James Bond: Classic, Cheese or Crap? – “From Russia With Love”
“From Russia With Love”1963 Bond: Sean Connery
Classic, Cheese or Crap?: Classic
“From Russia With Love” was the second Bond film ever made. At that point, the franchise wasn’t even a franchise. I mean, if you only have two movies, wouldn’t the second one just be called a “sequel”? It’s widely hailed as being the most realistic Bond movie ever… that the action and plot of this film hew more closely to the real world activities of Cold War era spies than any other Bond film.
It’s undoubtedly a classic.
Yet I have to admit it’s my least favorite of the five “good” (DN->YOLT) Connery Bonds.
Probably the most widely known distinction about “From Russia With Love” is that JFK was quoted as calling it his favorite book of all time. This was a point in the Bond series when the movies were still adapting the novels directly. After the success of Dr. No, UA was all too happy to greenlight a second film, doubling the budget Saltzman and Broccoli had to work with.
“From Russia With Love” revolves around SPECTRE’s attempt to get revenge on Bond specifically for his role in the death of Dr. No (how this movie wasn’t considered a “Direct Sequel” I’ve never figured out). Knowing he’s a notorious womanizer, they dangle a gorgeous blonde in front of him, defecting with a prized piece of codebreaking equipment – the Lektor. Knowing its a trap, MI6 sends Bond after it anyways.
The main selling point (for me) are the villains. Primarily the fantastic Red Grant, played by the inimitable Robert Shaw. He’s shown to be an imposing assassin at the beginning of the film – a physical specimen à la a 1960s Ivan Drago. He tracks Bond and poses as a MI6 agent, having a civil chat that does double duty as a game of cat and mouse. Eventually the ruse is up, and he and Bond have a close quarters fist fight in a train compartment that is easily one of the best Bond battles of all time.
Bond is also up against the sinister Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya), another great Bond villain. She’s nasty and mean, and packs a switch blade in her boot of all things. Undoubtedly she was the inspiration for Frau Farbissina. Kronsteen has his moments, too, but he’s not all that memorable.
My biggest issue with the film has always been that it’s sparse on action until the end, and then when the action comes, it feels “Tacked on”. The reason it feels that way? Because it was. The two final action sequences (the Bond vs the Helicopter battle and the speedboat chase) weren’t in the novel, but were added exclusively for the film in order to give the movie an “explosive finale”. I’m not sure about anyone else but to me, that’s exactly what it’s always felt like… an addendum.
But overall, I think… of all the “Good” Connery Bonds, this one feels the oldest to me. The slowest. It feels less “Modern Bond” than any of the others, and I know a lot of people relish that… I don’t so much. Please don’t misinterpret, I love the flick. Just saying its a lot further down in my top ten than most people’s, and some of the films I have ahead of it would surprise you.