Written, not Stirred: James Bond Film #2 – From Russia With Love

james-bond-from-russia-with-love_2

One of the longest lasting movie series in cinema history features the cavalier Scottish agent working for England to right the wrongs of the world, stop the takeover of the world by a psychopath…and shag a few chicks along the way.  With a perfect mix of bravado, scenery, beauty, gadgets and bad guys, the James Bond movie series is one of the most popular of all-time. I will review and comment on every installment, from 1962′s “Dr. No” all the way to 2012′s ”Skyfall” and beyond.  I will rank the movies from 1 to 23 and within that grade the following categories from 1 to 10:

Plot/Bond Performance
Women
Villains
Gadgets
Locations

We’ll add up the totals and give a grade, with a max of 50, as to which Bond (in my opinion) is the greatest, and crappiest of all time.

From Russia With Love (1963)

Starring: Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Robert Shaw, Pedro Armandariz, Lotte Lenya

Director: Terence Young

Plot: Sean Connery continues  his tenure as James Bond 007, this time on the search for a Russian decoding  machine, known as Lektor. Bond needs to find this machine, before the evil  SPECTRE organization discovers it first. Whilst being romantically linked with Russian girl, Tatiana Romanova (Bianchi), Bond sneaks his way around Istanbul, while each SPECTRE agent tries to pick him off, including the over powering  Donald ‘Red’ Grant (Shaw) and ex-KGB agent Rosa Klebb (Lenya), who knows all the tricks in the books and even possesses an incredible poison tipped shoe!

Scott’s Rankings:

Plot/Bond Performance: After a solid debut, Sean Connery turns the charm on in this second film, once again waging war against the evil group known as SPECTRE.  The plot is again simple  enough that it can be followed without confusion, and its also the only time a past Bond film is used in the plot, as SPECTURE uses Bond’s success over Dr. No  as revenge for stealing the Lektor.  His ally in this one is the very  charismatic Karim Bey (played valiantly by Pedro Armandriz, who was battling cancer during filming and actually passed away before the film was finished).  The scene with the gypsies dancing and ultimately helping in a war with assassins is a great visual, and the big fight with SPECTRE assassin Red Grant on the Orient Express is the film’s signature scene and is remembered fondly by Bond fans.  Connery definitely enjoyed playing Bond in these early films, and he would only get better in his other films.  We also see the debut of Desmond Llewellyn as Major Boothroyd, master of gadgets.  Of course he would always be known as “Q”.  Grade: 7

Women: Not many of them in this film, but Daniela Bianchi is a very beautiful model who looked good on camera as Tatiana Romanova, the clerk in the Istanbul embassy who helps Bond (and SPECTRE) obtain the Lektor decoder. In my opinion her acting was a little stiff and brought no real passion to the part.  Considering she was towing the line between Bond’s lover and SPECTRE agent, she didn’t seem tortured or conflicted.  She just seemed to go through the motions of the film, and it dragged the dialogue and the chemistry between she and Bond also.  Other than her, there isn’t much eye candy in this one.  Grade: 3

Villains: As few women as there are in this movie, there’s plenty of solid heels.  Besides Red Grant, the cold assassin, there’s the infamous Rosa Klebb, the very un-pretty  SPECTRE operative with the poison-tipped blade sticking out of her shoe.  Her controlling of Tatiana (in a creepy lesbian-type way) is priceless and in the end Tatiana turns on her and shoots her instead of Bond.  The big debut on the villain side is the head of SPECTRE, Number 1 if you will: Ernst Stavro Blofeld.  We only see his hands and hear his voice in this one, but it was good  to have a single figure attached to the SPECTRE name.  We’ll see more of him in  almost every bond film through the early 70’s.  A good cache of villains that  carries the movie and makes you root for 007 more than normal. Grade: 9

Gadgets: The main gadget in this one is Bond’s trick briefcase he takes with him. Complete with tear gas cartridge, gold sovereigns and hidden switchblade knife, Bond uses every trick in it to obtain the Lektor and keep his girl out of danger. This was another Bond film where for the most  part 007 uses his intellect and guile (and fists, as we see on the train).  The number of gadgets goes up as the movies progress (that includes vehicles, as we’ll see in our next film.) For the purpose of this film the one gadget served its purpose. Grade: 6

Locations: As beautiful as Jamaica was in Dr. No, the opposite is true here as Istanbul, Turkey is bland and boring. Sure the architecture is  nice, but everything is gray and beige.  I’m a big fan of ambiance and scenery, and this one just doesn’t do it for me.  The train ride has some nice shots, as does the scene with the boat chase in the end, but otherwise the lack of an ocean and some bright colors dulls this one a bit for me. Grade: 3

Scott’s Take: Not one of my favorite Bond outings, as the bland scenery and a lack of beautiful women makes the whole package less appealing than future films.  The villains carry this movie, from Rosa Klebb’s  shoe, to Blofeld’s petting of the cat, to Red Grant’s famous line to Bond: “My orders are to kill you and deliver the Lektor…how I do it is my business.”  There are standout performances, but overall this isn’t one of my favorites.  Many consider this one of the best Bond films, but that’s mostly old-timers who were alive during the beginning of the run.  I like it more than others, but this one isn’t high on my list.  Final Grade: 28/50

Be sure to check out Scott’s archive or our movie section for past entries in this series

Author: Scott Criscuolo

Scott Criscuolo is a co-founder of the Place to Be, co-host of the Place to Be Podcast, and was in the radio business for 10 years. He loves all things pop culture, and someday he will be the ghost writer for Triple H's autobiography. Send Scott an email