Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Film Review: From Russia With Love

From Russia With Love
  • Publisher: United Artists
  • Production Studio: Danjaq / EON Productions
  • Release: 11 October 1963 (UK), 27 May 1964 (USA)
  • Genre: Action
  • Director: Terence Young
  • Producers: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Salzman
  • Writers: Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood

The Girl: Tatiana "Tania" Romanova (Daniela Bianchi, dubbed by Barbara Jefford), a clerk at the Soviet consulate in Turkey. Initally, she answers to Colonel Klebb, who assigns her to seduce and murder James Bond. As part of her plan, she helps him steal the Lektor, a decoding machine from the consulate. While Bianchi's lines were once again re-recorded, the alternate actress they got sounds a touch more into it compared to Honey Ryder's. Tania's chemistry with Bond is a step up, as well; they interact just like the newlywed couple they pose as. 5 out of 5.

Other Allies: Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendariz), Bond's contact in Istanbul. Through his performance, Kerim comes across as spirited and streetwise, and feels like he could be a firm friend as well as an invaluable, well-connected asset. Not-so-Fun Fact: Kerim's actor was terminally ill with cancer during filming, so after he struggled through his parts, he returned to the hospital, where he took his own life before the disease could. In the movie, he is killed by Grant on the train. Desmond Llewelyn also makes his first appearance as Q. 5 out of 5.

The Villain: Colonel Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya). A former SMERSH agent who defected from the Soviet Union and became the Number 3 officer in SPECTRE. Klebb instills terror in all who serve under her, yet at the same time she exhibits some fear of her own, having to answer to the strict boss of SPECTRE. She is shot by Tania, while trying to take back the Lektor personally5 out of 5.

Other Henchmen: Donald "Red" Grant (Robert Shaw) is a hitman for SPECTRE. There's a reason the tall, blond, well-built archetype of a Bond henchman has been used so often since Grant: he gives off the air that he is better than you -- and better than Bond. He is killed with his own garotte watch by Bond.

Kronsteen (Vladek Sheybal) is a Czechoslovak chess master, the Number 5 officer in SPECTRE, and the mastermind of the plot. He is killed by Klebb's poison-dagger shoe in a debriefing with Number 1.

Morzeny (Walter Gotell) runs the SPECTRE training camp. He also takes the lead in the boat chase, as a last-ditch attempt to wrest the Lektor from Bond. He is burned alive for his efforts. 5 out of 5.

The Gadgets: The first true gadget in the Bond film franchise is the utility briefcase from this movie. It holds throwing knives and gold Sovereign coins in hidden compartments, comes with a collapsing sniper rifle, and fires tear gas if opened improperly. Not to be outdone, Klebb and Morzeny use a shoe with a poison-coated knife, and Grant uses a watch with a garotte wire. The technology is simple yet effective; truly a window into the tools utilised by real-world espionage agents of the time. 5 out of 5.

The Locations: Contrary to what the title would have you believe, this film does not take place in the Soviet Union. Locations include Istanbul, Turkey; Yugoslavia (modern-day Serbia and Croatia); and Trieste and Venice, Italy.

The Theme Song: The opening credits of Russia once again use an instrumental theme, this time composed by Lionel Bart. It's a firey, passionate, exotic string arrangement that even segues into the Monty Norman theme near the end. A reprise in the ending credits adds vocals from Matt Munro, but it's been toned down so much that it will bore anybody who's not into the Rat Pack. 5 out of 5 for the instrumental, 2 out of 5 for the vocal version.

The Opening Credits: The credits are lights projected onto a belly dancer. It's the only concept the scene uses, and at times it makes the credits hard to make out, but it fits perfectly with the music and the setting we'll be introduce to in a moment. 4 out of 5.

The Novel: Published in 1957. Another faithful adaptation, although Klebb still works for the Soviet Union instead of SPECTRE. Notably, at the very end of the book, Klebb manages to stab and poison Bond with her shoe-knife.  This was intended as a jumping-off point if Ian Fleming had decided to end the series there.  But obviously, that was not the case, so Bond starts the follow-up novel, Dr. No, recovering from that incident.  It has been said that this was the favourite novel of US president John F. Kennedy, and the film was reportedly the last one he saw before his untimely passing in 1963.

