In this adventure, Bond is on the search for a Russian decoding machine, known as LEKTOR. He needs to find the machine before the evil SPECTRE organisation discovers it forst. Whilst romantically linked to a Russian cipher agent, Tatiana, Bond sneaks through Istanbul whilst SPECTRE agents- including Donald Grant and ex-KGB agent Rosa Klebb.
Whilst Dr. No felt quite patchy- quite experimental in places- From Russia With Love is much more consistent; it feels much more like you expect a Bond film to feel. There’s obviously been a bit of tinkering with the formula as it were.
There are a number of firsts here. It’s the first time we see Blofeld (although the actor’s face is not seen); it’s also the first time we see Q (the great Desmond Llewelyn) who gives Bond one of my favourite gadgets of the entire franchise- the multi-purpose attaché case.
There are some great performances in the film – Lotte Lenya is brilliant as ex-SMERSH now SPECTRE agent Rosa Klebb, an absolutely fearsome woman; I especially like the scene where she declares Grant fit for action by punching him in the stomach with a knuckleduster and there are some distinctly Sapphic overtones in her recruitment scene with Tatiana. Her showdown with Bond- with the infamous poison-tipped steel shoes- looks a bit laughable now but it’s fun.
Pedro Armendariz is great as Bond’s Istanbul contact Kerim Bey and there’s an easy camaraderie between Bond and Bey which is nice to see. Robert Shaw is chilling as Donald ‘Red’ Grant – a psychopath recruited by Klebb . His credentials are shown in a tense pre-credits sequence which shows him killing Bond (it’s a training exercise with a fake).. He’s seen skulking menacingly on the train and the final fight between him and Bond is well choreographed and quite thrilling, not to mention a little brutal.
In some ways, From Russia With Love could be seen as a sequel of sorts to Dr. No- SPECTRE’s role is extended and Kronsteen’s plan incorporates revenge for No’s death (as MI6 would obviously send Bond). .
Unlike Dr No, there is no waiting to meet any of the main characters- Klebb, SPECTRE and Grant are all introduced very quickly, as is Tatiana (although it takes a while for Tatiana and Bond to actually meet). Tatiana is a very passive character- used as a pawn on all sides (first by Klebb, then by Bond and finally Grant)- which is a little frustrating, coming after Honey Ryder but Daniela Bianchi does well with what she’s given. It is very satisfying when the worm turns.
There are some decent set-pieces of action: the raid on the Russian embassy in order to steal the LEKTOR device is nicely staged. The scene in the gypsy camp- from belly-dancing through to full-scale invasion- is also impressive. The boat chase- where Bond detonates the old drums- also looks good and (more impressively) stands up.
All said, the Bond formula is still a work in progress at this point but there’s a lot going right in this.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5