Wednesday, March 26, 2014

From Russia with Love (1963)

The second James Bond film improves on the first and adds a few new twists of its own.  Connery is back as 007, this time going up against SPECTRE in an attempt to get a hold of a Russian decoding machine before they do.  More action, more thrills, this is essentially Alfred Hitchcock on speed, and I mean that in the best way imaginable.  Let's take a closer look.
  • First off, this is probably the one Bond film that sticks the closest to the source material.  Not much changed outside of the ending and there are a few extra characters.
  • Nice fake-out beginning to intro Robert Shaw's assassin, Grant.  Shaw was always a good actor and with Grant, he delivers a nicely creepy, eerily calm psychopath.  Good stuff from the man.
  • The formula for the series is enhanced with the addition of a pre-title sequence and overall, way more action than Dr. No.  While the first film was more of a procedural film for the first half, this one dives headlong into international espionage, grabbing you by the throat and pulling you right into things.  Bond is far more active and the plot in general is more intricate.
  • The script does a fine job of laying out the particulars of the setup and it manages to gives us a pretty huge amount of exposition (nearly a third of the book) within a matter of minutes.  It's lean, efficient storytelling.
  • The setup itself is quietly brilliant.  SPECTRE sets up an obvious trap that entices MI6 and as a result, Bond goes right into the plan.  The great thing is how nobody looks stupid in all of this except for the guy who comes up with it, and even then it's just that he still has the balls to be proud of the plan after Bond more or less blows it all to hell.  A good spy thriller needs to have a relatively airtight script and this one certainly fits the bill.
  • The cast is great with Connery doing fine as Bond, Shaw turning in a great performance and Lotte Lenya doing good work as the villainous Rosa Klebb.  Daniela Bianchi is pretty good as Bond Girl Tatiana though it's rather unfair to grade her performance since her voice, like many in the early films, is dubbed.  Still, she's quite attractive and gets the job done.
  • The best performance, however, is the late Pedro Armendariz in his last performance as Kerim Bey, Bond's contact in Turkey.  Armendariz is likable, charming and funny and when he gets killed in the last half of the movie it's a real blow.
  • Always got a kick out the scene with Tatiana and Klebb.  It's darkly humorous and both actresses play off of each other well.
  • Love the trick suitcase Q gives Bond.  It's nothing too over the top, just functional and practical.
  • Back to Kerim, he and Bond make for a fine comic duo with Bond just following along as the man leads him through the spy game in Turkey, the two actors had a natural chemistry that makes for a very comfortable first half of the movie.
  • The stuff at the gypsy camp sees both actors at their best as well as two good fights in the girl fight (in which it suddenly turns into a 70's Roger Corman produced movie for a minute or two minus the nudity) and the shootout that follows.  Bond begging the two girls in order to settle their dispute is a fantastically funny capper to the sequence.
  • I love how Grant is more or less in the shadows for most of the movie but still fairly constant.  Robert Shaw was always a reliable performer and he exudes menace nicely without any dialogue.
  • The one minor flaw I can find is Bond simply going through his hotel room checking for bugs only with the Bond Theme blaring.  It's a little bit much but in the end, a minor thing.
  • The second half of the film moves along at a great pace with Bond seducing information out of Tania which leads to him stealing the decoding machine.  From there is the best stretch of the film as Bond, Kerim and Tatiana try to get the decoder out on the Orient Express.  From the sobering death of Kerim to the showdown with Grant, it's just a magnificently staged sequence.
  • The scene where Grant boasts about the plan to Bond is a fine bit of acting for Shaw and Connery.  The ensuing fight between the two men is a miracle of violence and editing.
  • Almost as good is the fight with the helicopter that references North by Northwest in an almost Brian DePalma-esque manner and the boat chase as Bond and Tatiana finally escape.
  • The last bit with Klebb is a nice way to end the movie.
 From Russia with Love is a movie I can honestly say I like even more than Goldfinger.  While the third Bond film is iconic, this one is simply a better and more consistent thriller.  Bond is an active presence throughout, the action is fantastic and the acting is top notch all around.  It's become sort of a forgotten gem in the series but it still works fantastically.

1 comment:

  1. THE best, no question. It gets everything right, and is easily the most atmospheric Bond film; those scenes in Hagia Sophia and on the train are just incredible. Only OHMSS comes close. Gotta wonder what got a 10/10, but I haven't looking around the site yet.

    Goldfinger's kinda overrated, I think. Sure, it's got some great lines and setpieces, but long stretches of it are rather boring. And then it jumps from boring to too-silly-to-believe to "seriously, sixties, what's wrong with you?!" Also (this one's very subjective), a pool in Miami, a barren brown mountain in Switzerland, and Kentucky don't exactly make for an exotic backdrop. I'll take the beach or the Balkans anyday.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.