From Russia With Love (1963)
Directed by: Terence Young
Written by: Ian Fleming, Johanna Harwood, Richard Maibaum
Starring: Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw, Sean Connery
HCF REVIEWS: THE COMPLETE JAMES BOND COLLECTION
THE BOND FILM:
Fom Russia With Love
THE BOND GIRL:
Daniela Bianchi – Tatiana Romanova
THE BOND BAD:
Robert Shaw – Red Grant: SPECTRE assassin.
THE BOND SONG: From Russia With Love- Sung by Matt Monro composed by Lionel Bart
THE BOND DIRECTOR: Terence Young
BOND WISECRACK: Tatiana: Thank you, but I think my mouth is too big. James Bond: No, it’s the right size… for me, that is.
RELEASED: 10 October 1963
THE BOND TRAILER:
THE BOND PLOT:
Secret agent James Bond battles the all powerful international crime syndicate called SPECTRE. The organization’s mad plan for world supremacy unfolds with the icy efficiency of a chess master’s complex strategy, and if they succeed, the antagonism of the cold war will be pushed from deep-freeze to the supernova of atomic oblivion.
THE BOND REVIEW:
So onto From Russia With Love and before I get into this review I feel the need to make a confession and its one that may stun you. Are you ready for this? Sure? Ok then! What I did not realise today after watching the second Bond film is that Robert Shaw from this film, is the same Robert Shaw that is in Jaws! Yes…..I can hear the silence from here and all the credibility I might have gained from you lot I can feel evaporating as I type. How I did not click that they were the same person is something that that I really can not answer and its great to know that Shaw now not only comes with the role of Quint in my mind but also that of Red Grant, a man that is probably the finest Bond nemesis of all time….
Now that the shocking admission is off my chest, lets get to the film and its shocking just how stylish the second film of this franchise is. Buoyed by the critical and commercial success of Dr No, right from the off you can sense a strong confident approach from all involved and each scene oozes with quality that it was hard to take my eyes off the film. Thanks to the financial success of Dr. No, United Artists doubled the budget to $2 million, and because of the luck they had in the casting of Sean Connery, he too had a bonus on top of his $54,000 salary.
From Russia With Love was chosen to be the second film due to it being President John F. Kennedy favourite book. In an interesting bit of trivia, From Russia with Love was the last film President Kennedy saw at the White House on 20 November 1963 before going to Dallas and that makes me wonder if he did get the same enjoyment out of it that many others did back on its release and for many years after. Knowing the fate that awaited him, I really hope he did!
Right from the off we get such a buzz of complete control in this franchise. I suppose looking back it was great to have such a character in a great pair of hands because there is so much care put into this film and those involved just knew back then what they wanted to achieve and how to go about things. The beginning is nothing like you expect. There is no big explosions, no nail biting set-piece, what we have is a bit of Mission Impossible rubber mask pulling in which we see trained Assassin Red Grant (Shaw) kill our 007 only for it to be revealed that it was a man in a mask. Our favourite agent has pissed off a lot of people by killing off the evil Dr No and they want revenge and its here we see the first glimpse of the man called Blofield, just a voiceover and of course the now iconic image of a hand stroking that damn cat.
Although un-credited in the titles, the hand we see is of the actor Anthony Dawson, who ironically played Professor Dent in the previous Bond film even though his voice was dubbed by Viennese actor Eric Pohlmann. Its great to see an early appearance of this figure that will come prominent in later episodes and its here in this film that his mission is probably the most complicated of them all. Ready for this….here I go.
SPECTRE want a Russian decoding device. Yes not exactly the elaborate plots that we the fans will come used too but its still a pretty cool plan only because of the grand logic that comes with it. Two of their agents Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya), and chess master Kronsteen (Vladek Sheybal), are the heads behind this mission and it involves using Bond to meet up with a pretty Russian Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) who is instructed to make sure Bond falls in love with her. Once Bond obtains this device SPECTRE assassin Red Grant will kill him and leaving behind a mess that leaves no trace to who is actually behind it all. Yes sounds a tad confusing and it is a bit of a head scratcher but its such a compulsive watch that you really can not take your eyes off it.
