James Bond films

Movie Review: From Russia With Love – James Bond #2

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.


SPECIAL FEATURES:

• Inside From Russia With Love
• Harry Saltzman: Showman
• Commentary with Director Terence Young
• Trailers
• Storyboard Sequence
• Television Spots
• Radio Spots
• The From Russia With Love Gallery




Previous movie in the series (link): Dr. No

3 replies »

  1. I wonder what Ian Fleming or John le Carré would have thought of the latest Ipcress File TV series. They allegedly occasionally met up with Len Deighton but alas their meetings ended in arguments about who was best equipped to write the most realistic books. It’s a shame all three focused on fiction. Fiction, fiction, fiction … why are so many spy novels thus? Factual novels enable the reader to research more about what’s in the novel in press cuttings, history books etc and such research can be as rewarding and compelling as reading an enthralling novel. Furthermore, if even just marginally autobiographical, the author has the opportunity to convey the protagonist’s genuine hopes and fears as opposed to hypothetical stuff any author can dream up about say what it feels like to avoid capture. A good example of a “real” raw noir espionage thriller is the first novel in The Burlington Files series. Its protagonist, Bill Fairclough aka Edward Burlington, was of course a real as opposed to a celluloid spy and has even been likened to a “posh and sophisticated Harry Palmer”. Apparently Bill Fairclough once contacted John le Carré in 2014 to do a collaboration. John le Carré replied “Why should I? I’ve got by so far without collaboration so why bother now?” A realistic response from a famous expert in fiction!

    Liked by 1 person

      • Patti – You may also like this anecdote we published elsewhere! It’s a non-promotional anecdote about real spies and authors from the espionage genre whether you’re a le Carré connoisseur, a Deighton disciple, a Fleming fanatic, a Herron hireling or a Macintyre marauder. If you don’t love all such things you might learn something so read on! It’s a must read for espionage cognoscenti.

        As Kim Philby (codename Stanley) and KGB Colonel Oleg Gordievsky (codename Sunbeam) would have told you in their heyday, there is one category of secret agent that is often overlooked … namely those who don’t know they have been recruited. For more on that topic we suggest you read Beyond Enkription (explained below) and a recent article on that topic by the ex-spook Bill Fairclough. The article can be found at TheBurlingtonFiles website in the News Section. The article (dated July 21, 2021) is about “Russian Interference”; it’s been read well over 20,000 times.

        Now talking of Gordievsky, John le Carré described Ben Macintyre’s fact based novel, The Spy and The Traitor, as “the best true spy story I have ever read”. It was of course about Kim Philby’s Russian counterpart, a KGB Colonel named Oleg Gordievsky, codename Sunbeam. In 1974 Gordievsky became a double agent working for MI6 in Copenhagen which was when Bill Fairclough aka Edward Burlington unwittingly launched his career as a secret agent for MI6. Fairclough and le Carré knew of each other: le Carré had even rejected Fairclough’s suggestion in 2014 that they collaborate on a book. As le Carré said at the time, “Why should I? I’ve got by so far without collaboration so why bother now?” A realistic response from a famous expert in fiction in his eighties!

        Philby and Gordievsky never met Fairclough, but they did know Fairclough’s handler, Colonel Alan McKenzie aka Colonel Alan Pemberton CVO MBE. It is little wonder therefore that in Beyond Enkription, the first fact based novel in The Burlington Files espionage series, genuine double agents, disinformation and deception weave wondrously within the relentless twists and turns of evolving events. Beyond Enkription is set in 1974 in London, Nassau and Port au Prince. Edward Burlington, a far from boring accountant, unwittingly started working for Alan McKenzie in MI6 and later worked eyes wide open for the CIA.

        What happens is so exhilarating and bone chilling it makes one wonder why bother reading espionage fiction when facts are so much more breathtaking. The fact based novel begs the question, were his covert activities in Haiti a prelude to the abortion of a CIA sponsored Haitian equivalent to the Cuban Bay of Pigs? Why was his father Dr Richard Fairclough, ex MI1, involved? Richard was of course a confidant of British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, who became chief adviser to JFK during the Cuban missile crisis.

        Len Deighton and Mick Herron could be forgiven for thinking they co-wrote the raw noir anti-Bond narrative, Beyond Enkription. Atmospherically it’s reminiscent of Ted Lewis’ Get Carter of Michael Caine fame. If anyone ever makes a film based on Beyond Enkription they’ll only have themselves to blame if it doesn’t go down in history as a classic espionage thriller.

        By the way, the maverick Bill Fairclough had quite a lot in common with Greville Wynne (famous for his part in helping to reveal Russian missile deployment in Cuba in 1962) and has also even been called “a posh Harry Palmer”. As already noted, Bill Fairclough and John le Carré (aka David Cornwell) knew of each other but only long after Cornwell’s MI6 career ended thanks to Kim Philby shopping all Cornwell’s supposedly secret agents in Europe. Coincidentally, the novelist Graham Greene used to work in MI6 reporting to Philby and Bill Fairclough actually stayed in Hôtel Oloffson during a covert op in Haiti (explained in Beyond Enkription) which was at the heart of Graham Greene’s spy novel The Comedians. Funny it’s such a small world!

        Liked by 1 person

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