Bond & The Girl
23rd November 2017
Brady Major takes an in-depth look back at From Russia With Love
By Brady Major
Bond and Actor Performance
I think it’s safe to say that with both Dr. No and From Russia with Love, we have the two prime representations of Sean Connery’s greatest work as Fleming’s character that are cornerstone performances in the franchise at large. These are Connery’s deepest, meatiest, most resonant takes on the character in scripts that feel like true to form spy thrillers that give him some great stuff to play with, sans any silliness.
I view Sean’s performance in From Russia with Love as a strong continuation of all he did in Dr. No, to such fruitful results. In Dr. No he was a man very much on his own in a game of deceit, and, while Bond has a bigger team working with him this time around thanks to Kerim’s network of spies-very much a literal and figurative family unit-what made Bond shine as a character in the first adventure is still here in opulence as he takes to Istanbul like the half-spy half-detective he is.
In true sequel form, there are elements in From Russia with Love that are a delicious continuation of the greatness of Dr. No that directly relates to Bond and how he operates in the field. The spy’s arrival at the airport in Istanbul resembles Bond’s touching down in Jamaica in the previous film, where he arrives unsure of who to trust as he is tailed from the airport to his destination. Another fantastic Dr. No callback occurs when Bond investigates his hotel room in Turkey and checks it for bugs. The latter scenes are some of my favorites in both films because they are quiet moments between all the action that really speak volumes about Bond as a character and detail just how dangerous the spy world can be when you’re always being watched or listened in on. The subtext of these moments lends a lot to the feeling of voyeurism that permeates across the film, where even the managers of the hotel Bond is staying at are enveloped in a plot to keep tabs on him. Looking at some of the minor cast that surrounds Sean’s Bond, it soon becomes easier to ask who isn’t on his side than who is.
As a strategist, Bond doesn’t get as many opportunities to showcase his 12-steps-ahead tenacity here as in Dr. No-largely because the film needs to have him duped by the SPECTRE plot surrounding him for a good chunk of the film-but many moments allow him to shine as a character and strong man of action and resourcefulness. The gypsy camp fight is rousing fun and chaotic, with Bond holding his own throughout, and I love that he lies to Tatiana about the date that the Lektor retrieval is to go down (the13th) to make sure the Russians can’t prepare ahead of time to foil his plans.
There’s also a great feeling of fun in Sean’s demeanor throughout; he seems like he’s really getting a kick out of the shoot, and that comes through in scenes where he’s interacting with other characters. Sean’s thrills make Bond’s blooming friendship with Kerim feel extremely genuine as they share laughs and smiles through all the danger. A highlight of Sean’s performance for me comes during the gypsy camp belly dance scene where, for one second, Sean breaks conviction and starts laughing while watching the dancer. It’s a blink-and-you-miss-it moment but is completely genuine and it creates a sense of camaraderie between Bond, Kerim and all the gypsies that resonates off the screen.
With all this in consideration, the greatest essence Sean conveys in his performance as Bond here can be best described by one word: “predatory.” The animal magnetism we saw in Sean’s Bond from Dr. No returns to amazing effect, and the best way I can describe From Russia with Love as a film is by comparing Bond and his enemies to wild beasts wrestling for supremacy in the jungle. Everything about this film feels animalistic, beast-like, untamed, wild. Bond is every inch a preying panther slinking his way through Istanbul, setting his sights always on the Lektor. He enters every situation with darting eyes like an animal mapping out the terrain, plotting for the kill that’ll give it another feast. Even in more tame and “fun” moments like the gypsy belly dance, Bond gazes at the dancer like a lion trying to mate in the wild, starving for the sensuality presenting itself to him in the form of the dancer’s gyrations.
There’s also a great sense of fury we get to see build up in Bond here, as the conspiracy surrounding him grows more and more apparent over time. From the very moment that he steals the Lektor from the consulate and races on to the train to the instant he kills Grant, we have one of the all-time greatest chains of scenes in a Bond film that will ever come. This section of the film is what makes it a classic, gives it that “Hitcockian” vibe, and is littered with duplicity, danger and death, so in tune with the depths of darkness Bond occupies as a spy.
