From Russia With Love (1963) Review

Terence Young returned to direct the second Eon produced Bond film and he seems to have learned from his first entry “Dr. No”. That film itself was by no means a disaster but instead a tepid achievement that contained many characteristics that would be associated with James Bond in the future but not quite fully formed. “Dr. No” didn’t even have the character of Q to distribute to Bond his gadgets for the mission. “From Russia With Love” takes the foundations lade down by its predecessor and improves it in virtually every way. This film makes me excited to continue watching the Bond series in its entirety.

Following on from the first film, the organisation known as SPECTRE is seeking revenge for Bond’s killing of Dr. No. An unnamed figure hidden by a large black chair recruits Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) and expert planer Kronsteen (Vladek Sheybal) to orchestrate a mission to retrieve a cryptographic device from the Soviets to only sell it right back to them. During this plan, they will also kill James Bond (Sean Connery).

Klebb recruits Donald Grant (Robert Shaw), an expert who practices on live targets to assassinate Bond, to do the honours. She also recruits Tatiana (Daniela Bianchi) to seduce Bond, and turns her into an unwitting pawn. Tatiana then offers the CIA the cryptographic device and says she will defect but only to Bond. Despite realising it is a trap, M (Bernard Lee) sends Bond off to Istanbul to meet with Tatiana and figure out what exactly is going on.

An intriguing set up I find, “From Russia With Love” introduces some strong villains from the get go as well as Tatiana. She is not completely in the loop and as a result this gives her a degree of depth that, quite simply, Ursula Andress’ “bond girl” Honey Ryder didn’t have. Also, the mysterious leader of SPECTRE that initiates the mission with the classic fluffy white cat being stroked by a mysterious ringed hand, is a great way to start a classic Bond adventure.

Of course Bond isn’t Bond without Bond himself. A sentence you shouldn’t waste time reading more than once but nevertheless, Sean Connery approaches a much snugger fit of the James Bond character than he did in “Dr. No”. He is charming, fickle and dangerous and he feels like it. “From Russia with Love” also begins to expose one of his only weaknesses, women. Tatiana is the bait and Bond is the fish, and it is a dynamic that alleviates the issue that the early Bond girls at least had little personality.

It was also good to see the film tap into what I think many people love about Bond, and that is simply the whole idea of being a suave British spy. When Bond is introduced to his “gadgets” for the first time by Boothroyd (Desmond Lewelyn) — the character that would later become Q — I eagerly anticipated the time when someone would incorrectly open Bond’s suitcase and have a face full of tear gas as a result. Or when Bond would pull out of his suitcase a foldable sniper rifle with an infrared scope. The mind wanders when these gadgets are given and I couldn’t help but wonder how on earth they would get used.

It is in this way that Bond is effortlessly enjoyable. Admittedly, some scenes in “From Russia With Love” are fairly dull. The scene in a gypsy camp where Bond simply watches belly dancing for a few minutes comes to mind. Though the second half especially, as Donald Grant catches up to Bond and gets close to him, is thrilling. The whole plot itself is elevated a certain degree by the fantastic character of James Bond himself.

“From Russia With Love” makes me want to come back for more, and I think it is to its credit that the idea of watching over 20 more Bond films still does not feel like a cumbersome task. I hope that this does not change.

8/10

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