Over the past few weeks, I’ve watched, at long last, the first three James Bond films. From Russia With Love was the follow-up to Dr No, and it introduced a number of trademark features, including a score by John Barry, and the debut of Desmond Llewellyn as Q, the technical wizard. Again, I thought the film had worn well, considering its age – thanks partly to the excellence of Sean Connery in the lead role, and largely to a tight and fast-moving screenplay, packed with incident.
In this movie, the villainous organisation SMERSH plays Russia off against Britain, and Bond is meant to be the fall guy. We don’t get to see the face of the evil mastermind Ernst Stavro Blofeld, but are allowed a few shots of him stroking a cat with gleeful menace. His henchman include Rosa Klebb (memorably played by the legendary Lotte Lenya), Walter Gotell, who regularly appeared on tv in my youth, and that notable tough guy actor Robert Shaw, who was born in Lancashire – though you’d never guess it from this performance. When one thinks of Shaw’s very different role in The Sting, one realises what a good actor he was, and apparently he was also a novelist of some distinction.
Pedro Armendariz, a Mexican actor, also had a key role in the story, as Ali Karim Bey, who assists Bond before falling victim to assassination by Shaw. I was sad to read that, while the film was being made, Armendariz was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and that he committed suicide shortly after the film was completed. His performance in the movie is very likeable, and he is deservedly remembered for it.
As usual, I enjoyed the John Barry soundtrack. Monty Norman is credited, as usual, with writing the James Bond Theme itself. But, having failed to be commissioned to score the movie, he must have been further and very understandably irked to see his name misspelt on the final credits.