As the movie posters for this film announced; “James Bond is back!“. “From Russia with Love” is the second installment in the James Bond films, and has Sean Connery at the helm again, playing the British super spy who is as dashing and suave as he is deadly and ruthless.
In this film Bond is trying to get a Russian decoding machine before evil organisation S.P.E.C.T.R.E. do, or at least thwart their attempts to get it. Agents from S.P.E.C.T.R.E. are trying to kill him, none more so than the deadly Donald “Red” Grant (played by Robert Shaw). Throughout this adventure there is a romantic distraction from Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) which Bond must navigate while keeping his eyes on the goal and staying safe from the perilous assassins that surround him.
The catalyst for this film is the events that transpired in “007: Dr. No” (1962), to be more specific, it is Dr No himself. S.P.E.C.T.R.E. is pissed that Bond stopped Dr No’s plan and killed him. They want the Russian decoder for their own gains, but also to make MI5 look stupid. They know that MI5 will send their top agent, and that would be an opportunity to get revenge against Bond (and MI5) for what happened to Dr No. S.P.E.C.T.R.E.’s Number 1 gives the assignment to Number 3 and Number 5, and they in turn recruit Grant and Romanova to the task. Romanova is bait – she apparently intends to defect from Russia and has the decoder as a bargaining chip. Grant is a straight up assassin whose goal is to end Bond.
The surprising success of “007: Dr. No” (1962) meant that Broccoli and Saltzman were able to bring back nearly the entire crew who worked on the film, in some areas they tried to up-the-anti, but if it wasn’t broke, they didn’t try to fix it. Back came Terence Young to direct and writer Richard Maibaum, meanwhile John Barry replaced Monty Norman in the music department – a move which would forge an iconic partnership for years to come. Connery obviously came back in the lead role, but we are also introduced to other characters in Bond’s world, M, Q, Moneypenny, and Ernst Stavros Blofeld (the leader of S.P.E.C.T.R.E.) who’s face would remain a mystery until later films.
If you read my review of “007: Dr. No” (1962) then you will have read that that film was a simpler version of Bond, but due to the simplicity a more authentic and engaging version of Bond. This film follows that simplicity and depth, using character development, intellect, and a good plot to progress the film. This early version of James Bond is a spy, rather than an action hero that he seems to be in other later films. “From Russia with Love” is a Bond film that predates certain standard canonical themes that crop up in later films, but It is fair to say that this film, like “Dr No” is definitely attempting to shape them a little for future use.
- There is a nemesis but there isn’t an unhinged maniac as the lead villain with a plot to rule the world (there kind of was in “Dr No” though).
- There is not an iconic and unbreakable henchman yet – but Shaw is planting the seeds as the blond brick-wall of an assassin trying to ‘off’ Bond.
- There are not an abundance of ludicrous gadgets – but a briefcase is the start of things to come in later films.
- There are not lots of over-the-top action and explosions for the purpose of cinematic spectacle – but there is an epic fight scene within the movie still.
This film may seem a little dated by today’s standards of film, and a little slow if you are only used to modern Bond films, but “From Russia with Love” is a solid entry into the Bond franchise, and was part of the building blocks that made future versions of Bond possible. It’s a love letter from the 60’s and shouldn’t really be compared to the kind of offerings we get nowadays. For that reason I do recommend this film as an enjoyable waste of time, it is relatively safe for the whole family to watch, and it is easy on the eye with vivid colours, beautiful locations, and smooth sequences. That recommendation comes with a caveat though, take this film for what it is, and from the era it comes from otherwise you’ll be disappointed; if you compare a classic car from the past against a new built classic car – sure there will be things that you want missing (digital radio, AC, good suspension, but in it’s day it was just as good as what you can get now by comparison.
Title Song: James Bond Theme/ James Bond is back – John Barry & Orchestra & From Russia with Love – Matt Munro
In terms of Bond films this is an 8 out of 10.
In terms of movies in the long and illustrious history of film I would still give this a 7 out of 10.
Bond, James Bond, 007 – Ranking