A Cold War spy thriller about stealing a decoding machine from the Soviet embassy in Istanbul? Now, *this* is my kind of Bond movie. Everything about this film oozes confidence, oozes panache, oozes style – the pre-titles sequence, the titles themselves (credits projected onto women’s bodies), the chess match, the location filming in Turkey, the scenes at the gypsy camp, Bond breaking into the embassy, and especially the 30-minute masterpiece of a sequence set on a train. They’ve taken what worked in Dr. No and doubled the levels of intrigue, sexiness, exoticism and danger. Nine red wines with fish out of 10.
Bond: He doesn’t actually show up until the 17-minute mark. Perhaps this is a nod to the book, in which (if memory serves) he’s absent for the first half. Sean Connery’s masterful droll humour is used well and often; but Bond also has moments of real menace, such as when he threatens, intimidates and strikes double-crossing Tatiana.
Villains: Nominally, Blofeld is the baddie (his first ‘appearance’). But, as in the last film, it’s the lieutenants who provide the entertainment – and what entertainment! Red Grant (pictured), Kronsteen and Rosa Klebb are all sinister, fascinating characters. Robert Shaw is so good as the tough and charismatic Red Grant, especially when masquerading as a friendly MI6 officer, that you can imagine him playing Bond himself. And Lotte Lenya’s performance as Klebb was so successful it became a cliché (see Frau Farbissina in the Austin Powers films).
Girls: The female lead is Tatiana Romanova, who like Honey Rider in Dr. No has rather obviously and distractingly been dubbed by a better actress (or maybe just one with better English). As well as Kerim Bay’s sexpot wife and two cat-fighting gypsies, we also get the return of Sylvia Trench from the previous film.
Regulars: Blofeld (and his cat, I suppose) are introduced. Moneypenny and M return, both classily at ease with the roles already. Major Boothroyd has been recast, but while Desmond Llewelyn is now in place, this underwritten armourer isn’t recognisably Q yet. And, as I said above, Sylvia’s back for one scene. She was dropped after this film, which is a shame. The series would have had an interestingly different flavour if Bond had always had a steady girlfriend back in London!
Action: The big battle at the gypsy camp is chaotic and well-staged, as is Bond being menaced by a helicopter. But the real highlight is Bond and Grant’s fight in the train carriage. It’s total cinema: light, smoke, sound and editing creating the danger just as ably as acting and choreography.
Comedy: There’s a great gag in M’s office. Lots of people are listening to a recording of Bond getting information out of Tatiana, when James starts to say, “Once, when I was with M in Tokyo…” and flustered M quickly turns the machine off.
Music: The James Bond Theme is used a few times, especially in an unintentionally comic scene where it seems that Bond is searching a hotel room looking for the orchestra. The score also debuts John Barry’s cracking 007 Theme cue, but Matt Monro’s title song is a bit insipid.