It’s during these scenes where Sean goes into full-on Bond mode, and the man of danger we saw in Dr. No storming around Jamaica in complete control returns, but less confident and more furious and untamed. In From Russia with Love it’s a real treat to watch Bond’s demeanor change over time in how Sean plays him. At first, he feels secure in his mission and he makes plans with Kerim to ensure all is in order, promising to drink to their successes while in London. But Bond has yet to account for Grant, the man who has been in the shadows acting unnoticed during the entire film, and before long SPECTRE’s agent will have unraveled all that Bond has orchestrated like a finely tuned killing instrument.
Kerim’s death signals to Bond that not all is right on the Orient Express or in his mission, crystallizing that the simple trap he and M counted on before is much deeper than a skirmish of Brits and Ruskies. At this point in the film, Bond knows he’s caught in something bigger than he at first prepared for, and doesn’t quite know the full extent of the trap even yet. Connery’s performance is filled with increasing paranoia, as Bond expresses the feeling like he’s being watched. Now, when Bond sees Tatiana after Kerim’s death, he tears open the carriage door and is done playing Lothario. In his mind, she is the one who’s been playing him and he has reason to think she helped engineer the man’s death, consciously or unconsciously. Bond’s face after Tatiana says, “I love you” following their confrontation says it all. He’s been here before, and you see it in his eyes.
The carriage confrontation between the spy and Tatiana continues into Bond’s meeting with Grant, who is filling the guise of Nash, as everything comes to a head. Little by little red flags register in Bond’s head until it’s too late to act and Grant has him caught in the crosshairs. The entire train exchange between Bond on his knees and Grant with his gun pointed square at him is amazing, representing the pinnacle of Sean as Bond as well as one of the best scenes in the whole franchise. The plan all comes into the clear here and Bond’s ego is done in a bit by Grant. Bond has been had, and even in the face of death itself, he’s interviewing Grant about the kind of tactics the man employed to learn about how he slipped up and got in the rough spot he now finds himself in. Then the conversation turns sicker when Grant seems to be enjoying himself a bit too much, which Bond responds badly to. The increasing levels of anger and disgust on Sean’s face here is the stuff of legend. Bond can’t wait to kill this bastard. The look of repulsion in his Bond’s eyes, mixed with the genuine fear of death is immaculate, and his last-minute ingenuity to level the odds equal between him and Grant just as so. The iconic face-off closes with great acting from Sean as he fixes his suit after Grant roughed it up, pilfering his still-warm corpse and barking a contemptible “old man” back at the psycho in retaliation for all the times he’d had to hear it up to that point in the film.
In conclusion, Sean refines all the iconic and masterful work he did in Dr. No in From Russia with Love, except this time around Bond is a little more vulnerable, a little more in over his head underneath a larger conspiracy, and it’s fascinating to watch him dart between crosshairs as his devastating act against Dr. No and SPECTRE at the end of the last film comes back to haunt him. We don’t get to see Bond until around 20 minutes into the movie, but Sean sells every scene afterward to marvelous effect. What results is one of the greatest cinematic performances of all-time, and one I always point towards when I’m asked by someone to define just who James Bond is because of how Sean is able to hit every conceivable note of just what the spy character should embody on the big screen.
Bond Girl and Performance
Tatiana Romanova- A close inspection of From Russia with Love really opened me up to some of the great character details the filmmakers were trying to use to build up Tatiana Romanova more as a character. I think that we would be hard-pressed to find a woman who is as genuine, natural, raw and real a Bond girl as she is in the series. She’s a beautiful woman who evokes a nice appeal, but she isn’t purposely represented as a Venus-like goddess as Honey in Dr. No is meant to be, which almost separates Ryder from us into an unattainable fantasy. Instead, From Russia with Love delivers us a girl who is ordinary and grounded, and whose actions feel true to what you would expect from such a woman unknowingly caught in a dangerous spy game.
