Bond. James Bond. Back for an encore.
The second film in the James Bond franchise, 1963’s “From Russia with Love” delivers action, romance, and fun with the power of … well, a Bond quip. The story is typically a bit far-fetched, but we don’t really go to a Bond movie for logical story-lines, overly complex plots (except for the occasional McGuffin), and deep philosophy. Or at least I don’t.
What we do get is Bond (Sean Connery at his droll and sexist finest) on a mission to obtain a Russian code machine stolen by a Russian Intelligence cipher clerk, Tatiana Romanov, played by the beautiful Daniela Bianchi, who has supposedly fallen in love with a picture of Bond. Although obviously a trap, Bond travels to Istanbul to meet Romanov, grab the code machine, and return to England with the code machine AND Romanov.
Too easy, of course. Pursued by killers, Bond and Romanov head to Venice. More adventures ensue, including hijacking a truck, being strafed by a helicopter, a fight on a train with an assassin (Robert Shaw) impersonating another British agent, a speedboat chase, and an unfortunate encounter with a chambermaid. The villains, as we have known all along (although Bond doesn’t realize until quite late in the game) are not members of Russian intelligence but instead are part of SPECTRE — the same group of dastardly folks we meet repeatedly in the Bond films, including 2015’s aptly named “SPECTRE.”
The movie was filmed in Istanbul, Venice, Switzerland, Scotland, and at the Pinewood Studios west of London. The filming was beset with multiple setbacks including a car accident that bruised Bianchi’s face so severely that filming of her scenes had to be postponed for 2 weeks and the crash of Young’s helicopter while scouting locations in Scotland.
The movie also introduced Desmond Llewellyn as “Q” (the head of fancy spy gadgets). For this film, Q’s gadget was a briefcase that included a folding sniper rifle (a great tool for destroying helicopters), a tear gas canister set to explode if the case was opened incorrectly, and a concealed throwing knife (all put to good use).
At its release, “From Russia with Love” received consistent reviews, such as the one from Richard Roud of The Guardian which noted that "... the film is highly immoral in every imaginable way; it is neither uplifting, instructive nor life-enhancing. Neither is it great film-making. But it sure is fun." However, the film won the BAFTA — the British Oscar — for Best British Cinematography (colour — hey, that’s how it’s spelled across the pond) in 1964.
Later reviews have been more positive in that the film was named as one of the best in the Bond series by numerous critics and by two subsequent Bonds: Timothy Dalton and Daniel Craig. The magazine Total Film named it the ninth-greatest British film of all time (2004).
So, sit back and enjoy rousing good action film, full of Bond’s tongue-in-cheek one-liners, despicable villains, and gorgeous women. It sure is fun.