Terence Young, 1963
Starring: Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Lotte Lenya, Pedro Armendáriz, Robert Shaw
SPECTRE plots elaborate revenge on Bond for killing Dr. No and also intends to steal the Lektor, a Soviet cryptography machine. Spectre’s Number 3 in charge, Rosa Klebb, hires Red Grant, an assassin, and Tatiana Romanova, a naive Soviet cipher clerk at the embassy in Istanbul. Klebb orders Tatiana to contact to MI6, declaring she is in love with Bond (via his photo) and will defect, bringing the Lektor with her. M sends Bond to Turkey to rendezvous with the Istanbul station head, Ali Kerim Bey, and collect Tatiana and the device, but SPECTRE has other ideas.
From Russia, one of the best in the series and alleged favorite of several Bond actors, is similar to Dr. No in the sense that it is one of the only films not to follow a prescribed formula. It also remains mostly faithful to Fleming’s source novel. Many elements from Dr. No reappear - Monty Norman’s classic theme music, opening gun-barrel sequence, director Terence Young, star Sean Connery, Bernard Lee as M and Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny. From Russia introduces a few new elements that would stay with the series - multiple exotic locales, more action sequences, Desmond Llewlyn as head of Q branch and a fantastic score from John Barry. Robert Brownjohn’s credit sequence with the titles projected over scantily clad dancers also inspired all future Bond credits.
From Russia is marked with a number of great performances. Daniela Bianchi is one of my favorite Bond girls and her mixture naivety and resoluteness is supported with a solid performance. Tatiana is allegedly based on real-life Polish WWII spy Krystyna Skarbek aka Christine Granville, recruited by the British mid-war and famous for her military espionage exploits. Bond’s ally Kerim Bey is played by the wonderful Pedro Armendáriz, whose delightful performance here is particularly amazing, considering he was dying of cancer and was in tremendous pain during shooting. He took his own life before the production finished and director Terence Young acted as his stand in for his final scenes. The villains and SPECTRE also take on more of a robust presence. We get our first glimpse of Blofeld, SPECTRE’s Number 1, played by Anthony Dawson but cleverly listed as “?” in the credits. The great Lotte Lenya nearly steals the show as ball-buster Rosa Krebb, and Robert Shaw’s (Jaws) Red Grant is one of the most capable and threatening henchmen in the entire series.
The plot has a much quicker pace than Dr. No and mostly places Bond on the defensive. While there are some lengthy sequences in Istanbul and at the gypsy camp, the latter foreshadows the fun, comic-book feel of later films like Thunderball. The Gypsy camp has one amusing sequence after another - belly dancing, a cat fight, a surprise shoot out and two rival gypsy girls that Bond has to “handle.” Once Bond, Bey and Tatiana board the Orient Express, the film moves at a breakneck pace. The fight scene on the train with Red Grant is one of the finest in the series, mainly because Grant is portrayed as a potential equal to Bond. This follows with a helicopter attack (lifted from Hitchcock’s North by Northwest) and a speedboat chase before Bond and Tatiana can peacefully sail down the canals of Venice. Again, the film concludes with Bond and the heroine in a boat, sinking out of sight in order to presumably have sex.
Highly recommended, From Russia is a superior film to Dr. No simply because it ramps up the action, sex and espionage and, outside of the franchise, succeeds on its own as a capable Cold War thriller. There are, as always, many DVD options. I’m reviewing the Ultimate Edition, which can be found in the third box set or as a double-disc DVD set. There’s also the fantastic Blu-ray, which includes all the special features. There’s a commentary track from Terence Young and various members of the cast and crew. There are a number of featurettes, including the documentary Inside From Russia With Love, Ian Fleming: the CBC Interview, Ian Fleming & Raymond Chandler, Ian Fleming on Desert Island 007 and more.