• U.S.

Cinema: Once More Unto the Breach

3 minute read

From Russia with Love. Ian Fleming is the late late late show of literature.

Perused at the witching hour, the violent adventures and immoderate amours of James Bond, Agent 007 of the British Secret Service, seem as normal as Ovaltine—and rather more narcotic.

Shown on screen, they are apt to seem absurd. Doctor No, the first of Fleming’s novels to be filmed, was shot as a straight thriller, but most spectators took it as a travesty and had a belly laugh. The reaction was not lost on Director Terence Young. From Russia, his second treatment of a Fleming fiction, is an intentional heehaw at whodunits, an uproarious parody that may become a classic of caricature.

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends,” the hero (Sean Connery) announces as the story begins. He means, somebody hastens to explain, a breach of Soviet security; a libidinous Russian cipher clerk (Daniela Bianchi), who has somehow heard of Bond’s charms, informs the British Secret Service that for one night with him she’ll do anything—like turn over the latest Soviet cipher machine. Obviously a trap, but Hero Bond steps into it as casually as he steps into his rep silk undershorts.

The lovers meet in Istanbul. He wears a hand towel, and she is covered by his automatic. “You’re beautiful,” he mutters. “Some people think my mouth is too big,” she pants in reply. “No,” he assures her, “it’s the right size—for me.” Bang! A bomb explodes in the Russian consulate, and in the ensuing confusion Bond and his musky Russki escape with a cipher machine. But the end is not yet. In the next hour or so, 007 is slugged by a phony British agent, bombed by a passing helicopter, pursued by an avalanche of rats, and drop-kicked by a homicidal charlady (Lotte Lenya) with a poisoned dagger planted in the toe of her terribly sensible shoes.

All this is marvelously exciting. Director Young is a master of the form he ridicules, and in almost every episode he hands the audience shocks as well as yocks. But the yocks are more memorable. They result from slight but sly infractions of the thriller formula. A Russian agent, for instance, does not simply escape through a window; no, he escapes through a window in a brick wall painted with a colossal poster portrait of Anita Ekberg, and as he crawls out of the window, he seems to be crawling out of Anita’s mouth. Or again, Bond does not simply train a telescope on the Russian consulate and hope he can read somebody’s lips; no, he makes his way laboriously into a gallery beneath the joint, runs a submarine periscope up through the walls, and there, at close range, inspects two important Soviet secrets: the heroine’s legs.

Sophisticated? Well, not really. But fast, smart, shrewdly directed and capably performed. And though the film will scarcely eradicate the sex and violence that encumber contemporary movies, it may at least persuade producers that sick subjects may be profitably proffered with a healthy laugh.

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