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From Russia With Love Movie Review

Meet James Bond, secret agent 007. His new incredible women... His new incredible enemies... His new incredible adventures...

Title: 'From Russia With Love'

Released: 05/27/1964

Budget: $2,000,000

Gross (US; Worldwide): $24,796,765; $78,900,000

Producer: Albert R. Broccoli & Harry Satlzman

Writer: Richard Maibaum (Adapted by: Johanna Harwood)

Director: Terence Young

Based On: book 'From Russia With Love', written by Ian Fleming

Stars: Sean Connery as James Bond 007, Daniel Bianchi (as Tatiana Romanova), Pedro Armendariz (as Kerim Bay), Lotte Lenya (as Rosa Klebb), Robert Shaw (as Donald "Red" Grant); Also Starring Bernard Lee as M, Desmond Llewelyn as Q, and Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny.

Plot: See COMMENTARY

Commentary: 'From Russia With Love' is easily one of the best films in the entire Bond franchise. The story is simple and never over-the-top. Almost every character is incredibly well developed in this subtle, smart thriller.

The film starts with the first teaser in the Bond series, but it isn't like the later teasers in which we see Bond on a mission unrelated to the major plot of the film. What this teaser is, however, is just that – it teases us like no other teaser will. We see James Bond die. We see him, at the hands of an assassin, get killed. Obviously, this could not be the case, or there’d be no movie. What we're seeing is actually a training exercise for S.P.E.C.T.R.E. assassin Grant, but it's thrilling nonetheless, and because we see what Grant does to the fake Bond in this exercise, we anticipate the final showdown between Grand and the real Bond. In other words, because we see Grant succeed at killing the fake Bond, we look forward to the moment in which he tries to kill the real Bond and fails.

After the title credit sequence, we learn just how S.P.E.C.T.R.E. plans to get Grant and Bond together. The filmmakers take us to a Russian chess match. One of the players gets an ominous note that he is requested at once. After a few more moves, he wins the match and goes to where he has been requested. We learn that this smart man is a S.P.E.C.T.R.E. agent named Kronsteen. S.P.E.C.T.R.E.'s chief, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, has asked Kronsteen to develop a trap to lure and kill Bond, who foiled S.P.E.C.T.R.E.'s plans in 'Dr. No,' while simultaneously causing war to break out between Russia and the West. Another S.P.E.C.T.R.E. operative, Soviet defector Rosa Klebb, will carry out the operation. At this point, we see that S.P.E.C.T.R.E. is creating its own game of chess. James Bond is the king they are trying to capture in checkmate, and Grant will be the knight trying to put him there. This scheme works in the audience's imagination because we know how deadly Grant is and how smart Kronsteen is.

Klebb convinces a young, beautiful Soviet consulate secretary, Tatiana, to become a pawn in the trap. Tatiana does not know that Klebb has defected, so she thinks what she is about to do is all for Mother Russia. Tatiana will offer herself to James Bond, writing to MI6 that if he comes to Turkey and brings her back to England, she will help him obtain the prized Lector decoder, which MI6 could use to spy on the Soviets. When they get her letter, Bond and M agree that it sounds like a trap, but the possibility of obtaining the Lector is well worth the effort, so Bond heads off to Turkey.

Upon Bond's arrival in Istanbul, the film slightly mirrors his arrival in Jamaica in 'Dr. No.' A driver introduces himself to Bond, and as they drive away, they are followed by another car. The difference is that Bond has learned from his experience in Jamaica – his own driver reveals that he works for MI6 by uttering an agreed-upon password. The driver takes Bond to Istanbul's station chief, Ali Kerim Bey, charmingly played by Pedro Armendariz and easily one of the most entertaining and useful allies in the series.

Bey gives Bond a lesson in the Istanbul spy game by telling him who can be trusted and who cannot, and Bond romances Tatiana. Now and then, we see Grant following Bond, waiting for Bond and Tatiana to steal the Lector so he can kill Bond and take it himself. Bey and Bond do some eavesdropping on the Russian consulate and work out their plan to come out of Turkey with both Tatiana and the Lector. The filmmakers spend a good deal of time developing the characters of both Tatiana and Kerim, while Grant sits in the shadows. There's not a whole lot of action in the first half of the film – the characters spy and plot and think. The film is especially refreshing today when most action movies are never-ending special effects showcases.

