Dec 7, 2012

[Movies] From Russia With Love (1963)

So my recent explorations of the James Bond movies is certainly an interesting and not quite as painful as I had expected. While these movies may seem theoretically "dated" given they were first released in the 1960's the end result is anything but, quite frankly. If anything it's interesting to note how well the movies stand on their own despite the many advances in technology in recent years that make some of their little tricks and special devices not all that special.

This second movie includes the return of Sean Connery as James Bond and thus cementing this part of his career as an actor. And let's face it, he truly defined the role for many viewers and this movie does seem to be a rather good representation of precisely that.

The movie certainly stepped things up a bit versus the first jaunt into the James Bond universe. We saw more complex spy gadgets this time around, a nicely complex plot and of course the recurrence of SPECTRE as the criminal organization that Bond is pretty much up against.

And yes, there are Russians, too.


Synopsis: From Russia With Love is the second James Bond movie as released in 1963. It was based on the 1953 Ian Fleming novel of the same name. It is often cited by various critics and fan sites as one of the best movies in the series.

Rosa Klebb
Rosa Klebb (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The movie actually begins by featuring the villains instead of a murder or wherever Bond happens to be this time around. And thus we learn that the organization SPECTRE has developed a complex plot to not only steal one of Russia's prized Lektor cryptographic devices from (still) Soviet Russia, but to also eliminate James Bond as a threat. Number 1 places Number 3 Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya), an ex-SMERSH operative, in charge of this particular mission. To aid her she tasks Red Grant (Robert Shaw) as her assassin and dupes Soviet agent Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) into working for her as if it were an official SMERSH mission.

Thus MI6 learns of Tatiana being  a Russian agent who is supposedly willing to defect together with a Lektor device - but with the condition that she only surrender to James Bond (Sean Connery) directly. And while everyone is highly suspicious of the deal, the lure of an actual Lektor device is too great and thus Bond is dispatched to Istanbul  to link up with station chief Ali Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendáriz) and eventually connect with Tatiana and hopefully the Lektor.

Now this movie didn't just contribute to the overall James Bond movie franchise, but it also helped define the spy movie genre for many years given the number of latter movies that probably referenced films like this one. We had the unseen criminal mastermind in charge of a large evil organization, the fluffy cat in his lap and the strong female lieutenant. And of course we have the ever fun way of finally seeing James Bond in the movie - after the criminal introduction and in the arms of another beautiful woman. Brilliant.

And while this movie does introduce more of the gadgets that we find familiar by now with respect to Bond movies, their use remains highly limited and don't overly dominate the movie. Admittedly in later sequels the equipment list is practically a checklist of scenes that we can expect to see later in the movie - foreshadowing at its most blatant indeed. And thus the bulk of the action and the play of wits centers on Bond himself as an individual agent.

And you can call me a little old-fashioned, but there's something nicely poignant about a spy story that involves Soviet Russia. And while the Cold Wars has been over for years and Russia's primary opponent was actually the US and not Britain, they just made for an interesting player in the whole international scene. And given the machinations of SPECTRE here, it's not like the Russians are the actual villains here. And thus the story has a wonderful degree of complexity and richness to it that rewards you with numerous twists in the plot as Bond gets caught between the machinations of SPECTRE and the confused decisions of the Russians.

Rosa Klebb did make for a most interesting villain given it was pretty much she who came up with the actual plan to take out Bond. Number had left the task in her hands and her plot was rather brilliant - an ambitious effort that could have help SPECTRE gain a Lektor device AND remove James Bond as a threat. This was certainly a more or less fitting solution to things for their side and a nice spot of revenge for the death of Dr. No in the first movie.

And you have to appreciate Ali Kerim Bey, who was far more than just another background character in the story. He managed to demonstrate his own skills quite admirably, thus establising precisely why he became a station chief for British Intelligence. And he's rather funny as well in his own right.

But I really don't know where to go with the whole gypsy scene. Admittedly that came off as rather indulgent, but what can you do, eh?

From Russia With Love is a James Bond movie that pretty much has it all. It has a compelling plot, nicely complex characters, a good amount of action with some romance mixed in...and a gypsy catfight. What else could you ask for? So yes, I will actually give this movie 5 little tricks between British Intelligence and the Soviets in Istanbul out of a possible 5.


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