Director: Terence Young
Cast: Sean Connery, Robert Shaw, Daniela Bianchi, Pedro Armendariz, Lotte Lenya, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn
Plot: Sensing Bond as a threat after the events of Dr. No, SPECTRE lure 007 (Connery) into a trap using a cryptographic device and a seductive Russian agent (Bianchi).
Bond is back. Seeing as Dr. No went down as a success and we were finally given a worthy screen adaption of the sly secret agent who is James Bond, the studios doubled the budget and gave Young the green-light for the sequel. A strong argument could be made that this is one of the best Bonds of our time, marginally more action-packed and memorable than Dr. No. The premise is fairly simple for a Bond plot, as the movie revolves around SPECTRE attempting to assassinate Bond. The mission to retrieve the Lektor is merely a cunning trap set by Lotte Lenya’s Rosa Klebb. With such a simple storyline, Young can forgo the slow pacing of Dr. No and dive straight into the action.
Word of warning for the younger readers: movies have come along a long way since 1963, therefore when I refer to action, it is a much more casual use of the genre. It may still come across as fairly slow-paced to those used to Pierce Brosnan’s explosive fight sequences, yet for a 60s film, this film excels. The movie pretty much comes across as one long chase sequence. As soon as Bond has picked up the Lektor and allied himself with spy Tatiana Romanov, the rest of the movie consists of Bond making his way back home, evading Russian assassins, helicopters and bladed shoes. By the end of the movie, you are physically exhausted, as if you had taken on these villains yourself.
Bond purists will note that From Russia With Love began several of the trends that have been seen as the traditional Bond requirements. We are given our first pre-title sequence, the first handful of gadgets, delivered by Desmond Llewelyn’s first appearance as Q, a proper theme tune and, of course, the first appearance of the shadowy Blofield, even if we aren’t privy to the big reveal just yet. There’s also the use of several locations, especially the shady areas of Turkey. The scene where Bond and his ally, Kerim Bay, are travelling through the underground labyrinth of Turkey, is simply breath-taking. Young’s eye for direction excels here.
Connery is on top form here, taking the action in his stride. Once again, he makes portraying Bond look like the easiest thing in the world, despite the fact that other attempts at the role have confirmed that it’s a tricky one to master. Connery looks comfortable in the role. He is even given some good stars to act against. Robert Shaw is fantastic as the anti-Bond, Red Grant, the character I have already awarded best Bond villain to date. You could argue he is removed from the film too early, yet he does perfectly with the time he is given. Man of the match has to go to Pedro Armendariz as Kerim Bay though. A bit of background reading told me that he was diagonised with terminal cancer during the filming of this movie. Despite this, he carried on filming, under considerable pain. When filming was over, he took his own life, forever remembered thanks to his great performance as Bond’s accomplice here. It would have been interesting to see if Young had anything else planned for the character, but had to write him off early, due to this development.
Sadly on the other hand, Daniela Bianchi lets the team down. She plays the Bond girl, Tatiana Romanov, the spy who is meant to be so beautiful Bond cannot help but be tricked by her. The first complaint is that she falls into very stereotypical Bond girl territory. Next to Bond, she is demoted to the job of sitting around, panicking a lot. The other problem is the fact that Young has another actress speak her lines for her. Romanov was runner-up for Miss Universe, when she was chosen for the role. She was learning English as best as she could, but Young got impatient and dubbed her lines over. It is a shame, as Connery is unable to bounce his lines off of her as well as he should be able to. It seems bizarre that they didn’t cast someone else for the role. Seeing as Romanov is meant to be the typical seductive Russian spy, she doesn’t stand the test of time and is one of the more forgettable female figures.
Final verdict: While Dr. No suffered from a plodding plot, From Russia With Love races along. Exciting, tense and Connery at his best.