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Bond Pretitle Sequences: From Russia With Love

Simon Pitt | Film | Sunday 25th August 2013

I’m watching all of the Bond pre-credit teasers one after another.

All the Bonds. All the Gun Barrels. All the action. Well, the first five seconds of it.
From Russia with Love

The beginning of From Russia with Love is the first pre-credit sequence of the Bond series. And like the gun barrel walk itself, it exists almost entirely by chance.

Originally, the sequence in the garden was going to appear later in the film. But the film editor, Peter R. Hunt, thought it would work as a teaser and moved it to the start. This went down so well that it started the tradition of Bond pre-credit sequence.

The From Russia with Love pre-credit sequence, then, has the strange honour of being the one that started it all, and being almost nothing much like those that follow it.

Bond should ask Gardeners Question Time how to deal with pests like this in the garden

Once the gun barrel has disappeared everything goes very quiet. We open on a dark night scene, as Bond jogs down some steps. He looks around shiftily as we cut to someone following him. There’s a crack of a branch and Bond turns abruptly.

Bond is being followed by Red Grant, a giant of a Russian wearing what seem to be gym shoes. Bond catches sight of him and shoots, but Grant slips away. Hiding behind a bush, he pulls out a wire from his watch. As Bond creeps past Red jumps him and strangles him with the wire.

What's the time... argh!

It’s a shocking moment. He’s got Bond and he’s strangling him. And Bond seems to have died. How could this happen so early in the film? Well that was a waste of half a crown or however much a cinema ticket cost in those days.

The sequence is clearly sped up. A trick that is used in Goldfinger. It’s bizarre how often this was done in the early Bond films. Maybe it was more of a trope in the 60s than it is now. Our sophisticated media-savy eyes can spot the change in film rate a mile off, but maybe in those days people were so excited to see a moving picture at all that they didn’t worry too much about things like this.

Bond collapses and giant floodlights flick on. It looks surprisingly like a film set. Which is surprising, until you know that it is a film set. The whole sequence is recorded in the gardens at Pinewood Studios.

Presumably one of the cheapest sets to do up.

“Exactly 1 minute 52 seconds, that’s excellent,” a boss man says. He manages to say it without moving his lips at all. That’s another strange thing these early Bond films did. They were obsessed with dubbing. Goldfinger couldn’t speak English, so his lines were dubbed. As were Ursula Andress’s lines in Dr No. Did they just not know these people couldn’t speak English? I mean, surely this would have come up in the audition.

Cynic that I am, I sneered at the timings here. “No way was that 1 minute 52.” The programme counter clock clearly shows 2:59. However, if you cut off the gun barrel sequence and start you stop watch just as the first shot fades in, and stop it just as Bond breathes his last, it does come out remarkably close to 1:52.

Reaching down, the boss man removes the mask on Bond to reveal that it is someone entirely different. With a moustache, no less. It’s funny, Connery does look very plastic-y here. In fact, in some shots, he looks like a Gerry Anderson puppet of himself. Which is probably quite a difficult thing to do.

Act like your face is made of plastic!

The actual victim had to have a moustache to make it clear that it was a different person from Connery. When they first shot the scene, the man they used looked quite a lot like Connery, so they had to get someone else.

No point wasting a good mask

You have to feel a bit sorry for the victim really. Surely wearing a mask is an unnecessary bit of frippery, and would make it much harder for him. I wonder if he knew that he was going to be killed. Or, like Blofeld’s doubles in Diamonds are Forever, whether they just struggled to recruit volunteers after this.

This opening sequence is one of only three that don’t feature Bond properly. Live and Let Die doesn’t feature Bond at all, and The Man With the Golden Gun has a waxwork of Bond. In many ways, The Man With the Golden Gun is a close imitation of this. There’s an unarmed villain hunting an armed victim in an elaborate, faked maze. Of course, more than that, it’s a foreshadowing of a showdown between Bond and the villain. In this case, the fantastic train sequence, surely one of the best and tensest Bond set pieces ever. When, in the train, Red Grant reaches for his watch, there’s a moment of horror as we know that he’s used this weapon before.

The model of Red Grant, a hulking, inhumanly strong assassin has become a model for villains in many later Bond films. There’s a blonde henchman Hans in You Only Live Twice, Erich Kriegler in For Your Eyes Only; Venz in A View to a Kill; Necros in The Living Daylights; Peter Franks in Diamonds are Forever and Stamper in Tomorrow Never Dies. And that’s just counting the blonde ones. Red Grant is either inhumanly strong or impervious to pain (like Renard is in The World is Not Enough).

In some ways, I find this quite a strange opening sequence. It’s only the second ever Bond film, so we don’t have the attachment or knowledge of Bond that we have now. Surely, many people going to see From Russia With Love wouldn’t have seen Dr No, so although they’d know Connery was Bond they wouldn’t know much more. Or what that actually meant.

Regardless of that, having seen this sequence, now that the tiles have started, you’re on the edge of your seat. In some ways, perhaps because of the twist and the intrigue of this sequence, I’m even more in the mood for a Bond film than ever.

Tim Morrison in Time magazine isn’t impressed, giving this sequence a "C". But it has everything you want in a Bond sequence. Excitement, unexpected twists, Bond in a dinner jacket, and a sequence that stays in the memory many years later.

Name Rank and Number I think he got the Point Do all those vodka martinis silence the screams of all the men you've killed? Perfect for relaxing after a hard day at the office SP will return…


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