Second Bond adventure is a tense and exciting Cold War thriller, still 007’s best
By Jimmy Gillman
This second James Bond adventure is not only the best film of the venerable (and still going strong) series, but also one of the finest espionage thrillers ever made; a tense Cold War romp that has 007 caught in a deliciously devious, complex plan by SPECTRE to steal a Russian decoding device.
Say what you will about Daniel Craig—who’s been an excellent Bond—and the other four men who’ve played 007, no one has yet to top Sean Connery’s portrayal of the suave but lethal British secret agent. And Connery is at the top of his game in director Terrence Young’s From Russia with Love. (Fast Fact: Author Ian Fleming’s From Russia with Love was reputed to be John F. Kennedy’s favorite spy novel.)
An ominous nighttime pre-title sequence sets the tone for this serious-minded episode pitting Bond against one of his most deadly adversaries, Grant (Robert Shaw, outstanding), who in a neat plot twist spends the first half of the story acting as 007’s unknown protector.
That plot has Bond and head of British Intelligence, “M” (Bernard Lee, perfect), believing they’re up against SMERSH, a nasty wing of the Russian spy network. But audiences are let in on the fact that SPECTRE’s Ernst Blofeld (whose face is never shown) is the one pulling the strings in a scheme involving Tatiana Romanova, a young Russian staff worker (Daniela Bianchi, excellent) who supposedly wishes to defect.
In another clever sleight of hand, Romanova thinks she’s working for Mother Russia, unaware she is actually a pawn in a plan that has so many angles—each and every one of which is plausible and wholly believable—it takes until the film’s seminal hotel room climax to spell it all out.
Many foreign locales are visited, notably Turkey, where Bond joins forces with veteran MI6 Section Chief Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendáriz, superb), who believes 007 and the British are being played for fools. But once Bulgarian agents, acting as Russian surrogates, start turning up dead, no one is really sure what’s going on.
Played straight from beginning to end and realistically staged down to the smallest details, From Russia with Love is the quintessential Bond film; no Superman heroics, no campy dialogue, no over-the-top theatrics, this is the film that catapulted Bond to worldwide prominence and into movie history.
With its trendsetting, signature John Barry score, rich cinematography, expert pacing, taut direction and authentic performances (not to mention the coolest briefcase ever made!), From Russia with Love is the purest example of 007 ever created, with many highlights throughout, including one of the longest, toughest (and most copied) fight scenes ever staged.