From Russia With Love Review

"She's had her kicks."

From Russia with Love is the second entry in the James Bond series. It was apparently chosen as the follow-up to 1962's Dr No after President Kennedy had named the book as one of his favourites. Directed by Terence Young and released in 1963, the bulk of Fleming's plot is maintained for the film with one or two modifications. SPECTRE planner Kronsteen (Vladek Sheybal) has helped to devise a scheme to steal a Lektor decoder machine from under the noses of the Russians and embarrass MI6. Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) - a Russian cypher clerk from the Istanbul Soviet consulate - is recruited as a pawn to pretend to be in love with British agent James Bond (Sean Connery) and ask for his help to steal the machine in return for British citizenship. MI6 are informed she will only defect to Bond after she saw his photo in an intelligence file.

SPECTRE agent Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) is placed in charge of the plan which will involve letting Bond steal the Lektor and then having him and Tatiana killed by SPECTRE assassin Red Grant (Robert Shaw) before selling the machine back to the Russians. This audacious plot will also serve as revenge for the death of Dr No. Bond is warned by his boss M (Bernard Lee) that the whole thing may be an elaborate trap but is assigned nonetheless to see if things are legit and hopefully get his hands on the Lektor...
bianchi bond

This is an enduringly classy entry in the James Bond series that benefits from never straying too far from its literary source. One change they did make, and it's one that doesn't really matter, is having SPECTRE pit MI6 and the Soviets against one another. In the novel the scheme was one planned by the Soviet intelligence organisation SMERSH. The change here was doubtless to tie From Russia with Love in with the previous film Dr No. From Russia with Love marks the introduction of many elements and people that would become staples of the series, like the pre-title sequence and title credits with dancing girls - or in this case a bellydancer. The pre-title sequence is rather atmospheric and features Bond apparently being hunted around a moonlit mansion at night by Red Grant. It's all a SPECTRE training exercise though and this ersatz Bond comes to a very nasty end. We also get the first wonderful James Bond score by the great John Barry and the first appearance by Desmond Llewelyn as Q (although not directly referred to by that name yet).

Despite the fact that the series would soon become much more gadget laden and fantastical, starting with 1963's Goldfinger, and From Russia with Love is remembered by most as being relatively down to earth and gadget free, Bond is still given an attache case containing tear gas talcum powder, a knife, fifty gold sovereigns and a sniper rifle ("That's a nasty little Christmas present") and there are poison tipped shoes and wristwatches that can produce piano wire to garrote people. The film has the first appearance by Ernst Stavro Blofeld (voiced by Eric Pohlmann) although his face remains unseen. His familiar white cat is present and he has some enjoyable Bond villain dialogue when he muses on the similarities between SPECTRE and Japanese fighting fish. "Siamese fighting fish, fascinating creatures. Brave but on the whole stupid. Yes they're stupid. Except for the occasional one such as we have here who lets the other two fight. While he waits. Waits until the survivor is so exhausted that he cannot defend himself, and then like SPECTRE... he strikes!"
from russia with love nash

The casting is excellent in From Russia with Love. Pedro Armendáriz is warm and charismatic as Ali Kerim Bey, the British Intelligence Station Chief in Istanbul, and Lotte Lenya was a great choice for the humourless and stern Rosa Klebb. Most inspired of all though is Robert Shaw, who interestingly was best known as a playwright at the time and didn't act much. His Red Grant remains the most dangerous customer Bond has ever tangled with in the entire series. Shaw dyed his hair blond for the role and worked out to look physically imposing and his encounter with 007 onboard the Orient Express gradually amps up the tension until the exciting and very famous sequence in a carriage. Never again would you fear so much for the safety and life of James Bond. Shaw is impressive here, playing dual roles in a sense, in his guise as the friendly "Captain Nash" and his real identity as a psychotic SPECTRE assassin. "How I do it is my business. It'll be slow and painful." His irritation at Bond's snobbery and elegance is nicely played.

Daniela Bianchi is also memorable as Tatiana although sadly she gave up acting not long afterwards and her voice was dubbed by Barbara Jefford. Her scenes with Sean Connery are enjoyable and laced with playful banter. "No, it's the right size... for me, that is." The bit where Connery orders breakfast and then finds Tatiana in his bed has long been used by Eon Productions to test potential Bonds and you can see James Brolin and Sam Neil playing this scene in their 007 screentests on the internet if you look. Connery himself is smoother than he was in Dr No and now the classic suave cinematic Bond with a nice line in dry quips. "Well, from this angle, things are shaping up nicely." From Russia with Love is relatively low key in comparison to the pictures that followed but not exactly The Seventh Seal. Connery is by no means the serious Bond here that people tend to remember or assume he was either. He could easily be wandering through a Morecambe and Wise That Riviera Touch style caper in parts of the film. Simply put though, Connery looks the part - tall, dark, handsome - and has the right mixture of humour and the ability to punch his way out of trouble if required.

The franchise would rapidly become more money strewn and spectacular in no time at all so the set pieces here are quite effective for being earthy in contrast to some of the mayhem that followed. Director Terence Young and the editor Peter Hunt make a great team. The train sequence ends in exciting, tense fashion and there is an atmospheric battle at a gypsy camp where Bond is unaware that Grant is watching him. An explosive boat chase and a helicopter sequence - that owes rather a lot to Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest - also add to the appeal of the film, as does the location work in Turkey. From Russia with Love is regarded by many fans to be the best film in the series and it's certainly a strong contender, sitting at the top table with the likes of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Goldfinger and Dr No. While a little dated around the edges, the film still looks great, has a superb cast and supplies a surprising amount of tension. The human element to the story is a strength and its leading man remains the benchmark against which all Bond actors are judged.

- Jake


c 2010 Alternative 007