With the UK’s ITV-1 channel airing the second 007 adventure on Sunday 2nd April, the JBIFC takes a brief look at the key villains in the movie, a set of people who helped establish the iconic Bond film formula for those ‘baddies’ we love to hate.
After the evident success of the first James Bond movie Dr. No and their rising star Sean Connery, United Artists quickly gave approval for the return of 007. The EON producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman soon swung into action. They chose Ian Fleming’s fifth bestselling James Bond thriller From Russia, With Love (1957) as the second big-screen 007 adventure, with Terence Young back again as the director. Many critics now rate it as something of a classic film, very much in the mould of Alfred Hitchcock and also with a touch of film noir in its atmosphere, especially in the night-time scenes set on the Orient Express and in Bond’s encounters with hard-man ‘Red’ Grant.
Pleasingly, the screenplay was also pretty faithful to the characters in Fleming’s novel (although screenwriter Richard Maibaum did make SP.E.C.T.R.E. the main baddies instead of SMERSH). In addition, the choice of Ian Fleming’s fifth book as the second big-screen 007 thriller was possibly influenced by the fact that the new U.S. President J.F. Kennedy had become a Bond fan and, in 1961, had listed From Russia as one of his favourite top ten books.
Some excellent casting decisions for the ‘baddies’ were made by Terence Young and his team for From Russia. In particular, the critically acclaimed Austrian stage actress Lotte Lenya (real name Karoline Blaumauer) was chosen for the role of the truly creepy Russian Colonel Rosa Klebb, the ex-head of intelligence operations for the Soviet state’s murder branch SMERSH. Similarly, the novelist and then relatively unknown actor Robert Shaw was selected for the key role of killer Donald ‘Red’ Grant, and had very impressive physical presence on screen. He remained a silent but deadly presence for much of the movie, but when Shaw introduced himself as ‘Captain Nash’ for the first time, the audience is intrigued by the character’s pseudo-British upper-class accent and his insistence on using the endearment ‘old man’ (something which clearly irritates 007).
Another essential casting choice was for the role of Morzeny, the thuggish SP.E.C.T.R.E. tactical chief: this part went to British character actor Walter Gotell (who went on to become something of a Bond film regular, appearing in six more films). Finally, and last but not least, the role of chess wizard and SP.E.C.T.R.E. master-planner Kronsteen, a crucial part early in the movie’s plotline, was awarded to the Polish actor Vladek Sheybal. Interestingly, Sheybal, who had heavily-lidded eyes and a distinctively unnerving voice, went on to play an auctioneer in Charles K. Feldman’s rogue version of Casino Royale in 1967.
Principal photography on From Russia commenced at Pinewood Studios on 1st April, 1963. In order to help create a sense of atmospheric ‘threat’ in the movie, Young utilised the Pinewood Studios mansion and gardens at night (eventually used in the pre-credits at the suggestion of editor Peter Hunt) and the same gardens (dubbed the ‘Renaissance Gardens’ in the shooting script) were used during the day (for the key scenes involving Shaw, Lenya and Walter Gotell on SP.E.C.T.R.E. Island). Indeed, although SP.E.C.T.R.E. had been name-checked in Dr. No, the villainous private enterprise network run by Ernst Stavro Blofeld was given a much more explicit presence in From Russia (in a notable change from the Fleming novel’s emphasis on the Soviet state and its part in the ‘Cold War’). Producer Harry Saltzman apparently also suggested that the SP.E.C.T.R.E. training camp on the Island could be modelled on the famous gladiator school scene that had appeared in Stanley Kubrick’s movie Spartacus (1960). Another highly memorable scene shot in the Pinewood gardens saw Lenya’s Rosa Klebb suddenly using a knuckle-duster on Shaw’s Donald ‘Red’ Grant, hitting him in the abdomen in a moment that still makes many viewers flinch even today!
Shooting on the movie was completed on 23rd August, 1963. Astonishingly, Peter Hunt, the movie’s editor, basically had less than two months to get a final cut in place before it was to be premiered. Working under intense pressure, he carried out some excellent work. In fact, what arguably makes From Russia especially memorable is the way that Hunt (who later directed On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) began to increasingly experiment with and use a very rapid quick-cut editing style, something that he employed to full effect on his next Bond projects.
This distinctive action film editing technique was prominently on display in the now-famous fight scene on the Orient Express between James Bond and the thoroughly nasty ‘Red’ Grant, a pulse-raising fight scene which left cinema audiences and critics dazzled at the time, and is still hugely admired by editors today. This quick-paced scene, shot mainly with hand-held cameras, was also highly unusual in that it took up nearly two minutes of screen-time, a decision that was almost unprecedented at the time, but was more than justified. And, of course, there was some great editing also on display in the tense final confrontation between Rosa Klebb and James Bond, when the evil villainess tries to stab 007 with her poison-tipped shoe. Again, it was another flinch-inducing moment, to say the least.
When she had been cast as Klebb, the magazine Esquire had commented that it was the ‘Miscasting of the year’, but Lotte Lenya easily and confidently defied such unfair criticisms and made the character one of the most realistic baddies in the early 007 films. Speaking in a rare interview in the early 1970s, she commented humorously that, ever since she had appeared as Klebb, the first thing people did on meeting her was to glance at her shoes!
Did You Know?
The ‘faceless’ master-villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld in EON’s From Russia With Love (one of author Ian Fleming’s greatest fictional creations and a key baddie in the EON film series), was played by actor Anthony Dawson (who had been Professor Dent in Dr. No), while Blofeld’s voice was provided by Eric Pohlmann.