Wednesday, August 15, 2012

From Russia With Love (1963)

Director: Terence Young
Producers: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman
Writer: Richard Maibaum
Cinematographer: Ted Moore
Editor: Peter R. Hunt
Composer: John Barry
Theme Song: "From Russia With Love" by Matt Monro
James Bond (Sean Connery) is called to London when MI6 receives word that Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi), a cipher clerk for the Soviet consulate at Istanbul, wishes to defect and is offering MI6 a Lecktor cryptographic device in exchange for Bond's help.
Though suspicious, M (Bernard Lee) sends Bond to Turkey, where he begins working with station chief Ali Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendariz) to get Tatiana and the Lecktor back to London. But what neither Bond nor Tatiana know is that her defection is part of a plot by SPECTRE agents No. 3 Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya), No. 5 Kronsteen (Vladek Sheybal) and blond-haired assassin Donald "Red" Grant (Robert Shaw) to kill/humiliate Bond for the death of Dr. No.
Far and away superior to its original, From Russia With Love delivers all the goods fans want in a Bond film. Right away, the action is ratcheted up; there's a massive shootout at a gypsy camp, a high-speed boat chase with SPECTRE and best of all, a brutal fight between Bond and Grant aboard the Orient Express that is wonderfully filmed and lighted. The film also introduces some new trademarks that would continue on in nearly every other Bond film, such as the pre-credits opening sequence, the theme song (though it's at the end rather than the beginning) and the gadgets provided by Q, played by Desmond Llewelyn for the first time.
But what's truly impressive about this second Bond outing is the quality of storytelling and filmmaking on display here. As impressive as his work was with the previous film, Terence Young and his crew one up themselves in every way. Once again, Young stretches his budget well, resulting in a gorgeous, classy look and style, but also with a level of sophistication not often seen in this series. The scenes on the Orient Express in particular are reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock's films, not only in the way it's shot, but in the way Young and his editor keep the story moving efficiently without skipping over any crucial story details.
Whereas the script for Dr. No was adequate and mediocre, Richard Maibaum's script is tightly woven, with well rounded characters who we actually get to know and care for, an interesting plot with sharp, entertaining plot twists and a surprisingly good buildup of suspense; by letting us in on the truth but keeping Bond and his allies in the dark for much of the movie, Maibaum creates situations where Bond is being played and outsmarted, which makes him more relatable and human and the villains more threatening and intelligent.
Speaking of which, the acting is far more colorful and engaging to watch this time around. Great as he was in Dr. No, Connery nails Bond, making him equal parts dashing and dangerous, while adding just a dose of the humor that would define later Bonds. Robert Shaw, 13 years before his defining role as Quint in Jaws, proves a formidable foe, ominous and imposing without even having to say a word. As the requisite Bond girl, Daniela Bianchi is instantly delightful and charming, despite slipping into stereotypical girly girl stupidity on occasion. Huge props also go out to the wonderful supporting cast, especially Pedro Armendariz as the funny, likeable Ali Kerim Bey and Lotte Lenya's deliciously evil Rosa Klebb.
It may not be the first or the most iconic Bond film, but many fans will stand by From Russia With Love as the best of the series. While that remains to be seen, it's hard to imagine anyone topping what Terence Young, Richard Maibaum and their cast and crew have pulled off here; cool gadgets, sinister villains, beautiful dames, exciting action scenes, and the perfect Bond, but also tight storytelling, stylish directing, gorgeous locations, stellar acting, and genuine suspense, the result being both a great Bond film and a great film.

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