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From Russia With Love

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: From Russia With Love

Starring: Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi
Director: Terence Young
Rated: PG
RunTime: 119 Minutes
Release Date: May 1964
Genres: 007, Action, Suspense, Classic

*Also starring: Lotte Lenya, Pedro Armendariz Sr., Robert Shaw, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell

Review by Dragan Antulov
3 stars out of 4

In the last decade of its existence Soviet Union was desperately trying to counter overwhelming Western efforts on the propaganda front of Cold War. That effort, among other things, consisted in the multitude of explicitly anti-Soviet spy and action thrillers like RED DAWN or RAMBO 2, so Soviets had to produce novels, movies and television shows that would give their side of the story. One of such examples was 1984 mini-series TASS IS AUTHORISED TO DECLARE..., aired on former Yugoslav television in mid 1980s. The series was boring as hell, but those viewers patient enough to sit through it in its entirety were rewarded with occasional hilarious moment or too. One of them was the scene featuring KGB agent leisurely discussing James Bond movies with his CIA counterpart and mentioning FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. The author of this review is unaware whether Soviet citizens in 1984 were able to watch that particular film, but the citizens of former Yugoslavia were not. That 1963 Bond film, second in the row, was unofficially banned by former Yugoslav authorities not because of anti-Soviet content, but because the part of the plot takes place in former Yugoslavia, and the original novel by Ian Fleming had painted quite unflattering picture of Zagreb, then one of major cities of former federation. Ironically, it was video distributor from Zagreb that introduced the film to the audience only few years later. It's quite a shame, because for many critics view FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE as the best Bond film.

The plot of the film begins when the anonymous head of SPECTRE organisation authorises very complex plan that would utilise Cold War rivalry between Britain and USSR. At first, British secret agent James Bond (played by Sean Connery) is sent to Istanbul in order to meet Tatiana Romanova (played by Daniela Bianchi), young and beautiful deciphering clerk in Soviet Consulate. Romanova is offering her services in obtaining precious decoding device Lektor from the Consulate in exchange for meeting with handsome British agent she had allegedly fallen in love by watching his photos in KGB files. Bond suspects a trap, and he is right, since Romanova's actions have been actually directed by KGB spymaster Rosa Klebb (played by Lotte Lenya). But Romanova is deceived too, since her boss has just defected to SPECTRE and the ultimate goal of the operation is to bring Lektor to SPECTRE and kill Bond in the process.

One of the reasons why FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE happens to be one of the most popular Bond films is the fact that it remains the closest to the original vision of the character creator Ian Fleming (who also got cameo role in the film). In this film Bond doesn't have to save the world from evil megalomaniacs and their underground armies. The story revolves around rather minor Cold War skirmish, hardly relevant in the general scheme of things, an episode that could be inspired by Ian Fleming's real life adventures during his career in British intelligence. The lack of spectacle usually associated with Bond films is compensated with the complex and intriguing, yet understandable plot. Although the intrigue involves double deception, the scriptwriters Johanna Harwood and Richard Maibum didn't left audience in the dark - from the opening scenes viewers are told about all major details of the conspiracy. That provides additional suspense, because audience knows that Bond is about to face the danger. Even if we are aware of the unwritten rules that mandate Bond winning at the end of the day, the film still remains interesting. Realism of the film is underlined with scriptwriters' efforts to provide some continuity to the series (unlike the rest of Bond movies that usually start from scratch). Events of the previous movie (DR. NO) are referenced, and Sylvia (played by Eunice Grayson) is the only Bond girl who was romantically involved with Bond in two separate Bond films.

Despite the higher dosage of realism, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE still follows the escapist formula of Bond movies. Bond still gets it on with beautiful women and locations of Istanbul are quite exotic (although Wales locations are poor substitute for the coast of Istria, and Venice scenes are even poorer example of blue screen techniques) and Bond still flirts with Moneypenny. The action is not that spectacular, except in the last scenes of the film (where Bond uses some rather crude tools to deal with villains, instead of his favourite gadgets), but the fight scene in train is one of the best in the history of Bond films. Finally, legendary Bond gadgets are introduced, as well as their inventor, Major Boothroyd a.k.a. Q (played by recently deceased Desmond Llewelyn). Another Bond movie ingredient - cool opening titles - seem somewhat inferior compared with the similar scenes in latter Bond films.

The acting is superb, as usual. Connery again proves that he was born to play James Bond and that nobody could do it any better. He is especially good in this film, where the script his usual cockiness confronts with the realities of world where even the heroes might lose a fight or two and let the villains, at least for a while, to have the upper hand. Connery's role is very good, but his partners also did a very good job. Pedro Armendariz as his Istanbul sidekick Karim Bey is especially interesting to watch, since he plays the character who actually shares Bond's hedonism - we might see Karim Bey as some kind of local James Bond. That role is even more powerful when we consider that Armendariz shot this film while being terminally ill. Daniela Bianchi, Italian model and Miss Universe 1960, does more than decent, actually very good job as Bond girl, at least for someone who got the role on the basis of a good look. Robert Shaw as villain is also impressive - Bond films rarely featured truly psychopathic, yet efficient and realistic baddies like this one. Another impressive villain is Lotte Lenya as Klebb; she even manages to bring some interesting subtexts to her role - I wonder why the makers of CELLULOID CLOSET missed the scenes that feature Klebb and Romanova together.

Of course, those who like to nit-pick would find some flaws. My major complaint is somewhat too romantic and rather unrealistic portrayal of Gypsies and terribly fake "catfight" in Gypsy camp. But, generally speaking, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE should be praised as rarely intelligent, yet still entertaining Bond film, one of the shiniest examples of Bonds from golden Connery era. All those who like to truly appreciate Bond phenomenon should watch it.

Copyright 2000 Dragan Antulov

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