Posted November 18, 2010 by editor in Retrospectives

From Russia With Love

After grounding the character and establishing a few well known traits, Director Terrence Young and leading man Sean Connery cemented the future of James Bond with this follow up that saw things get all the more personal for 007.

This is quickly established by the fact that the growing organisation of SPECTRE has their eyes set on bond in a scene that sees their operative, Red Grant (Robert Shaw), take out Connery with a garrotte wire from his wristband. Of course this shock opening is alleviated when they pull off the mask of Connery to reveal another man underneath. Phew! Bond is still alive somewhere, but – clearly he is in for some trouble. Opening credits roll.

The plot thickens when we meet Rosa Klebb (a secret SPECTRE agent) who recruits a young female operative, in the form of Tatiana Romanova, to work firstly with MI6 and then turncoat for Mother Russia once they have come into possession of the Lektor (the movie’s maguffin).

Grant is hired to keep tabs on them both an eliminate anyone who gets in the way which he does without raising too much suspicion. It’s a plot heavy Bond with little in the way of gadgets (despite this film being the introduction of Q). Bond also finds a friend in Ali Kerim Bey who provides much of the films humour. All in all though it isn’t a plot that you remember. It is the set pieces and characters that are memorable from this second outing.

The scare opening aside, there is the Gipsy camp fight, the helicopter chase, the boat chase, but probably more than any – the fight between red Grant and Bond on the train. It’s still brutal watching it today – as both actors appear in the shots and don’t seem to be giving the other actor too easy a time of it all. And it is here that Connery confirms his reputation as a Bond who can out think the villain.

Grant has had the upper hand throughout the film – but only because he has been working from the shadows (this could be perceived as cowardly behaviour and the only reason why – and where- he gets his power from). Once out in the open it doesn’t take Bond long to figure out something is amiss. And even when Grant has him on his knees, Bond is able to turn it to his favour.

This of course is where the first of many “Q Gadgets to the rescue” scenes come in. The ensuing fight then proves it could be fatal for either character, but Bond of course comes out on top. A mention of Robert Shaw must go out though as Red Grant, although technically a supporting heavy, is still one of the best villains Bond has come up against thanks to having brains as well as the muscle to take the job on. And you really need both if you have any chance of taking on James Bond. And From Russia With Love features a one on one battle that ranks high in the greatest onscreen frights in cinema history.

The pace of the film is probably one of the most confident as it does not rush itself into anything. You don’t get any high powered action scenes until the second half of the film. But when we do they are very varied from the open land, to the water, to claustrophobic close quarters. Some involve weaponry, some hand to hand and others have very large explosions.

Although composer John Barry was involved in Dr. No, he stepped up to the position of full time composer here for the 1st out of 11 times in Bond’s cinematic history. Although other composers have added their own small contributions to the franchise (which David Arnold currently pays homage to Barry in the few he has done) no-one seems to quite have the skills that Barry demonstrated. Each of his scores have their own musical stamp for characters as well as the familiar Bond themes. There is usually an overriding theme in each film as well which Barry has fused to the title song for each that was written (and in some cases, secondary tracks that appear in the body of the film or over the end credits). From Russia With Love isn’t his best effort, but it was a strong springboard from which he took the franchise upwards.

The look of the film is very grand (just check out that marvellous hall that the Chess Game is played in) but doesn’t over do it with Sci-Fi looking hidden bases. It’s a very earthbound film, and supremely confident. Goldfinger hit big at the box office after this film and became the big classic most remember, but if you revisit From Russia With Love you’d be surprised at how mature and well aged it is, and I’ll say it again, just like the man’s name: Confident, Very Confident.

Steven Hurst