Just one year after Dr. No, Bond is back, and we can see the standard elements of a Bond film are evolving. I have a bit of an affection for this film, I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because it’s predominantly set in Istanbul, as city I love, or maybe it’s because I like to travel by train, despite the risk of getting caught up in some kind of international spy activity.
The opening credits feature words displayed over the writhing torso of a belly dancer, giving an indication of the film’s location. And here also comes the theme tune, sung by Matt Munro. There’s something in the musical intervals and minor keys used in the music of a Bond Theme that make it recognisable as a Bond song. And perhaps it started here with this composition by Lionel Bart.
Exotic locations We open with a chess match in Venice, and then Bond leaves London for Istanbul. I love the glimpses of 1960s Istanbul you can see in this film. A quick establishing shot across the Bosphorus and I’m gasping because those hills which are green in this film are now covered with houses. You get a glimpse inside the Haigha Sofia, and a view of the Blue Mosque. You get to travel across the Bosphorus by ferry, and visit the Basilica Cisterns. The Grand Bazaar is glimpsed in the background and surprisingly uncrowded with tourists. In fact the whole city looks relatively uncrowded compared to present day Istanbul.
The final part of the film takes us on the Orient Express from Istanbul Sirkeci station across former Yugoslavia (although the boat scenes here were actually filmed in Scotland) before finishing – as it began – in Venice. Not as exotic as Jamaica but Istanbul was probably much cheaper to film in.
Spycraft: This film reinforces the East vs West secrecy and Cold War tensions. When Bond arrives in Istanbul he comments to the driver that they are being followed. The driver is quite casual about this, commenting that today they’re being followed by the Bulgarians who are working for the Soviets. “They follow us and we follow them.” SPECTRE’s objective in this film was to turn up the heat on this Cold War in Istanbul.
This film also sees the start of the Bond gadgets tradition. The actor playing the role that will eventually become known simply as Q appears in this film, but is listed in the credits as Boothroyd. (He has a name! Who knew?) Gadgets are already leaning towards the ridiculous – tear gas in a briefcase? Surely that’s dangerous to your agent as much as any enemy?
Bond Women – Tatiana Romanova (acted by Daniela Bianchi but her voice was dubbed by British actress Barbara Jefford) is the ‘gift’ from Russia. She works at the Russian Consulate in Istanbul and she is given the mission to seduce Bond by Rosa Klebb, a former senior Soviet Intelligence officer who has defected to SPECTRE. (And in a nice nod to the paranoid secrecy of Soviet times, when asked “Does she (Romanova) know of your defection?” Klebb replies that her defection was kept secret, known only to high ranking officials.)
Romanova’s iconic moment is to appear in Bond’s bed wearing nothing but a black velvet choker. My problem with this scene is this: Bond comes into his hotel room, starts the shower and then on hearing a noise, goes into the other room to investigate, leaving the shower running. He finds Romanova in his bed and of course doesn’t bother going back to the bathroom to shut off the shower. For heaven’s sake man, don’t waste water like that!
Outdated attitudes A ridiculous scene takes place at a gypsy camp, with stereotypes in abundance. The idea two girls “fighting to the death” over the chief’s son? Ugh! And that they are then ‘given’ to Bond as some kind of prize? Double Ugh! This whole scene is made bright only by the talent of the belly dancer who dances during the dinner. (Having done belly dancing classes myself I can appreciate the talent displayed here.)
The Villain and the evil plot – In this film we are introduced to the head of SPECTRE, but we never see his face. He’s a man behind a desk with a white fluffy cat on his lap, setting a visual image that will be used as shorthand for a bad guy in spoof spy films for decades to come. Klebb and Grant, a highly trained assassin, are the two main villains we see during the film. The villainous plot is get revenge on Bond for activities in Dr. No (no spoilers) and also to get Bond to steal a Lektor encryption device from the Soviet embassy, with the ultimate aim to ransom the device back to the Soviets after killing off Bond.
This villainous plot is complex, but taking into account Cold War tensions and paranoia, not entirely ludicrous. And after all, the R and 2nd E in SPECTRE stand for revenge and extortion.
Film epilogue: I thought about what would happen to Romanova once she had defected and arrived in England. I pictured her eventually marrying a nice English man and settling down to live in the Home Counties before becoming swiftly bored with provincial English life and divorcing her husband to move to London and going to work for the British World Service (with perhaps some little bit of work for MI6 on the side).