The action picks up when Bond and Kerim create a slight disturbance –- a mild explosion -- at the Russian consulate, and Bond slips in, grabs Tatiana and the Lector. The three hop on a train to go across Europe. A train is obviously not the most efficient way to travel, but it is a deliberate and smart choice for the script. The next thirty minutes take place on the train, the perfect setting for building tension leading up to the fight between Bond and Grant, who hops on the train as well, waiting for the right moment to strike.

Bond and Tatiana pretend to be a newly married British couple on their honeymoon, and Bond and Kerim set up a meeting with another MI6 agent, who will join Bond on the train and take the Lector. Grant, who has remained out of Bond's view, overhears the plan, and when the train stops were the MI6 agent is supposed to get on, Grant gets off, finds him, kills him, and steals his identity. As Grant sees it, checkmate is imminent. The big fight between Bond and Grant we've been looking for comes, and it doesn't disappoint. Bond utilizes Q's gadget-equipped briefcase to good effect, and Grant, who has also killed Kerim by this point, tries to kill Bond with his strangle-wire hidden in his watch. The showdown is an edge-of-your-seat romp in a darkened train car, and is one of the most memorable, iconic fight scenes ever staged in a motion picture.

Bond wins out of course, but the action doesn't stop there. 007 and Tatiana flee the train and take the truck waiting for Grant. Soon, they're hunted down by a S.P.E.C.T.R.E. helicopter in a well-shot, thrilling sequence. Bond and Tatiana again survive.

When Blofeld hears the news, he's not happy. He calls Klebb and Kronsteen back onto his boat, and he's got a gripe with both of them. Kronsteen's plan was supposed to be flawless, but it wasn't, and Klebb's agent, Grant, should have been able to kill Bond. Blofeld wants to kill one of his two subordinates, and he tells them as much. The setting of the boat works especially well because as he is deciding, the boat is literally rocking back and forth on the water, so the frame continually moves up and down, left and right, just so subtly, mimicking the debate Klebb and Kronsteen think Blofeld is having in his own mind. They both plead their cases, but Blofeld has already made up his mind. In walks Morzeny, another S.P.E.C.T.R.E. operative, with a poisoned-tipped knife sticking out of the front of his shoe. Morzeny kills Kronsteen.

No longer trusting of Klebb's abilities, Blofeld sends Morzeny to track down Bond and Tatiana, who are now making their way west through the Mediterranean on a little boat, and retrieve the Lector. Mozeny and some goons soon come in on speedboats of their own, and the ensuing chase is tight and exciting. Bond demonstrates his ingenuity by tossing the boat's reserve barrels of fuel, which have started to leak, into the water and shooting them, causing them to explode and creating a small sea of fire. Morzeny and the goons perish, and Bond and Tatiana make it to Venice.

In Venice, Bond and Tatiana enjoy the safety of their hotel room, until Klebb comes in, disguised as a maid. This final attempt at assassinating Bond reeks of desperation, as Klebb knows if she doesn't finish the job here, she'll no longer be living. Klebb comes at Bond, making a phone call to London, with the poison shoe, but Tatiana, no longer loyal to Klebb or the USSR, saves Bond's life by shooting her former boss. This sequence makes Tatiana one of the most fascinating Bond girls ever – no matter what anybody tries or says, she decides what her loyalties are (and she decides, leading to Klebb's demise, that she is loyal to Bond and the West). Moreover, she is not just a damsel in distress – she's willing to act on her loyalties.

A final romantic scene on a Venetian gondola leave Bond and Tatiana, and the audience, relaxed and entirely satisfied. A checkmate for Bond against S.P.E.C.T.R.E., as opposed to the other way around, and a brilliant move by the filmmakers – Bond can be fun and serious, sexy and romantic, thrilling and smart. Unfortunately, it will be some time before another Bond film will share all these qualities.

Verdict:
4.0/4.0

Also in the From Russia With Love dossier:   Allies | Gadgets | Girls | Pictures | Reviews | Teaser | Villains
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