Blog 003: From Russia with Love (1963)

Ah, From Russia With Love (Terence Young, 1963). This is one that I remember learning as a kid that a lot of Bond aficionados adored, and while I could understand why some people might feel that way, the movie just never clicked with me. And it still doesn’t as much I thought it would upon rewatching it. Furthermore, my girlfriend – my viewing partner for this series of reviews – had a tough time getting into this one, so much so that she fell asleep at one point.

When I watched this movie years ago, I found the plot a bit confusing. Watching it now, it’s actually nowhere near as complicated as I remember, as James Bond (Sean Connery) has to apprehend a Soviet Lektor decoding machine but is actually being set up by SPECTRE (the evil organization introduced in Dr. No [Terence Young, 1962]). In fact, From Russia With Love’s plot establishes a formula that would be repeated in several future Bond films in which different intelligence agencies race to retrieve a Macguffin (such as the ATAC in For Your Eyes Only [John Glen, 1981] and the GPS encoder in Tomorrow Never Dies [Roger Spottiswoode, 1997]).

Like Dr. No, then, From Russia With Love continues to set up cinematic Bond elements. First, it introduces the tradition of a pre-credits sequence. Interestingly, it’s one of the only such sequences in which Bond doesn’t appear, with SPECTRE’s Red Grant (Robert Shaw) assassinating a mustachioed man wearing the world’s most realistic Sean Connery-as-James Bond mask. Second, we see SPECTRE head Ernst Stavro Blofeld (corporeally played by Anthony Dawson and voiced by Eric Pohlman). The character – aside from Dawson and Pohlman’s reprisal in Thunderball (Terence Young, 1965) – would bizarrely be recast in each subsequent Bond entry, with his baldness being just as inconsistent. Third, it’s the first time Desmond Llewelyn plays Q (a character he would play in every installment until 1999 aside from Live and Let Die [Guy Hamilton, 1973]) and the first film in which Bond receives proper gadgets. Fourth, it’s the first instance in which longtime series composer John Barry provides the score and the first to have a theme song (which plays not over the opening credits but on a radio early in the film and over the closing credits).

Thus, also like Dr. No, From Russia With Love is worth seeing for its introduction to several series trademarks. I don’t think the pacing has held up very well (as my girlfriend’s inability to stay awake attests), and the film doesn’t become too engrossing until the the excellent fight scene between Bond and Grant aboard the Orient Express. Still, the acting here is noticeably stronger than in the previous film, the locations more diverse, and the story grander in scope.

I’d also like to add that in 2005, Electronic Arts published a video game adaptation of this film in which then-seventy-five-year-old Sean Connery came back to provide an all-new voiceover as James Bond (digitally depicted in the game as his 1963 self). The game is quite enjoyable, but it’s incredibly weird to hear latter-day Connery voicing a much younger Connery.

Overall, I’d absolutely recommend From Russia With Love, but it’s absolutely not the Bond film I’d recommend to a first-timer. One of those films will actually be the topic of my next post.

This blog will return with… Goldfinger (Guy Hamilton, 1964).

 

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