Friday, March 1, 2013

Establishing The Formula Well: From Russia With Love Is Engaging James Bond!

The Good: Decent plot development, Awesome DVD bonus features, Good pacing, Fairly good acting
The Bad: Absolutely no character development, Bond lacks charm, Weird musical effects
The Basics: In the second James Bond film, From Russia With Love establishes much of the formula that the rest of the franchise abides by.

As I have begun going through the James Bond films, I do so with the full knowledge that they become troublingly formulaic. I was pleasantly surprised with the first Bond film, Dr. No, did not seem nearly as formulaic as some of the later films. So, as I sat down for From Russia With Love, I actually allowed myself to delight in the process of watching all of the formulaic conceits fall into place.

From Russia With Love falls in line with exactly what one expects from a James Bond film. Bond has banter with Moneypenny, gets his assignment from M, equipment from Q branch, and goes out to face his mission. His male companion will get killed, he will use the gadgets to kill off an assassin and there will be a romantic interest who has more of a sexual fling with Bond than an emotional one. And, despite what the title might imply: Istanbul is largely the setting of From Russia With Love, not Soviet Russia!

After what appears to be an assassin killing James Bond in a training scenario, in Venice, a chess match is held to determine the world champion. Kronsteen wins and leaves abruptly to meet with leaders of SPECTRE. The head of SPECTRE, still outraged over the murder of Dr. No, is set on revenge upon James Bond. He plans to have Kronsteen and Rosa Klebb (Number 3) – and her agent Grant – frame and kill James Bond. To that end, they enlist the Russian agent Tatiana Romanova to pretend to defect to England to get Bond into the embassy in Istanbul where he will steal a Soviet decoding machine. After Bond is equipped by Q and given his assignment by M, he goes to Istanbul where he is assisted by Kerim Bey.

After getting the plans to the Russian Consulate, Bond meets Romanova and she describes the decoder that Bond is going to steal. After the Russian Consulate is bombed, Bond steals the decoder and he and Romanov escape on the Orient Express. There, they are hunted by Grant. In thwarting him, James Bond learns the truth and puts Grant down. To fulfill SPECTRE’s mission, Klebb goes after Bond, Romanova, and the decoder herself!

From Russia With Love is marred by a surprisingly unemotional James Bond. Bond seemed efficient in Dr. No: he seems cold and distant throughout most of From Russia With Love. In fact, his flirtatious scene with Moneypenny is a better example of chemistry and character than his “relationship” with Tatiana Romanova. Romanova is willingly a pawn for SPECTRE; she is a patriot for the Soviet Union and she thinks her attempt to entrap Bond is for her country, instead of a revenge plot ancillary to her country’s interest. It is an interesting historical note that at the height of the Cold War, James Bond does not illustrate any particular animosity toward or fear of the Soviet Union. Then again, he does not illustrate any powerful emotions, even when his friend is killed.

From Russia With Love has a James Bond who is not exciting doing exciting things. Despite the bland rendition of Bond, From Russia With Love moves along at an incredibly good clip. It is an exciting movie, though some of it is ridiculously forced by director Terence Young. So, for example, in one of the early scenes that is simply establishing character, the musical cue goes into an action beat that is melodramatic and does not match the emotion of the scene. At least during one of the key scenes in Istanbul as Bond and Romanova are hunted in a giant room, the musical accents are much more subtle (and even absent at points).

Daniela Bianchi steals From Russia With Love and Pedro Armendariz (Bey) plays the Turkish sidekick as one of the most memorable and competent James Bond characters in the pantheon. Bianchi gives an emotive performance and while her character is intentionally deceitful, Romanova is likable and incredibly human. She is a wonderful foil – both as an actress and as a character - for Sean Connery’s James Bond. While From Russia With Love has decent action and an engaging enough plot (despite the somewhat monolithic villains), but Sean Connery pretty much sleepwalks through the role.

For its issues, though, From Russia With Love is one of the best entertainment films and an engaging spy thriller that seems surprisingly undated. For those looking for a must-see James Bond movie, this is might well be the one worth hunting down!

For other James Bond films, please check out my reviews of:
Dr. No
Die Another Day
Casino Royale
Quantum Of Solace


For other movie reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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