If someone asked me “which Bond film would I recommend for a first time viewer?” it would be easy to say Goldfinger, which would be the populous choice. Goldfinger has all the style and the 60s glamour that makes it likeable from start to finish. As mentioned before, it was heavily influential, turning Bond into a cultural icon.
But I’m not like everybody. Hands down, I will pick From Russia with Love every single time.
This was not an easy decision. I’ve gone against the grain! Goldfinger always tops these lists and everyone has their reasons – the villain, Oddjob, the car, the gadgets, Pussy Galore – the list is endless. Heck even at one point, it was number one on this list! But I had to be honest – when I think of Bond, I always say to myself, what film stands out the most? Nine times out of ten, From Russia with Love comes out on top.
Dr. No did a superb job introducing Bond as a character but From Russia with Love really enforces it. It is without a shadow of a doubt, the quintessential spy/Bond film.
Why I love From Russia with Love purely stems from the fact that it gives you a real insight into the world of spies. Often when we see spy movies, we see the glamour side. Jet setting and globetrotting around the world to glorious locations. Gadgetry and insane plans to get inside closely guarded buildings that hold the MacGuffin (e.g. the rabbit’s foot in Mission Impossible 3). But here, it emphasises on secrets, misinformation, code words and trust, because that’s what spy movies are really about. And when you add the backdrop of the Cold War during the 60s, suddenly you have a real world threat where the enemies will look for any opportunity to gain an advantage, and in the case of this film, it’s a battle between who can get hold of a decoder machine. This is one of the main reasons why this film excels, why even the current Bond, Daniel Craig rates this as his favourite and why it’s my number one Bond film.
This is by far Connery’s best performance as Bond. I may run out of superlatives to describe his performance but he’s brilliant and why he’s always a constant reminder why he is the best Bond ever and my favourite. His charm and his cold-bloodiness really set the standard. He seems to embrace the role because he acts with so much confidence. I love how he relies more on his wits. The gadgets (introduced by Desmond Llewelyn’s Q for the first time) take a back step as Bond is introduced to his attaché case, which serves its purpose during the film.
He’s able to show different sides of his personality, which can be easily overlooked. I love how he takes a small moment of reflection when his contact dies on the train which shows some level of care. People can talk about Bond and his womanizing but people easily forget that Bond did actually have a girlfriend in this film! Ms Sylvia Trench played by Eunice Gayson reprises her role from Dr. No. Not bad for the first moment of continuity in the series! His conversation in the opening moments involving her and Moneypenny is very funny as he does his best to juggle personal and professional lifestyles. He shows a moment of chivalrous behaviour when he tries to stop two gypsy women fighting each other. But, all this is small fry really as he has his work cut out when he has to handle the Bond girl in the film, Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi). Recruited by Rosa Klebb (because she thought she was helping the motherland), Tatiana become besotted with James during the course of the film.
The film also introduces SPECTRE in greater detail. The first opening moments of the film show us their base of operations, SPECTRE Island. This is where they train the best of the best to fulfil their plans. They are highly organised in order to fulfil their ambition of world domination. We even get a first glimpse of Blofeld. Despite sounding like Sean Connery but with a deeper voice, I really do love the mysteriousness and how everyone answers to him. Even the end credit doesn’t have an actor playing him – brilliant stuff. Whether that was intentional or not, I don’t care, I just love the omnipresent anonymity.
But the highlights of the film belong to Klebb (Lotte Lenya) and Grant (Robert Shaw aka Quint from Jaws).
