From Russia With Love (1963)

“Training is useful, but there is no substitute for experience.”

Synopsis:
Secret agent James Bond (Sean Connery) is sent to retrieve a decoding box known as the Lektor from a beautiful Russian (Daniela Bianchi), not knowing he’s being stalked by a psychopathic British traitor (Robert Shaw).

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this sequel to Dr. No (1962) remains an “excellent, surprisingly tough and gritty James Bond film”, one that is “refreshingly free of the gimmickry that would characterize the later Bond films.” He notes his appreciation that “Connery and Bianchi play real people,” and accurately writes that “Shaw and Lotte Lenya (as the diabolical Krebb) are splendid villains”, both engaging in “exciting, well-choreographed fights with Connery.” Peary argues that “the lovely Bianchi” — a Miss Universe runner-up — “should have been a bigger star” given that her Tatiana is “one of the most appealing Bond heroines”, and he points out that the film’s direction by Terence Young is “solid”, especially during the “train sequence”. I agree with most critics and viewers that this film is among the best of the Bond franchise, with plenty of excitement and exotic locales — though I was surprised (should I have been?) by how much this is really a male fantasy fulfillment: we hear Bond’s insecurities (?!) continually allayed by Tatiana (“Will you make love to me all the time in England?”); watch a “cat fight” in which two beautiful gypsies literally fight each other for the privilege of sleeping with Bond; and listen to corny double entendres between Tatiana (who helpfully tries on a wardrobe of lingerie during their “honeymoon” on the train) and Bond:

Tatiana: “I think my mouth is too big.”
Bond: “No, it’s the right size… for me, that is.

Oh boy. I know he’s Bond, and all women love him… and Connery is undeniably a beefcake. But it’s a bit much.

Note: This and all Bond films appear to have quite a specialized and fanatical following, as evidenced by DVD Savant’s essay devoted entirely to a mysterious jump-cut in the final sequence of the film.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine performances by the entire cast



  • Many exciting sequences

  • Excellent use of on-location shooting (in Istanbul and elsewhere)
  • The memorable and innovative opening credits

Must See?
Yes, as another solid entry in the cult series.

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3 Responses to “From Russia With Love (1963)”

  1. A once-must (at least) as one of the best in the Bond series.

    Since I wrote my overall Bond flicks thoughts at the ‘Dr. No’ page, I don’t feel compelled to say a lot more here. For me (not an overwhelming fan of the series), this and ‘Dr. No’ are the best. Admittedly, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen most of the series – and my interest had fallen considerably long before the cut-off point marked by Peary’s book.

    To qualify, though – I happen to think that ‘Dr. No’ and ‘FRWL’ work well not only as Bond films but as films (of their type) in general. I might also give ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ a nod here in advance (though that’s mostly due to Diana Rigg’s performance).

    The particular plus for ‘FRWL’ is Lotte Lenya’s portrait of a killer lesbian (though Shaw is certainly no slouch here either). During my recent rewatch, it seemed to me that she’s in the film just as long as is needed, to be in service to the story. Still, I was itching for her to have a larger role. I’m sure her Rosa Klebb had a whopper of a backstory!

  2. In my view there are only a handful of essential Bond films and I say that as a big fan of the series and as a film buff.

    Dr. No – The first and for that reason alone.
    From Russia, with Love / Goldfinger / On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – the only films in the series to get top marks from me; my personal favourites. The first two are genuine cinema classics and, although I consider OHMSS the best Bond film of all, it’s significant for changing the lead.

    All of the others are non-essential for hardcore film buffs, and essential for fans for the series.

    An argument could be made for adding Live and Let Die, The Living Daylights, GoldenEye and Casino Royale (2006) as they were the first entries featuring their respective leading actors, but I wouldn’t consider them personally essential for film buffs.

  3. This is one of the Connery Bond titles I go back to over and over. The train sequence, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw… There are also several spine-tingling moments where doom is imminent with a total dropout of the soundtrack, a deliberate choice I wish the series would have used more often rather than blaring brass in your ears.

    You can tell the filmmakers were devoted to improving the franchise in this second effort by improving the quality across the board. The music, the special effects, the casting, the acting, the story, everything looks better in this one. The only thing really missing is a signature Ken Adam-designed set or sets, as he was working on Dr. Strangelove at the time. But the movie doesn’t suffer despite his absence. The result is a more grounded design for the more down-to-earth plot.

    This is the Bond movie where suspense and a sense of menace lace the movie right up to the end. And it’s the last one before the spectacle began to overtake the story.

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