- Directed by Terence Young
- October 10, 1963 (London) / October 11, 1963 (UK) / May 27, 1964 (US)
- Based on Ian Fleming’s 1957 novel From Russia with Love
Knowing it’s a trap but unaware that it’s part of a plot by the nefarious organization SPECTRE, James Bond heads to Turkey to meet a beautiful woman to collect a Russian decoding machine.
In his second outing as the legendary superspy, Sean Connery brings toughness and charm to the character of James Bond. More importantly in From Russia with Love he’s less of an investigator and more of a disruptor who is one step ahead of the bad guys and even if it doesn’t look like it always in charge of the situation. That there is more in keeping with later iterations of the character.
While Bond is a bit more of a disruptor in this, this is a much more intelligent thriller than it is an action-adventure spy film. There are plots and counterplots with two sides pitted against each other in a way that allows them to work for a third-party and neither is aware of being involved.
The plot of this film centers around the mechanizations of SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion). We get our first hint of Ernst Stavro Blofeld (SPECTRE No. 1) (portrayal by Anthony “Prof. Dent in Dr. No” Dawson/dialogue by Eric Pohlmann) though we never actually see his face. Rather cool narrative bit that makes this bad guy just stroking a cat seems so much more dangerous.
In this film James Bond is paired with a beautiful cipher clerk working at the consulate in Istanbul named Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) tricked by a former SMERSH (a portmanteau of the Russian-language phrase meaning “Death to spies”]) head-now-SPECTRE-operative Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) into believing she’s working for the Russian government when in fact it’s part of SPECTRE’s plot. That sounds a bit convoluted but in the context of the film it’s explained rather smoothly and quite logical.
Romanova is a loyal Russian agent who is doing what she believes to be the right thing by her country by becoming involved in this plan but much like in many other Bond films what is intended as a honey trap for James Bond turns out to be the enemy agent getting turned to the side of good by the power of James Bond’s penis.
One of the characters Bond has to face off against (and his primary physical opponent in the story) is referred to as Donald Grant (Robert Shaw) who is a psychotic killer working for SPECTRE. I still can’t wrap my head around that this is the same guy that played Quint in Jaws. It just blows me away. Two very different characters and perhaps that’s why I can’t quite connect the idea.
Viewing this in the modern day one thing that jumps out at me is that Klebb is clearly a lesbian in the context of the film. Just little actions and reactions frame her as such. I thought it when I first saw From Russia with Love and I still think it now. Her sexuality is an aspect of the character but not the main thing presented about the character and none of it is done in a ham-fisted way either. I bring this up because as a general rule it seems more and more filmmakers are just lazy with presenting elements of their character whatever they are yet when we get here it is just gently slipped in and something that’s built upon during the course of Klebb’s screentime.
The story is very much a plot of the Cold War and plays up intelligence and counterintelligence elements of the time. Much of the spy craft occurs in Istanbul, Turkey and what we get there is almost a gentlemanly pursuit rather than a dangerous game with global implications. There James Bond deals with an amiable man named Ali Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendáriz) who heads up MI6 Station T and runs it largely with the assistance of his own children.
From Russia with Love gives us the first gadget exchange (though less impractical as later gadgets) as well as probably one of the first instances of a borderline science-fiction element. In the opener Grant kills a man while he’s training in preparation for his eventual attack on James Bond. The man playing Bond looks just like Bond until it is revealed that he is actually wearing an incredibly lifelike mask. This is something I’ve seen in numerous science-fiction and less than quality spy thrillers and I dare say it originated here.
Desmond Llewelyn portrays Boothroyd/Q for the first time, and this is also Walter Gotell’s first time in a Bond film though as a SPECTRE agent called Morzeny and not as the better known Russian General Gogol. Both actors were important parts of the film series for decades. Q comes and goes pretty quickly. However Morzeny is rather significant though. At the time he was effective at the character but knowing him as General Gogol now it’s hard to separate the two.
From Russia with Love is yet another great entry in the James Bond series and perhaps the sole reason this film franchise is still around. If this hadn’t worked, we would not be 25 movies deep in the series. The story itself is action packed. And it has that element of escapist fun that makes James Bond just great. There’s an appropriate level of humor sprinkled in with everything else to maintain the appropriate level of fun and enjoyment. While James Bond was a spy film series it was not downbeat. This is a good versus evil story with their hero coming out on top and getting the girl.
As sequels go From Russia with Love is great. It has action and excitement and exotic locales and just about everything you could want in a James Bond film. This is a movie I recommend to not only Bond fans but also the general moviegoer!