License to Review #2: From Russia with Love (1963)

James Bond will return to cinemas this November with his twenty-fifth adventure, No Time to Die. In preparation, David Alkhed will take a look at all the previous entries in the franchise and see which ones are deserving of praise and which ones aren’t.

Following the smash success of Dr. No, a sequel was quickly greenlight by United Artists. Sean Connery and many of the cast and crew members, including director Terence Young and writer Richard Maibaum, returned for the sequel. The producers, Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli, picked From Russia with Love to be the second installment when John F. Kennedy mentioned it as one of his favorite novels. The production was fast-tracked to meet its October 1963 release date, and despite running over-budget and over-schedule, they made it just in time, also making it the last film Kennedy saw in the White House before being assassinated in Dallas. It became a critical and commercial smash, and remains a classic within the franchise.

In From Russia with Love, Bond is sent to Istanbul to assist the young and beautiful (obviously) Tatiana Romanova who wishes to defect to the West. However, unbeknownst to Bond this is a trap set up by SPECTRE operatives to not only kill Bond but also retrieve a Russian decoding machine they plan to use for their own evil gain. SPECTRE assassin Donald Grant (Robert Shaw) is hot on their trails.

As with Dr. No, Connery is near perfect in the role and I can definitely see why so many people consider him the best Bond (I personally prefer Daniel Craig but that’s another discussion). He has just the right amount of charm and charisma to make any man look feeble by comparison, but that charm can turn at the turn of a dime and he can be threatening in a believable way, and that’s what so great about Connery’s iteration of the character. Tatiana, or Tanja as she’s called (Daniela Blachi) is an interesting Bond girl, and Blachi is a better actress than Ursula Andress. She’s a hopeful young girl who’s looking to do her duty for Mother Russia. If she had been written as a more active character I think she could’ve gone down as one of my favorite Bond girls. And Robert Shaw is an imposing villain and nemesis to Bond, but I wish he had less lines, as he’s much more threatening when he doesn’t talk (and his voice does sound strange at first, especially when one is mostly familiar with him through Jaws). We also get some fun side characters, like Ali Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendáriz), the MI6 head in Istanbul who’s staff seems to consist of his entire family (his sons anyways). He gets along with Bond being just as sleazy as he is, which is not exactly pc but it’s somewhat entertaining and there’s something innocent about it. There are also some returning cast members that would become regulars of the franchise, and they include Bernard Lee’s M and Lois Maxwell’s Miss Moneypenny, and also the first appearance of Desmond Llewelyn as Q, one of my favorite actors and characters in the series.

From Russia with Love shares with Dr. No the element of suspense and espionage as more important than action-oriented set-pieces. But make no mistake, there are quite a few action scenes throughout, but they’re relatively small-scale compared to the later installments. We get an assassination attempt, a great little fight on a train and a nice albeit laughable and semi-dated car-and-helicopter-turned-boat chase towards the end. These are all solid sequences in their own right and keep the film engaging through the way they’re shot and edited.

So not my favorite Bond film by some distance, but still entertaining and an overall improvement to Dr. No, and it is most certainly “shaken.”


Next week, James Bond and I will return from Russia with love so we can fight Goldfinger. See you all then! Do svidaniya!

Published by davidalkhed

Co-creator, critic and columnist for A Fistful of Film.

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