The Plot: In the first pre-credit sequence of the Bond film franchise, our hero is sneaking around a hedge maze, trying to evade the assassin "Red" Grant. Grant kills him, with a garrote wire hidden in his wristwatch, but surprise: it was a training exercise, and the victim was someone else in a mask. Next stop is Venice, Italy, where Czechoslovak chess master Kronsteen is summoned by his superior in SPECTRE. He outlines a plan which would ignite tensions between NATO and the Soviet bloc, and avenge the death of their operative Dr. No. The plan is to tempt British Intelligence with a decryption machine called the Lektor, In Istanbul, Turkey, where Soviet agent Tatiana Romanova receives a mission from her supposed boss, Klebb, to pretend to help Bond steal the Lektor. Bond is assigned a similar mission by M, who is wary that the Lektor could be bait for a trap, but can't resist the chance for an intelligence advantage over the Russians.

In Istanbul, Bond meets Kerim Bey, head of MI6's Station T. He introduces him to life in Turkey, including the omnipresence of Bulgarian agents. Kerim survives an assassination attempt which he blames on Krilencu, one of their number. He takes Bond down to the ancient sewers beneath the Soviet consulate, where they spy on their meeting room and confirm the Russians' complicity with Krilencu. To beat the heat, he takes Bond to a gypsy camp, where the night's entertainment includes a belly dancer, a catfight, and a shoot-out with Krilencu and the Bulgarians. Secretly, Grant stays hidden in the shadows and keeps Bond alive. Afterwards, Bond and Kerim head back to Istanbul to assassinate Krilencu.

Bond returns to his hotel room only find Tania in his bed. They have at it, and the next day, she arranges to hand him off the consulate's blueprints at the Hagia Sophia mosque. A Russian agent attempts to steal it before Bond, but Grant secretly kills him. With everything and everyone in place, the heist is then pulled off. Kerim sets off a bomb underneath the consulate, providing a diversion to let Bond and Tania steal the Lektor. The three of them flee Istanbul on the Orient Express train, but Benz, a Russian officer, spots Tania and assumes she's defecting. On board, Kerim volunteers to take care of Benz, but Bond discovers them both dead.

At Zagreb (in modern-day Croatia), Grant boards the train, posing as a British agent. At dinner, Grant spikes Tania's wine with a sleeping drug, then corners Bond and brags about his plan. He is working for SPECTRE, who wishes to put the British and Russians at war with one another, and steal the Lektor for themselves. Grant protected Bond at the gypsy camp and at Hagia Sophia, so the Lektor heist could go on as planned, and filmed him and Tania making love as part of a blackmail scheme. To get out of trouble, Bond offers to buy some cigarettes. Grant goes to get some of the coins from Bond's suitcase, but instead triggers the tear gas, and a fight ensues. Bond, of course, comes out on top when he chokes Grant with his on garrote-wire watch.

Nearing Trieste, Bond and Tania disembark and take Grant's intended escape route. A SPECTRE helicopter arrives to retrieve the Lektor, only to attack Bond; he defends himself with his sniper rifle. Next, Bond and Tania must take a boat to Venice, but Morzeny, having killed Kronsteen for his failure, makes his own attempt to steal the Lektor. Bond gets away by dumping the boat's spare fuel and igniting it with a flare gun. At their hotel in Venice, Klebb tries one last time to take the Lektor; armed with a poison blade in her shoe, she and Bond fight, but Tania shoots her. The film ends with the two of them making out in a gondola. You are now free to turn off your TV.

If you could choose one movie to represent the early Bond era -- nay, scratch that, the entire frickin' franchise, then this is it. This is one of those films where you learn a little more about the plot every time you watch it, as you unravel the web of who's playing who. The fact that SPECTRE takes such great lengths to protect Bond's interests until the right moment shows how well-thought out the plot is. At the same time, even if you don't yet understand all the political intrigue driving the plot, it still works as a dang fine heist story. Numerous Bond actors and producers have chosen From Russia With Love as their favourite out of all the films in the series; here's hoping you take the hint. 5 out of 5.

The Call: 100% (A+)

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