Wednesday, January 11, 2012

From Russia with Love

When it comes to "Cold War" movies, I prefer mine stirred, not shaken.  Always had a soft spot for Bond's second escapade, From Russia with Love, which featured the lovely Daniela Bianchi as agent 007's muse, Tatiana Romanova.  Robert Shaw provides the nasty villian, and Lotte Lenya makes a surprise appearance as KGB agent, Rosa Klebb.

The Soviet Union was a dark, mysterious place seen mostly through the lens of the Cold War.  Apparently, Putin and his KGB comrades used to enjoy Michael Caine's Harry Palmer movies, such as Funeral in Berlin, or so the story goes.   Even in films like North by Northwest you could see it in the subtext.  But, perhaps the most memorable film from that era is The Spy Who Came in from the Cold with Richard Burton as British agent Alec Leamas near the end of his rope.  The film focuses mostly on the East-West divide in Germany, and was adapted from a John Le Carre novel.

The theme has its earlier precedents, such as the whimsical Ninotchka, starring Melvyn Douglass and Greta Garbo.  The 1939 film is set in Paris at the time of the Russian Revolution, with Garbo as a stern Russian agent sent to see what the problem is with a jewel transaction.  She doesn't count on a charming count foiling her plans.  Bela Lugosi even pops up in the film as Commissar Razinin.

By contrast, the Soviet Union didn't seem as obsessed with the spy genre, although the Dead Season (Мертвый сезон) stands out from 1968, starring Donatas Banionis (also seen in Solaris) as Ladeynikov.

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