Friday, September 7, 2012

Ten Statements About....FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963)

This is one of the tensest exchanges in a Bond film...and it's
about wine and fish....
"Red wine with fish. Well that should have told me something."
"You may know the right wines, but you're the one on your knees. How does it feel old man?"

1) One of the many, many things I love about this film is how this, more than any other Connery Bond, is a true spy movie. Even with its super-spy trappings and the presence of SPECTRE, the operation to retrieve the Lektor and SPECTRE's plan to grab the Lektor for themselves while discrediting MI-5 are legitimate espionage schemes carried out like legitimate espionage operations. This is one of the purest espionage capers we'll see until we get to For Your Eyes Only in the 80's.

2) Of course, part of the reason this film is such a success is the vivid characterizations...and none are more vivid than my favorite of the 'sacrificial lamb,' Pedro Armandariz' Ali Karim Bey. Bey is such a wonderful character who's so colorful I almost wish we got a film entirely about him. Armandariz was dying from cancer, which makes his joyous, lustful and vibrant performance even more remarkable. Add into it a legitimate chemistry between him and Connery, and you have a magnificent character.

3) I'm pretty sure this is the only Bond film where the henchman thoroughly overshadows the main villains, but it's with good reason--Robert Shaw's Red Grant is the first of the true elite of the Henchmen characters. It's not for nothing that my great friend and partner Derrick Ferguson once said that 'Robert Shaw played the shark in Jaws years before he hunted it'; director Terrence Young frequently has Grant hovering around the fringes of the action, stalking Bond silently. Shaw is so effective as this silent monolith that it's almost a disappointment when he opens his mouth in the third act. Grant is one of the best creations of 60's spy culture, and he should be justifiably celebrated.

4) You know, one of the things that I think makes this film stand out amongst the early Bonds is Young's direction. Young seems to delight in these sequences with multiple planes of action--there are numerous moments where one of the actors is doing something either in reaction to the main actor or in contrast to it that adds a little flavor to the composition. Perhaps my two favorite moments like when Bond is walking alongside the train--and we watch Red Grant stalking him from inside, and the scene on the same train where Karim Bey and Bond are going over their plan while Daniela Bianchi is trying out her new cover name. These moments give an extra touch of life to the proceedings.

Ahhhhhh, the 60's...where men were frightfully hairy and a
woman could show up dressed in just a ribbon in his bed just
5) And while we're talking about Ms. Bianchi, I know many people look upon her as a minor Bond girl, but I always found her rather appealing. Maybe part of it is because she is integral to the plot--the film doesn't work without her cooperation with Lotte Lenya's Klebb--but there are these moments of physical acting (as with Ursula Andress before her, Bianchi was dubbed) that seem to indicate she could have been a good lil' actress if she had decided to pursue the craft further. And I do think she's really hot, but that might just be me.

6) Earlier I made reference to how Shaw's Red Grant overshadows the main villains here...and a small portion of that may very well be how little screen time the main villains do get. Vladek Shaybel's Kronsteen, in particular, is a ghost of a presence, only showing up in two scenes before Lenya's Klebb kills him. And Lenya gives it her all, but the character doesn't have the vivid life the others around her have.

7) I find it fascinating how it seems that Roger Maibaum's script doesn't want to let go of some of the tawdrier aspects of Fleming's novel, but can't fully express it in the language of 1963's pop culture. This results in scenes such as the one where Klebb, a lesbian in the novel, seems to drool over Bianchi's Tatiana Romanova without it being expressedly said. To tell the truth, I'm not sure if I prefer this treatment to what would surely be an obverse statement of her sexuality if the film was made today.

8) Even I admit freely that this film loses loads of steam once Red Grant is dispatched. Both the helicopter sequence and the boat chase are somewhat lacking in speed, pacing and zest. It was almost as if Young lost interest in the story once the most interesting of the bad guys is gone.

"Yes, yes, I know.  I am supposed to be a major villain, but I'm
actually irrelevant.  Just go with it...."
9) The puttering around with what will become the James Bond formula continues, resulting in us witnessing the first pre-credit sequence and the first 'last attempt' sequence. The pre-credit sequence is real suspenseful and gives us a great hook with Bond being killed only for it to be a training exercise for Grant...and thankfully the 'last attempt' sequence doesn't reach the ludicrousness of the 70's ones, although Lotte Lenya being pinned to the wall by a comfy chair is a little silly.

10) I guess I was too busy enjoying the fun of the 'training island' sequence in the first act to realize that the man running said island was played by Walter Gotell, who will go on to play Gogol in a number of Moore Bond films (ending his tenure with the first Dalton). It's an interesting little performance that's very unlike the ones I associate Gotell with.

Overall...arguably my favorite of the Connery Bonds thanks to some great characters and a spy plot that's a genuine spy plot before the crazier elements take off. Recommended.

1 comment:

  1. "a true spy movie"
    In the messy file cabinets of my mind, FRWL (as well as On Her Majesty's Etc.) often gets slotted with grittier espionage flicks than the more "fantastic" Bonds we're used to.

    Thanks for the nifty write-up!