Martin Rayburn enjoys red wine with fish...
From Russia With Love is the second Bond film, and the last to be made outside the traditional "Bond Formula". Yes, it's the one which introduces many of the elements associated with that formula, but it is before they were just there to be ticked-off by the audience. For the first time we have a pre-title sequence,
the Blofeld character (referred to only as "Number 1"), a
secret-weapon gadget for Bond, a helicopter sequence (repeated in every
subsequent Bond film except The Man with the Golden Gun),
a postscript action scene after the main climax, a theme song with
lyrics (with John Barry on composer duties for the first time), and the classic line "James Bond will return/be back" in the closing credits.
By the time Goldfinger arrived the following year the
template which would serve the franchise proudly for decades was set, of course eventually it would become a huge albatross to escape from, but there were a lot of classic movies to enjoy beforehand. However, it does mean that with From Russia With Love we have the last Bond film in which the
makers were trying to produce a spy thriller and not a "Bond film". It didn't matter if all the "Bond Formula" was there or not, it only mattered if the film was any good. And boy, is it!
The villainous plot of the story is rather small beer compared to many of Bond's adventures, but it's resolutely real-world - centering around an encryption machine. The film takes time with detours that have little to do with the
main plot, as in the sequence at the gypsy camp. This really gives a
feeling of a functioning world around Bond's escapades, rather than
just the colourful exotic backdrops visited.
The emphasis is on telling a tight gripping thriller, and not on individual big action set pieces. Bond's
encounter with a helicopter and the climactic speedboat chase are
well-executed, but miniature next to those of later films. Tellingly,
the best remembered action sequence is the fight between Connery and
Robert Shaw on the train, a scene I don't think the series would ever better in regard to its
intimate, brutal struggle.
Shaw is up there with the best of the series' heavies. He's
intelligent and charismatic as well as forceful, almost a
Bond-equivalent. Sean Connery really grows into the role of 007 here, he's still untamed and prickly enough to
be an exciting screen presence. His Bond is still unpredictable but has polished off some of the rougher edges from Dr. No.
Daniela Bianchi isn't really just the latest 'Bond Girl', but the
character at the heart of this spy thriller - she pretty much is the story.
Ursula Andress might have had the iconic entrance in Dr. No, but really she was just there as window-dressing, almost irrelevant to the plot and arriving late in the story. By
contrast, the crucial pivot of From Russia With Love is whether
Bianchi's Tanya will side with Bond or SPECTRE - the age old love or
duty dilemma. Bianchi is very good in the role too,
she may lack the overt sex appeal of Andress, but she's a better
actress, playing innocent without being either stupid or dull.
From Russia With Love is my favourite of all the Connery Bonds. It's a polished gem of a movie, a spectacular example of a cold-war thriller produced with great style and intelligence. A minor masterpiece which is not only one of the very best James Bond films, but one of the greatest espionage thrillers ever produced.
By day, an ordinary bloke in a dull 9 to 5. By night, a tired ordinary
bloke. Martin still hasn't worked out what he wants to do when he grows
up. He is currently 46.
James Bond will return next Thursday...