There’s about 42 years between Sean Connery’s first and last performances as James Bond, and there are versions of From Russia With Love on either end…
This feature contains mild spoilers for From Russia With Love – the book, the film, and the video game.
“Once more unto the breach, dear friends.”
It is 1963. Sean Connery has just played James Bond 007 for the second time in the film From Russia With Love. It is 2005. Sean Connery has just played James Bond 007 for the eighth and final time in the videogame From Russia With Love. Sorry for going all Dr Manhattan there, but this technically makes Connery the longest-serving Bond actor by a margin of about 27 years.
Naturally, these two different takes on From Russia With Love come at very different times in the franchise’s history. The 1963 film applies the nascent formula of the series to Fleming’s spy thriller story, while the 2005 game bolts firmly established tropes of later films on top of that as well.
Years before Quantum Of Solace was described as the first “direct sequel” in the series, From Russia With Love sees criminal organisation SPECTRE seeking revenge on 007 and British Intelligence for fettling their operative Dr No in the previous film.
Their honey-trap scheme involves leaking a yarn about how attractive Soviet Consulate clerk Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) has fallen in love with Bond from a photograph and wants to defect, bringing the secrets of the Russians’ Lektor encryption techniques with her. Meanwhile, SPECTRE assassin Red Grant (Robert Shaw) is assigned to kill them and retrieve the device, framing up a scandal for the Brits in the process.
It’s a relatively low-stakes proposition for a Bond film and that’s reflected in the more action-packed videogame adaptation. Like the movie, it’s set in the 1960s and stars Sean Connery as Bond. Unlike the movie, it’s also got jetpack deathmatches and ends with a big siege on the supervillains’ lair. Cold War-era thrillers ain’t what they used to be.
While Connery also made two versions of Thunderball, (more on that in due course) these two different adaptations find him on opposite ends of his Bond career but also arrive at two points of transition in the history of the franchise.
From page to screen
As mentioned in last week’s feature on Dr No, the decision on which Bond story to adapt next was certainly influenced by a presidential recommendation. Listing his top 10 favourite books in a March 1961 interview with TIME Magazine, President John F. Kennedy’s inclusion of Ian Fleming’s 1957 novel made it a bestseller in the US market that Bond producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli were hoping to crack with their second film.
Dr No was a box-office success outside of the US and United Artists agreed to double the budget for From Russia With Love to $2m, and the producers got to work on it immediately. Then-up-and-coming thriller writer Len Deighton was tasked with writing the screenplay but was replaced when he didn’t progress quickly enough. Returning screenwriters Johanna Harwood and Richard Maibaum took over.
Harwood eventually quit the sequel due to her irritation with director Terence Young’s revisions but receives an “Adaptation By” credit on the finished film. In subsequent interviews, she’s spoken about the anxiety about making a film as successful as Dr No without quite knowing how to do it. She also stated that her draft was more faithful to Fleming’s novel than the shooting script turned out.
With a view to building a global franchise, the big early change from the novel was the removal of the Soviet villains. Saltzman and Broccoli felt that the movie version of Bond ought to be “apolitical” and so, SPECTRE replaced the real-life Russian counter intelligence agency SMERSH as the drivers of the main conspiracy.
The script also adds an extended third-act chase scene involving boats and helicopters in a bid to give the story a more exciting finale. It’s a more expensive and elaborate film than its predecessor, with scenes filmed in Istanbul and Venice. Buckinghamshire’s Pinewood Studios doubles for a lot of more exotic locations too, as the requirements for British film funding meant that 70% of the production had to be shot in the United Kingdom or the Commonwealth.
With its quick turnaround time and its increased globe-trotting scale, From Russia With Love turned out to be a tumultuous production. It’s common nowadays for big tentpole movies to schedule reshoots and pick-ups during post-production, but there were various logistical factors that led to parts of the film being changed or rearranged, and even one or two happy accidents.
For instance, actor Peter Burton was unavailable to reprise his role as Q-Branch head Major Boothroyd from Dr No, which led to the casting of Desmond Llewelyn as the equipment officer who gives Bond his gadget-laden attache case. Llewelyn would not only return in the next Bond film, but also become a regular in the next 16 films after that, up to 1999’s The World Is Not Enough.
Meanwhile, on the structural front, editor Peter R. Hunt suggested moving a scene on SPECTRE Island, where Grant successfully hunts down and kills a Bond body double, to the very beginning of the film. Positioned before Maurice Binder’s title sequence, the scene gives the Bond series its now-traditional cold open scene, which was built into future films from the scripting stage.
Anticipating that From Russia With Love was probably the most-read novel, the filmmakers also planned one small change that capitalised on the audience’s familiarity with the story. Fleming’s story has a well-placed cigarette case stop a bullet that Red Grant fires at Bond, (that old chestnut) so the film version deliberately shows Shaw’s Grant take the case off Bond while holding him at gunpoint to increase the tension. The knockdown train carriage brawl that follows is a highlight of the entire series, so it’s a smart amendment to make.
From Russia With Love came in over budget and past schedule once again, but it made its UK debut just over a year after Dr No on 10th October 1963. It enjoyed a wider international release, including the US, the following year and grossed $79 million worldwide.
