Contributed by: The James Bond Movie Encyclopedia by Steven Jay Rubin

(a.k.a. trick briefcase): A smart piece of luggage supplied to Bond (Sean Connery) by Q Branch in From Russia with Love. The briefcase saves his life in the final duel with SPECTRE assassin Donald Grant (Robert Shaw) on the Orient Express. Equipped with a number of lethal weapons, the briefcase proved such an important element of the story that it influenced many future Bond films. From this point on, nearly every film contained a Q Branch sequence in which Bond is outfitted with various gadgets. Even the Aston Martin car that became a sensation in the next film, Goldfinger, was essentially the briefcase’s automotive equivalent.

By the early 1960s, Western nations saw science and technology as one of the keys to defeating their Communist adversaries. Not only were they scrambling to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade, but technology was on the march in every facet of human life. So it’s not surprising that Bond producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were always looking for the latest high-tech gadgets to add to the Q Branch’s arsenal. Having once scouted for vaudeville acts in New York City in the 1930s, Saltzman was especially adept at seeking out new toys that would work wonders in the latest Bond movie. The briefcase was the first.

In fact, Bond’s briefcase figured into the very first day of shooting on From Russia with Love—April 1, 1963—during the scene in which Q (Desmond Llewelyn) comes to M’s office to explain the case’s various features: a special .25 caliber AR-7 folding sniper rifle with an infrared telescopic site; twenty rounds of ammunition hidden in two metal rods; fifty gold sovereigns hidden in the back; a flat-bladed throwing knife hidden in the front; and a metal tin of talcum powder that is actually a tear-gas cartridge, magnetically affixed to an inside wall of the case as a security precaution. As Q explains, when you ordinarily open a briefcase like this one, you move the catches to the side and open. If you do this, the tear-gas cartridge will explode in your face. Bond is then advised to first turn the catches horizontally and then move them to the side. The case can then be opened without triggering the gas.

Whimsical editor Peter Hunt actually played a trick on director Terence Young during one of the screening sessions in which this scene was shown. During the screening, when Bond attempts to properly open the briefcase using Q’s instructions, Hunt cut in footage of an explosion that obliterates Bond, M, and Q. According to Hunt, it gave Young quite a start and, of course, kept everyone in stitches for days.[1]

In the finished movie, the briefcase is identified as standard field issue. In addition to Bond, it is carried by Captain Nash (production manager Bill Hill), Bond’s doomed Yugoslavian contact, who is murdered by SPECTRE agent Grant. The briefcase is then involved in one of the most thrilling fight sequences in the entire series—inside the train compartment on the Orient Express, where 007 is about to be murdered by Grant. On his knees, staring at Grant’s silenced automatic, Bond plays his final card. He asks for a cigarette, but Grant refuses. Bond then offers to pay for it. Considering that Grant has already taken Bond’s bankroll, the request intrigues him. Grant asks him how he’s going to pay for the cigarette, and Bond replies that there are fifty gold sovereigns in his briefcase. Grant then makes his worst mistake by letting Bond retrieve them.

Knowing how the trick case works, Bond opens it correctly (out of Grant’s sight) and retrieves the sovereigns, which he throws on the floor. The ever-greedy Grant then asks if there are any more in Nash’s case, and Bond adroitly replies in the affirmative, even taking the step of offering to open the other case himself. Grant falls right into the trap, thinking that Bond has a weapon hidden inside and insisting on opening the case himself. Of course, the tear gas cartridge explodes in his face. (Thanks to screenwriter Richard Maibaum, Bond’s gambit is a distinct improvement over the corresponding moment in Fleming’s original novel, in which 007’s cigarette case deflects the assassin’s bullet.)

The fight—one so brutal it used to be cut when the film run on network television—then begins. Despite his prowess in fisticuffs, Bond is about to be strangled with the garrote wire hidden in Grant’s watch when 007 trips a catch on the briefcase, revealing the hidden knife. Bond stabs a surprised Grant in the arm, then strangles him with his own garrote.

The briefcase is mentioned one other time in the series, on the private jet in Goldfinger, when stewardess Mei-Lei (Mai Ling) informs Bond that his briefcase was damaged upon examination. “So sorry,” she says.

In real life, a plastic version of the briefcase was later sold commercially; not surprisingly, it became a popular toy.

[1] Peter Hunt, interview by Steven Jay Rubin, London, June 21, 1977.


Subscribe on your favorite podcast app