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From Russia With Love

Directed by Terence Young with Sean Connery, Danielle Bianchi, Robert Shaw, Lotte Lenya, Pedro Armendariz, color, 115 minutes, 1963

cover of dvd

Cover of DVD

By Carter B. Horsley

The second film in the James Bond series, "From Russia With Love" is a romantic thriller with exotic locales, very memorable characters and plenty of action. The first film in the series, "Dr. No," established Sean Connery as the world's most debonair spy and here his character is even more assured and sophisticated.

Connery's James Bond is dapper and deadly, confident and courageous, sly and smart. In "Dr. No" he was a daring adventurer, but in "From Russia With Love" he became a world icon of heroic manliness and guaranteed the future of the most successful series in film history.

Connery would eventually retire from the role to be replaced by Roger Moore, who also had a long run as James Bond. Connery would return subsequently one more time to the role, which has also been played by Roger Lazenby, Tim Dalton, Pierce Bosnan and David Niven.

It is very difficult to pick the best James Bond film. This one firmed up the formula and is perhaps Connery's best, but ?The Spy Who Loved Me" with Roger Moore (see The City Review article) is more exotic.

The formula of a mini-adventure at the start of the film, high-tech gadgets, spectacular locations, beautiful leading ladies, eccentric, megalomaniacal villains, impressive stunts and excellent scores was set in "From Russia With Love."

In "Dr. No" and in most subsequent sequels, the villains are very ambitious and usually want to dominate the world, but in "From Russia With Love," the main villain, Ernst Stavros Blofeld, the head of SPECTRE, only seeks a Russian decoding device. SPECTRE also wants to kill Bond to revenge his killing of one of its major operatives, Dr. No. His face is never seen in this movie and only appears in a later sequel, "You Only Live Twice." His "Number 3" and "Number 5," former KGB agent Rosa Klebb, played by Lotte Lenya, and chess master Kronsteen, played by Vladek Sheybal, are the "bad guys" in this film who use agent Red Grant, played by Robert Shaw, to pursue their evil ends.

The film opens on a beautiful estate where Grant stalks and kills British agent 007, James Bond, a rather surprising opening. Bond, of course, was not killed, only a man wearing a very well-made mask that strongly resembles him.

Kronsteen plans to have a beautiful Russian cipher clerk, Tatiana Romanova, played by Daniela Bianchi, turn over the decoding device, known as the "Lektor," to James Bond and then to have Grant take it from Bond and kill him.

Klebb convinces Romanov to pretend to defect to the British, but Romanov is unaware that Klebb is a SPECTRE agent. The "Lektor" is in the Russian Consulate in Istanbul. Tatiana promises to defect, but only will do it if James Bond picks her up on the pretext that she has fallen in love with him on the basis of a photograph. Although the British think the defection may be a trap, they agree to the defectio because they want the "Lektor."

Bond goes to Istanbul where Station T is headed by Kerim Bey, played by Pedro Armendáriz. SPECTRE stirs up trouble in Istanbul by having some Bulgars and Gypsies killing some Russians and some British.

Bond meets with Tatiana and is convinced that the "Lektor" is genuine and they plan to escape aboard the Orient Express. SPECTRE, however, photographs Bond and Romanov making love and plans to use the photographs to embarass the British Secret Service.

Kerim Bay is killed and Bond asks London for help and is told to meet Captain Nash at the stop in Zagreb. Grant, however, finds the captain first and kills him and takes his identity.

Grant does a good job of faking a British accent but Bond becomes suspicious when he orders the wrong wine in the train's dining car. Grant confronts Bond in his train compartment and Bond forestalls his being shot by telling Grant that he has 50 gold coins in his briefcase. While still holding a gun on Bond, grant tries to open the briefcase, which is booby-trapped. Bond and Grant have a tremendous and very vicious fight and Bond is able to kill Grant.

Bond and Romanov get off the train and travel by car and boat to Venice pursued by more SPECTRE agents. They escape only to be confronted in their hotel room by Rosa Klebb, disguised as a cleaning woman, who tries first to shoot Bond and then, when disarmed, to kick him with a poisoned blade in the sole of her shoe. Romanov manages to shoot Klebb and returns a ring Bond had given her as he tosses the blackmail film into a lagoon.

Based on the novel by Ian Fleming with a screenplay by Richard Mailbaum and Joanna Harwood, "From Russia With Love" has plenty of action but is memorable mostly for the acting. Daniela Bianchi, an Italian who was Miss Universe 1960 and whose voice is dubbed, is very, very lovely, especially when she wears a black ribbon around her neck. Robert Shaw is a fearsome adversary. Lotte Lenya is deliciously witchlike. Pedro Armendáriz, who died just as the film was about to open, is wonderfully mirthful and lusty as Kerim Bey.

This film introduced Desmond Llewelyn as Major Boothroyd who becomes better known in the remainder of the Bond series as "Q," the Secret Service's master of gadgets.

Connery is much more at ease in "From Russia With Love" and is perfect as he would be in several more films in the series. Subsequent Bond films would be much flashier and be filled with more gadgets and stunts. They would be cutting-edge and the popular touchstone of gee-wiz technology, but they would not have been made had not "From Russia With Love" made 007 so damn attractive. unbelieveable

This film is rated is rated 35th in Carter B. Horsley's Top 500 Sound Films

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