On the 50th anniversary of "From Russia With Love"'s US release our friend and James Bond expert Deborah Lipp (she even wrote a book about him!) is here to talk 007...
After 23 official films and 2 unofficial ones, From Russia With Love, the second James Bond adventure, remains the greatest of them all. Considered an iconic film in many ways, it may surprise the casual Bond viewer to note that certain "iconic" aspects of the Bond franchise were missing from or created in this film.
Let's focus on From Russia With Love's extraordinary visual signature on this anniversary
The first James Bond film, Dr. No, featured the production design of Ken Adam. Adam is justifiably famous. In Dr. No, he designed such sets as the nuclear launch room, and, needing one last set when the budget ran out, came up with an exquisitely simple interrogation room, as perfect as any of his more elaborate work. Adam worked on a total of seven Bond films, creating such sets as Goldfinger's Fort Knox and the hollowed-out volcano lair in You Only Live Twice. He is considered synonymous with the look of James Bond movies, but he didn't do From Russia With Love. He was busy working on Dr. Strangelove—go ahead and revisit the war room scene in Kubrick's film and ask yourself if it doesn't look an awful lot like a James Bond movie.
No, art direction for From Russia with Love was done by Syd Cain. Cain is kind of impressive. Like Ken Adam, he did multiple Bond films and worked with Stanley Kubrick (in Cain's case, on Lolita).
The eye-popping chess tournament scene in From Russia with Love, in which the chess game takes place on a raised dais above a checkerboard floor mimicking the chessboard itself, is Cain's work. The movie also featured Blofeld's yacht-based lair, extensive scenes on the Orient Express, and location footage in Istanbul augmented by opulent set design. In fact, opulence is a good word to hang on Cain's work, and FRWL is an opulent movie.
Another iconic visual element in Bond films is the title sequence. Title design by Maurice Binder is considered part of the Bond signature, and Binder was there from the beginning. Dancing girls, silhouettes, sinuous animated movement, and the famed gunbarrel sequence were all Binder's designs. He did the title sequences for every Bond film from the first one in 1962 through License to Kill in 1989. Except two: From Russia with Love and Goldfinger. Robert Brownjohn did those.
FRWL's title sequence features the credits projected on the mostly-nude body of a bellydancer. It's beautiful and so very Bond, so typical of Binder's signature work that you may wonder if Brownjohn wasn't influenced by the first Bond title sequence. He wasn't: Dr. No's titles are a psychedelic explosion of colored dots. Male and female dancing silhouettes come in around the 1.40 mark, and by 2.15 we're into the "Three Blind Mice" sequence—three blind beggars who turn out, as the movie begins, to be assassins. Nope, the sensual body of a woman in Bond titles wasn't made iconic by the iconic Bond title designer.
From Russia With Love is great for many reasons: Plot, dialog, cast, and locations all play important roles. But the visual style is a key component. How interesting, then, that it stands separate from what we think of as "the" Bond style.