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?

Sam Mendes returning for ‘Bond 24’ in 2015

A few weeks ago I published a post on the subject of Sam Mendes returning to direct the next Bond film (which you can read here) and it’s now been confirmed that he will indeed be taking the reins for the as yet untitled 24th big screen outing for Ian Fleming’s man from MI6.

So, just a (fairly) quick follow up on the matter.  This is of course good – if not entirely unexpected – news, all the more as the wait will not be too long with an October 2015 release date (UK – a November release is scheduled for the States) set.

Mendes is certainly not the first director to tackle more than one Bond film – even two or more consecutive outings, John Glen firmly holding the record as director of five films (of varying quality) in a row with two very different Bond actors (the fun but cheesy Roger Moore and the vastly underrated Timothy Dalton) between 1981 and 1989.  Sometimes this turned out well – Terence Young directed 007’s first and second cinematic outings, Dr. No (1962) and From Russia with Love (1963) and sometimes it didn’t…Guy Hamilton helmed the much lauded Goldfinger (1964) but returned for the rather awful Diamonds Are Forever (1971).

With John Logan once again on screenwriting duties (he is also contracted for Bond 25) we can rest assured that the story for Bond 24 will be rich and explore every nook of Bond’s psyche, much as Ian Fleming did and I’ve no doubt that Daniel Craig will provide another strong performance.  Under the direction of Mendes Skyfall presented us with a sharp, complex and beautifully visualised spy thriller (more reminiscent of films such as Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy) that paid homage to the character’s roots without it feeling stale.  I rate it as one of the best in the series although I feel that there ARE superior Bond films with Casino Royale remaining my choice as the best of Daniel Craig’s tenure (thus far).

All in all it’s good to see that Bond 24 is moving ahead and I look forward to seeing how it turns out.

What are your thoughts on Sam Mendes returning for another Bond?  Leave a comment below!

Bond 24: is Sam Mendes worth waiting for?

For a time it almost seemed like we’d never see another James Bond film.  Of course, that all changed last October when the most commercially and critically successful entry in the Bond film series (so far) was released a long, hard four years (call me impatient) after 2008’s Quantum of Solace.

Bond 23 aka Skyfall, as you no doubt know (who doesn’t?) was helmed by American Beauty’s Oscar Winning Director Sam Mendes and whilst I personally wouldn’t declare it as the best Bond film of all (a close tie between From Russia With Love and Goldfinger?  I’ll save that debate for another time) as many have I would certainly rank it as one of the best.  Mendes definitely brought a touch of class and sophistication that eased the pain of the franchise’s cinematic low points (Die Another Day – I’m looking squarely at you).

So, Skyfall is released and the box office tills ring to the tune of $1 Billion and the film enjoys much adulation from critics and fans alike.  It seemed only natural that Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson would do all that they could to repeat that level of success, the same would be true of any film franchise and can only (at least potentially) be a good thing – right?

Unfortunately, a director of Mendes’ stature with a body of quality and varied work may want to pursue other things (despite the lure of an enticingly hefty fee).  Earlier in the year negotiations came to a close with Mendes’ busy schedule forcing him to withdraw graciously without any notion of directing the next Bond, despite a genuine desire to do so.

The search for a new director commenced with a vow from Broccoli and Wilson to bring Mendes back for a future Bond outing.  Christopher Nolan was among the names churned out by the rumour mill (unlikely as he is currently working on his first post-Batman film project, Interstellar – due for release in November 2014), but – wait – current word on the grapevine is that Mendes could very well be returning for Bond 24…in 2016.  So, it’ll result in another four year wait – if we end up with another high quality Bond film then so be it but the big question really would now seem to be can Daniel Craig pull it off?  He’s the best 007 since Sean Connery but by 2016 Craig will be approaching 50, by no means ancient in today’s society but it’s hard not to think back to Roger Moore’s later adventures.

So in the quest for an answer to the question that headlines this post (thanks for sticking with me) I would say yes…and no.  I most definitely would like to see where else Bond could be taken under the guidance of Sam Mendes but why not bring him back for Bond 25 (and round out Daniel Craig’s tenure on a high)?  There could be an equally exciting director out there, eager and ready to go who could provide their own flavour to the series, safe in the knowledge that Skyfall screenwriter John Logan has been tapped to write Bond 24 and 25?

Either way I look forward to Bond 24 but wish it was sooner rather than later…

skyfall