A slow, brooding, cocksure, bordering-on-arrogant hero in a taut espionage thriller. From Russia with Love would set a template that some five decades later is still being copied by countless stories.
Just as in the previous Bond film Dr. No, Sean Connery in From Russia with Love is still rounding out exactly who he wants this character to be. What we got here is a more confident and brutal Bond.
Taking the detective nature of Dr. No and turning it up to 11, From Russia with Love is among the most stripped down and seemingly straightforward of all the Bond outings. Go here, get the thing, come back, is essentially the essence of the story. It succeeds in good part because of that. A twisty almost noir-esque nature defines the proceedings in this Cold War story that is the only Connery-era film to really focus on the Soviets.
Which gives us our villain, former KGB official-turned SPECTRE operative Rosa Klebb and the man who would become the template for the big Euro baddie sidekick, Red Grant. Klebb and especially Grant are wonderful foils to James, with Klebb helping to peel back the curtains that much more on the sinister evil organization and Grant as a fantastic mirror to the world’s most famous agent with a license to kill.
Robert Shaw gives a sinister and coldly menacing turn as Grant and the roughly 10-minute sequence in the last act between Bond and Grant on the train might serve as one of the single best stretches of any Bond movie. A brilliant and taut cat and mouse game that sparks with electricity until its brutal denouement.
Which makes it that much sadder that the rest of the movie can’t keep up with that or really the train sequence as a whole. The gypsy camp scenes are a low point for the film and the movie really climaxes with Bond and Grant’s iconic fight in the train compartment, leaving the remaining 20 minutes or so that follow feeling oddly devoid of stakes or tension.
From Russia with Love is also hampered slightly by Tanya as the main love interest for 007. While I liked their dynamic more then Trevor did, I also can’t say the chemistry between the two was a standout and, while given more to do then Honey Ryder, Tanya is still mostly tasked with looking good and being a chess piece in the back and forth game between Bond and SPECTRE. We know she’s good and actually loves Bond but are never really shown why.
Mostly though, From Russia with Love is a testament to role players and everyone playing their part to create something great. Kerim Bay is a personal favorite from the Connery era for me, it’s neat to see the SPECTRE training school, we get the series first pre-credits sequence, and the locations and shots of the film are constantly great.
Unquestionably, From Russia with Love is a step up from Dr. No. I understand the level of love people have for it as the “arty” pick for best Bond movie. I understand why so many of the various Bond actors point to this as their favorite. The locations, the cast, and the performances all largely sync up to create something really special and for years it was among my top 3 or 4 favorite bond films.
I just think it falls in comparison to what is to come. But that’s another story.
Best Moment –
Easily the fight scene between James Bond and Red Grant. As I mentioned above, the entire sequence from when Grant gets on board the train disguised as an MI6 agent to the final brutal fight in the train compartment is among the best things Bond’s ever done. Absolutely brilliant still.
Rosa Klebb is the main villain in this, starting the tradition of Bond movies not always having clear cut villains vs. henchmen. Klebb is great for just giving us a closer look at SPECTRE and its proceedings but it’s Robert Shaw’s Red Grant who truly steals the show and delivers an iconic Bond turn. The two together are a good balance. 8.5/10
Don’t listen to Trevor. The briefcase of goodies that Bond receives in From Russia with Love is rad and I always really loved it as a kid. It fits perfectly in line with the more grounded and practical nature of this movie. We haven’t gone larger than life yet. Plus as an extra bonus we get Desmond Llewlyn in his first turn as Q. 8.5/10
The Music –
I actually really dig the music and main theme of From Russia with Love but it will always be a baffling choice to put that main title theme not in the opening credits but at the end of the movie. Instead we get a dance number in the credits sequence that was bizarre then and is even more so now. 7/10
Final Ranking –
From Russia with Love is a marked step in the right direction. Building off of what came before it with Dr. No, while seeing Sean Connery and company continue to fill in the outline of who these characters are and what their world looks like. A wonderful noir-thriller that perhaps suffers from overly long detours at times, the train sequence brings a wonderful spark and climax to the film and provides for some of the greatest moments in the series. It can’t keep that momentum going afterward though and the ending just sort of loses steam. Still when it’s great, From Russia with Love is among the very best of Connery’s Bond. 8/10