Following events such as the Red Scare, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion, the timing was ripe for movies that demonized those who practiced Communism. With the first adaptation of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, Dr. No, having been a success, Producer Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli along with Director Terence Young returned for another shot. This time the choice was to base their film on the novel From Russia With Love.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Having gotten the attention of SPECTRE in the last film, Dr. No, James Bond (portrayed by Sean Connery) must deal with the ramifications of that notoriety. Right from the beginning, it’s shown how serious a threat SPECTRE feels the super-spy is to their desire for world domination. Their agents are being trained specifically to assassinate the spy. Yes, this time it’s personal.
The trap is set by Rosa Klebb (portrayed by Lotte Lenya), a former KGB agent and the third in line at SPECTRE, and the bait is a Lektor cipher machine and a beautiful agent who says she wants to defect with the machine. A letter is sent to Bond stating that the potential defector, Tatiana Romanova, has fallen in love with him based on the picture in the file and will offer up the Lektor if he will come to get her. Romanova is led to believe it is all being done to benefit her nation, while in reality Klebb and others in strategically high places in the Soviet government are out only to benefit themselves through SPECTRE.
While both Bond and M (portrayed by Bernard Lee) are wary of the offer, it’s too good to pass up. He travels to Istanbul where he joins up with another British agent, Ali Kerim Bey (portrayed by Pedro Armendariz). They are observed by Donovan Grant, a.k.a “Red” (portrayed by Robert Shaw), who is one of the trained assassins. Bey and Bond are kindred spirits.
The SPECTRE assassin sets it up so that the Russians will blame the British for the events that transpire, and vice-versa. The rest of the film is a thrilling ride along with Bond as he attempts to outwit SPECTRE and Red and secure the Lektor for the free world.
What struck me right away watching From Russia With Love is just how much Sean Conner is James Bond – he has the smooth, suave, calm, cool, collected demeanor that I would expect from the master spy. I have seen films with two of the other actors who have portrayed him, and they just don’t come close. With the way he goes through women, it could be very easy to develop an intense dislike for the character if not handled properly, but Connery keeps the charisma at a high enough level that I couldn’t help smiling at all of the antics. His friendly banter with Miss Moneypenny (portrayed by Lois Maxwell), a staple of the films, goes a long way toward bringing him back down to earth.
The gadgets are here, but the story is what propels the film along. Most of them are contained within one briefcase that he’s given by the master of these gadgets back at MI6, Major Boothroyd (portrayed by Desmond Llewelyn). The action sequences flow nicely with the story, rather than seeming as if the story is there to create a reason for the action.
Bond actually has two “girls” in this flick. The first he’s seen with in the beginning, Sylvia Trench (portrayed by Eunice Gayson). The second is Romanova. Unfortunately, I found the performance by Daniela Bianchi to be less than stellar and the only real weakness of the film. She was unconvincing in the role in many ways, and this makes it hard to believe her passion for the suave spy turns her from her love of mother Russia to him. I even wondered about how Bond could be taken in by her in the least, and how a smart woman like Rosa Klebb could ever think Romanova could put one over on him.
What makes up for the weakness there is the performance of Lotte Lenya as Klebb. She is simply marvelous as the wicked and evil villain of the film, and a worthy successor to Dr. No as the leader of SPECTRE if she had been given that opportunity. This was the 1960’s and the idea of a woman so intelligently devious would likely be off-putting to some had she been elevated to that level. Leyna is so strong in that role, and so completely believable that it seems inevitable that is the direction her character would have taken.
From Russia With Love works on so many levels and it’s thoroughly enjoyable to watch even today. The commentary on the DVD is also worth listening to, as Director Terence Young gives lots of good tidbits and memories of the production. Put the great movie together with a decent DVD production, and it’s pretty much a given that anyone who calls themselves a Bond fan will have this in their collection already.
• Inside From Russia With Love
• Harry Saltzman: Showman
• Commentary with Director Terence Young
• Storyboard Sequence
• Television Spots
• Radio Spots
• The From Russia With Love Gallery
Previous movie in the series (link): Dr. No
Next movie in the series (link): Goldfinger