Movie Dictator Club: From Russia With Love (1963)

The Movie Dictator Club for the month of December, 2010 takes me to a place I have ever been, to the land of Bond, James Bond!

Screenplay By: Richard Maibaum
Directed By: Terence Young

As the teaser indicates From Russia With Love is my first exposure to the world of James Bond. Well, that’s not entirely true, I have seen bits and pieces of the adventures of Agent 007 over the years, but I’ve never sat down and watched an entire film in the Bond franchise. It took a dictation from dallegre to finally get me to take the plunge into the world of spies and cold war espionage. Having now seen a whole entry in the womanizing ways of Bond I can say that I should have given this series a go earlier, but at the same time my fears as it pertains to modern Bond have been confirmed even more.

There’s something to be said for the era that From Russia With Love takes place in, an era that suits all of the early Bond entries I would imagine. The 1960s and the 1970s fit James Bond as I see him as a character as well as the universe that From Russia With Love helps to put forth as the world of Bond. The world that From Russia With Love creates is one of Cold War paranoia and espionage, open sexuality and burgeoning technology. Once you get past the 1970s I can’t help but feel that all three of those elements would be removed and in its stead exists a Bond I am not too keen to discover. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe the transition from era to era is seamless, but From Russia With Love fit the worldview I had formed of James Bond and his universe perfectly and I can’t see that surviving from one era to the next.

Until From Russia With Love my main exposure to Sean Connery in an action setting was The Rock, and while he is good in what may be the only worthwhile Michael Bay film, I can see now why he is permanently associated with the character of James Bond. Connery is Bond in an effortless fashion. Every little tick Connery brings to the role feels right, from the way he smirks to the gait he employs, he is pure Bond through and through. Connery had me equally excited and in a state of relaxation throughout From Russia With Love, and that is no easy feat. Most of all, Connery’s Bond is cool, oh so cool, and that is a word that could be used to describe From Russia With Love as a whole.

The opening moments of From Russia With Love really wowed me. It was a simple set-up, someone is stalking Bond through the courtyard of a mansion. But, in that simplicity the film set up how it would handle my interest in this world. The sound design makes every crunch of soled shoe on gravel an event for my ears. Every time Bond turns around I thought he was about to spring into action. And, deep down inside I knew, I had no doubt that Bond wasn’t in a lick of actual danger, but it was still such a well put together and executed opening that when all was finally revealed I sat back and uttered, “How fucking cool was that?” The answer of course is that it was very fucking cool, and for all of From Russia With Love I couldn’t stop thinking of everything Terence Young and company threw at me as cool. It didn’t matter that the story was predictable in parts, because the content of the story wasn’t as meaningful as the way in which said content was delivered. From Russia With Love is an enjoyable story delivered in a very cool manner, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I do think it would have been beneficial had I seen Dr. No, the initial entry in the Bond franchise, first, but that’s okay, because while some of the references and tips to the first Bond entry were lost on me this time out they won’t be in the future and that will only raise my opinion of From Russia With Love. The short and skinny of this review is that I had a lot of fun with From Russia With Love. I was instantly taken by what the film was going for and I never felt the slightest urge to jump off of the Bond train. I’m still apprehensive about James Bond in modern times, but when it comes to 1960s cool, 1960s Cold War espionage and 1960s spy gadgets, I feel right at home watching James Bond do his thing in From Russia With Love. Thank you very much for this dictation dallegre, you’ve made me deeply interested in a franchise I previously had next to no interest in, From Russia With Love has been a heck of a successful dictation.

Rating:

***1/2

P.S.: Did you see that Edgar, I reviewed a Bond film, and I loved it, now put that in your Canadian pipe and smoke it! 🙂

Cheers,
Bill

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5 responses to “Movie Dictator Club: From Russia With Love (1963)

  1. The character of Bond goes is reborn into many incarnations throughout the decades. What’s interesting about the franchise and the character specifically, is how the characteristics of those incarnations are influenced by A-the chosen actor to play the role, B-the socio-political zeitgeists of those eras. It is not merely an issue of Bond behaving like so and so because he was played by ‘X’. That is a PART of the ingredients, but a lot else dictates what the movies are like.

    The earlier films, specifically the first two (Dr. No and From Russia With Love) are heavily based on the Ian Fleming novels. Certain deviations were attempted for the sake of suitable cinematic translation, but they are very much in the spirit of the books. They are, in essence, Bond films in the time of Ian Fleming. The Cold War plays a significant role, Bond is a bit rougher than in some of the later incarnations, etc. Many say that the Bond (and his world) in From Russia With Love is the character at his most purest. Everything the guy stands for, his habits, his ticks, the type of adventures he goes on as intended by Ian Fleming, all of that is represented in the film you reviewed.

    After that are the many different versions of Bond. Roger Moore’s adventures put more emphasis on spectacle and gadgets (all the while paying attention to shifting political tensions between the West and the Soviet Bloc, such as in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’, 1977, which acknowledges the temporary détente that existed in the late 70s). ‘Moonraker’, 1979, capitalized on the popularity of Star Wars by sending 007 into space for a special effects laden climax with shooting lasers and space stations.

    Dalton’s adventures, The Living Daylights (1987) and Licence to Kill (1989) continued in keeping up with the times. In the former, Bond assists the Mujahidin (!) in Afghanistan at the time when the Soviets had their own Vietnam style war there (something that was touched upon in Rambo III). 007 is also a one woman man in that instalment, a decision made given the AIDS scare that existed in the mid-to-late 80s.

    I could go on, but you get the point. 007’s characteristics resonate in every version of the man, even the actors and stories in each film shake up the ingredients a bit. There are some instances, rare as they may be, in which events from a previous film reverberate on Bond briefly in future films even though the actor is different. There is one glaring example I have in mind, but it’s actually pretty important, so I won’t spoil it for you, but if you’re curious, go check out ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.’

    Anyhow, good review.

  2. It good to see another FilmSpotting listener around. I don’t frequent the message boards but I’ve been listening to the podcast for years now.

  3. Edgar – Good stuff as usual, and I do look forward to seeing more Bond when I get to the rest of the series.

    CinemaFunk – Funnily enough, while I am still an active member of the forums I stopped listening to the podcast around a year ago. Nothing personal towards the hosts, but the rigid structure of the show was starting to get to me. They never really got into their reviews, as soon as they would, they would have to stop because of their own self-imposed time restrictions, and that bugged me as I like in-depth analysis and I didn’t think they were really supplying that anymore. That’s why I moved on to a podcast like A Damn Movie Podcast which does supply more in depth analysis and in a more conversational manner, but if you’re still a fan, then that’s cool, different strokes for different folks and all that.

  4. I’m not sure if it’s lucky or unlucky to be introduced to Bond with this movie.
    It’s a great intro to the character and style but it also sets a precedent that some of the series just can’t hold up to.

  5. That is something I am worried about, especially since I have been warned about diminishing returns from a number of people.

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