As I’ve written before on this subject ( Double - Oh - Fifty ) I thoroughly enjoyed every one of the early Bond movies, which fired up my boyhood imagination. Throughout the Sixties all the local cinemas in the UK remained mostly intact although constantly haemorrhaging more and more audience to television. We didn’t have the luxury of revisiting a favourite film on video, DVD or by streaming on demand back then, and the local ‘flea-pit’ provided an opportunity to revisit some older films. If me and my chums wanted to watch a more recent film then we had to get a bus into Swansea - and pocket-money didn’t always stretch to this. I spent many a contented evening at the long-since closed Lido, Gorseinon, watching James Bond in thrilling double bills. When we watched Bond our attention was completely taken up. However, when the film was bad, or truly dire, as many of the B movies in those days were, our attention wandered. If not engaged by what was happening on screen, we sometimes turned our attention to vacating our cheap 1/6d (7p) seats and outwitting the ageing, torch-wielding, gruff-voiced usherettes who guarded and patrolled the 2/6d (12p) seats in the Circle like a marauding army of Welsh prop-forwards. We generally failed in this objective and were told to either behave ourselves or get booted out, but it never went quite that far. After all, we were some of their best paying customers, us and the older boys and girls always found necking in the back rows.
What is it about From Russia With Love that makes me rank it so highly? I don’t know, I simply love its stylishness, the location work in Istanbul, and its wonderful set designs, particularly the one for the chess tournament. I found Lotte Lenya and her poison-tipped shoe jaw-droppingly wicked as a small boy - actually, I still find Rosa Klebb a bit scary! Robert Shaw provided Bond with an adversary who is in nearly every way his equal. Of course, when Bond catches him ordering white wine with red meat (or is it red wine with fish?) - he rumbles him immediately - Bond knows that no British gentleman would ever make such a dreadful faux pas! Tee hee hee! Yes, very snobbish and quite, quite, silly, but greatly entertaining. It is the film where we are introduced to SPECTRE boss Ernst Blofeld and meet Desmond Llewelyn as Q for the first time. The theme song, sung by Matt Monro, comes at the movie’s end but to my mind ranks as one of the best ever. It has a simple but strong plot and the series is still building the formula that comes to full fruition in its next serving, Goldfinger. I think I like it best though because it has an edge, a grittiness that from Goldfinger on simply becomes ‘Bond style’ - nothing feels like it is simply a set piece yet. Throughout the film you sense that the love interest Daniela Bianchi (whose beauty I recall used to make me feel somewhat ‘strange’ as a small boy) and Bond are in a lot of danger and you feel genuinely concerned for them.
I found this interesting quote from Richard Roud writing in the Guardian at the time,”... the film is highly immoral in every imaginable way; it is neither uplifting, instructive nor life-enhancing. Neither is it great film-making. But it sure is fun.”
Just imagine what the same writer might have said if they could have taken a peek into the future at what was to come?