GBUK film classics: ‘From Russia With Love’

Looking at some all-time film favourites…

 

“Red wine with fish.  Well that should have told me something”

 

Year:  1963

Starring:  Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Pedro Armendariz, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw, Bernard Lee

Director:  Terence Young / Written by:  Richard Maibaum

What’s it about?

Crack spy James Bond is dispatched to Istanbul on a mission to capture a Soviet coding device but soon becomes embroiled in the plots of the nefarious SPECTRE organisation…

In review

From Russia With Love is the second cinematic outing for Ian Fleming’s literary super spy (and based on Fleming’s 1957 novel of the same title), James Bond (aka 007), and ranks highly as one of the best – quite possibly THE best – of the enduringly popular film series.

Whilst 1964’s Goldfinger would catapult James Bond into the stratosphere as a pop culture icon and world-wide phenomenon, From Russia With Love presents the audience with a strong, pure Cold War spy thriller that isn’t burdened or encumbered by the weak and formulaic plotting that some of the later Bond films would suffer from (sorry Sir Roger).

With the success of Dr. No the previous year, producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli wisely and astutely brought back director Terence Young (who would also go on to direct Thunderball) and screenwriter Richard Maibaum (who returned for most of the subsequent Bond films through to 1989’s vastly underrated Licence to Kill and even the James Bond Jnr. animated series), the former keeping the action flowing and the tension ramped up against the backdrop of the beautiful locations, including Istanbul and Venice, and the latter providing all of the characteristics of a classic spy adventure.

In terms of casting, Sean Connery makes an assured return to the role of Britain’s titular secret agent, with all the charm, charisma, wit and physicality seen in Dr. No.  Although he may not necessarily be the closest interpretation of Ian Fleming’s character (honours for Timothy Dalton and Daniel Craig in that respect), Connery certainly carried through the toughness and moral ambiguity of a man licenced to kill whilst making the character his own and presenting a heroic lead that audiences could root for.  It’s because of this he still rightly deserves recognition as being the best screen Bond.

Robert Shaw, a consistently superb actor, is in fine form here as the homicidal assassin Red Grant.  The fact that Shaw appears from the opening (where he effortlessly eliminates a masked Bond-a-like) yet has no dialogue until much later in the film is unsettling and adds gravity to his climactic and brutal face off against Bond.  He gives us one the most memorable of Bond villains, a true threat to our hero and every inch as dangerous.

Newcomer Daniela Bianchi provides the right measure of glamour and allure as Tatiana Romanova and of course who can forget 007’s key Istanbul ally Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendariz) and wicked SPECTRE agents Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) and Kronsteen (UFO’s Vladek Sheybal)?

The (soon to be) recurring supporting characters are also present:  the late, great Bernard Lee as ‘M’, Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny and the first appearance of Desmond Llewellyn as ‘Q’.

The action is above that of just an average 1960s spy film, from the shootout at a Gypsy camp to the tense final confrontation with Grant on the Orient Express and the ensuing helicopter chase and subsequent pursuit by SPECTRE agents as Bond and Romanova attempt to escape to Trieste by boat.

From Russia With Love is completed with an atmospheric and romantic score from John Barry, his first for the Bond film series (although he arranged Monty Norman’s ‘James Bond Theme’, composed for Dr. No).  Barry would go on to score a further ten Bond adventures and is rightfully considered the quintessential Bond film maestro.

Standout moment

After an odd exchange at dinner aboard the Orient Express, Grant’s true identity as an agent of SPECTRE is soon exposed.  Holding Bond at gun point, Grant is determined to complete his mission but didn’t reckon on Bond’s tenacity…

Three reasons it’s a classic…

  1. It’s a sharp, exciting and classic Cold War spy adventure with Sean Connery at the top of his game.
  2. It’s a James Bond film that doesn’t rely on a plethora of gadgets and unlike some of the weaker entries of the series it isn’t encumbered by a tiring formula.
  3. It features arguably one of the best Bond villains thanks to a strong turn from the unforgettable Robert Shaw.

Did you know?

Pedro Armendariz was diagnosed with inoperable cancer during filming.  After finishing most of his scenes he returned home and sadly took his own life, with remaining shots completed using a stunt double and director Terence Young as stand-ins.

If you like this then watch…

Goldfinger:  Another confident return for Sean Connery, this time under the direction of Guy Hamilton.  It’s a favourite among many and establishes some of the familiar hallmarks of the series and features the first appearance of that iconic Aston Martin.

Casino Royale (2006):  The Bond film series re-launches with vigour in Daniel Craig’s first outing.  Wiping out the daftness of Pierce Brosnan’s dire finale in Die Another Day, it refreshes and updates the series without forgetting its roots, presenting a brutal yet very human James Bond who bleeds physically and emotionally, dropping his guard when he falls for the alluring Vesper (Eva Green).

He's behind you...Sean Connery is at the top of his game in 'From Russia With Love' but has his 007 met his match in Robert Shaw's Red Grant?

He’s behind you…Sean Connery is at the top of his game in ‘From Russia With Love’ but has his 007 met his match in Robert Shaw’s Red Grant?

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5 thoughts on “GBUK film classics: ‘From Russia With Love’

  1. What a great read. I’m with you in saying it’s arguably the best Bond film of them all (I’m only really putting Casino Royale before it). I think it’s a more satisfying film to watch than Goldfinger, which has more obvious appeal. Another excellent review/analysis.

    • Cheers Gareth, good to hear you have a similar view of this one. I rate Casino Royale very highly also, along with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (which I’ve reviewed previously on the blog). There’s no disputing that Goldfinger is great but From Russia has always had the edge for me.

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