Klebb is an awesome character. When visiting the Bond exhibition back in 2012, seeing her knife wielding poison shoe brought out the 10 year old in me! When I saw this film for the first time, it was one of the things I vividly remembered about her. So seeing the actual one and seeing how it worked was amazing. Along with Bond’s attaché case (which was also on display) these two memorable gadgets really brings out the simplicity of the film, which I admire. It’s because it looks practical, never out of place until the moment it’s needed. It’s the perfect tone for this film when balancing the duality between the characters and their motives. This idea often gets mistreated in most Bond films, often opting for the extravagance rather than actual practicality (invisible Aston Martin (Die Another Day) and hovercraft gondola (Moonraker) – I’m looking at you!). And because it’s over the top, it easily becomes memorable and suddenly that becomes the essence of Bond and that’s not the case. Bond and his world of foes are more than that and Klebb showing her dominance in the early stages of the film instantly makes you forget about the shoe and makes you concentrate on her motives and her plans with Blofeld and SPECTRE.
We see Klebb in control, not willing to let anyone down. She is very authoritative especially towards Tatiana when she reveals what would happen to her if she didn’t follow her orders. She storms over to SPECTRE Island inspecting the recruits and while the man in charge of the island can only echo praises, she is quick to point out that experience is valued more.
And that point leads onto Grant, who I regard as the most underrated henchmen/villain in the entire Bond franchise and a character that is criminally overlooked over the popular choices of Oddjob and Jaws. Right from his first introduction, the man is trouble and the film does well to build up that he is more than a match for Bond as demonstrated in the opening pre-credit sequence. Grant is strong, athletic and can easily blend in when he needs to, operating in the shadows, just like Bond does. All I can say is thank God that wasn’t Bond in the beginning. First time I saw this film I kept thinking, “OMG they killed him! Why? The movie just started!”
When it comes to Bond and Grant facing off for real, it’s a brutal fight and probably the best one you’ll see in a Bond film with the opening of Casino Royale coming closest. In the end Bond gets the better of him, not because Grant doesn’t try or didn’t train hard enough. It’s because Bond is experienced and has played the game longer than Grant. From the first moment they met, Bond knew something was up when Grant impersonates one of his contacts. He gently interrogates him and probably noticed the schoolboy errors Grant was making. That’s why Bond survives and Grant doesn’t because he doesn’t anticipate Bond’s quick thinking.
From Russia with Love is just an exciting film from start to finish. If you want to get Bond in his truest essence, then this has all the ingredients. Bond puts the audience into his world, operating within the shadows and the life of real spy work. It’s up there with some of my favourite spy movies such as The Spy who came in from The Cold, The Ipcress File and Tinker Tailor Solder Spy. Spying is a complex world full of deceit and mistrust and I can’t think of a better Bond film that highlights that. Considering this is his favourite, it’s no wonder I can see more of Craig’s Bond referring back to From Russia with Love as a template for him to take Bond forward.
In fact, forget that it’s a Bond film – watch this film if you’re a film lover. This film is simply a classic and worthy of my highest recommendation both as a movie and in high definition.
- #23 – Die Another Day
- #22 – Diamonds Are Forever
- #21 – Octopussy
- #20 – The Man With The Golden Gun
- #19 – Moonraker
- #18 – Tomorrow Never Dies
- #17 – The World is Not Enough
- #16 – Live and Let Die
- #15 – For Your Eyes Only
- #14 – The Living Daylights
- #13 – You Only Live Twice
- #12 – Dr. No
- #11 – Thunderball
- #10 – A View to a Kill
- #9 – Quantum of Solace
- #8 – The Spy Who Loved Me
- #7 – Goldeneye
- #6 – Licence to Kill
- #5 – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
- #4 – Goldfinger
- #3 – Casino Royale
- #2 – Skyfall
And there you have it – my review of all 23 Bond films 🙂
Whether you are a Bond fan or a casual viewer, the Bond 50 collection on Blu-ray is a must have. To have all 22 films + Skyfall (because Skyfall must be purchased separately) is a unique opportunity. With all the films going through a restoration scanning and process, the quality of each film is amazing. It’s certainly a purchase I don’t regret buying.
As for my weekly review of the Bond films (and months of writing it), it definitely feels bittersweet and a relief that I made it! But it’s not a goodbye…
Because James Bond will return and I have no doubt I’ll be updating this review to slot in Bond 24.
Whatever happens – happy anniversary James. Thanks for reading 🙂