Saturday, October 19, 2013

Bondathon: From Russia With Love (1963)

Bondathon! Because me writing about the same goddamn thing over and over again is better than me writing about nothing! And don't worry I'll put up a post about my experiences in England once I have an opinion on it beyond "it's cold". Fuck it! Let's jump in.

Obviously, Dr. No was a box office success, but that's probably not a surprise. It did have over twenty goddamn sequels. By this point the studio was very much in the mindset of "okay, we're really doing this." So the next film on the agenda was given a doubled budget (about $2 million), and a release date for literally the next year.  The results were pretty good.

From Russia With Love
Photo Credit: United Artists/MGM

Date: 1963
Director: Terence Young
Bond: Sean Connery
Number: 2
Starring: Daniela Bianchi, Pedro Armendariz, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw, Vladek Sheybal, Lois Maxwell, and Desmond Llewelyn.
The one with: The train, Istanbul, Cold-War, knife-shoes, Red Grant, gypsies.

The interesting thing about this plot is the fact that it's actually fairly complicated, especially compared to the last film. This time, MI6 is contacted by Tatiana Romanova, a Soviet Intelligence agent who wants to defect to England with a code-machine that the English desperately want. The twist is, she will only meet with one agent: James Bond, who she alleges to have fallen in love with after seeing pictures of him somewhere, which is precisely why Bond does not have a facebook.

Obviously it's a trap, she is working for Rosa Klebb, who is, in turn an agent of SPECTRE, a criminal syndicate run by a faceless man with a cat. SPECTRE wants to steal the device and then sell it back to the soviets, while also getting revenge on Bond for killing a former agent: Dr. No.

Bond goes to Istanbul where he meets with agent Kerrim Bey, together they enjoy lapdances by gypsies and fight off Soviet hitman, and Bond meets with Tatiana, before the two finally get on the Orient Express train, and that's where the film really gets started. Throughout the film, Bond must get Tatiana to fall for him so that he can maintain her allegiance and get the device, all while dodging assassination attempts by train, plane, and boat. During the time on the train, we finally get an answer to the age-old question: who would win in a fight between James Bond and Quint from Jaws?
The answer is Batman


Connery is great as ever, but he's more reserved here. This is only the second film, so there's still a level of vulnerability. He almost dies several times, and when he comes face-to-face with Grant, we actually get scared for a second.

The Villain
Photo Credit: United Artists/MGM

There are quite a few villains, actually, but the main one is Rosa Klebb, and she's not too scary. She's more of just a very angry, ugly, Russian women. She has several points of vulnerability and desperation as well, do in no small part to her working under a far more sinister villain whose face is revealed later. She gets the plot moving, but the guy we're scared of comes later.

Bond girls
Photo Credit: United Artists/MGM

This section is actually more restrained this time; we only really get one and that's Tatiana, and she's fantastic. She's gorgeous and witty, and keeps Bond and the audience on their toes as to which side she's on throughout the film. Daniela Bianchi is not a poor actress either, which is great considering she's the catalyst for the film's plot.


But in order to get into what's great about this film I have to go over the supporting cast, particularly the always great Robert Shaw as Red Grant, the hitman hired by Klebb to track down and kill Bond. Part of the great thing about this being the second film is that Bond still feels less like a superhero and more like a man. There are scenes with Shaw that bring out the mortal man in Bond, and the scene where they meet in particular is not only incredibly suspenseful, but it quickly leads to a fantastic fight scene.
The reason Grant is probably my favorite Bond hencheman by far is that we are lead to see him as the Soviet's answer to Bond; cold, merciless, and willing to complete any job at any cost.
Hell find Bond for three, but he'll catch 'im, an' kill 'im, fer ten.
Photo Credit: United Artists/MGM

In most other ways, this is a pretty great movie. The action is surprisingly exhilarating for it's time, and the performances and setpieces are all fun to watch. It drags occasionally, not so much on the train, which has the great chemistry between Connery, Bianchi, and the always hovering Shaw to keep it interesting, but a lot of the scenes in Istanbul could feel a little unnecessary. But for a truly great Bond movie, or even just a taught, engaging intelligence thriller, this is a good choice.


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