“My friend, if you really want my advice, you should spend a few pleasant days with us here in Istanbul, and then, then go home.”
From Russia with Love is one of those rare sequels that doesn’t just match or succeed over its predecessor, it absolutely knocks it out of the park. Steeped in spy-craft and Cold War machinations, this film moves along at a steady clip as James Bond is enveloped in SPECTRE’s web of revenge whilst trying to steal a code breaking machine from the Russians. Connery returns as 007 and is in fine form as if he has been playing the role for years. Surrounded by an excellent supporting cast and (with the addition of Desmond Llewelyn taking over the role of “Q”) cementing the Bond entourage, this film builds upon Dr. No and fleshes out the emerging Bond formula. The franchise would not have lasted as long as it has if these first entries were not at the top of their game and this sequel proves that Bond is here to stay.
Connery still imbues Bond with a sense of vulnerability. His quiet rage at the death of his friend and his mild panic at being cornered by Red Grant give Connery a chance to show a greater humanity before Bond would devolve into the quippy action hero of later years. The villains are a step ahead of him throughout almost the entire film. His satisfaction of finding the listening device in his room is tempered by the fact that it appeared intentional they wanted him to switch to the bridal suite as part of their grand plan. Grant saves Bond’s life at the gypsy camp and Bond appears puzzled at the sudden death of an attacker that would have him dead to rights. However Connery is so self-assured and confident in the role, that you never take Bond as the fool.
The last act does seem to tack on some unnecessary action scenes to emulate the final battle at Dr. No’s lair from the previous film. Having bested their most lethal assassin, SPECTRE sends a grenade-dropping helicopter, a trio of boats with machine guns and RPGs, and finally, a middle-aged lady with a shoe knife. The action is fine with Bond’s battle with the helicopter an obvious homage to North by Northwest. Although I could not help but chuckle that SPECTRE’s last chance to win was to send their director of operations out into the field. It seems more necessary to wrap up the plot than to follow any kind of logic. The mysterious Number One does make his first appearance and the film furthers the mystery by crediting his actor as “?” in the credits. We also get the first “James Bond will return in __________” letting us know that Bond is about to become a constant in our lives.
As previously stated, the supporting cast is excellent however a special shout out must go to Pedro Armendariz as Kerim Bey. Following Jack Lord’s Felix Leiter is not easy but Kerim Bey is such a warm, funny and dependable ally to Bond, he almost steals the show in Istanbul. That Armendariz gives such a great performance while in the final stages of illness is even more impressive. He will set the tone for many allies that Bond will have over the years and only few will be able to match his performance.
From Russia with Love is 9/10. A truly great spy caper with great action, moves and countermoves between the various factions that take advantage of its setting and climaxing with one of the best fist fights in cinema history between Bond and Grant. It’s brutal, visceral and largely done by the actors and not stunt doubles which shows on the screen. Sure to be at the top of any Bond fan’s list, I admittedly have it at number two but we’ll see if this rewatch changes that.
1) From Russia with Love
2) Dr. No