MGM // 1963 // 111 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // November 3rd, 2008
To those unlucky few who missed Dr. No...You are unprepared for the sophisticated mayhem and the polished lovemaking. The James Bond bug has not bitten you. But take heart! There is still time to jump on the Bond bandwagon with the second James Bond adventure...From Russia with Love. See it and we guarantee -- you will be hooked for good!
After the success of the first James Bond movie, 1962's Dr. No, producers "Cubby" Broccoli and Harry Saltzman received the go-ahead to make a sequel. Re-teaming with director Terence Young and star Sean Connery, they went to work on what many (including myself) consider to be the best Bond adventure ever committed to film: From Russia with Love.
SPECTRE mastermind Blofeld is intent on exacting revenge on James Bond (Sean Connery, Goldfinger) for the death of Dr. No. SPECTRE agent Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya, Semi-Tough) recruits a Russian cipher clerk stationed in Istanbul named Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi, OK Connery) to seduce Bond, tempting him with her body and the promise of a Lektor decoding machine that could crack Soviet secrets. Outfitted by Major Boothroyd (aka "Q") (Desmond Llewelyn, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) with a deadly briefcase, 007 takes the bait. Once in Istanbul, he meets up with MI6 section chief Ali Kerim Bay (Pedro Armendariz, 3 Godfathers), who assists him in his mission. When Bay's office is bombed, the duo realizes that they are in the midst of a plot far more complex and dangerous than a defecting cipher clerk with a crush on a British secret agent. Eventually, Bond meets up with Romanova. They plan to escape Istanbul with the Lektor on the Orient Express. There's one problem: SPECTRE's wily and brawny assassin, Red Grant (Robert Shaw, Jaws).
From Russia with Love benefits from having been made after Dr. No but before Goldfinger. On the one hand, Terence Young's direction and Sean Connery's performance are more confident and self-assured than in the earlier film. Instead of simply resting on their laurels, they seem eager to expand on what they'd worked so hard to establish in Dr. No. On the other hand, From Russia with Love doesn't feel rote or formulaic like so many later Bond films because the formula wasn't established in full until the series' breakout success with 1964's Goldfinger. That film (the third in the franchise) would establish the whiz-bang pre-credits sequence, the swinging title song, Bond girls with overtly sexual or anatomical names, the arsenal of gadgetry, and, most of all, Bond's ultra-cool, essentially super-human detachment in the face of danger and villainy. Goldfinger was so successful that EON has mostly chosen to make it again and again over the past four decades -- only progressively bigger, louder, and more expensive. Like Dr. No, From Russia with Love is leaner, more rugged, and less predictable than 007's subsequent adventures, yet it is also better scripted, directed, and acted than the earlier film.
The movie benefits from having better source material than its predecessor. While Dr. No is a middling Bond novel, From Russia with Love is probably the best of Fleming's spy books with the possible exception of Casino Royale. Structurally, it's one of the more complex Bond stories, playing on readers' expectations of 007's heroic professionalism in order to cap things off with a finale that reframes previous events and makes Bond look like a chump. The film adaptation adheres fairly closely to the novel's story (though not its highly literary structure). Anya Romanova's apparent desire to defect from the Soviet Union, bringing with her a valuable decoding device, is refreshingly simple and realistic, eschewing the doomsday scenarios with which Bond is usually confronted. From Russia with Love is more interested in how spies function among one another, how they discern the truth in a business built on deception, than it is with geo-political turmoil or madmen bent on ending civilization. A subplot involving SPECTRE shooting film of Bond bedding Romanova for the purposes of smearing 007 and embarrassing the British Secret Service is a tawdry sort of realism that disappeared entirely from all future entries in the Bond franchise until Casino Royale, with its believably ugly series of sexual double-crosses.
From Russia with Love may be smarter and more character-driven than other Bond pictures, but that doesn't mean it's dull. The flick has plenty of action. From an assassination attempt by helicopter (inspired by Hitchcock's North by Northwest), to a rousing final boat chase, to Bond's throw-down with Red Grant in a cramped car of the Orient Express, the action is gritty, visceral, and bruising. Terence Young and cinematographer Ted Moore (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie) imbue the action set pieces with an earthy realism. The camerawork is deceptively unpretentious, trading flashy artfulness for a rugged simplicity that puts the viewer in the center of the action. Moore's camera seems to always be in the right place, hiding the fact that the action is carefully staged and choreographed. The fistfight between Bond and Grant is particularly rough and naturalistic; it's one of the meanest, nastiest brawls in the Bond franchise.
With a running time of less than two hours, From Russia with Love offers a better mix of intelligent intrigue and compelling action than any of the other Bond flicks.
The Blu-ray edition of From Russia with Love may have been struck from the same 4K HD master created for 2007's Ultimate Edition DVD, but the 1080p transfer offers an enormous audio/video upgrade over the DVD. The Blu-ray image reproduces colors more accurately, while providing greater depth and sharper detail. While the DVD looked great, the Blu-ray looks so much like celluloid it's startling. Simply put, this is one of the best high definition transfers I've ever seen -- especially of an older film. Anyone who still believes the difference between 480p and 1080p is negligible needs to spend 111 minutes with From Russia with Love.
Audio is presented in a fully restored DTS HD 5.1 lossless mix that is limited only by the fact that the original source was a mono optical track. A Dolby two-channel presentation of the original mono mix is also offered.
All of the supplements from the two-disc Ultimate Edition DVD of From Russia with Love are included on the Blu-ray -- a cobbled-together audio commentary by various members of the cast and crew; three featurettes about Ian Fleming; a making-of documentary; a documentary about producer Harry Saltzman; image galleries; trailers, TV and radio spots; and more.
While From Russia with Love holds up extremely well for an action picture made over four decades ago, the gypsy catfight sequence is dated and absurd. But, hey, if Terence Young believed it was absolutely necessary to include an extended sequence in which a couple of hot brunettes roll around on the ground and pull each other's hair, who am I to second guess him?
From Russia with Love is the best Bond film ever made. Even if you previously bought the Special Edition and Ultimate Edition DVDs, you should upgrade to the Blu-ray. The audio/video presentation is finally as great as the movie itself.
Review content copyright © 2008 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Top 100 Discs: #27
* 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 111 Minutes
Release Year: 1963
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Cast and Crew Commentary
* Ian Fleming: The CBC Interview
* Ian Fleming and Raymond Chandler
* Ian Fleming on Desert Island Discs
* Animated Storyboards Sequence
* Interactive Guide
* Inside From Russia with Love
* Harry Saltzman: Showman
* Image Database
* Theatrical Trailers
* TV and Radio Spots