11 February 2011

BlogalongaBond- FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE Review

It hasn't been a month already, but I thought I'd get in a little earlier this month than I did in January and move right onto From Russia With Love. Of the Bond films I've seen recently enough to remember before taking on this blogging challenge, this second James Bond film is my favourite of all of them, and I wasn't disappointed by another viewing.

Built upon the admittedly flimsy premise of a Russian consulate worker having fallen in love with his photograph, Bond heads out to Istanbul with the hopes of getting a Lektor cryptographic machine for the Brits. Little does he realise that the beautiful Tatiana is a pawn of SPECTRE, and that both she and the Lektor are parts of a larger game orchestrated to turn the British and the Russians against one another.

In the model that would later be popularised by the likes of The Empire Strikes Back and The Wrath of Khan, this first Bond sequel has something of a revenge theme to it. SPECTRE take it as a slight to their efficiency and intellectual supremacy that Bond killed Dr. No in the last film, which is as explicit a callback to the previous film as we get in any Bond film until Quantum of Solace. It's interesting to see a Bond film in which the first movement of the film is about the villains' plans, a point more frequently reserved for times when they have Bond at their mercy and they can't stop blathering.

Chess grandmaster and cool-as-nuts henchman Kronsteen claims that the British will see their obvious trap as a challenge, and he turns out to be absolutely right, but it's a good thing that SPECTRE's ultimate goal is more substantial. There's a lovely visual metaphor involving the fish in the mysterious Number One's office, and it sets out the terms on which our villains will proceed right from the start. We know what's going on with Tatiana all the way through even if Bond doesn't, which leads to a particularly great moment later on as Robert Shaw's Red Grant confronts Bond and savours his realisation of "what a bloody fool he's been." If memory serves, this is the most collected we will ever see them, even if they are getting their ideas from fish.

Never mind though, it's time to give more praise to Robert Shaw, who's just about my favourite Bond villain ever. Moreso than any other attempt in later films, his Grant serves as an entirely serviceable counterpart to 007. He's just as resourceful and cunning and ruthless and he's working for the other team. Sean Bean would later serve a similar purpose, but he's no Robert Shaw. Shaw is one of my favourite actors of all time, and it's terrific to see him at work here. He ramps up the tension in the sustained sequence on-board the Orient Express that takes us to the end of the second act.

As mentioned, I also really enjoy Kronsteen, mostly for the cult value my brother and I attached to him while playing the multiplayer FPS mode of the Playstation 2 game based on From Russia With Love. And Rosa Klebb would later be immortalised in parody as Frau in the Austin Powers films- another villain who makes one appearance in the series and yet makes the biggest impression. Like Batman, Bond is most often overpowered in my eyes by how interesting his adversaries are, and this one has some of the best.

That whole aforementioned Orient Express scene is really the crux of the film, even if it goes on for another 20 minutes or so afterwards. By this point, the elements are all in place, and as soon as Grant makes contact, you start to actually wonder how Bond can actually get out of this situation. All Grant's really done at this point is kill some extras and a man dressed as Bond, and yet his menace is thoroughly established by then. As it turns out, Bond's only really saved by the first proper gadget of the series- a handy briefcase created by Q. Superior opponents and life-saving gizmos would both be inflated to ridiculous levels as the series progressed.

For his part, Sean Connery is still on top form as Bond. I think this is the last film where we see him making quips that don't quite land, which I like to think of as a learning curve before the likes of "Shocking" and "I think he got the point" in films to come. It's as close to character development as we get with him, although his relationship with Tatiana is admittedly more tender than with Honey Ryder in Dr. No. Still sexy, mind, and the first scene between Connery and Daniela Bianchi has gone down in history as the one that every subsequent Bond has enacted in their screen test for the role.

You can see more tropes of the James Bond series begin to emerge in From Russia With Love. Notably, the producers seemed to become fixated on helicopters in a big way after the climax of this one. It's not without flaws, but with the consummate attention to the villains and the peerless execution of sequences like the journey on the Orient Express, all bound up with a romance that's actually quite interesting for once, there's more than enough to declare it my favourite film of BlogalongaBond so far. And I doubt that's going to change for a good few months yet...

#2- You can start running a bath in a Turkish bridal suite and then leave it when you find a gorgeous woman in your bed. You won't flood the hotel and it'll never be mentioned again.

For a full list of everyone's work on BlogalongaBond so far, click here.

The Mad Prophet Will Return, With Goldfinger... in March


Mr Cushtie said...

I hadn't realised until I read this how important fish were to From Russia With Love; or am I making too much of the fact that Spectre's plan is defined in terms of samurai fish, and Grant's cover is blown because of an ill-advised fish-and-Chianti pairing?

Mark said...

It's a rampant fish agenda!