From Russia With Love


Novel publish year – 1957

Film release year – 1973

007 – Sean Connery

The fifth novel; the second film.  There is not much to say here; both formats are superb, and nearly identical – proving my (sort-of) developing theory that, provided film producers and directors stay close to Fleming’s original narrative, the subsequent film adaptation will be damn good.

The differences:  The most fundamental discrepancy is Colonel Rosa Klebb’s status with the Soviet intelligence services.  In the novel, Klebb is in charge of SMERSH’s Division of Operations and Executions (“
Otyel 2 Division”) Her reputation for prolonged, sadistic torture sessions is legendary within SMERSH.  In the film, Klebb has defected from SMERSH and is working as a SPECTRE operative.  That said, she is, for the most part, no less ruthless.

Both schemes involve the recruitment of naïve Tatiana
Romanova, a low level Soviet cipher clerk based in Istanbul, Turkey who has access to the SPEKTOR (the machine is called a LEKTOR in the film adaptation)– a top secret cipher machine coveted by MI6 and other Western intelligence services (the SPEKTOR was inspired by the World War II era Enigma machine).  In the novel, high-ranking officials at SMERSH have decided to plan an operation to murder 007 to punish MI6 for recent embarrassments (see Dr. No, Live and Let Die, Diamonds are Forever).  In the film, SPECTRE’s plan is to use Tatiana and 007 to obtain the LEKTOR for itself, so it SPECTRE may then offer to sell the machine back to the Soviets (while, at the same time, exacting revenge on Bond and MI6). 


Nearly every plot point is similar, if not identical.  One difference, however, is that the novel provides a much more detailed background about 007’s chief antagonist – Red Grant (alias “Colonel Nash” (to Bond)).  In the novel, Fleming explains that Grant is the product of a one-night stand between a German weightlifter and an Irish waitress/hooker.  As Grant grew up, he developed a feared reputation as quiet loner and excellent boxer.  During full moons, Grant gets what he calls “the feelings,” wherein he experiences and uncontrollable compulsion for brutality and violence.  As a young man, Grant killed animals once a month to assuage the feelings.  Eventually, he graduated to vicious homicides; he started by slitting a hobo’s throat.  In fact, Grant defected to Russia because he liked the Soviet’s brutal methods.  SMERSH diagnosed Grant as a manic-depressive homicidal maniac, but, naturally, found use for him as an assassin.  Eventually, Grant rose to become SMERSH’s chief executioner.   A similar upbringing and background is mentioned briefly in the film. 


In both the novel and the film, Klebb herself is sexually attracted to Tatiana and attempts to seduce her after she is recruited (using false pretenses) for the mission against 007.  In the film, this is referenced in passing when Klebb mentions how pretty Tatiana is and, towards the end of her interview, runs her hand suggestively across Tatiana’s  leg and neck.  In the novel, by contrast, Klebb changes into lingerie and invites Tatiana to bed; in response, Tatiana quickly flees Klebb’s apartment.


SMERSH’s plan is the same: The goal is to convince 007 that Tatiana is in love with him (based solely on his file pictures and reputation) and wants nothing more than to defect to England to be with him.  M and Bond smell the inevitable trap, but the lure of obtaining a SPEKTOR is too great to pass up.  Thus, Bond is sent to Istanbul to see how it all plays out.  In both, Bond quickly sleeps with Tatiana, while SMERSH operatives film the action from a cabinet de voyeur.  The plan is to humiliate Bond (and MI6) following his murder with a scandalous tale of illicit romance. 


In both the novel and in the film, Darko Kerim – MI6s man in Istanbul – plays a critical role helping 007 along the way.  In both, he is a colorful and playful larger-than-life-character who is, sadly, killed off while trying to help Bond.


There are some interesting, but, ultimately (as far as the narrative goes), minor differences towards the end of each story.  One key difference:  In the film, 007 figures out that Grant (using alias Captain Nash) is a spy when “Nash” orders red wine with dover sole for dinner.  (Of course, no cultured British spy would order “the red kind” with fish.)  In the novel, Bond does not realize Nash’s motives until Nash wakes him up during the train trip from Istanbul on the Orient Express “for a talk.”


Another difference in the final sequences can be found in Bond’s ultimate victory over Nash.  In the novel, Bond plays dead and tricks Nash into believing that Bond has been shot and killed in his sleeping car.  Bond then stabs Nash with throwing knifes concealed in his suitcase.  In the film, Bond tricks Nash by appealing to his greed, prompting Nash to attempt to open Bond’s suitcase after Bond tells Nash that the suitcase contains 50 gold sovereigns.  The suitcase is rigged with gas that exploded in Nash’s face; thereafter, Bond uses a throwing knife concealed in the suitcase to stab Nash in the arm before strangling him to death with Nash’s own wristwatch garrote.  In both contexts, Bond’s suitcase is a product of Q-Branch’s ingenuity.


In the novel, Bond and Tatiana disembark in Dijon, France.  Bond has a final encounter with Klebb at the Ritz hotel in Paris.  First, Klebb tries to shoot bond with a gun rigged under her desk.  When that fails, Klebb tries to poison Bond with poisoned knitting needles.  Bond instead traps Klebb to the wall with a chair.  In the end, Bond’s old friend Rene Mathis arrives and takes Klebb into custody.  But, as in the movie, Klebb quite literally takes a final stab at Bond using a poisoned knife concealed in the toe of her boot.  In the novel, Klebb connects with the knife; 007 blacks out, and the reader is left hanging as to whether he is alive or dead.  In the film, Tatiana saves Bond by shooting Klebb to death, and the two enjoy a much more pleasant ending touring Venice in a gondola.    


Next:  Dr. No


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