Connery has called the film his favourite of the Bond movies, and so too have Daniel Craig, Timothy Dalton, and current franchise producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. If any further proof were needed of the film’s legacy, the scene where Bond first encounters Tatiana waiting in his hotel room has traditionally been used as a screen test for subsequent Bond actors and female leads – there’s even footage available of some actors who didn’t get the part performing it, including James Brolin and Sam Neill.
Despite filing off the Soviet antagonists, 1963’s From Russia With Love is very much an adventure of the Cold War era, and up to a point, it focuses far more on spycraft and espionage than action and high-tech derring-do.
From movie to game
None of this makes From Russia With Love an obvious candidate for a modern James Bond game. In the boom of 007 games in the late 1990s and early 2000s, most titles followed the format of Nintendo’s hugely popular GoldenEye 007 game, with a story mode and an offline multiplayer mode that incorporated characters (Jaws!) and other iconography (that sodding Golden Gun!) from other Bond adventures too.
After the release of Die Another Day, license holders Electronic Arts (EA) made the most of securing the rights to use Pierce Brosnan’s likeness with a variety of first- and third-person shooters. The market proliferated movie tie-in games of varying quality and popularity around this time, ahead of the later trend of games marketing using movie stars’ likenesses and voice performances as a selling point.
Around the time it was confirmed that Brosnan would not be returning for another big-screen Bond adventure, someone at EA had the bright idea of approaching Sean Connery about reprising his role for a game version of From Russia With Love. Now all but retired from film acting, Connery accepted, and for the first time since the 1980s, (never say Never Say Never Again) he was set to play 007 again in his videogame debut.
On the promotional trail for the game, Connery stated that his grandchildren were avid gamers and explained: “As an artist, I see this as another way to explore the creative process. Videogames are an extremely popular form of entertainment today, and I am looking forward to seeing how it all fits together.”
Writer Bruce Feirstein (screenwriter on several of Brosnan’s films and a writer on various Bond games as well) provided the script and EA’s Redwood Shores studio developed the third-person shooter game, which incorporates fighting, shooting, and driving missions, along with a points system to unlock bonuses in multiplayer mode and additional DVD-style extras. The game was directed by Michael Condrey and executive produced by Glen Schofield, who later created the Dead Space game franchise.
Connery recorded his dialogue at his home in the Bahamas, and it’s worth noting he was the only actor to return from the 1963 film – the only other surviving cast member, Italian-born Daniela Bianchi, had been dubbed by English actress Barbara Jefford in the original film anyway, so the rest of the existing characters are suitably reimagined, and there are new characters voiced by Natasha Bedingfield and Maria Menounos.
As you might expect though, it doesn’t stop with the casting. EA marketed the adaptation as a “director’s cut”, not that the late Terence Young could have had much to do with it. This mostly points to the addition of elements from other Bond movies, including the Aston Martin DB5 introduced in Goldfinger and, most notably, the jetpack from the opening of Thunderball.
One element that wasn’t brought forward from Thunderball was SPECTRE. Still wrapped up in legalities with the estate of producer Kevin McClory (and yes, we really will have to come back to that) the organisation was replaced yet again, in a more tongue-in-cheek fashion this time, by the similarly branded Octopus. Grant and his fellow SPECTRE bods Rosa Klebb and Kronsteen remain, now transferred over to the off-brand organisation.
The story loosely follows the same plot as the film but adds lots of game-friendly sequences. For instance, Feirstein’s script opens with an on-brand cold open involving the Prime Minister’s daughter (voiced by Bedingfield) being kidnapped by terrorists and 007 taking to the sky in a jetpack to blow up a helicopter by the Houses of Parliament. Meanwhile, the equivalent of the fight aboard the Orient Express now has Bond battling a bunch of goons, and the inevitable showdown with Grant is postponed to a supplementary final boss battle in a big Octopus compound.
All of this said, the attention to detail in other aspects is very enjoyable. Connery’s voice obviously sounds older, but his character model is faithfully styled after his gait and fighting style in those early movies. The level design incorporates plenty of period-appropriate detail too, including the cheeky billboard promo for another Eon film, 1963’s Call Me Bwana (“She should have kept her mouth shut”).
After several years in development, From Russia With Love was released for PlayStation 2, GameCube, and Xbox in November 2005, with a further handheld release on the PSP the following year. Reviews were mixed, with praise for the graphics, the inclusion of Connery, and the nostalgic tributes, but also criticisms about the simplicity of the gameplay.
Overall, From Russia With Love is a cut above other movie tie-ins of the time, but Condrey later admitted that they didn’t have the time to deliver the vision they wanted to make. All told, this reimagining was always going to be a one-off, not least because EA lost the 007 licence to Activision the year after the game came out. This coincided with the start of the Daniel Craig era and the closest thing to this was the delightfully batty 007 Legends, a mashup of previous Bond films which we’ve covered in a previous feature:
Plus, the jetpacks are a hoot to play with in the multiplayer mode – as someone who played countless deathmatches with my brothers, I seem to remember that the game’s main objective was to select a certain chess champion and Octopus number 5 to play as, then go around exploding me with rockets, and shouting “WHO IS MARK COMPARED WITH KRONSTEEN?”
Memories may differ on that one – it certainly does for different adaptations of Fleming’s literary thriller. Both versions star Connery, but where one is part of a franchise still finding its feet, the other is bound to both the demands of a playable medium and the unyielding formula that would be minted in the very next instalment of the film series…
From Russia With Love is now streaming on Prime Video and will also screen in select VUE and Odeon cinemas nationwide this weekend.
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