James Bond Retrospective: Review of FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

(I am a pretty huge James Bond fan, so with the new SKYFALL coming out November 9th, I thought it would be cool to re-watch every Bond movie and review them on the site, counting down the days until the latest one is released)

I saw this one (like all the other Bond films) when I was a kid, probably around 7 or 8.  I remember liking it, but it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I really appreciated this one.  I’ve seen this one at least 30 times and has been enjoyable every time.  But since I was disappointed with my recent viewing of DR. NO (the first time in 30 years that I didn’t like it) I was a little gun-shy about this one.  I was hoping I’d still like it.  I don’t know what I’d do with myself if I found out that I out grew Bond.

Though the plot is more like a traditional Bond movie than Dr. No, it still has a different flavor than say… GOLDFINGER.  This time 007 is asked to pretty much sleep with a Russian defector named Tania so he can get his hands on a Lector (which is some kind of decoder).  All for Queen and country, right?  But it’s not that simple, of course.  That villianous organization Spectre wants revenge on Bond since he killed one of their best agents, Dr. No.  Rosa Klebb, who used to be a Russian agent, is now working for Spectre and is using Tania to get to Bond.  She has also dispatched their best assassin, Grant (Robert Shaw) to eliminate the secret agent.  With the help of a Turkish ally named Kerim, 007 must figure out just whose side Tania is on, and bring the Lektor back to England safe and sound.

On the surface, the plot seems to be complicated, but it’s really not.  The movie opens with one of my favorite pre-title sequences of the series.  It has Bond being hunted by Grant in a hedge maze.  After a few minutes of cat and mouse, Grants kills Bond by taking a wire to his throat.  But it really isn’t Bond, as we find out when the floodlights from the nearby mansion turns on and a Spectre agent takes the Bond mask off of who is presumably another Spectre agent (or “volunteer” maybe),  It was just a training exercise.  Now, if you think about the logic of this for one second, it doesn’t make any sense.  But it still makes for one awesome opening.  I love it!  Then BAM!  John Barry’s score kicks into high gear as we get a pretty darn exciting, belly dancing title sequence (still no theme song though).  It’s a great way to start off the film, and it definitely tells the viewer that they’re not fucking around this time.

While I thought DR. NO was often flat, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE is anything but.  Everything that was dull in the first one isn’t.  There are no slow spots, as every scene seems to be present for a reason.  And everything that worked in DR. NO is fully realized here.  Sean Connery is 10 times more confident here as 007, oozing charm and masculinity.  His sense of humor is jet black and spot on, delivering one liners like he’s been doing it for decades (“Your mouth is the right size…. for me, that is”. Boom!).  The supporting cast is also a step up from DR. NO.  The leading lady, Daniela Bianchi, is gorgeous and even though her voice is dubbed, delivers a very convincing performance.  Pedro Armendariz is extremely likable as Bond’s Turkish ally.  He’s just so happy all the time.  Lotte Lenya is really creepy as Rosa Klebb.  The first scene between her and Tania is pretty icky.  There is also some good interaction again between Bond and Moneypenny.  But it’s Robert Shaw who’s the real standout as Grant.  He doesn’t say anything until about 80 minutes in.  And instead of being a big, dumb henchman, when he opens his mouth, he’s intelligent and sophisticated.  Which makes him even more of a challenge for Bond.

While DR. NO had a few elements that were memorable, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE has several iconic Bond moments.  Even when he’s not on-screen the movie has cool scenes.  Loved the introduction of Blofeld (of course you don’t see his face in the one, just his hand petting his cat, which became an iconic image) and the interaction he has with his agents.  So many other awesome things in this: like Klebb testing Grant’s ability by hitting him in the gut with brass knuckles, the gypsy girl fight is a hoot, the battle in the gypsy camp, the confrontation between Grant and Bond that ends with a 2-minute fight in a small room aboard a train, Bond vs. a helicopter, the introduction of Q, and an explosive boat chase.  But it’s not just the action that makes the movie so great.  The actual Bond character is fully fleshed out here, and Connery really digs into it.

Terence Young seems to have more confidence with his direction here.  The tone is pitch perfect, which is much more serious than most of the Bond series, though there are a few good zingers here, but they never disrupt the tone.  The action scenes are well thought out and put together.  The train fight is fast and furious.  It’s cut rapidly, but every shot matches.  It’s extremely exciting and for the longest time was one of the most highly regarded hand-to-hand combat scenes in film history.  Even though other films have surpassed it, the fight still holds up quite well.  The script seems a lot tighter here as there are no dull moments like in DR. NO.

You think that after DR. NO, it would take the filmmakers a couple more attempts to get the Bond series where it needed to be, but with FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, they pretty much nailed it.  It’s pretty amazing how perfect it is even though it’s the second in the series.  Sure, there’s some shaky green screen work and the ending is a bit cheesy with Bond waving goodbye to the scandalous film he throws over the boat, but this movie is more or less what James Bond stands for.  It’s cool, sexy, slick, thrilling and action packed.  With this movie, the filmmakers have certainly set the standard for the upcoming entries in the series.  Easily one of the best Bond movies ever made.  ★★★½ (out of ★★★★).

– Not rated but contains some pretty violent moments, inneuendos and brief partial nudity.  Would most likely get a PG13 today.

– Running time: 1hr 54min.

Categories: Austin Kennedy, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Reviews

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

2 replies

  1. That ending was hilarious. Action and characters were much more exciting, music was great, a much better film than Dr. No.

  2. Did anyone else notice the resemblance between Grant and Daniel Craig? The train fight looked like Bond vs Bond to me.

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