The famous passenger train that is the setting for a good portion of From Russia with Love. Although its schedule has changed many times since its first trip on October 4, 1883, the Simplon Orient Express of the mid-1900s left Istanbul and traveled through Thessaloníki, Belgrade, Venice, Milan, and Lausanne, until it eventually arrived in Paris four days and five nights later. Bond (Sean Connery); Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendariz), the head of the British Secret Service in Turkey; and defecting Soviet cipher clerk Tatiana “Tania” Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) board the train in Istanbul after blowing up the Russian embassy and stealing the Lektor decoding machine. Unfortunately, two enemy agents follow them onto the train: Commissar Benz (Peter Bayliss), a Russian security agent, and Donald Grant (Robert Shaw), a ruthless SPECTRE assassin who, following the scheme of master planner Kronsteen (Vladek Sheybal), is intent on murdering Bond, Romanova, Kerim Bey, and Benz, as well as stealing back the Lektor decoder.
Trains have always provided a perfect setting for mysteries, and the Orient Express doesn’t disappoint. Terence Young’s direction is masterful, considering that the entire sequence was shot on a stationary soundstage at Pinewood Studios. You really believe you are on the actual Orient Express headed for exotic points west.
On the train, with Kerim Bey’s help, Bond and Tania prepare their escape near the Bulgarian frontier, where they will leave the train and catch a chartered plane to Athens and then a jet to London. Kerim Bey even corners Benz and decides to keep him company until his friends get across the border with the stolen decoder. But Grant steps in and destroys the plan’s chances for success by killing Kerim Bey and Benz.
Thanks to the film’s editor, Peter Hunt, much of the following sequences are intercut with scenes of the Orient Express making its way across the Balkans at night—with a map showing the train’s position superimposed over the action. John Barry’s moody score takes on the character of the Orient Express itself—penetrating, relentless, full throttle.
The train stops in Belgrade, and Bond informs one of Kerim Bey’s sons about the fate of his father. Agent 007 asks for help from M (Bernard Lee), who must send an agent to the next stop—Zagreb. There help comes from local British agent Nash (Bill Hill), who unfortunately becomes Grant’s next victim. Killing Nash in the station restroom, Grant assumes his identity—the perfect cover as he continues to pursue his remaining quarry.
All of these sequences have a great reality and vitality about them, thanks to the no-nonsense acting of Sean Connery and Robert Shaw. First of all, both actors look good—tall, muscled, well dressed, and ready for action. The train has an ominous, unfriendly air about it; the stations, equally so.
Worming his way into 007’s confidence, Grant drugs Tania and knocks Bond unconscious, trapping 007 in what becomes one of the Bond series’ most threatening situations. Disarmed and on his knees, Bond finds himself looking down the long barrel of Grant’s silenced automatic.
Listen to the dialogue in this sequence, and you will hear the gems of screenwriter Richard Maibaum. Bond is going to die; there’s no way he’s going to survive the ruthless Grant, who has murdered everyone in sight thus far in the movie. Fortunately, Grant’s greed and Q’s trick briefcase save the day. Staggered by the briefcase’s tear-gas cartridge, Grant loses the initiative and is jumped by Bond. One of the best fights in cinema history begins, filmed expertly by Terence Young and later edited to a knife’s edge by Peter Hunt. Hunt is also the one who convinced Young to add a free camera to catch much of the action that spilled across two compartments.
The men trade incredible punch after punch after punch, until Grant pulls out his “strangler’s watch” and nearly kills Bond, who has also reached for a gadget: the throwing knife hidden in the briefcase. He finally stabs Grant in the arm. Staggered by the blow, Grant drops his guard, allowing Bond to strangle him with his own watch.
With the barely conscious Tania and the Lektor decoder in tow, Bond exits the train as it makes its own unscheduled stop for what was supposed to be Grant’s escape route. SPECTRE agent Rhoda (Peter Brayham) has stalled his Chevrolet truck on the tracks, a ploy that will stop the train long enough for Grant to make good his own escape. Unfortunately for the agent, it is Bond who commandeers his vehicle and escapes.