Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)
Very seldom does one character define a subgenre. But that is precisely what James Bond 007 has done with spy/espionage fiction. Since making his film debut in 1962, Bond has appeared in over 20 movies. Moreover, the character has only been portrayed by a mere six actors. Now that the 25th (official) Bond installment, No Time to Die, is finally slated for release on April 10th, I think now is a better time than any to look back at 007’s dossier. I’ll be examining the James Bond franchise to see how these pictures evolved over the decades with each new leading actor. Today’s mission: From Russia with Love (1963)!
If you’ve heard the adage, “You have to strike while the iron is hot,” it’s because there’s probably not a truer pearl of wisdom. Much like Ian Fleming (who had published 10 Bond novels by the time his iconic protagonist made it to the silver screen) before them, producers Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were going to run their new cinematic phenomenon with this approach. Almost immediately after the release of Dr. No (1962), the duo had put their next 007 picture into a quick turnaround. I mean, why wouldn’t they? After all, United Artists and EON Productions knew they had a winning formula in place. As such, they brought back director Terrence Young, and of course, James Bond himself Sean Connery. Granted, it took a salary bump to get the actor to renew his 00 status.
The basis for this sophomore effort would be From Russia with Love, the fifth Bond novel, published in 1957. Oddly enough, though, From Russia with Love is actually the novelistic predecessor of Dr. No, which was published the following year. Considering the era in which From Russia with Love was written, the villains of the source material were Cold War-era Soviets. Thankfully though, instead of poking the bear of then-current conflicts, the film’s producers chose to use a fictional analog created by Flemming — SPECTRE: A SPecial Executive organization for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion. Implementing SPECTRE into the narrative would prove to be the first leap into legitimately making the Bond films into a tried-and-true franchise. For it was this evil organization that would become the series’ omnipresent antagonist for years to come.
But for now, let’s look at From Russia with Love. Obviously, this follow-up mission sends James Bond (Connery) from the sunny shores of Jamaica and out into the cold. Once in Russia, 007 must locate a decoding device dubbed “Lektor” before the villainous organization known as SPECTRE do. Of course, this group is trying to intercept Bond along the way. Thus, the world’s most exceptional secret agent must contend with assassins and the usual intrigues of his job. It helps that Bond has a new love-interest and ally in Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi).
Generally, I save this judgment for a little later on — however, there’s no point in burying the lead any further with this sequel. From Russia with Love is An Absolute Franchise Expansion! Without a doubt, the transition from the single film of Dr. No to becoming a franchise with From Russia with Love is one of the smoothest and most naturalistic I’ve ever seen. In watching this entry, you would think the filmmakers behind Bond had been doing so for years. Not only does this first follow-up establish the series’ anthological/episodic style, but From Russia with Love also retains everything folks dug about Dr. No while expanding upon it.
As with its predecessor, From Russia with Love also plays a lot like a travelogue. Except this time, it’s a cold and dark journey through Mother Russia. The gentlemen who established the look of Bond, Dr. No director Terrence Young and cinematographer Ted Moore, create a look in which is simultaneously native to its environment and foreboding. Despite the sense of dread this film creates, Connery slips back into his role as Bond with even more natural ease then he had initially presented in the previous picture. As I watched this movie, only Bond existed, not Connery.
Bringing back the cast and crew who laid the cinematic foundation for 007 was a brilliant call. By doing so, these same artists and craftsmen were able to establish the cornerstones of their new franchise. These cornerstones, of course, include more car chases, bigger stunts, and gadgets as supplied by ‘Q,’ also known as Major Boothroyd (Desmond Llewelyn) in his debut outing. Beyond those aspects, there is also the soundtrack, which adds to the film’s atmosphere. Of course, there is the already classic theme, John Barry‘s score, and the first titular theme song in the series, as performed by “Born Free” vocalist Matt Monro.
In essence, From Russia with Love is the perfect example of how to begin building a franchise. Yet, at the same time, I simply don’t find this movie to be all that memorable. Sure, the film is entertaining enough while you watch it. Alas, it also leaves your memory as quickly as a bowl of sugary cereal will leave you hungry again. What can I say? I just don’t find this film’s Bond girl, Tatiana Romanova, nor it’s big bad, Donald ‘Red’ Grant (Robert Shaw) to be the least bit memorable. In turn, the plot is also quite forgettable.
Still, From Russia with Love has a lasting legacy. The film made Connery into a worldwide star, was a massive success, and even received a video game adaptation over 40 years after its release. Most importantly, though, it proved that James Bond 007 had more fuel in his cinematic tank than anybody else on the block! But more on that, next time!
From Russia with Love is Available on Home Video
James Bond Will Return For Another Installment of Franchise Expansion or Implosion with Goldfinger!
007’s Newest Mission, No Time to Die, Will Be in Theaters on April 10th!