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Movie Review: From Russia With Love

From Russia With Love
Directed by Terence Young
Written by Richard Maibaum and Johanna Harwood based on the novel by Ian Fleming
United Artists, 1963

From Russia With Love came out a year after Dr. No, and it plays like the second episode of a TV series, as there is actual continuity from the first film. Returning is Sean Connery as Bond, Bernard Lee as M, Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny, and the criminal organization SPECTRE looms larger. Even one of Bond’s loved-and-left friends-with-benefits, Eunice Grayson, as Sylvia Trench, returns. It also begins a new trend with Q (Desmond Lleweyln), introduced as Major Boothroyd here, who gives Bond his first gadgets (a briefcase that blows smoke if opened the wrong way, contains a hidden knife, and has a neat constuctible rifle with an infrared scope).

As it is the second “episode” the stakes are now higher, as crimelords want bigger and better things and also want to throw Bond’s head in the mix. SPECTRE, now personified by the faceless, kitty-stroking Blofeld (voiced by Eric Pohlmann and hand-modeled by Dr No’s “Professor Dent” Anthony Dawson). His agents, the mannish Rosa “Number Three” Klebb (Lotte Lenya) and chess master “Number Five” Kronsteen (Vladek Sheybal), organize a plot to not only wrest a decoder from Russia but to kill Bond as well, with the help of Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi), unsuspectingly working for SPECTRE and not mother Russia, and a trained psychotic assassin named Donovan “Red” Grant (Robert Shaw, completely unrecognizable from his future Jaws days).

Tatiana is an alluring supposed Russian defector that Her Majesty’s Secret Service wants as a means to get the decoder. This is just as the chess master Kronsteen suspects and is all part of the plan, using her and Bond to get the decoder for SPECTRE. Tatiana is scripted to be the first Bond girl to be a part of the intrigue, rather than just wallpaper; but in the end, that’s really what she is as she poses no threat to Bond.

Most of the action takes place in Istanbul, and it is here that Bond meets his temporary partner Kerim Bay (Pedro Armendariz, who was very sick during filming and the producers made every effort to get his scenes done before he checked into a hospital, later ending his own life). People start dying, terrorist acts, skirmishes, all orchestrated by SPECTRE in the effort to make Bond believe the Russians are behind it all. In the middle of it is Grant, quietly stalking Bond from Turkey to England.

It is this trip from Turkey to England via the Orient Express that is the centerpiece of From Russia With Love. Perhaps it is sacrilege for me to say so, but I felt like this is where the movie really starts to drag. There is a nice suspenseful scene where Bond is off the train during a stop and Grant, on the train, follows him from window to window. But I could have used more of that.

All in all, though, From Russia With Love pays off for Bond fans with a good amount of intrigue and an easy-to-follow, bordering on complex plot. There’s even an obvious homage to North by Northwest here towards the end as Bond evades a grenade-dropping helicopter, that is very tense. Another overall winner from Terence Young and crew and a deserved action classic.

Follows: Dr. No

Next: Goldfinger


Comment from Jonathan Watkins
Time: October 29, 2006, 9:32 pm

While this is one of the better entries in the series, although once we get past Connery this isn’t saying a ton, I’ve always found this one to be a bit overrated. A lot of cinephiles want to point this one out as being the Bond film that had more going for it than just being an action film. But that middle section drags like a motherfucker after repeated viewings. Like I said, it’s not a bad film by any means, but it’s not the “Citizen Kane” of Bond films either which a lot of people like to try and make it out to be.

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