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BlogalongaBond: From Russia With Love

Dr. No's successful release in 1962 proved that a series of films based on Ian Fleming's James Bond novels was possible. However there was a new question: how long could that series survive? To follow-up Dr. No producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman choose to film one of the best Bond novels, and a recently announced favorite book of US President John F. Kennedy, From Russia With Love. The film they made was, like the novel it was based, destined to become one of the best, if not the best, of the James Bond films.


The key to the success of the film is Sean Connery as James Bond. If Dr. No introduced Connery as Bond, then this is the film that really established him as Bond. Connery is very much the embodiment of Bond: suave, knowledgeable about everything from wines to fine dining, seductive yet more then capable of becoming a killer for Queen and country in an instant. All this is well suited to the film as ranges across all of that including two very famous scenes: the scene with Bond and Tatiana in the former's hotel bedroom and the fight between Bond and Grant towards the end of the film. The overall performance of Connery in the film is not only an improvement on the all ready good Bond seen in Dr. No but one of the best performances of any actor as Bond.


Then there's the two villains of the film. On a more intellectual side is Rosa Klebb played by Lotte Lenya who, despite a limited amount of screen time, gives an effective if not at times creepy performance. On the physical side is Robert Shaw as her henchman Donald Grant. Calling Grant a henchman is an understatement of the highest order for Grant is the villain of the film for much of its length. From the opening sequence to his stalking of Bond across Istanbul and the Orient Express, grant physicality and menace reigns supreme. This is only heightened when Bond and Grant finally meet face to face in the lead up to one of the best fight sequences in film history which gives Shaw a chance to show off some real acting talent. Together, Lenya and Shaw present two of the best villains of the film series.


The only real letdown of the main cast members is Daniela Bianchi as Tatiana Romanova. This was Bianchi's first major film role and it shows. Bianchi performance is for the most part wooden and uninspired, something that shows up heavily in her scene with the much more experienced Lenya early on. Her and Connery do have some good chemistry though which makes the famous scene between them in Bond's hotel bedroom all the more effective. For the most part though, Bianchi's performance is a letdown.


The supporting cast is, like most of the main cast, splendid. Pedro Armendariz as Kerim Bey is a particular high note of the film and he is a highlight of any scene that he appears in. Other highlights of the supporting cast include Walter Gotell as Morzeny, Vladek Sheybal as SPECTRE planner Kronsteen, Eunice Gayson in her second (and final) appearance as Sylvia Trench,Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny and Bernard Lee as M. A notable edition to the cast was Desmond Llewelyn as Major Boothroyd aka Q, making the first of seventeen appearances as the soon to be famous character. The result is one of the best Bond film casts ever assembled.


The production values of the film are also splendid. Production designed Ken Adams was unavailable for the film so Syd Cain took his place and the result is for the film's benefit as this film is based more in reality then Dr. No or Adams or other films. On occasion the film does venture off in the grand and larger then life such as the chess tournament set early in the film or the SPECTRE island training ground and Cain proves more then up to the challenge. Peter Hunt's editing keeps the film moving at a pace which suits not only the fine direction of Terrance Young but the atmospheric cinematography of Ted Moore. All of these elements come together to create classic sequences such as the fight on the Orient Express and the various action sequences that lead up to the ending of the film. The result is superb all around.


From Russia With Love is notable also for the being the first Bond film to feature a score by John Barry. Barry, who had worked on the James Bond Theme for Dr. No, creates a score that is everything the score to Dr. No wasn't: highly atmospheric, individual and far from repetitive. Barry not only uses the Bond Theme but also supplements in with a new theme, the 007 Theme, which makes it debut during the battle at the gypsy camp sequence. Barry's score is highly effective in any scene it is heard in.


The script by Richard Maibaum and Johanna Harwood is just as much a star of the film as its actors or production values. On one level it is a highly faithful adaptation of Fleming's original novel, yet downplays some of the Cold War elements and adds a bit to the film's ending as well. It is also a good example of story construction as well from an opening where the viewer thinks they know what's happening to the build up of suspense right up until the last scenes. It's a script full of interesting character's, action sequences and yet faithful to its source material at the same time. A rare combination indeed.


From Russia With Love itself is a rare combination of fine actors, production values, direction, music and script. It's a film full of suspense that plays on the expectations of viewers, excites them and surpasses them. From Russia With Love proved Bond as a film series by creating one of the best, if not the best, films in that series.