On a whim, I decided to watch the second film in the James Bond franchise From Russia With Love starring Sean Connery. I had seen it as a boy a long time ago when it first came out and remembered my adolescent self being highly taken up with the film and really enjoying it so I decided to give it another go. It is usually a mistake to revisit books and films aimed at one’s teenage self and that one enjoyed as a very young person because the second time around as an adult is usually disappointing, so I was ready to feel a little let down.
What I had not expected was to find the film to be a real hoot, laugh-out-loud funny. The humor was not intentional especially when it came to the villains. They were cartoonish, with hooded eyes, flat voices, and speaking curtly in heavily accented villain clichés. The chief villain was even shown petting a white cat on his lap, a dead giveaway that he is a very evil person indeed, a comedy staple nowadays. Bond’s flirtations and romantic liaisons with attractive women were also hilarious, the kind of thing that an adolescent would think of as suave but utterly unrealistic.
How could a film that originally was considered serious become over time a parody of itself and of the genre? I think that it is not the film itself that is at fault but that its huge success spawned a vast number of imitations that copied many of its signature features. Spy films began to follow a pretty rigid template. From there it was but a short step for parodies to be made that took that template and made fun of the genre. So now when watching an old Bond film, the roles have reversed and it seems to be following the template of the parodies, rather than the other way around.
Here’s the trailer.
The scene in the film where the evil mastermind discusses his plan with his underlings is now a standard parody staple as in this scene from That Mitchell and Webb Look. (As a bonus, towards the end you can see this year’s Best Actress Oscar winner Olivia Colman in the early days of her career when she was a supporting player in this sketch comedy series.)