Bondathon #2: From Russia with Love (1963)

Posted: March 6, 2016 in Movie Review
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From Russia with Love (1963)

Director: Terence Young

Starring: Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Pedro Armendáriz, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw, Bernard Lee

With “Dr. No,” Ian Fleming’s suave British secret agent James Bond more than proved himself worthy of the leap to the big screen. For him to have any kind of longevity, lightning would have to strike twice, and so it did. “From Russia with Love” improves upon its predecessor in almost every way. Among the essential elements were the casting of superb villains, the revelation of SPECTRE as a larger threat than previously perceived, beautiful locations, and unforgettable fight sequences. Most importantly, “From Russia with Love” presents a more personal mission for 007. All of these characteristics and more help to keep “From Russia with Love” in consideration as one of the greatest James Bond films of all.

SPECTRE is not well pleased about the demise of one of its top operatives. As a means of exacting revenge for the killing of Dr. No, a plan is devised to first humiliate and discredit 007, and then ultimately kill him. A trap will be set with a Soviet defector offering MI6 a Lektor cryptographic device, something which it is know that MI6 and the British government would kill to be able to get their hands on. SPECTRE’s leader, referred to here only as Number 1 (the man who will come to be known as Ernst Stavro Blofeld), places Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) in charge of the mission. Klebb recruits Donald “Red” Grant to shadow Bond, wait for him to acquire the Lektor, and then kill him and steal it back. Klebb also uses her former status as an agent of SMERSH to convince Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) to help with the second half of the plan. Tatiana defects with the Lektor, but only if it is Bond who will meet with her. The poor girl believes she is doing this for the good of Mother Russia. She does not realize that her orders come from the world’s foremost leader in criminal and terrorist activities.

Believing this to be a “too good to be true” situation, MI6 sends Bond in despite sensing a trap. But Bond does not go in unprepared. Marking his first appearance in the series, Q (Desmond Llewelyn) arms Bond with an attache case containing several items which will serve 007 very well in a life-saving capacity. Among them are a knife, gold sovereigns, an AR-7 rifle, and a tear gas booby trap activated by the case’s locking mechanism.

In Istanbul, Bond meets with Ali Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendáriz) who, after a couple of attempts on his life, kills a rival with the aid of Bond’s rifle. Bond was almost killed himself in the second attack against Kerim Bey, but was saved at the last moment from a distance by Grant. Bond returns to his hotel room to find Tatiana in his bed waiting for him. The situation escalates quickly, as the two skip past the how-do-you-do’s and the foreplay and jump right into having sex. Unbeknownst to both of them, the perverts from SPECTRE are watching from behind the double-sided mirror and are filming them. With the aid of intel from Tatiana, Bond and Kerim Bey are successful in acquiring the Lektor. Rather, Grant is successful in ensuring that Bond and Kerim Bey acquire the Lektor.

The movie’s been pretty fun up to this point, but it’s the next sequence and everything that comes after which makes “From Russia with Love” the classic Bond film that it is. Bond, Kerim Bey, Tatiana and Grant all board the Orient Express. Grant murders Kerim Bey and the agent which Bond sent for to meet him at Zagreb. Posing as Agent Nash, Grant knocks Tatiana out by slipping something into her drink, in order to get Bond alone. His gun trained on Bond, Grant reveals to him the whole plot, including Tatiana’s lack of knowledge as to her involvement. He also reveals his plan to kill the both of them and plant the film of the couple having sex. This would have the effect of making their deaths appear to be the result of a murder-suicide. Bond uses the gold sovereigns to bargain for his life, fooling Grant into triggering the booby trap in the attache case. Despite this, Grant nearly kills Bond. The only thing that saves 007 is the knife stashed away in the secret compartment of the case, which Bond uses to stab Grant in the shoulder and use Grant’s own garrote wire to choke the life out of him.

When news of Grant’s death reaches Number 1, he orders the execution of one of his lieutenants, giving Rosa Klebb one last chance to kill Bond and bring back the Lektor. Before that final confrontation, Bond and Tatiana must evade and eliminate several more SPECTRE agents in an intense boat chase, which ends in explosive fashion. Klebb catches up to them in their hotel room, posing as a maid. Although she is armed with a poison-tipped spike in her shoe, Klebb is still not bulletproof. As she struggles with Bond, Klebb is shot dead by Tatiana.

I will forever love actor Robert Shaw for his performance as Quint in “Jaws.” I am only slightly less impressed by his turn as Grant, the cold and calculating SPECTRE assassin in “From Russia with Love.” His scenes with Sean Connery on the train are what I love most about this movie. Lotte Lenya is also impressive, and just a tad scary, as Rosa Klebb. I also love the simplicity of the plot. There’s a real spy story going on here! That “From Russia with Love” isn’t my #1 Connery Bond film can only mean that there was something even more extravagant on the horizon.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Enjoyed the review! Well done, CEWIII!

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