Good films have subtext. In the last part of this series on the subtext of various James Bond films, we took a look at the subtext 1967's You Only Live Twice. Then we mentioned this would be a three part series on sub-text; well it seems it will be a four part series instead.
In the second part of this series we'll take a look at the subtext of 1963's From Russia With Love.
Sex and the Secret Agent
The Subtext Of From Russia With Love
By John Cox
In From Russia with Love, James Bond is sent to Istanbul to sleep with a Russian cipher clerk in order to get a decoder machine. "Just make sure you measure up," warns M. The villain's plot? Capture 007's sexual performance on film and use it to discredit the Secret Service when his "suicide" is discovered. Kinky stuff? You bet. And there's more. Much more.
From Russia with Love is really a catalog of "secret" sexual fetishes thinly veiled by the world of the '60s Secret Agent. Think about it. FRWL depicts sadism (making two fish fight to the death); oil massage (Grant on SPECTER island); S&M (Klebb's handy riding crop and brass knuckles); pimp prostitution (Bond and Tatiana are both ordered to have sex); sexual fixation (Tatiana falls in love with a photo of Bond "like young girls fall in love with movie stars"); lesbianism (Tatiana's “interview” with Klebb); polygamy (Kerim's multiple children suggest multiple wives); stripping (or in this case belly dancing); catfighting (more on this later); menage a trois (Bond is delivered both gypsy girls to his tent); bondage (the dead Prussian in the back of the Renault is very well tied); oral sex (Tatiana's mouth is just the "right size" for Bond); voyeurism (the men watch Bond and Tatiana as they secretly film them, among MANY other examples); public exhibitionism (Tatiana wants to wear her nightgown "in Piccadilly"); sadomasochistic homosexuality (the Grant-Bond confrontation); and yes, even foot worship (how else can you account for the appeal of that spike-tipped shoe or Grant's insistence that Bond, "Crawl over here and kiss my foot!"). Much of this comes from the novel, and it's no secret that Fleming enjoyed a taste of the whip from time to time.
The gypsy girlfight is FRWL's most infamous and sadistic scene. Never has a Bond movie felt so much like a snuff film. Where most movies poke fun at "catfights," this film puts it on a level of gladiatorial match. They don't say the girls are fighting to death, but they don't say they aren't! In fact, the fight between the two women "in love with the same man" is so savage (or so arousing?) that Bond asks for it to be stopped. Strange that the only way we're "saved" from this scene is by an explosion of good old-fashioned gunplay. Stranger yet is the relief we feel at the arrival of this "safe" movie violence. How sexually charged is this scene? When From Russia With Love aired on ABC throughout the '70s and '80s, the ENTIRE gypsy camp sequence was cut from the film. I doubt it was because of the belly dancer. Related to the girlfight in its depiction of sexual violence not usually found in a Bond film is when Bond hits Tatiana in REAL anger aboard the Orient Express. It's interesting to note that Bond is posing as her husband at the time. Her crime? She lied to him. Dark.
But the confrontation with Grant is the ultimate ordeal for James Bond in this sexually lethal world. Of all sexual terrors, being on the end of a homosexual rape certainly ranks high. The lead-up to the fight is highly charged with innuendoes. Grant has clearly been aroused by the footage of Bond and Tatiana's lovemaking. A line which exists in the continuity script but is missing from existing prints is when Grant says, "What a performance!" Grant makes Bond get on his knees (waist level) and tells him it'll be "painful and slow." Let's not forget that this whole confrontation is taking place in a train compartment (read bunk, read bed). And what's the first thing that goes when they start their "struggle"? The light. There's an orgasmic quality to Grant's silent death, but maybe I should stop here before I lose the family audience, which, by the way, is what the movie does as well. In the book, the Grant-Bond fight is the climax of the story and rightfully so. But the filmmakers felt compelled to give us a helicopter and boat chase, which dilute the sexual subtext of the film. But maybe that's the intent. After all, sometimes a boat chase is just a boat chance.