Dr. No was the blueprint for what a Bond movie would become, but From Russia With Love is the final product. Retaining all the best parts of its predecessor while adding the final touches that would be iconic for the series going forward. From Russia With Love is still a really fun film and definitely a true spy fiction classic. Dr. No’s director Terence Young returns alongside Sean Connery as Bond, James Bond.

The story is that SPECTRE are setting up a trap to pit British and Soviet agents against each other with a cryptography machine as bait. MI6 immediately recognises it as a trap but their desire for said device leads them to send 007 to Istanbul where he is due to meet a girl who desires to meet Bond. In actuality, she is an unwitting SPECTRE agent thinking she is doing work for the Soviets under Rosa Klebb, SPECTRE’s number three. Klebb is also working closely with a SPECTRE trained assassin Donald Grant, who has trained specifically to kill Bond. The idea is to get the device into Bond’s hands where Grant will kill him and take the device for SPECTRE.

Bond works closely with the head of MI6’s Istanbul station Ali Kerim Bey, who is targeted by a bomb that he only avoided thanks to his reluctant libido. Nope I’m not going to bother explaining the context behind that sentence. Bond meets up with Tatiana and he manages to get the Lektor device and promises to bring Tatiana to England, playing along despite the fact he knows it’s all a trap. They have an elaborate escape plan that involves a transcontinental train across Europe however Grant interferes by killing Bey, ruining their escape plan and killing the backup MI6 agent and impersonating him. Grant then drugs Tatiana with sleeping pills and reveals himself to be a SPECTRE agent. However, Bond is able to fight him off and escapes with the device and Tatiana, eventually finding their way to Venice where Tatiana saves Bond from a poison-tipped shoe wielding Klebb thus proving her loyalty to Bond after all. They escape and that’s the end of that.

I will say one criticism of this film right off the bat is that it is probably a little too long. It clocks in at just under two hours, but more of the movie takes place on the train then I remembered. Some of the best stuff in From Russia With Love takes place on that train but there is a lot of scenes of Bond leaving his cabin, talking to Bey for a few seconds and then re-entering the cabin. It drags a little and by the time they escape the train it feels like it’s gearing up for the end but it just sort of keeps going. We do get the scene where Bond is being chased by a helicopter that was filmed in Scotland which fills me with patriotic pride (even though it’s supposed to be Italy if I remember right).

However From Russia is much better than Dr. No – it’s definitely more confident in what it wants to achieve and it does it well. It does a great job at building up Grant as a dangerous foil for Bond while it really shows the power of SPECTRE in a light that was only hinted at in the previous film. It marks a rare occasion where it directly refers to events of the previous film as part of the villain’s motivation – their desire to kill Bond is to retaliate for him killing Dr. No.

Grant comes across as a bad-ass immediately in the pre-roll and then does a decent job at remaining menacing until he starts speaking on the train. It’s a nice change of pace from Dr. No in that Grant believably looks like he could take Bond on in a fight. I feel like he isn’t as well remembered as a villain as Klebb is, despite having much more screen time. Klebb is classic 60s villain, thick Russian accent and all. Plus the sight of her kicking away at Bond at the end is kind of hilarious.

Daniela Bianchi (dubbed over, naturally) plays Tatiana pretty well and she gets to be an actual character throughout the film rather than just a Bond girl. Her relationship with Bond still feels rather one sided towards the end – Connery’s Bond never really showed too much kindness to his ladies, he is still very much using her to do his job as much as she is using him. It makes for an interesting dynamic between the two.

Of course this movie, despite being a bit more grounded in reality than a lot of Bonds to come, does have some comedic chops – mostly in Connery’s many quips. However, it was here we get introduced to Desmond Llewelyn’s Q – known in this one as Boothroyd, who gives Bond his first array of gadgets. Llewelyn would carry on playing Q up until 1999 and the scenes where he’s introducing Bond to all his new gadgets were always my favourite part.

Overall, my one criticism about the pacing of one little section of the film is a nit-pick of a guy who watches too many Marvel movies more than anything as From Russia With Love stands up not just as a great Bond movie but as one of the best spy films of all time.  A film whose reputation has only grown over the years (to the point they put out a From Russia With Love video game in 2005…….which we’ll get to…eventually), it is easily up there with some of Bond’s best outings. Some might even claim this is the gold standard of Bond movies.

FINAL SCORE –

Speaking of gold….

XtA will return in…

Goldfinger: The Film Review

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