After a brief aside into the world of superheroes and… other secret agents, we now return to the world 007, with Connery’s second outing From Russia with Love. The plot of the film focuses on James Bond willing falling into a trap, in an attempt to gain a Russian lektor decoder. While Bond and MI6 feel that this is a trap set by the Russians, it is in fact set by SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter Intelligence, Revenge and Extortion).
From Russia with Love Trailer
The first notable thing about From Russia with Love is that the story is significantly more complicated than Dr. No. There are a number of different character’s, all of them representing various factions competing for the Lektor. However, this is not to be taken as a negative. The story is actually very tense as Bond tries to work his way around the story’s multiple factions, and piece together what is going on. As with the last film, Connery is on top form again as Bond. While Bond doesn’t have as many memorable one-liners in this film, Connery gets to display the characters ferocity that is hidden behind Bond’s class and sophistication. We also see Bond portrayed as a true spy, always aware of his surroundings, and suspicious of everyone.
Robert Shaw gives a truly memorable performance as the fearsome Red Grant. Grant is a great foe for Bond, as in many ways he is very similar to him. We see numerous displays of espionage he partakes in, and he is portrayed as an efficient and ruthless killer. Grant would serve as the basis for multiple villains to challenge Bond over the years.
Lotte Lenya as Rosa Klebb is not an overly interesting villain. In the end, she is really just a pawn to a much more important figure in the history of Bond (who we will discuss in a later review). However, it is worth noting that idea of the mind behind the muscle would become standing operating procedure for Bond in the years to come.
Daniela Bianchi as Tatiana is similarly unremarkable. Which is particularly disappointing, given the fact that this film was just coming off the revelation of Ursula Andress in Dr. No. It’s not so much that she gives a bad performance, rather that there is just very little to her.
However, all the disappointment I have with these two characters is quickly forgotten when Pedro Armendáriz comes on screen. Armendáriz portrays the role of Kerim Bay, and is an absolute delight every moment he is on screen. He has this loveable quality to him, and you understand how he is able to command the respect of so many people.
With this in mind, it was truly a tragedy that this was his last film. Armendáriz was diagnosed with an inoperable cancer while working on the set of From Russia with Love. He soldiered through the production, so that he could leave money for his family. The story of how this happened is debated, though a popular rumour is that this was caused due to Armendáriz involvement in The Conqueror. This film was shot downwind of a nuclear test site, and a large portion of the cast and crew developed cancer in the years following. Terrence Young returns to the director’s chair for this entry in the franchise. While I had some problems with his direction of the indoor scenes in Dr. No, here there is a marked improvement. The camera is free to move around, thanks to the larger sets, providing a more filmic quality to the proceedings. Young also brings a dynamic feel to the fight scenes. When Bond partakes in a brawl, you feel every punch. This is especially true of the fight between Bond and Grant.
From Russia with Love: Train Fight Clip
Overall, From Russia with Love is a marked improvement over Dr. No and tied first for my favourite film of the Connery era (You’ll have to wait and see what the other is). While many mark Goldfinger, as the beginning of the Bond we know and love, I personally find most of the pieces already in place here. So with all this in mind, if you get the opportunity, prepare yourself a dry vodka martini (shaken not stirred) and watch From Russia with Love. I promise, you will not regret it.
Written by James Campbell