Well, after the worldwide success of Dr. No, producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman went back to figure out what to do about a sequel, and following a nod to the series by then-President Kennedy, From Russia With Love was the next candidate in line to be given the Bond treatment from the library of Ian Fleming novels.
In this film, Bond (the returning Sean Connery) has recently vanquished Dr. No, and the organization that he worked for, SPECTRE, decides to try to eliminate Bond, using two things that will lure any well-respecting secret agent, a decoding machine that the Russian government currently is in possession of, and a Russian defector that wants to turn it over to James specifically. The defector in question is Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi), who is recruited by a Russian general who has turned over to the SPECTRE side.
Got it? Good. The creative team of writer Richard Maibaum and director Terence Young also returned to reprise their roles in the making of the film as well, and what they’ve crafted is a pretty smart Bond film. Even as Bond goes to Turkey to acquire the machine and meet up with Tatiana, he is unaware of the depth of the plot to get rid of him, which for Bond films is a pretty good twist and somewhat daring for its time. His Turkish liaison Ali Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendariz, The Conqueror) tries to make sure he’s cautious of his surroundings, even as the Russian general Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya, Semi Tough) and the cold blooded assassin Donovan Grant (Robert Shaw in an early pre-Jaws role) are hot on his heels.
Now, being an old Bond film, there are of course a few things that date it and make you see some obvious looks at future Austin Powers films, but the story itself is quite good. With the way the story flows, it also helped set the way subsequent Bond films would flow, with the pre-opening credit scene that went from introductory storytelling to grand stunt performance. Connery plays Bond a little more looser as he got more comfortable in the role. Bianchi is striking as the main Bond girl in the film and for trivia purposes, say hello to Q (Desmond Llewelyn), although he’s not named as such in the film. But bollocks the trivia and watch the film, as it’s one of the better ones in the series.
What does help me enjoy the older films again is the restoration effort that Lowry Digital went through to restore the picture. The 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is much cleaner and sharper than the first round of Special Editions that MGM put out, and the highlight is the boat chase finale, without a doubt.
As is the case with the older films, the mono track from the older films has been dropped for favor of two surround tracks, including one DTS option. And again, the older films have a little bit of full activity during the explosions, of which there are plenty, and the score sounds pretty crisp throughout. The only thing in the old films that suffers is the dialogue, but this is a problem that’s occurred in action films since the dawn of movie making, if you ask me.
The commentary from the last edition of the film has been retained for this one. John Cork of the Ian Fleming Foundation serves as a moderator for the multi-participant commentary, which includes Young, composer Jon Barry, and numerous members of the cast and crew. Cork also provides some trivia information about the relevant cast and crew too, but since everything is recorded separately, it’s not too nice in terms of tone, though it is full of production details, recollections and information.
Disc Two houses the new extras, of which there aren’t too many. Sure, the “Mission Control” section is here, but that’s on every friggin’ new Bond title, so no big deal there. The “Declassified: MI6 Vault” has the other stuff, almost all of it focuses on Fleming. There’s an interesting five minute interview with Fleming and fellow author Raymond Chandler, and a discussion between the two on writing styles, what they used to employ devices into their stories and the comparison’s between Fleming’s James Bond and Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. All in all, it’s fairly fascinating to hear. There’s a longer individual interview with Fleming which appears to be some sort of retrospective after his death, and discusses his writing preferences and habits (2,000 words before breakfast immediately makes me envious of the old guy), and his thoughts on the character and the stories he’s written, along with the mundane “how much of you is in Bond and how much of Bond is in you?” kind of questions. It’s OK, but nothing too fascinating. There’s one more interview with Fleming that discusses much of the same material as the first two and runs about five minutes.
There’s also some storyboards with accompanying score that covers the boat chase as originally intended, compared to the final cut. The “Inside From Russia With Love” featurette was retained for the film, which is a nice inclusion because there are a lot of stories behind the film’s production that others might not be aware of, including a car crash with Bianchi, and Armendariz’ suicide during the production, which stunned everyone. Young was involved in a helicopter crash during a location scout too. But aside from that information, the cast and crew recall their parts in the film, and there’s an interesting look at the editing of the film, which helped make From Russia With Love it is. There’s a biographical look at Saltzman in which his family and friends (including Roger Moore and George Lazenby) recall their friend and father, his beginnings, middle and end. All in all, it presents a fair, warts and all look at the co-producer of the first nine Bond films, and is well worth watching at only a half hour. The “Ministry of Propaganda” section includes the usual run of trailers, teasers and radio spots, while the “Image Database” is home to the stills galleries.
Many people view From Russia With Love among, if not the best, of the 21 Bond films to date. The story is interesting, the characters are compelling, and the film’s framework was a prototype for how other filmmakers approached future Bond films, good or bad. While I personally have to disagree with my wife on this, Connery makes the best Bond, and this is probably his best work among those he made. Well worth the rental, and definitely worth picking up as part of Volume 3 of the boxed Bond sets.