FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (director: Terence Young; screenwriters: Richard Maibaum/Johanna Harwood/based on the novel by Ian Fleming; cinematographer: Ted Moore; editor: Peter Hunt; music: John Barry; cast: Sean Connery (James Bond), Daniela Bianchi (Tatiana Romanova), Pedro Armendariz (Ali Kerim Bey), Lotte Lenya (Rosa Klebb), Robert Shaw (Red Grant), Bernard Lee (M), Eunice Gayson (Sylvia Trench), Walter Gotell (Morzeny), Francis de Wolff (Vavra – Gypsy Leader), Nadja Regin (Kerim’s Girl), Vladek Sheybal (Kronsteen), Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny), George Pastell (Train Conductor), Eric Pohlmann (Ernst Stavro Blofeld-voice); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: GP; producers: Albert R. Broccoli/Harry Saltzman; United Artists; 1963-UK)
“This is probably the best Bond film made.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This is the second in the series of James Bond films, following Dr. No, that is based on the novel by Ian Fleming. It begins the formulaic presentation of the franchise and is the first lavish production, but it still reminds one of a time when a Bond venture was a gritty, fun-loving and human affair and not mostly a mindless, slick, gadget orientated and mechanical film that would be the ruin of most of the later ones in the series. This is probably the best Bond film made because of its polish and rawness combined into a pleasing whole. It’s vividly directed with a fast pace by Terence Young (“Bloodline”/”The Jigsaw Man”/”Red Sun”) and written with crisp dialogue by Richard Maibaum and Johanna Harwood. The writers also give the escapist hokum fantasy film, believe it or not, a Cold War edge.
Womanizing but sophisticated and suave Secret Agent 007, James Bond (Sean Connery), is sent by his British spy boss M (Bernard Lee) to Istanbul to steal a top-secret Russian decoding machine known as Lektor that a beautiful Soviet embassy clerk, Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi, Italian actress, who was Miss Universe of 1960), will help him secure. She has let it be known that she will defect to England if Bond joins her in the venture.
It turns out that Tanya is an unwitting pawn of SPECTRE, who thinks she’s been recruited for the assignment to help Mother Russia without realizing her sadistic butch KGB boss Colonel Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) has defected to SPECTRE and plans to kill Bond and get the machine from him to sell back to the Soviets for a big price. The plan was devised by the arrogant chess master Kronsteen (Vladek Sheybal). Psychopathic strongman killer Red Grant (Robert Shaw) has been contracted by SPECTRE to carry out the heavy work. To remain in the shadows, SPECTRE has diabolically schemed to break the truce in Istanbul between the Russians and the English by killing a Russian agent and planting a bomb in the home of Bond’s contact–top Turkish spy Ali Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendariz). This will turn the Cold War adversaries against each other, by blaming the other for the incident. Later, in further retaliation, the Russians will attack a gypsy camp friendly with the west.
After Bond makes contact with the clever Ali Kerim Bey, they team up to play a cat-and-mouse game on the Orient Express. Bond has stolen Lektor and has romanced Tanya, and the trio are on the train along with a dangerous Bulgarian agent (Walter Gotell) and the ruthless Grant. It leads to an exciting fight to death between the icy lunatic killer and Bond in the cramped compartment. Then there’s a helicopter pursuing Bond in his escape across a field in Trieste. Finally Bond arrives by motorboat in Venice after innovatively eliminating a bunch of motorboats in pursuit by setting fire to the sea. In a Venice hotel with the girl and decoder in tow, Bond only has to ward off Klebb and her poisoned spike shoe before resuming his romance with Tanya.
It’s all in good fun, as Connery has mastered the persona of Bond and will go on to become the best 007 in a franchise that’s still commercially alive and well in 2009. To look back at this exciting action Bond film from over forty years ago, is to see a well-accomplished and witty film that has lost its bearings over time as the franchise became increasingly de-humanizing.
REVIEWED ON 2/9/2009 GRADE: A
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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