Sunday, March 4, 2012

"From Russia With Love" (1963)

Starring Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi and Robert Shaw
Written by Richard Maibaum and Johanna Harwood
Directed by Terence Young
Rated PG - Violence, sexual themes
Running Time: 115 Minutes

James Bond (Sean Connery) is assigned by his MI6 masters to travel to Istanbul and retrieve a Lektor decoding device from a defecting Russian cipher clerk named Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi).  Romanova has contacted the MI6 station agent in Istanbul and said she will only deliver the Lektor to James Bond, and to no one else.

Bond and MI6 rightly suspect the whole thing is a trap, but the chance to grab a Russian code machine is too good to pass up.  In Turkey, Bond meets Ali Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendariz), the British Intelligence station chief, who helps him figure out how to get Romanova and the Lektor out of the Russian embassy building and then escape Turkey.

What Bond doesn't know is that both he and Romanova are being manipulated by the evil terrorist organization SPECTRE, who plan to let Bond get the Lektor device, then kill him and steal it for themselves.  SPECTRE assigns their best assassin, Grant (Robert Shaw) to shadow Bond and make sure he gets the device, and then they will put their plan in motion to eliminate Bond once and for all, humiliate MI6 and heat up the cold war between Britain and the Soviet Union.

"From Russia With Love" is generally considered one of the best Bond films, and rightly so.  Though it lacks the big, ridiculous action sequences of its successors, what it does instead is focus on being a solid spy thriller.  Rather than huge gun battles, the violence in "Russia" is kept small and intimate, save for an assault on a gypsy camp by Russian agents.  The rest of the action is kept to a couple of small bombings, quick assassinations and a cool and brutal hand-to-hand fight between Bond and Shaw on a train late in the film.

It's one of the better films that presents Bond as a spy rather than an action hero, one good at coming up with and executing plans and at moving stealthily around.  Of course, Shaw is close on his trail and able to keep Bond from figuring out exactly what's going on. SPECTRE plays British Intelligence and the KGB off of each other, escalating their conflict in Turkey, giving the film an exotic twist on the Cold War tale.

Connery proves exactly why he's considered by many to be the best actor to play James Bond.  He's cool and smooth, but also ruthless in getting what he wants.  Perhaps somewhat uncomfortably, this can include a misogynist streak that's either a product of the time or the personal thoughts of his creators.  Bond has no problems having sex with a woman and pretending to love her in order to accomplish his goals.  But Connery is excellent at balancing all the aspects of the Bond character, including delivering his famous witty one-liners, which are kept to a minimum in "From Russia With Love."

Though its slower pace and more realistic depictions of spy action may turn off some viewers, "From Russia With Love" is a fine thriller, old-fashioned though it may be.  

See Also
James Bond