Director: Terrence Young
Cast: Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Pedro Armendariz, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn
Film matched beverage: White Russian
Synopsis: SPECTRE is out for revenge for the death of their operative Dr. No. They set up a trap that they know will put Bond in their firing line, with the lure of a Lektor, a Russian decoding machine that will be of great use to the secret service. Tatiana Romanova (Bianchi), a gorgeous Russian belle, also forms part of the lure.
The second instalment of the Bond Franchise took all the best elements of Dr. No, and added to them, creating a thrilling story with many classic moments included. More of the now staple elements of the franchise are added, whilst also not quite including all the elements that make up the entire Bond film formula. The Blu-Ray upgrade is beautiful, though still there are moments that it is perhaps too clear, giving away some of the filming magic that was the special effects of the time.
Though SPECTRE was already previously referred two, in this film we are first introduced to the enigmatic director of the organisation, his face never seen, though his hand constantly stroking a white cat. The image is now part of popular culture sub-conscious, the image being borrowed and parodied innumerable times ever since. Going back to this original though, it is classic film-making. The conceit gives a real sense of menace to this villain whom shall not actually be seen until another three films after this one. It strikes into humanity’s fear of the unknown, that what we imagine can often be more terrible than reality.
Matching this on the iconic scene scales is the final “battle” between Bond and Rosa Klebb (Lenya). [SPOILER ALERT] The poison tipped shoe is a recognisable Bond gadget now, and one that he himself ironically never used. Interestingly, whilst the film adhered pretty closely to the plot from the Fleming novel, in the source material Klebb succeeded in nicking Bond, and his future was uncertain.
The rest of the film is a great example of how to assemble an intriguing spy story. The mystery of Tatiana Romanaova is laid before Bond, so we have a very alluring lead female that one could easily believe he would be intoxicated by. He follows the leads to meet her, while being tailed by an assassin from SPECTRE, a hulking beast of a man named Red Grant (Shaw). He faces challenges all the way, always having to define who is friend and who is foe. Finally, the clues and facts build in such a way that all story threads are tied up, and they build to a simultaneously satisfying and thrilling ending.
From Russia with Love features interesting and memorable characters and set pieces, with a large portion set in Istanbul leading to dinner at a Gypsy camp. Following Jamaica in the first film, this solidifies Bond’s reputation as a globe-trotter visiting exotic locales, which at that time would have been less accessible for your average cinema-goer. Unlike Dr. No, however, this film did not slavishly use the music from this location to sound the film. It was used effectively at times, but John Barry’s spy music motifs were more strongly in the foreground, to match the iconic Bond theme.
What is not yet fully established in this film is once again, the Aston Martin does not appear. Desmond Llewlyn makes his first appearance as a representative from Q branch, however he himself is not yet just simply referred to as Q. In addition, Bond was not equipped by Q in his offices or on the field… rather, Q brought his equipment to his briefing with M towards the start of the film. Both the Aston and the “Q scene” became established with the next film, Goldfinger.
With everything considered, it is fantastic to see FRWL upgraded to Blu-Ray quality. Add this to the restoration work done 10 years ago or so, and the film is now well and truly alive, and not at risk of being lost to the ravages of time now any time soon. Once again, any backgrounds to vehicles do appear to be obvious green screen style shots of the day, and the sharpness of Blu-ray does little to hide this. To be fair however, they looked fake by today’s standards in the original print as well, so I am sure there is very little they could have done about that.
The formula may not yet have been complete, but FRWL is simply brilliant, and a great stand alone film. even if the lead had not been Bond himself, I am sure my review would be identical.
5 stars out of 5
White Russian Recipe
One shot Vodka
Fill glass with Milk
Serve on the rocks in an Old Fashioned (Whiskey) glass