Welcome back! Here we are, the second week of my James Bond series, and that means we’re doing Connery’s second outing, 1963’s “From Russia With Love.”
People ask me about my favorite movie on a semi-regular basis and, when pressed, I always give the same answer, “From Russia With Love.” I know that it isn’t the quintessential James Bond movie—we’ll be covering that one next week—but it’s the best overall film.
One of the things I really love about the Bond movies, especially the early ones, is that people both in front of and behind the camera returned for movie after movie. Just two of the behind the scenes examples: Terence Young is back as director having also done “Dr. No” and would also direct “Thunderball;” Peter Hunt is back as editor, he also edited “Goldfinger,” is credited as supervising editor for “Thunderball” & “You Only Live Twice,” and directed “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” In front of the camera, of course, you not only have the return of Connery, but also Lois Maxwell, and Bernard Lee. Still not referred to as “Q,” only Boothroyd, Desmond Llewelyn puts in his first appearance as well in “From Russia With Love.
” There is a brilliant, beautiful, continuity to it all. The movies have the same look and feel because it’s the same people working on them, and if you think that doesn’t make me excited for Sam Mendes to return in “Spectre,” you’re wrong. The last guy to direct two Bond movies was Martin Campbell who did “GoldenEye,” which introduced Pierce Brosnan, and “Casino Royale,” which introduced Daniel Craig. Both films are great and we’ll get to them… eventually.
One of the things that always strikes me about “From Russia With Love” is the opening credits. I think it might be one of the most clever title sequences in the series. Unlike “Dr. No,” it features a dancing woman throughout, but that’s not why I love it. I love it because the cast and crew’s names are projected into space and depending on where the dancer stands, the name goes into and out of focus. There is a precision to it that is perfect. I am also always struck by the fact that while the song has lyrics, the lyrics aren’t used in the title version of the song, you hear bits of the lyrics on two different occasions in the movie, but not during the opening credits. That won’t happen until “Goldfinger.”
Then, of course, there’s Robert Shaw as the brilliant Red Grant and Lotte Lenya as Rosa Klebb. Two of the best villains the Bond films ever had with two great performances and they’re in the same movie. Plus, we get the first back-of-the-head appearance of Blofeld (with hair) and Pedro Armendariz, in his last film, playing Kerim Bey, Bond’s contact in Istanbul. He is funny and smart and just a slight twist on the sort of guy Bond might become in another 20 or 30 years.
It is, or should be, impossible to talk about the film without mentioning Vladek Sheybal’s Kronsteen, SPECTRE’s “Number Five.” Do you want a brilliant introduction to a bad guy? It’s Kronsteen and his chess match – as soon as he gets a note from SPECTRE, he beats his opponent on the next move. Kronsteen could have won at any point and was toying with the other man, but once he was needed, that’s it, he’s done.
What’s more is that introduction is only the second best one of the movie. “From Russia With Love” offers the first Bond pre-title sequence, which has Grant killing Bond… or a guy wearing a Bond mask who we don’t know isn’t Bond until after he’s dead. Imagine watching that for the first time, “They killed Bond in the first five minutes of the film!?!” It is fantastic. Connery is definitely more comfortable in the role this time out and has a lot more fun in a movie that is far more serious. The plot here doesn’t feature a nefarious scheme to take over the world and one of the best moments is a confined battle on a train. It is more thriller than “Dr. No” and following so closely on the first film’s heels really shows that a Bond movie can be a Bond movie without doing one thing over and over and over again. It could do without the boat chase at the end, but other than that it’s just about perfect.
Red wine with fish. Red Grant orders red chianti with his fish on the train at dinner and Bond says later that he should have realized there was something wrong with Grant at that moment. Between that memorable exchange and the “pardon me, do you have a match,” “I use a lighter,” “better still,” “until they go wrong” code, “From Russia With Love” offers great bits of dialogue and hints at the “as bad as listening to The Beatles without earmuffs” quip we’ll get to next week.
“From Russia With Love” is the first Bond movie I ever saw and I fell in love with Connery and the character instantly. It is the perfect example of a Bond movie that features all the tropes of Bond movies without making them feel formulaic. Sure, next week is “Goldfinger,” the most Bond film of all the Bond films that has ever been made, but “From Russia With Love” is really where it’s at.
“007(x3) Weeks of 007” will return next week with “Goldfinger.”
photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment