From Russia with Love (1963)


James Bond is sent to Istanbul to meet up with a Russian agent who plans to defect with a very important encryption device. The whole thing sounds like a trap, which it is. The super evil organisation SPECTRE plans to play the Americans and the Russians against each other, while at the same time getting even with the man who killed Dr. No. (that would be Bond, in the first film). Of course Bond flirts with Moneypenny, the secretary, he nails every broad with a pulse, including Russian spy Tatiana Romanova, and he's killed in the very first scene (but don't worry, it's a stand-in).


Well, howdy do, it's our old friends from SPECTRE again. Robert Shaw plays the mostly silent, blond assassin who's got the hots for Bond, some old lady plays some old lady known as No. 3 in the organisation, and a faceless man plays No. 1, leader of SPECTRE. We'll meet him again in an upcoming film.


So the Bond we know and love is starting to take shape. Most notably the familiar style of "an opening teaser scene, followed by a credit sequence with hot ladies, before we get into the real story" is established. In this credit sequence the barely readable names of the cast and crew are projected on top of a dancing scantily clad woman. Guess what part of her body the Double-Os are projected on. This film also marks the first appearance of Q, Bond's gadget guy, so that's something. What cool device does he have for Bond this time around, you ask? A briefcase.

While From Russia with Love is more Bondesque than the previous film in terms of its style, the story is actually worse. Bond doesn't even appear until 17 minutes into the film, and as if to underline my complaint that he's basically incompetent, he remains blissfully unaware of his primary opponent for the first 80 minutes! Plus, the film just drags. You know you're in trouble when Bond's instructions are "wait for a few days, then go home". This'll be riot! The really bad example of this is the unbelievably long gypsy party sequence, where the film spends an awful lot of time setting up a fight between two girls, only to drop everything the moment the bullets start flying.

Once again Bond is nearly killed a few times and outsmarted a few more. At one point his local contact even has to remind him that he should probably keep his eye on the ball rather than chasing tail. I mean, this guy actually has to remind a professional spy of his priorities! Come on!

There's no getting around the fact that Bond's greatest claim to fame in these early films remain the connection to modern spoof movies. Connoisseurs of that genre will be reduced to tears, when a single scene contains all the following references: A bad guy with dangerous fish (as in Naked Gun), a creepy old lady as right-hand woman (as in Austin Powers), and the bad guy stroking a cat (as in Cannonball Run II). An equally funny moment occurs when Bond's contact reveals how he spies on his Russian counterpart: He's somehow managed to install a full size submarine periscope below the room where all the secret meetings are held. Seems odd no one would notice a GIANT PERISCOPE emerging from the floor every time they hold a meeting in their super-secret lair!

Adding to the lackluster feeling of the whole thing is the final showdown with Robert Shaw's blond assassin. It takes place in a very small train compartment. They talk for an hour, there's a brief fistfight, and that's all she wrote.

Oh, and the film ends with one of those now-familiar punchlines. After fighting with an old lady with a knife in her shoe (and almost getting killed again) Bond looks at her dead body and quips: "She's had her kicks!" ....'Cause she was trying to kick him, you see.... With the shoe.... Which had the knife thing.... So yeah.... Good times. Anyway, "James Bond will return in Goldfinger" the end credits inform us. Can't wait.

No, I'm not being ironic.

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