Our Word Is Our Bond returns, and today it’s the turn of MoM newcomer Nick Connor to present his analysis of From Russia With Love (1963) starring Sean Connery, Daniella Bianchi and Robert Shaw.
The Bond movies are an unarguable phenomenon. The films have been in the public consciousness since the early sixties and are still a huge box-office draw today.
The reasons for this are numerous: big action set pieces, hissable villains, globetrotting adventures, wry humour, sharp suits, glamorous and sometimes dangerous women, gadgets etc, etc.
From Russia with Love has all these in abundance, but it also has a complex (if not entirely plausible) spy story (which some Bond films don’t), plus it is much more rooted in reality than most of the films. It has a hard-edged quality that sets it apart from some of the other films. It’s a thriller first and foremost, and a Bond film second.
The basic plot is as follows. SPECTRE have a convoluted plan set in motion concerning a Lektor decoder, James Bond and a glamorous Russian cypher clerk – cue lots of running about in different countries, and crosses and double crosses galore.
Connery’s second stab at playing the most famous spy in the history of movies is a much slicker, more assured affair than his first run at the part – Dr No (1962). He is much more comfortable in the role and appears to inhabit the part much easier.
He has been described as moving like a cat: this may be the case in Dr No but in this he is more like a panther. He’s sleek, elegant, cruel, handsome and charming. Connery moves through the film looking like he was born to be Bond. Sometimes in the first film he came over as a bit stiff but here he is much more confident and has developed the Bond cool.
The ease and languid cool that Connery brings to the role were apparently the main responsibility of director Terence Young, who coached the rude and crude young actor into a virtual facsimile of himself. That could be looked at as vanity of the worst kind or, indeed, one of the smartest moves in Bond history – I know which camp I fall into.
This is quite sombre and downbeat for a Bond film. The action set pieces don’t tend towards the ostentatious, although the gypsy shootout and the stunt with the exploding boat are still pretty impressive.
The main bad guy Red Grant, played by Robert Shaw, is a psychotic, grim-faced killer who has a tremendously brutal fight on the Orient Express with Connery that could have come from a Daniel Craig Bond film. It’s all kicks to the face, vicious punches and throwing each other about like wrestlers. Shaw’s is a performance devoid of humour or humanity – Grant is a killing machine who enjoys his job. No physical affectations for him, no steel teeth, webbed or hooked hands – just efficient kills.
One of my favourite quotes (and one of the most famous ones in this film) is when Bond taunts Grant about playing at being a gentleman by inelegantly ordering red wine with fish. Later in the film with Bond at his mercy, Grant’s blunt, gritted teeth reply is simple: “You may know the right wines but you’re the one on your knees.”
Pedro Armendariz, in his last role as he was seriously ill with cancer at the time, lights up the screen when he appears as Bond’s Turkish contact. The scenes with him and Connery exhibit real warmth and affection.
The love interest Tatiana Romanova (Daniella Bianchi) is a blonde haired stunner, but pretty bland to be honest. This probably helps with her part as she is suckered into the convoluted goings-on relatively easily. She comes across as more of a plot device than a character.
Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya), who cons Tatiana into thinking she is still working for Mother Russia, is brilliant. There is a heavy hint of her being a predatory lesbian, a control freak and a babbling subordinate when faced with her boss. She obviously had great fun playing this part… and it shows.
The pace of the film is not as frenetic as some others in the Bond series but it jogs along at its own pace, taking its time to sketch out the plot. It’s a film that seems to be confident enough to take its time and seed its plot points without having to keep throwing huge set pieces and fight scenes every two minutes to maintain its audience.
From Russia with Love has plenty of the traditional Bond trappings but stands out as a more serious-minded experience than most of the early Bond films. It probably has more in common with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, For Your Eyes Only, the Dalton films, or Casino Royale (2006).
Not the most fast-paced or humorous film, but a damn good spy thriller that has lasted the passing of time rather well. I go back to this one more than I do Goldfinger or You Only Live Twice. Both of those are wonderfully entertaining but I really enjoy the innate drama and seriousness of From Russia with Love. Would the films have lasted as long as they had if they stuck to this semi-serious template? Maybe, maybe not, but it would be a shame to have been deprived of the more tongue-in-cheek films too. The world would be a poorer, more miserable place without, say, The Spy Who Loved Me or Moonraker. What keeps the Bond franchise going is the ability to change with the times and to continue re-inventing itself – long may they continue!
MoM Rating: 9/10