50 Years of Bond: ‘From Russia With Love’ Review
Cast: Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Pedro Armendariz, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell
Plot: When evil organisation SPECTRE concoct a plan to steal a Russian decoding machine they see an opportunity to lure out James Bond, wanting to kill him in retaliation for his actions against Dr. No in Jamaica. To do this they recruit a naive Russian clerk and a deadly, stone cold assassin.
Review: At the outset appears to step into a few sequel pitfalls, namely rehashing scenarios and gags from the original and trying to out-do what has been done instead of trying something new. From Russia With Love doesn’t have the distinction of being the original film that introduced the series stables, nor does it have any of the iconic moments or characters from either it’s predecessor or its follow up film (Goldfinger), yet on its own it is one of the best movies from the franchises early years.
Not being tied down to series conventions such as a larger than life villain Bond’s enemies work from behind the scenes on this mission. We have our first peek at Blofed – who becomes Bond’s nemesis – putting in the original ground work for Dr. Evil (numbering his henchmen, stroking a cat). Compared to Dr. No’s complex scheme to steal and sell missiles the scheme to steal a decoder seems tame, but the battle of wits that ensures is even more entertaining. Devised by a grand master chess player, Bond and MI:6 are presented with an opportunity that they know is a trap but the villains know that they’d risk the trap for the bait. Through the early parts of the film Bond is shadowed by the menacing Red Grant, who actually assists him in order to keep him alive until the Lektor is stolen.
The cat-and-mouse nature of the story makes for compelling viewing with Bond trying to stay a step ahead of his rivals while remaining unaware that they’ve orchestrated his every move. When it comes to crunch he has to rely on all his skills to make it through alive. Playing opponents of each other and setting up his escape from Istanbul form the bulk of the story while a cramped fist fight on board the Orient Express, taking out a helicopter with a sniper rifle and a fantastic boat chase provide action packed distractions from the banter. A sequence in which Red Grant has approached Bond under the guise of an ally features some of the best dialogue in the series.
Young, having also directed Dr. No before this, takes things up to the next level. The action is bigger and more frequent, the locations are more varied and the sexuality has been ramped up – clearly playing on what people liked best about the first film. Red Grant and his garrotte wire is more frightening than timid Professor Dent and Honey Ryder’s bikini entrance is outstripped (ahem) by a glimpsed nude Tatiana. None of the ‘bigger is better’ approach dampens the film (as it so often can) as the darker tone and radical shift in setting make it feel like it’s own adventure, only tied to the first film by the lead character – a trait that would ensure the success of the franchise for half a decade.
From the opening scene in which Red Grant stalks Bond through a hedge maze to the final scenes in Venice, this is a solid spy story from beginning to end.
Score: NINE outta TEN