From Russia with Love (Terence Young, 1963) is a more suspenseful and aggressive movie than Dr. No. Its plot is more complex and convoluted. It plays with the convention, rather than cementing it. And, yet, it ranks as one of the best entries in the overall series. It is a cool and suave spy thriller, self-deprecating at times, reassured in every scene. While it does not yet have the grandeur of some of the future movies, especially in terms of location shots, its scale is ambitious and appropriate. Connery, I dare say, has never been better. His performance expertly captures Ian Fleming’s spirit of Bond, while filling every frame with a dash of ironic confidence that grounds the film. This balance of human depth and pulp storytelling carries through the entire movie. It is a roller coaster ride at a small-town fair, incredibly fun, yet edgy and intimidating.
It is also the first appearance of Q, played with gusto by Desmond Llewelyn. Seeing Q’s first interaction with Bond is a highlight of the series, seeing how their relationship would grow and evolve over the course of the franchise. It’s where Bond excels with aplomb each time, delivering scenes filled with British wit, charm, and irony.
My favorite scene of the movie is the fight between Bond and SPECTRE assassin Grant (Robert Shaw). The fight, in many way, predates the gritty realism of the later Daniel Craig era. It is a brutal and vicious confrontation of two trained killer. Director Terence Young frames the train cabin as an inescapable cage, bringing us close to the action. The close shots, coupled with the heightened sound design, make every blow register. While the outcome of the fight is not a surprise, the way it unfolds hints at Bond’s vulnerability – it was not until Goldeneye (Martin Campbell, 1995) that another mano a mano combat would produce the same emotional effects. When Bond stabs and strangles Grant, a burst of cuts unsettles the frame, and all that is left is the monotonous rattling of the train tracks. From Russia with Love de-romanticizes, even undercuts, the cliche of the pleasurable action experience. That is how it transcends the typical Bond experience. And that is what makes it stand out.
This blog will return with … Goldfinger.