The last time we saw Bond he was in a boat making out with Honey Ryder and ironically this is where we catch up with again, in a boat making out with a different woman this time. I really can not say just how good Connery is in only the second performance as the character. Like the writers and direction, he is so confident in the role that it just sparkles on the screen and you can see why he will never be bettered as 007. Every scene he is is just a master class of how the character should be played and I have to add that we are left waiting for his appearance in this film, a massive 18 minutes have gone by until we meet up with him, an incredible wait which shows just how confident they were in the whole plot and set-up!
Bond knows straight away that he may be walking into a trap but damn, how can he resist the lure of a hot girl and a sexy location and is this the film that suggests Bond may have had a threesome. I mean that bonkers middle part set in the Gypsy camp where he has to witness two women wrestle for the love of a man, a fight that is broken up thanks to a gun fight, both girls then go into his room and what happens afterwards, well we can only imagine. There is one moment at this gypsy camp that made me realise just why this man is so cool at what he does. There in front of him is a woman doing one of those belly dancing and he is totally hooked. His fellow friend Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendáriz) pours him a drink and like a flash Bond takes his eye off the woman and looks down to see what he is doing. Its just a glance but for me that made me realise that this guy is always alert to what is around him and that is what makes him so good at his job.
I have not watched From Russia With Love for many of years until today, I really can not remember the last time to be truthful and so watching it today made me rediscover why this is often cited as the best Bond film of them all and certainly why Connery himself calls this his favourite. Like Dr No, its wonderfully underplayed and the sole intention is for good storytelling and not the next big bang and knowing nod to the cameras that would affect the much later additions. Yes we do get the first seeds of what becomes the franchise mainstream, we get the theme title music even though its played at the end of this film, we get the first appearance of Q (Desmond Llewellyn) even though in this he is given the name of Boothroyd. With the arrival of Q we also get of course the gadgetry even though a suitcase full of useful stuff is more realistic and down to earth than say an invisible car..(more on that in a later review) and many other slight nods that future writers and directors of the series will copy from.
What I loved and did not appreciate from the film is just how tight the plot is. This is an old fashioned Cold War Spy caper that is brilliantly played from beginning to end and its amazing to think that the first time we see Bond actually fire a gun is on the 42nd minute mark and yet not once did I miss an action scene before then. I was so engrossed by what I was seeing that I did not mind if there was not one action scene in it, well up until of course that fight scene between Grant and Bond which even to this day, is the best moment of the entire franchise.
There is not much I can write that as not been already written about that scene but after 50 years since it was first shown, it is still a brilliant moment in cinema history and the face/off between the two even before the fight is a stunning moment full of tension that had me gripped. I do not care who argues with me, I am telling you now that Grant is the finest henchman this series as ever had and probably will have, such was the impact the set-piece had on me.
Bianchi who won the 1969 Miss Universe contest is a much better Bond girl than Honey Ryder and the woman has to be credited for the reason that the moment in the film where Connery finds her in his bed, well its a scene which was often used afterwards for screen testing future Bonds, yes another scene in this film that would very much become the norm of the franchise.
Having now watched the first two films I must say that From Russia With Love is far superior to that of Dr No. It had everything you wanted from the franchise, a cool plot, a stunning Bond Girl, an evil bad guy and of course the ultimate Bond, because lets me honest…Connery makes this film even more better. He is handsome, dashing and dead cool right from his first scene and while you can say that this Bond film is the more “talkative” of the lot, it works better because of it.
After two very good films one after another, if I was a betting man at the time I would say that the quality must dip for a third film, but knowing now that the next film is Goldfinger, I am glad I was not around those days to have placed that bet, because the Bond franchise was all set to get bigger…..bolder……and a whole lot better……..