Bondfest: From Russia with Love
Mission Dossier: From Russia with Love
The Year: 1963
The Director: Terence Young
The Bond: Sean Connery
The Girl: Daniela Bianchi as Tatiana Romanova
The Baddie: Rosa Klebb of SPECTRE, ably assisted by buff henchman Red Grant
The success of Dr No (1962) ensured a sequel followed only the year after in the form of From Russia with Love, one of the most beloved films of the series, especially in critical terms. The film opens with what I think to this day is one of the best opening sequences of all the Bond films. James Bond himself is seemingly killed in the sequence. However it turns out that it is merely an enemy training mission using live adversaries.
Once again SPECTRE are up to their old tricks in this film. The central premise of the script is a clever one, with the evil organisation playing the Brits and the Russians off against each other in order to get their grubby little paws on a cipher decoder thingamajig. This brings together Bond and Russian spy Tatiana Romanov, played excellently by Daniela Bianchi. Their relationship is a pretty developed and deep one when compared to most of Bond’s romantic liaisons over his 50 years onscreen. The SPECTRE arc is probably the most convincing and best of all the multi-film arcs in the entire series and this film fleshes out the organisation a lot more. We get to see more of the scope of their organisation with their training camps and weaponry suggesting they are a fair match for MI6. The main villain is SPECTRE’s Number 3 Rosa Klebb who has recently defected from the Russians. The film is at pains to make clear that SPECTRE is not the Russians. In the books the adversarial organisation went by the name SMERSH which was the USSR secret service, but the filmmakers were not keen to inflame any tensions whatsoever. This film also gives us our first glimpse of Ernst Blofeld, who will go on to become the series’ greatest ever villain. It is only a brief cat-stroking glimpse, but a glimpse nonetheless.
The other iconic character to make a first appearance in From Russia with Love is Desmond Llewellyn’s Q. There is none of the joking with 007 that will eventually make him a fan favourite, rather he just drops off Bond’s high-tech suitcase to him and then goes on his merry way. Once again, this is another cracking early Bond script. It is a bit of a slow burn, there is not too much action in the first half hour. But it ramps things up after that, especially in a large scale battle at a gypsy camp which has the epic feel of a final showdown but comes not even halfway through the film. Bond’s one-liners are a lot more prevalent in this film and Connery seems to have a whole lot of fun delivering them. Actually I was surprised by how genuinely funny this film is and not just in terms of one-liners. There are some nice jokes built up throughout, especially in Bond’s interactions with M’s secretary Moneypenny. Performance wise Connery is once again excellent in the role. The villains are really good in this too. Especially menacing is Lotte Lenya as Rosa Klebb who gives quite a chilling turn despite not being onscreen particularly long. Robert Shaw, who would go on to play Quint in Jaws (1975), brings a terrific physicality to the role of Red, a SPECTRE henchman and his fistfights with Connery’s Bond are raw, painful looking and believable.
From Russia with Love continues on in the excellent vein of Dr No whilst also showing how the series would be able to remain relevant by changing up its output. The film is more grounded and character driven than the first film, conveying more a sense of the realities of The Cold War as opposed to maniacal taking over the world schemes. Not that there is anything wrong with that, I think for me Dr No is still a very slight favourite over this follow up effort.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
- Dr No (1962)
- From Russia with Love (1963)
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