From Russia With Love (1963)

Untitled-1From Russia With Love is a great installment of the Bond franchise because right from the beginning, Bond is taken for a fool. Throughout the entire movie, he is on the back foot, always one step behind everyone else. He is never clear of the big picture, nor does he know exactly what his mission is. He’s supposed to retrieve a Lektor cryptographer from the Russians, but he doesn’t know how or why. He doesn’t know anything about his Bond girl either, and she spends quite a lot of time with him. That he manages to defeat the enemy and walk off with the girl is a testament to his luck, not his skill.

The plot revolves around SPECTRE’s (first heard of in Dr. No) plan to pit Russia against Great Britain. We never really find out why, but then again SPECTRE never really needs a reason for wanting to destroy nations. There’s the usual hierarchy of evil henchmen, led by Number 1, whose face is never seen except in the Austin Powers movies. His two leading agents are Numbers 3 and 5. 3 is an ex-Soviet general who’s secretly defected to SPECTRE. Why? Who cares? 5 is a professional chess player whom I presume is in charge of devising all of SPECTRE’s schemes, since he’s always confident he won’t fail. He comes up with the self-proclaimed impenetrable idea of stealing the Lektor device from the Russians with the intent of returning it to them once they’ve accused the Brits of treachery. SPECTRE’s motto should be “We always operate in secret”.

Ah, but the Brits aren’t just the scapegoats. And the murder of Dr. No in the previous movie hasn’t gone unchecked. Number 1 pines the loss of his Chinese henchman, and the scheme concocted by Number 5 is a way to exact revenge on James Bond (Sean Connery). It’s all personal this time. There’s no plot to dominate the world. SPECTRE, for the first — and I suspect only — time, is out to get Bond. This is where From Russia With Love puts on its thinking cap. The criminal underworld has placed a target on Bond’s hairy chest, but Bond doesn’t know it. MI6 doesn’t know it. The whole of England doesn’t know it. When Bond is summoned by queen and country to investigate, he tells M, “The whole thing’s so fantastic it just could be true”. Little does he know that that’s exactly what SPECTRE had hoped he would say.

From Russia With Love includes a bonus treat. A man named Red Grant. He’s a mercenary, hired by SPECTRE to get rid of Bond. Played by Robert Shaw (most famously seen in Jaws), Red is quite a fearsome man, with his abs of steel and snowy blonde hair. He’s a taciturn fellow, choosing to communicate with stares and glances instead of speech. Only when his duty requires does he utter words (in a very upscaled English accent I might add). Needless to say, he faces off against Bond, in a scene that stands as the climax of the movie even though it occurs with some fifteen minutes left to go.

Oh, and there are the usual bunch of secondary characters. There’s a Turkish Intelligence officer, played by Pedro Armendariz, who is useful to a point. He’s a likable man with what I’m assuming is an insatiable sex drive — “All my key employees are my sons”. There’s the Bond girl, Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi), who’s mastered the art of running over stones and grass in high heels while under sedation. And Desmond Llewelyn makes his debut as Q. Young and not quite so irritable, he introduces Bond to his very first Swiss Army gadget: A briefcase. It has all the standard gimmicks. Built-in knives, hidden bullets, a compartment for valuable gold coins, and a self-destruct mechanism built right into the locks. It’s exciting if you think about it — Bond gets his first gadget. The first of a gazillion. And it’s a good one.

But still, gadget or not, he is outplayed. The James Bond of today would never be caught dead with his hands above his head in surrender. He wouldn’t let such a travesty injure his ego. He must have everything under control, and know precisely how to dispose of evil tyranny. The Bond in this movie is the complete opposite probably because his ego has yet to be injured. Thinking he’s got the world under control, he fails to see that there are people out there who are smarter than he is. Take it as a good lesson, Mr. Bond. You’ll only grow stronger. And smarter.

Best Moment | The fight scene on the train. Exhilarating, well-choreographed, and lovely.

Worst Moment | Number 3 whacks Red in the gut with brass knuckles. He doesn’t flinch — “He seems fit enough.”. Haha Come on.

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