From Russia With Love (1963)

Was this movie a success? Well, it made $78 million on a $2 million dollar budget, which would be like $661 million in today’s money. Yeah. This is the very definition of success.

United Artists had doubled the budget available of Dr. No, which allowed them to film on location for the first time. There was a mad rush to get this done by October 1963, with production running over budget and past schedule.

President John F. Kennedy had named this Fleming’s novel as one of his ten favorite books of the year and it would be the last movie he’d view at the White House before his death.

Most of the crew stayed on, except for production design genius Ken Adam, who went on to work with Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove; title designer Maurice Binder and stunt coordinator Bob Simmons, who still found the time to do a few stunts in the final film.

From Russia With Love is the movie that introduced many of the Bond trademarks, like the pre-title action sequence, a major villain in Ernst Stavro Blofeld (who is only given a number and a ? as to who played him; it’s Anthony Dawson with Eric Pohlmann’s voice), bravura stunt action, gadgets, a catchy theme song with lyrics and the proclamation that “James Bond will return…” in the credits.

Think Marvel has the trademark on franchises? These guys pretty much wrote the rulebook.

After James Bond (Sean Connery) killed Dr. No, SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) has begun training agents to kill off 007, starting with Irish killer “Red” Grant (Robert Shaw, Jaws), who starts the film by killing off a Bond lookalike. He’s a formidable foe for our hero, continually saving him throughout the film so that he can have him all to himself. The fight between the two — actually done mostly by Connery and Shaw — worried many making the film for its sheer brutality.

SPECTRE’s other goal is to use Bond to steal a cryptography advice from the Russians and then finally kill him. In Bond’s way are chess garndmaster Kronsteen (Number 5), Rosa Klebb (Number 3) and the mysterious Number 1, who will eventually be revealed as Bond’s chief nemesis Blofeld.

At least Bond has Ali Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendáriz, one of the many actors on The Conquerer to die from cancer; he’s noticably in pain for much of the film and gutted out his scenes until he was admtted to the hospital. He snuck in a gun and killed himself when the pain became too much) and love interest Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi, who also appears in the spy films Operation Kid Brother, Special Mission Lady Chaplin and The Last Chance) on his side.

Grant has the plan to blackmail Bond, as he has a video of him making love to Romanoval Bond responds by killing the man with his own weapon. Only Klebb remains, what with her knife shoe, but Romanova shoots her and heads off with Bond on a romatic getaway.

From Russia with Love also sets up Q as Bond’s weaponsmith and the soon to be trademark opening of the series with scantily clad women and superimposed titles. It’s the last film where Sylvia Trench, Bond’s would-be girlfriend, appears.

For many Bond fans, this is the holy grail for what Bond is all about. It was also Sean Connery’s favorite film of the series (as well as being the most highly regarded by Lois Maxwell, Timothy Dalton and Daniel Craig). Indeed, the scene in which Bond and Romanova first meet in his hotel room is so classic Bond that it’s the go-to audition scene for potential Bond actors and Bond girls.

It’s also the last Bond project that Connery would appear in. Wondering how that’s possible? Well, in 2005, Electronic Arts made a game adaption and Connery not only allowed his likeness to be used, but came back to re-record dialogue more than twenty years after his last Bond role in Never Say Never Again.

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