For a woman used to only modeling (being a first-runner up in the 1960 Miss Universe pageant) and ballet, Daniela Bianchi conveys a convincing innocence needed for this part. Additionally, voice dubber Barbara Jefford gives Bianchi’s performance a wonderful sound, sultry at times, and Russian enough without sacrificing a certain air of grace. We are able to hear all the awkwardness of Tatiana’s seduction of Bond through Jefford, and all the anxiety she feels about being involved in such a duplicitous affair at the orders of the diabolical Klebb. As the Orient Express is boarded, we hear the fear in her voice as Tatiana sees the real plan against Bond take hold, and she finds herself unintentionally at odds with him as Kerim is found dead. These moments of tension are contrasted with the lighter, sweet moments where Tatiana and Bond are getting to know each other in and out of Istanbul, where Jefford’s dulcet tones perfectly match the wide smiles of Bianchi as she beams joyfully from the screen. A beautifully rounded and ranged variety of emotion and feeling results that creates the picture of a genuine woman on the screen from start to finish.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Tatiana’s character is her innocence, which contrasts from the cruel nature of the people she is working for-including Klebb and Blofeld and his agents behind the veil - and that ultimately makes her such an endearing and welcoming character. A few character moments I noticed throughout From Russia with Love really strive to build Tatiana up in this image of innocence:
*When Bond and Tatiana first meet in the hotel room, she almost seems awkward and shy in getting off her clothes, like she isn’t used to this sort of seduction, while Bond wrote the book on this kind of passionate mating ritual. If you look at Tatiana in this scene, her clothes are on the floor and the chair was presumably knocked down as she rushed to prepare herself in the bed for Bond. Her desire to impress is endearing, and sort of adorable. From her opening discussion with Klebb, we know Tatiana is the type to fall in hard love with men, but she doesn’t make a habit of sleeping around. She feels commitment minded like a real Russian woman, so when she’s asked to fake a connection for her job, it’s understandable that she’s not effortlessly falling into it. I like this about Tatiana, and how innocent and awkward she feels while seducing Bond like she’s never sure she’s doing the ritual right. She differs wonderfully from other Bond girls who almost feel too experienced or too “perfect” in their seductions of Bond. We feel all the anxiety of the moment with Tatiana, and because she’s a sweet girl and not an intimidating sexual force, it’s easy to get behind her cause.
It seems Bianchi was embarrassed and nervous on set as this scene was being shot, always worried she would show too much skin if the sheets slipped a certain way. The real-life worries Bianchi had transmitted perfectly to the screen and, intended or not, give the scene added layers. It’s also from this moment in the film that Bond always calls Tatiana “Tania,” endearingly, instead of by her full name. For all the times Bond appears frustrated by her, he does seem to get on with her well and genuinely cares about her well-being until his feelings are questioned as SPECTRE’s hand is revealed.
*A growing connection with Bond seems visible in Tatiana’s words and body language as she and 007 discuss the Lektor decoder on the boat traveling down the Bosphorus. Tatiana seems through the roof in love with Bond, while he knows his mission and what M needs to hear about the Lektor while trying to keep her focused. It’s visible how frustrated he is by the seemingly lovesick Tatiana who keeps going off on tangents from the crucial information MI6 need to hear about the decoder. It's difficult to tell if Tatiana is being genuine in her feelings if it's an act put on as Klebb ordered, or a mix of the two.
*Another great thing I noticed in From Russia with Love is how much of a culture clash character Tatiana is throughout, and how the strange new world open to her brings out that purity and innocence in her. She seems extremely fascinated by western life (I guess as any women would be from the Soviet Union) and attracted to Bond’s foreign appeal. Moreover, once she gets an English name on her passport (Caroline Somerset), she visibly repeats it lovingly over and over again with enthusiasm as Bond and Kerim make plans for later. It’s a great little character detail that depicts her in love with a new identity beyond her own. The excitement she gets from playing another woman whilst acting as Bond’s wife-with a genuine wedding ring wrapped around her finger-points to a subconscious desire she seems to have to embrace the wonders and culture of the west as she turns away from everything she’s ever known under the Soviet state.
