Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released in the UK on October 11, 1963 and in the US on May 27, 1964
Directed by Terence Young
Written by Richard Maibaum, from the novel by Ian Fleming
Cast: Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Pedro Armendáriz, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw, Bernard Lee, Walter Gotell, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Martine Beswick, Aliza Gur, Vladek Sheybal, Nadja Regin, Eunice Gayson, Nikki Van der Zyl (voice)
Sean Connery returns for another go-around as MI6 agent James Bond in From Russia with Love, the sequel to Dr. No and an entry based on the fifth book in Ian Fleming’s popular series of spy adventures. Considered by many to be the greatest Bond film of all time, as well as the standard by which all subsequent films in the series should have followed, From Russia with Love takes everything that made Dr. No a success and improves upon it, from the direction, screenplay, and acting right on down to locations, music, and even the opening credits sequence. The same is true for Connery, who easily makes the role his own and becomes the iconic Bond portrayal.
For this second mission, Bond is assigned to help a Russian cipher clerk named Tatiana defect to England with a Lektor decoding machine; the defection is actually a ploy by SPECTRE to assassinate Bond and resell the decoder back to the Russians. With the help of British intelligence agent Kerim Bey in Istanbul, Bond escapes with Tatiana and the decoder and heads for London; another SPECTRE agent is on his tail, waiting for the right moment to eliminate Bond and retrieve the stolen Lektor. When Tatiana discovers that she’s been duped by her superiors, she decides to help Bond, and falls in love with him along the way.
Director Terence Young was behind the camera once again, displaying a more polished and skillful directorial style compared to his work on Dr. No, and taking full advantage of the many scenic and unique backdrops and locations that were now afforded him. Richard Maibaum’s script stuck with believable situations and solid spy elements, and stayed well away from the silliness that would plague later entries. Here, Bond was tough, smart, and cool, and the agents of SPECTRE were evil without going overboard: Robert Shaw was great as the assassin Grant, and Lotte Lenya was seriously chilling as former SMERSH operative Rosa Klebb. Thankfully, the few gadgets that were introduced actually made sense for field agent work, and were used sparingly, as were Bond’s witty one-liners.
And though the explosive boat chase has been lauded as the highlight of the film, I’d say that honor goes to the thrilling and well-executed sequence on the Orient Express; the set-up on the train was well-staged, the brawl between Connery and Shaw was realistic and brutal, and the romantic sleeping car interactions between Connery and Daniela Bianchi made for some lighthearted—and sexy—fun. Plus, it was nice to see some continuity carried over from the first film, especially with Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell reprising their roles as M and Miss Moneypenny, and Bond becoming a target of revenge for SPECTRE after his disposal of Dr. No in the previous film.
A first-rate 007 adventure all the way, and without a doubt the most serious and realistic of all the pre-Craig Bond films, joining Goldfinger and Skyfall as my all-time favorites of the franchise. If you’re a fan of spy thrillers, or a fan of 007 and have somehow missed this one, by all means give it a watch. For me, this was Connery—and the Bond character—at his finest, and it’s too bad this tone and attitude weren’t retained for the entire series. And of course, let’s not forget the always-lovely Eunice Gayson, who was back as Sylvia Trench, Bond’s delightful squeeze who was once again left by the wayside when duty called. (10/10)