Theme Song – Film number two of this epic franchise is composed by Lionel Bart, and sung by English crooner Matt Monro. Like its predecessor, Dr. No, this film is slightly different went it comes to the tune, in as much as the opening credits include an instrumental version of the song From Russia with Love without the vocals.
The song itself is decent – Matt Monro’s smooth, strong voice suiting the lyrics and tone of the song perfectly – performed by someone who, though very popular and highly regarded by his contemporaries at the height of his fame, I think it’s fair to say could be described as somewhat overlooked these days – 7/10.
Once again starring Sean Connery as James Bond, From Russia with Love see’s 007 dispatched to Turkey; his mission to gain possession of a Lektor decoding machine from the Russians. His assignment is complicated, however, by the presence of Soviet cipher clerk Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi), who claims to have fallen in love with Bond immediately upon seeing his file photo; an obvious honey trap, as both M and 007 himself recognise. Unfortunately for Bond, as the British have been trying desperately (and unsuccessfully) to get their hands on a Lektor for many years now, they simply cannot pass up the opportunity, dangerous though it undoubtedly is.
Indeed, seeking revenge for the murder of Dr. No and the destruction of it’s Caribbean operations (as per the events of the first film), terrorist organisation Spectre has orchestrated the whole thing in an effort to eliminate 007, create tension between the British and the Russians, and, during the ensuing chaos, procure the aforementioned Lektor for themselves. With the plan decided and the wheels put into motion, the nefarious head of Spectre, known only as Number 1, puts Colonel Klebb, a former officer in the Russian counter intelligence service, in command of the operation.
It’s Klebb who recruits Romanova (who, it’s only fair to say, believes Klebb is still working for the Motherland) and muscular assassin Donald Grant (Robert Shaw) who, with his deadly garotte wire come wrist watch, are given the difficult task of killing 007. Unaware of the perils that await him, everyone’s favourite schhheeecret agent rendezvouses with station chief Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendariz) in Istanbul, who swiftly proceeds to explain to Bond that he believes the mission is a waste of time and that, before he can act, he must wait for Romanova to contact him.
Despite all the different agendas at play, the beginning of the film really sets up the story nicely, re-introducing us to characters and actors who, even at this stage, were well-known to cinemagoers and would eventually become stalwarts of the franchise over the coming years; 007’s boss M (again played by Bernard Lee) Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell). From Russia with Love also introduces us to Desmond Llewelyn as Q, a role he would go on to play for 36 years before his tragic death in 1999.
Whilst awaiting contact from Romanova, Kerim almost falls victim to assassination himself and thus decides its safest for both him and 007 to lay low for a while in the quietest, most secure location he can conceive: a gypsy camp. During their brief sojourn in the camp, Kerim’s would-be killers strike again, only to be foiled once again by a combination of Bond and Kerim’s gypsy allies. Shortly thereafter, once Bond has settled a dispute between two gypsy girls the only way he knows how – with his penis – and Kerim has murdered his hapless assailant, 007 finally meets Romanova: who’s, naturally, just chillin’ in his bed.
The two strangers waste no time getting down to business (giggity), unaware that Spectre are filming the whole thing in case they need to indulge in a spot of blackmail at any point, before thrashing out a plan to steal the Lektor and return it to good old Blighty which, rather fortuitously, goes off without a hitch. Or, at least, it appears to.
You see, as they attempt to escape with their ill-gotten prize by rail, things take a turn for the worse and, for a few minutes, resemble Murder on the Orient Express, as Bond finds both Kerim and Russian agent Benz (the man who’d been caught tailing them after the trio successfully stole the Lektor and played by Peter Bayliss) dead in the former’s cabin; the cause of death appearing to be suicide (‘SPOILER’ ALERT – it’s not suicide). In actuality, Grant, who, for the last few minutes, has been impersonating the British security officer dispatched to liaise with 007, is the perpetrator of these not-so-mysterious deaths and after foolishly ordering red wine with fish (a sure sign of evil intent), captures Bond.
Brimming with confidence following his success, Grant commits the same faux pas that would shortly become a hallmark of the series, revealing the entirety of Spectre’s plan to a defenceless 007 (just shoot him!!!). This, as it always would, gives Bond the information he requires to complete his mission and, more importantly, the time he needs to concoct an escape plan; in this case, using the simple lure of gold sovereigns combined with a boobytrapped brief case to overcome his foe after a pretty brutal and intense fight which ends when Bond disposes of Grant using the latter’s own favourite finisher; the garotte come wrist watch.
With that particular obstacle out of the way, Bond and Romanova appropriate Grant’s escape plan, destroying a helicopter and squad of Spectre troops, in the process, thanks primarily to some conveniently placed oil drums and the apparent stupidity of their pursuers (seriously, every single henchman heads straight into the flames).
Upon hearing this news, an enraged Number 1 has Kronsteen executed via the rather amusing method of a poison-tipped shoe-blade, and gives Klebb one last chance to complete the mission.
Believing they’re safe, and comfortably ensconced within a well-appointed Venice hotel room, Bond and Romanova are attacked by the now desperate Klebb (disguised as a maid), who resorts to the fatal footwear demonstrated in the previous scene, after Bond relieves her of her gun. However, before she can really ‘stick the knife in’, as it were, Romanova shoots Klebb dead with her own pistol.
Mission accomplished! There’s just enough time for Bond and Romanova to take a romantic Gondola ride, with a bit of nookie thrown in for good measure, before the end credits begin to role accompanied by Matt Monro’s excellent soundtrack.
From Russia with Love’s most notable feature is perhaps the strength of its performances. Sean Connery is once again superb as main protagonist James Bond, bringing his trademark levity to the role with more amusing one liners and off-the-cuff remarks. More importantly, he’s aided by strong performances from the supporting cast – something Dr. No arguably lacks. Daniela Bianchi provides some glamour in the form of Bond’s love interest Tatiana Romanova (not the voice however; that was actually provided by Barbara Jefford), while Lotte Lenya puts in a strong performance as shrill, stern-faced Spectre agent Rosa Klebb. Though special mention must be made to Pedro Armendariz, as Bond’s womanising ally Kerim Bey, and Robert Shaw for his gritty portrayal of main heel Donald Grant, both of whom are excellent in their respective roles.
Personally, I would say From Russia with Love is a stronger overall film than its predecessor Dr. No. The plot is more rounded and realistic, telling a traditional espionage thriller with a characteristically tongue-in-cheek James Bond twist, while the characters are far more engaging.
It’s not quite as spectacular in terms of scenery and backdrop as the first film – a natural consequence of the change in setting from the sun-drenched beaches of the Caribbean to the historical cities of Istanbul and Venice – but we are at least treated to a picturesque train ride through the Balkans and (on an unrelated note) some pretty impressive action sequences.
I think it’s fair to say From Russia with Love looks a bit dated when viewed today, however, I actually think this is one of the stronger 007 flicks. Though some of the scenes might seem a little bit cheesy in comparison to the likes of the Bourne films, it does more than enough to keep the audience entertained throughout and is a brilliantly made and expertly shot film – 9/10.