From Russia With Love

From Russia With Love

****

Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

Since he killed one of their important men, Dr Julius No, crime syndicate SPECTRE wants revenge on James Bond and MI6. Two of their top operatives - #3, former KGB agent Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya), and #5, chess master Kronsteen (Vladek Sheybal) - hatch a plan that uses a beautiful clerk named Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) as bait to lure Bond (Sean Connery) into stealing an important Russian coding device. Though obviously a trap, the prize is too tempting to resist and M (Bernard Lee) sends Bond to meet up with contact Karim Bay (Pedro Armendariz) and find out who is playing them. Meanwhile, Spectre assassin "Red" Grant (Robert Shaw) keeps an eye on Bond and helps him succeed in securing the device so that he can steal it from him later on...

With the success of James Bond's first cinematic outing Dr No, another instalment wasn't too far away. Only one year later (try that nowadays), producers Albert R Broccoli and Harry Saltzman brought back nearly the entire production team and decided on From Russia With Love as the next novel to adapt after President John F Kennedy put it in his list of all-time top-ten books. Oh, how the times have changed! I can't imagine George Bush had any say over Casino Royale.

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The result is a movie that many still hail as the best Bond in the series. With a grander feel and more ambitious scale than Dr No but without the extravagance and borderline camera-winking of Thunderball onwards, From Russia With Love is almost the perfect example of the Bond formula. Along with Goldfinger, it is often celebrated as the pinnacle of the James Bond series (which one you prefer defines your Bond fandom) and, as well as many critics', is Sean Connery's personal favourite. Remaining gritty despite introducing some nicely-measured quips, Connery's second - and arguably best - turn as 007 also introduces many trademarks, like big-ballad songs, bleached-blond henchmen and the white-cat-stroking villain Blofeld. You can almost imagine a young Mike Myers taking notes for his Austin Powers series.

What many fans and critics often note about From Russia With Love is that it has a 'tight' script which focuses on espionage. However, while it does deliver a thriller in the true Cold War mold, it is also filled with tonnes of set-pieces in an effort to crank up the action a notch or seven from last time (that's what happens when the budget doubles). From the gypsy fight to the camp shoot-out, from the boat chase to the helicopter encounter, while it could be argued that these sequences have unsurprisingly dated, Bond's entire confrontation with Grant on the train is one of the most thrilling sequences in the series' history. Bet you'll think twice about which wine you order with your fish from now on, old man.

In only his sophomore effort as James Bond, Sean Connery shows he has already mastered the role. Though his take on the super spy was modelled on director Terence Young (who was reportedly urbane, tasteful, witty and liked the ladies), Connery makes it his own with an assured confidence and unmatchable suaveness that defined masculinity for generations to come. It might take a slow 17 minutes for the real James Bond to appear on screen (the film's biggest misstep), but Connery is as good here as he ever has been. When you can make bowler hats look stylish, you know are cool.

Elsewhere, Lenya makes for the finest lesbian killer with a poisoned knife-shoe I have ever seen, Miss Universe 1969 Bianchi (who has her voice dubbed like her predecessor) is so beautiful that you can forgive her wooden turn and Armendariz (who died shortly after filming) gives a memorable swansong as Bond's contact. While Lee and Maxwell return as M and Miss Moneypenny respectively, Desmond Llewellyn makes his debut as Q and Anthony Dawson - who played Dent in Dr No - makes a facially-unseen appearance as SPECTRE honcho Blofeld. As for Robert Shaw, anyone who doesn't think his Red Grant is up there with the very best Bond henchmen needs another vodka martini.

A tight story, plenty of memorable scenes and Connery on top form - From Russia With Love is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the series. Indeed, some 45 years since its release, it speaks volumes that the current James Bond co-producer Michael G Wilson stated "We always start out trying to make another From Russia With Love and end up with another Thunderball."

Reviewed on: 14 Nov 2008
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From Russia With Love packshot
James Bond tries to foil a plot involving a stolen espionage machine, and faces off against a deadly assassin. Enjoying a reissue.
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Director: Terence Young

Writer: Johanna Harwood, based on the book by Ian Fleming.

Starring: Sean Connery, Robert Shaw, Daniela Bianchi, Pedro Armendáriz, Lotte Lenya, Vladek Sheybal, Robert Shaw, Bernard Lee, Eunice Gayson, Walter Gotell, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewellyn, Anthony Dawson

Year: 1963

Runtime: 115 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK

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If you like this, try:

Goldfinger