Today! Because I get a kick out of watching you, the great James Bond, find out what a bloody fool he’s been making of himself –
From Russia with Love (1963)
Directed by Terence Young (x3)
Starring Sean Connery (x5), Daniela Bianchi, Robert Shaw, Lotte Lenya, Pedro Armendariz, Bernard Lee (x2), Eunice Gayson (x2), Lois Maxwell (x3), Vladek Sheybal, Desmond Llewelyn, Anthony Dawson (x2)
It’s not something I realized before I put together this list, but apparently as my tastes are concerned, the entire James Bond series boils down to the first couple movies, a huge gap of the same thing over and over again, and then the last couple movies. Considering how long this franchise has been in existence this is a little strange, I know, but I’m a Connery/Craig guy. Some of the intervening adventures are solid – it’s not like they just straight lost their way for forty years – but my favorites are bookending the enterprise.
This second Bond film is far more indicative of what was to come than Dr. No the year before. While that was largely set in Jamaica, it felt like it could’ve been in any beachy locale. Plus, you’ve got Bond running around barefoot most of the time, and while Dr. No is a SPECTRE agent, you don’t get the impression any of this is part of a larger scheme, for the most part. No, From Russia with Love is when Bond becomes Bond – set almost entirely in exotic, 1960’s Istanbul and on the Orient Express, you’ve got SPECTRE and SMERSH agents causing havoc for a well-tailored 007, we get our first faceless Blofeld, we get our first Desmond Llewelyn Q (even if he’s still named as Boothroyd in FRwL), you’ve got terrific, tough supporting villains in Robert Shaw’s Grant and Lotte Lenya’s Rosa Klebb, you’ve got a weird gypsy v. gypsy girl fight for some reason, and you’ve got a slam bang boat chase explosion finish worthy of a Bond movie.
Sure, the early series of Bonds peaked with the third film – more about that later – but From Russia with Love endures for many fans as their favorite of the Connery years. You can also make the case that it most resembles the books – the movies that followed had giant budgets befitting the massiveness of these hit films, and consequently bear less and less resemblance to Fleming’s thin yarns. FRwL is a big, gorgeous movie, but still breaks down into a lot of double-crossing and deception, a lot of silent assassination and drugging, and one terrific train fistfight.
As a complete sidetrack to this – the train fight between Bond and Grant reminds me of an internet mashup movie I watched a few years ago called Die Spy Kill Kill, which cut together all the Bond movies into one fairly cohesive action thriller, in which all the different Bonds are out to get each other. One of the highlights of this is the fight between Connery and Craig on a train, featuring scenes from Spectre and From Russia. Check it out! It works a lot better than it has any business doing.
Also – further sidetrack – From Russia is also indirectly responsible for the complete rip-off ’60s action flick titled Operation Kid Brother/Operation Double 007, starring Sean Connery’s brother Neil, as well as a bunch of Bond actors, including From Russia Bond girl Daniela Bianchi, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, faceless Blofeld Anthony Dawson, and future Thunderball villain Largo, Adolfo Celi. A complete pile of garbage – so unimaginative in its cash-in status that it was titled OK Connery in some places – it did provide for a classic Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode from 1993.
And while Bianchi is a perfect Bond girl and Shaw a terrific opposite number, my movie MVP goes to Bond’s Turkish contact Kerim Bey, played by the wonderful Pedro Armendariz in his final film role.
A bunch of #153 Dr. No actors join the Two-Timers – Lee, Gayson, and Dawson, as well as Maxwell advancing to the Threes along with her role in #245 Lolita – while director Young joins the directing Threes, after his work on the first Bond plus #209 Wait Until Dark. But it’s 007 himself making the greatest gains today, moving to the Fives! Connery also appeared in #354 The Untouchables, #293 Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and #374 Murder on the Orient Express.