From Russia with Love

This review is part of Project Bond, wherein over the course of 2014 we watch all of the James Bond movies in production order.

UnknownSummary: Bond is lured to Istanbul to help SPECTRE steal a Russian encryption machine. Also, there is bellydancing. And stroking of a cat.

Alex: I’ll start by talking about the gender stuff, because the representation of women’s sexuality is quite interesting in this movie. Two women throw themselves at Bond – which is not exceptional in the canon, but in Dr No Honey Rider was quite reticent and Sylvia wasn’t immediately ripping his pants off, so in 1963 there’s no precedent. Additionally, Kerim Bey – Our Man in Istanbul, and not an especially handsome one – has women dragging him off to bed, and two women in the gypsy camp have a fist-fight over who gets to marry the chief’s son (who as far as I can tell, is never seen). So women are sexual creatures, mostly; the only other woman we really see is Rosa Klebb, but she’s old so clearly she doesn’t count (sarcasm!), because she sure doesn’t do sexy. The young women imagesare passionate; in fact, they can barely contain themselves. Bond is generally happy to go along with it; while he doesn’t really initiate anything he does take over when he goes along with it. Bey seems to see pleasing his women as a chore (he actually sighs and says “back to the salt mine” when he agrees to canoodle with one), but has an endless number of sons and extols the virtues of big families. From this I guess we learn that women are ruled by their passions and men are ruled by cool intellect? Or something to that effect. Also, of course, in Bond we have an example of the Magical Penis trope (I really wanted to find a link to explain that, but it wasn’t obvious on TVTropes and NO WAY was I going to google it) – he turns Tatiana into a Good Woman through sex.

The mechanics: we get a prologue! In which Bond appears to be hunted and killed, but it all turns out to be a training exercise for Scary People. From which we learn that Bond is already a force to be reckoned with. There is also clear continuity with past movies: Bond is canoodling with Sylvia, the woman from the opening of Dr No, in his first scene here; and SPECTRE are very keen for Bond to be the agent they lure to Istanbul not least to take revenge for his killing of Dr No. Also, SPECTRE! Whose name is not explained in this film so if you weren’t paying attention the one time the acronym was explained in Dr No, sucks be to you.

I was intrigued by SPECTRE, actually. I had forgotten that the face of Number 1 is never shown: just his hand, stroking the white cat, thus spawning ever so many copycats (Baron von Greenback in Danger Mouse, Claw in Inspector Gadget, the villain in Austin Powers… who have I forgotten?). We don’t know his name, and it’s not given in the credits. SPECTRE as an organisation is clearly well-organised (they have a secret training base! Number 5 is a chess champion! They use live targets in training!), and the movie wants us to be aware of their power: it devotes the prologue and then the first maybe 10 minutes to them, showing them as focussed and driven. Conversely, when we finally do get to Bond, he’s relaxing on the banks of a river with a woman. Where Tatiana has just said she is willing to use Feminine Wiles to serve Mother Russia (she’s an unwitting agent of SPECTRE), Bond is using Masculine Wiles just to enjoy himself. A nice dichotomy is set up, which is somewhat undercut by Bond’s willingness to jump at M/Moneypenny’s orders… until Sylvia persuades him to stay just a little longer.

It should of course also be mentioned that this movie sees the introduction, albeit all too briefly, of Q – the eQuipment Officer. Who gives Bond some gadgets, but they are disappointingly low tech and there is a tragic lack of snark from him.

Unknown-1Other things confirmed by this film: being Bond’s associate is a dangerous business, as Kerim Bey ends up dead. Hmmm… given Quarrel in the previous film, perhaps it’s only dangerous if you’re not white? OK, maybe two films isn’t quite enough to make this generalisation.

Things I did not know until I went to IMDB: Daniela Bianchi, who played Tatiana, was dubbed for this role because her English was so poor! But she was 1960’s Miss Rome so I guess that makes… no, it doesn’t make sense at all.

James: First a note to the editor, if the phrase ‘Magical Penis’ is used in another review my subscript notes will cease.

Alex: it’s a real trope! Happens all the time!!

James: Another tip of the hat to the negative restoration and transfer quality for the Blu Ray nerds.  So much of this film has been filmed on location in Istanbul and it really shows, much less blue screen etc.  Compared to future Bond the majority of the film centres around one city and few locations, the two embassies and some tourist highlights in Istanbul (The Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern, Hagia Sophia and the Bazaar).  One thing that doesn’t really make sense is that all film the good guys know the bad guys are lurking and yet they are so casual about security … For example on the train Bond tells Tatiana ‘Lock the door, I’ll knock three times’ as the bad guys walk up and down the corridor and occupy the cabin at the end of their carriage.  I did enjoy that Bond marks the major villain who’s been stalking him all film by his choice of red wine with fish, and not a million other more obvious things he’s done.  2.5 Martinis (which curiously don’t feature in this film at all).

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