Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG
Directed by: Terence Young
Written by: Richard Maibaum
(based on the novel FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE by Ian Fleming)
Starring: Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Pedro Armendariz, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw, Bernard Lee, Walter Gotell & Vladek Sheybal
The second Bond film and sixth in my 007 retrospective, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE came hot off the heels of DR. NO‘s success. Seeing that the first Bond flick made a huge splash both in Britain and overseas, the budget for RUSSIA was doubled and the story takes place directly after the events of DR. NO. While it maintains a steady level of entertainment, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE is a little short on story and (once again) underutilizes an interesting villain. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good, but this Bond sequel suffers from a case of “sequelitis” that plagues most follow-ups in cinema.
In DR. NO, secret agent James Bond dispatched the title villain who was a member of SPECTRE (a top-secret organization of terrorists and high-ranking criminals). This second film finds SPECTRE unhappy with their Dr. No’s demise and looking to get revenge on James Bond. The evil organization recruits naïve Soviet cipher clerk Romanova to seduce James Bond. They also assign deadly assassin Grant to kill 007 in a particularly humiliating way. Bond is sent to meet the defecting Romanova by MI6 and finds himself tangled in a torrid romance…with SPECTRE watching his every move.
It goes without saying that Sean Connery slips right back into the character of James Bond. I’m pretty sure that he could play this charismatic secret agent in his sleep. Connery’s performance is the best part of this sequel that can essentially be summed up in one sentence. It’s 007 walking into a trap. That’s the whole plot. However, the romance between Bond and Romanova is enjoyable to watch and especially risqué for this time period (considering that we almost see a full-blown sex scene between the two of them). Daniela Bianchi is enjoyable as Bond’s femme fatale and lover who begins to form legitimate feelings for her target. The action is more special effects driven this time around and the final third really packs in a ton of explosions and fights. One scene, midway through, features a gypsy camp erupting into fiery chaos and is especially impressive…though arguably more than a little politically incorrect.
Aside from Connery’s Bond, the second-best part of FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE is Robert Shaw (who I mainly know as Quint) as the assassin hunting 007. Though he has notable moments, especially one tense showdown in a train car during the final third, I couldn’t help but feel that Shaw’s hitman was a tad underused. Just as much screen time (if not slightly more) is devoted to people pulling the strings at SPECTRE and I didn’t find any of them to be as interesting or intimidating as Shaw’s killer. However, the movie becomes totally entertaining for entirely unexpected reasons in the final third. Instead of being suspenseful, the movie goes into all-out campy territory in a good way. We get a faceless cat-stroking head of SPECTRE and Bond fighting an old woman (dressed as a maid) with a venous knife attached to her shoe. That scene is unintentionally hilarious, but fit right into the 007 franchise for the sheer absurdity of it.
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE suffers from typical problems that come with most movie sequels. As a direct follow-up to DR. NO and not fully a standalone feature (like many later Bond films), RUSSIA uses a flimsy plotline as an excuse to pack in some big action. The romance between the iconic secret agent and this Russian Bond girl is enjoyable to watch. Robert Shaw’s assassin is underutilized on the whole, but stands as a memorable Bond villain nonetheless. The innerworkings of SPECTRE are goofy to watch and the final third is pretty much made of camp. Taken as a whole, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE is good, dumb fun. However, there are far better 007 films in the series.