From Russia with Love Movie Review
As everyone knows, a piece of machinery isn't enough to set Bond into action. You need a piece of something else, and SPECTRE finds it in the form of Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi), a beautiful cipher clerk in the Soviet secret service who's got the goods on the decoder. Under instructions from the über-evil Rosa Klebb (the fabulous Lotta Lenya), a SPECTRE operative posing as a Soviet official, Tatiana agrees to her mission: To put out the signal that she wants to defect to the West, and that she's willing to smuggle the decoder too, provided that Bond escort her safely through the Iron Curtain.
Bond smells something fishy, but he's too hot for Tatiana and too curious to uncover a scheme that's got SPECTRE's dirty fingerprints all over it. So, he jets off to Istanbul to rendezvous with Tatiana, only to become embroiled in spy-vs-spy brouhaha, alongside his local liaison Ali (Armendáriz), involving Russians, gypsies, and belly dancers. Still, this plot-within-a-plot isn't entirely like a red herring; though he doesn't know it, Red Grant (Robert Shaw), a steely-eyed assassin in SPECTRE's employ, is on Bond's tail and readying for the kill.
As things heat up, Tatiana falls for the suave Bond who, likewise, can't help but take a shine to the Russian, played by Bianchi with a fetching mix of innocence and sensuality. Russia was the second of three films (sandwiched between Dr. No and Goldfinger) in which Connery would mark out the cinematic persona to which every subsequent actor to play Bond has had the near-impossible task of measuring up. Indeed, one of the great pleasures of Russia is watching Connery etch out the mystique by which both he and Bond would forever be associated -- the wry machismo, the sarcastic quick-wittedness, and a temperament as given to shrewd observation as to violent action.
Decoder in tow, Bond and Tatiana slip aboard a train for the Balkans. The extended sequence that follows, in which the long-awaited confrontation between Bond and Grant takes place, illustrates what's so terrific about Johanna Harwood and Richard Maibaum's script. Unlike the gadget-addled shortcuts of many a post-Goldfinger excursion, the spy-work here is done the hard way, through old-fashioned intrigue and characters sizing each other up. The famous fight scene between Bond and Grant inside the train's cramped quarters is riveting enough, but more so is the gripping lead-up in which the insidious Grant tries to finesse his way into Bond's good graces. These scenes are sharply handled by both actors and aim for a notching-up of tensions that rely on subtle craft over blunt spectacle. In what is refreshingly a low-key Bond outing, director Terence Young, when called upon it, delivers on the action too. For an early '60s production, Young's staging of helicopter attacks, boat chases, and the aforementioned train showdown are all impressive.
In From Russia with Love, we find a James Bond movie with the sensibilities of a classic Cold War thriller -- its pacing is slow and deliberate as Bond puts together the pieces of the conspiracy against him, and its tone bespeaks the romantic exoticism of Soviet Bloc Eastern Europe. Here's a Bond movie closer to, say, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold than Moonraker; in other words, this is old-school Ian Fleming, free of the cartoonishness and excesses of later Bonds, and maybe the one Bond movie in which the spy and the world for which he was created are perfectly in sync.
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