From Russia With Love, the second film adaptation of Ian Fleming’s work to depict MI6 agent James Bond, cold opens on a cat and mouse chase at night. Bond (Sean Connery) steps out of the shadows and moves silently across the grassy landscape, knowing that he is being tailed. The assailant (Robert Shaw), stalks Bond, then retreats to the cover of a nearby bush to wait for the perfect moment to strike. Surprisingly, he gets that perfect moment. Bond goes down, choked by wire at the hands of the assassin. The super spy is bested.
Or is he.
Lights go up, and an army of men are revealed. The event was a training exercise and Bond: a grunt in a Connery mask. Someone is out to get Bond. Someone very powerful.
Following the mesmerizing, albeit somewhat disorienting, opening credits sequence, we are given inside access to SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion. Boy, what a mouth-full!), a criminal super-organization set up briefly in Bond’s debut film Dr. No. Criminal mastermind Blofeld (Anthony Dawson (body) and Eric Pohlmann (voice)) speaks of fighting fish and how SPECTRE succeeds by pitting others against each other.
SPECTRE operative Kronsteen (Vladek Sheybal)–or “Number 5” as he is codenamed–has devised a plan to steal a Lektor cryptograh from the Russians, while also enlisting MI6 for help. In doing this, they expect to trap Bond and kill him as revenge for the death of Dr. No.
We don’t meet Bond (the real Bond) until about 20 minutes into the movie, and, when we do, he’s doing exactly what one would expect him to be doing. The 00-agent’s charming, womanizing character is established in one panning shot.
A cold war between MI6 and SPECTRE is established quickly. SPECTRE knows that their trap won’t go unnoticed. MI6 knows immediately that a trap is afoot. SPECTRE knows that MI6 will dive headfirst into the trap regardless. MI6 dives headfirst into the trap regardless. It’s a fun pair of scenes that sets up the relationship between the two organizations.
From Russia With Love also continues establishing what would become traditions of the Bond franchise. Q might not be named Q yet, but Bond is still given gadgets to work with, namely a sniper rifle folded into your standard briefcase. We also have an extended opening credit sequence that is far superior to Dr. No‘s, one which likely set up the trend of beginning each film with a visually lavish opening.
From Russia With Love also carries on the tradition from Dr. No of dubbing over the majority of the actresses in the film in order to maximize their sex appeal. This is a painfully obvious tactic that shatters the established reality of the environment.
Everyone knows that James Bond has a tendency for misogyny, particularly in these early films. This said, there is a sequence in this film that is questionable in its portrayal of women, even for a Bond film. It is a scene that, in and of itself, has no bearing on the plot, and thus has no reason to be in the film. The action scene that immediately follows this sequence, however, is grand in scale, and shows how far this film has climbed in quality over its predecessor. You win some and you lose some, I guess.
Like Dr. No, there are slow moments in From Russia With Love. But Love builds on the first film by expanding the universe and delivering more exciting action scenes. The character of Bond is refined and perfected, and Connery delivers another suave performance. The villains are far more central to the narrative than in Dr. No, and they are more menacing (particularly Robert Shaw’s Grant). It also has far superior editing that contributes to the strong pacing of suspenseful moments. It is easily one of the most well-rounded Bond films in the canon.
Much of what makes the lesser Bond films cheesy, campy, or downright silly is done right in From Russia With Love.
From Russia With Love: A-
As always, thanks for reading!
From Russia With Love is currently available to rent/buy on Amazon Video here.
Have you seen From Russia With Love? If so, what did you think? What is your favorite Bond film? Let me know in the comments!
- From Russia With Love: A-
- Dr. No: B
–Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)