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Come For The Movie, Stay For The Extras
on December 1, 2000
From Russia With Love, the second James Bond film, is one of the best (in my view, second only to Goldfinger). Unlike the later films in the series, From Russia With Love is extremely faithful to the Ian Fleming novel with only slight variations on the story. In order to obtain a Russian decoding machine, 007 must travel to Istanbul, Turkey to aid a beautiful Russian defector ... even though he and the British Secret Service know it's probably a trap. But unbeknownst to Bond SPECTRE is playing the Russians and the British against each other. This is the most realistic of the Bond films with a story that could probably happen in the real world of espionage. The film does contain a gadget -- a trick briefcase (also in the Fleming novel) that contains throwing knives, ammunition, a folding sniper's rifle, 50 gold sovereigns and a tear gas cartridge that explodes when the case is opened improperly. The film, however, takes a very realistic approach to the story with none of the cartoon antics present in many of the later Bonds.
Terence Young, who also helmed Dr. No and Thunderball, does an outstanding job of directing. He makes wonderful use of the locations, especially in Istanbul. As with his other two Bond efforts, Young eschews a cartoon approach to the action in favor of a more brutal, realistic approach. And unlike many later Bond directors, Young concentrates on developing characters, making them real people with real emotions. The audience feels for the characters emotionally -- something unheard of with the cardboard cutout characters of the later films.
Peter Hunt's editing is a marvel. The action scenes are tightly edited and the film's pacing and continuity are flawless. In addition, the DVD documentary shows just how much Hunt helped shape the final project. He went beyond simply editing the film and actually helped shape and improve the story.
However, the best thing about the film is the casting. Young must have taken great care to properly cast From Russia With Love because every part matches their novel counterpart down to the last detail. Sean Connery, of course, is, and always will be, the best James Bond. Newcomer Daniela Bianchi is terrific as pseudo defector Tatiana Romanova. She is beautiful, sexy and appealing. It's too bad she didn't have more of a screen career. Lotte Lenya (Threepenny Opera), the famed German musical star, does a wonderful villainous turn as Rosa Klebb, former SMERSH agent who is now working for SPECTRE. Robert Shaw (A Man for all Seasons, Black Sunday, Jaws) is chilling as SPECTRE assassin Red Grant. And Pedro Armendariz, in the performance of his career, plays Ali Karim Bey, the head of Station T, Turkey. Aremedariz's performance is especially poignant because he was dying of cancer during the filming. He shot himself while in the hospital soon after he was through filming.
From Russia With Love is not only a good Bond film, but a good film alone, apart from the series. Along with Dr. No and Goldfinger, From Russia With Love represents a high point that the later films never quite matched.
The DVD transfer is spectacular, with terrific sound and picture quality. What makes the DVD special, however, are the special features which include three documentaries, trailers, TV and radio spots and cast & crew profiles. The main documentary is especially interesting as it details how the filmmakers drastically changed the story progression during the shoot. As with all of the Bond DVD's, MGM has done a superb job, giving the buyer much, much more than just the film to view.