Tatiana must ultimately feel a sense of freedom with the western culture open to her through her partnership with Bond, which is enabling her to do what she wants outside of the stricter control she could’ve grown to accept in the Soviet state. She has no idea about western customs, and it's clear from her ignorance about the dresses she’s wearing. She is also adorably lost while trying to decide what to order on the menu, so Bond decides to get her what he’s having to move things along. Again, she is culturally blind to anything non-Russian. The elation she exudes outside of Klebb’s hold and the larger Soviet state are clear, which makes me think Tatiana is the biggest representation of a culture clash character we’ve got in Bond, not too dissimilar from Kara Milovy in The Living Daylights. Both women are highly innocent and at times appear in over their heads, stupidly in love with Bond. I think Kara was purposely and actively meant to recall Tatiana in how she was characterized and portrayed.
Overall, I really enjoy Tatiana as a character and Bond girl. She feels real yet mysterious at the same time because it’s often an exercise to know whether or not her motivations rest with Bond or Klebb, making her tough to pin down. It’s interesting to watch how Tatiana’s demeanor changes around Bond and Klebb respectively throughout, as there’s a great mystery in how she really feels. Is she truly falling for Bond and neglecting her mission from Klebb to help him, or is she faking the affection to get Bond into a vulnerable position to fulfill her duty to the Russian state? Film fans could have long debates running into the night and early morning about exactly when Tatiana is working for her “boss” and when she’s compelled by Bond to help him instead from scene to scene. It would also be fascinating to argue amongst like-minded Bond fans about what scene finally turned Tatiana completely to Bond’s side. Was it after Kerim’s death on the train, when the girl understood how much she’s been fooled by her boss? Or maybe at the end in Italy, when she trains a gun on Klebb and shoots her dead to save the man she’d grown to care for? Perhaps it was even before both of those moments. The mystery surrounding Tatiana’s motivations as she is caught up in this larger than life turmoil really adds a great humanity to her character, as she represents the unsure and frantic energy you would expect anyone to have in her position as her heart is caught between two pathways.
This inner conflict I sense with Tatiana is best underscored by the moment I mentioned above, as Bond is wrestling with Klebb in the hotel room and Tatiana wavers the pistol between shooting one or the other of them. As viewers, we likely think that the choice should be easy for her to make at this point since she seems like she’s been struck with Cupid’s arrow and loves Bond, but in her indecision, we are witness to how traumatizing the choice is. Maybe she thinks that if she kills Klebb, SPECTRE will have her head on a pike in retaliation? I don’t think we ever get a clear sign of Tatiana’s inner struggle, or what side she is fighting for until she chooses to kill Klebb, but that is all part of what makes her fascinating. She’s ultimately just an ingénue caught in a web whose threads cast farther than she could ever imagine, and out of all that drama is born a highly sympathetic character.
When it comes to Daniela Bianchi’s performance, her work amounts to some of the sweetest on display in the Bond franchise. She gives such beautiful life and personality to Tatiana with just an effortless look or eager expression, making the character quite endearing and undeniably adorable in spirit. Whether she’s taking a tuft of her hair and giving herself a mustache while looking in the mirror, dancing sprightly around a train car in a Sunday dress or licking her finger to enthusiastically judge the direction of wind for Bond while they’re out on the open seas, Bianchi never makes you think you’re watching a fictional character. With each moment both big or small that she plays, the line between the fiction and reality of Tatiana blurs immeasurably. What remains is a woman who feels indescribably genuine, transmitting all her fear, trepidation, joy and passion to us at breakneck speed.
Bianchi’s chemistry with Sean seals so many of these moments, and I don’t think any other Bond actress in the great man’s era quite approached the connection and natural affection he was able to create with her on the screen. When Bond and Tatiana go undercover on the Orient Express there’s not much the two of them need to do to act as a couple, as the inherent lightness and fun that pours out whilst they’re together already makes you think they’re betrothed. Some of the greatest moments of the movie, then, are when Sean and Daniela are given quiet moments to play as their characters become more and more acquainted and fond of one another. From the many location photos taken behind the scenes with Sean and Daniela out and about in Istanbul, often picturing the latter wrapped in the arms of the former or laughing effortlessly at his attempts at entertaining her, it seems that they got on very, very well. The natural camaraderie that was readily apparent between the two of them off set follows them onto the screen, resulting in a relationship between Bond and one of his female partners that feels more genuine than most could ever hope to approach.
Part two will cover 007's enemies in 'From Russia With Love'.
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