by SPECTRE – so I’m happy to accept that it’s SPECTRE who are sexist more than she is. The behaviour of Bond with “Nash” on the Orient Express is also very sexist. Bond insists that she doesn’t go to the restaurant car with the men. He slaps her on the bum. Together, they refer to Tatiana as “The Girl”. Again, she is on the receiving end of the sexism, but does nothing about it. I guess she still has her eyes on prize at the end – which is, not being killed by SPECTRE.

BondBizarre other stuff that occurred to me. Once the film gets underway and the first scenes are of Bond at play, Bond being called into M’s office, Bond being sent to a foreign destination, Bond arriving at a foreign airport, and Bond being collected in a car… I wondered if I was watching Dr No again.

I know foreign travel and tourism has grown a lot in the last 55 years, but how on earth did they manage to film inside the St Sophia in Istanbul when it was so empty? We’ve been twice, and it’s been absolutely thronging with people both times!

Uncharacteristically lax of Bond to let himself get so trapped with “Nash” on the train. Where was his training? If it hadn’t been for Q’s briefcase, he’d be a gonner.

I had no idea Bond was so attached to his hat. In the most trying of circumstances, he’s still headgeared up. It never leaves his head even when he’s on the run, being strafed by helicopters. What a fashion hero!

Those fighting fish… the one that Blofeld says is being trained to wait until its rivals are exhausted… you can see the pane of glass that separates it from the others. Of course it can’t fight, it can’t reach them!

The scar that Sylvia tenderly fingers above Bond’s left hip suddenly disappears when he gets up out of the punt. Magic!

Terence Young didn’t like Daniela Bianchi’s legs. So she had a stand-in reveal her legs in that periscope scene under the Russian embassy.

BAFTA_awardAwards: Ted Moore won the BAFTA for Best British Cinematography (Colour). It was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Song (From Russia with Love), but it lost out to Circus World, from the film of the same name. Never heard of it!

Goldfinger posterTo sum up. From Russia with Love feels like a much more mature film than Dr No, and its baddies (Klebb and Grant) are so superbly created and performed that you can really wallow and revel in their misadventure. The Istanbul (and to a lesser extent Venice) settings add a real taste of intrigue and I’m not surprised to discover that this is many people’s favourite Bond film, including Sean Connery himself. Although the budget was doubled to $2 million from the first film, it returned $79 million at the box office, $20 million more than Dr No. It’s a really enjoyable, escapist film that leaves you wanting more. I’d be fascinated to hear your opinions of From Russia with Love – and whether or not you agree with me! Please leave a comment below. Next up – Goldfinger!

My rating: 5 Sparkles
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All photos from the film of course belong to their various copyright holders.