Monday, January 26, 2015

From Russia With Love (1963) | Story

Ian Fleming's From Russia With Love
Dr. No (1962)

Plot Summary

SPECTRE seeks to profit from pitting Britain and the Soviets against each other, hoping to assassinate James Bond in the process.

How Is the Book Different?

The biggest change is substituting SPECTRE for the novel's SMERSH. Producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltman wanted to keep the Bond films light-hearted, so they avoided real politics and SPECTRE was a convenient way to do that. Making SPECTRE the bad guys though also meant changing the name of the decoding machine that's the MacGuffin of the story. It's a Spektor in the novel, so for obvious reasons it becomes a Lektor in the movie.

Otherwise, the film's plot is exactly the same as the book with all the same set pieces and story beats. It makes some improvements though, including getting things moving much more quickly and adding a couple of extra action scenes towards the end. It's one of the few Bond movie's that's better than the novel it's based on.

Moment That's Most Like Fleming

Like Dr. No, this is another tough one because so much of the movie is right out of Fleming. But the non-Fleming scene that most feels like Fleming is Bond's date with Sylvia Trench. I'll have more to say about Trench on Wednesday, but Bond's relationship with her in Russia is very much how Fleming describes Bond's relationships in the novels. They're not in any way committed to each other; they just enjoy hanging out and getting it on.

Moment That's Least Like Fleming

When Bond starts to tell Tania - on tape - about an exploit he and M had in Tokyo. Fleming's Bond would never sell the old man out like that, even if they had shared some kind of sexual adventure as Bond implies, which is extremely doubtful. It's meant as a joke in the movie - and it's a funny one - but that whole recorded conversation makes no sense.

Cold Open

Harry Saltzman came up with the idea of the pre-credits cold open for the Bond series, starting with From Russia With Love. His original idea was to introduce one of the main villains in a powerful way by having him track Bond through a SPECTRE training area/obstacle course. Director Terence Young changed it though after seeing Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad featuring a romantic chateau with a Greek sculpture garden.

It is kind of a lovely scene with the danger juxtaposed against quietly chirping crickets and rippling fountains, but it doesn't hold up well next to the more exciting opens that came along later. For now we'll put it in first place because it's the only one on the list, but I expect it to drop off the Top Ten Cold Opens list once we reach the eleventh film that has one.

1. From Russia With Love
2. TBD
3. TBD
4. TBD
5. TBD
6. TBD
7. TBD
8. TBD
9. TBD
10. TBD

Movie Series Continuity

Bond tosses his hat onto Moneypenny's hat rack from across the room again. And Sylvia Trench is back, of course. But the biggest continuity development is around SPECTRE. They were introduced in Dr. No as a shadowy organization that the villain belonged too, but now we get to meet some of their top members.

We learn that as a result of Dr. No's death, SPECTRE not only knows who James Bond is, but they're pretty familiar with his dossier. When Tania first meets him, she verifies his identity by finding a particular scar on his back. That scar never comes up again in the series, so it's not really continuity, but they sure act like it is in this movie. The biggest development that comes from Russia though is that Bond is now famous, at least with SPECTRE. That was also the case with SMERSH in the novel, but SMERSH died out so quickly after that that it never became an issue. The movie Bond is sometimes going to have to put up with everyone's knowing who he is. Unless that's inconvenient for the plot of course, in which case he won't. Keeping too close an eye on the movie series' continuity is a fool's game.

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