From Russia With Love stars Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, and Robert Shaw and was directed by Terrence Young. Based on Ian Fleming’s 1957 novel of the same name, this film sees James Bond, once again played by Sean Connery, sent on a mission to Istanbul to steal a decoding device. While there, he runs into some trouble, most notably with the secret crime organization, SPECTRE. Only two films into the franchise and we’ve already got something entirely different. It’s actually kind of impressive just how different these first two movies are. Dr. No brought James Bond to the big screen and served as a good introduction to the character, but its Jamaican setting and campy evil villain are a little unexpected and underwhelming for a first film.
When people imagine James Bond, that’s probably not the type of story that they think of. But From Russia With Love? That is the classic style of Bond that people think of. Compared to the first film, From Russia With Love seems to have a much better and more consistent sense of what it wants to be. There are still plenty of quips, puns, and glamorized charm, but this one just feels more like a spy movie than its predecessor.
It doesn’t bounce around between different tones and its moments of perceived silliness are contained to only a handful of scenes, including one with an oddly placed periscope and a fantastically ridiculous SPECTRE training sequence. I would say that this is probably the most serious and grounded of the Bond films until the Daniel Craig era. This is the spy thriller that I expected when first going into the Bond series and while I did enjoy aspects of the more adventure-based mystery of the first movie, this was ultimately the more satisfying film. Much like the first movie, this film introduces us to some more Bond tropes that have become classic and expected staples in the franchise.
Probably the biggest example of this is the introduction of spy gadgets given to Bond by none other than Q. In the first movie, Bond was pretty much on his own when it came to getting out of situations, but this movie marks the first appearance of Desmond Llewlyn as Q. And although his inventions enter the realm of absurdity only a few years later, his contributions here are believable and add to the coolness of the spy aspects of the film rather than distracting from them. This movie also dives headlong into the world of SPECTRE, which is an organization that will be central to the franchise for decades after this movie. We got a little bit of an introduction to SPECTRE in Dr. No, but here, they’re the focus and we even get our first glimpse of Blofeld.
This movie suffers from some of the same pacing issues as its predecessor, with some exceedingly dragged out sequences, but in general it’s a much more active story which keeps it compelling throughout. There’s also notable improvement when it comes to the Bond Girl. I’m sure Honey Ryder’s scantily-clad seashell gathering was a crowdpleaser in its day, but she was a really pointless character, contributing pretty much nothing to the plot.
I much prefer this film with Tatiana Romanov’s more involved storyline and character duality. She’s still not the strongest female character and frequently feels more like a pawn than an active player in the story, but at least she has a somewhat interesting role and functions as more than just eye-candy. Following the success of the first movie, the filmmakers found themselves with a doubled budget and there’s no doubt that that also helped this movie out some.
The production design is much better and even though large chunks of the film are set in confined locations (like a train), it just feels like a bigger movie. And despite the fact that the two movies share both a director and a cinematographer, From Russia With Love just looks miles better and features some really nice cinematography, especially when it comes to the framing of shots.
One other brief thing I want to mention about these first two movies is the fantastically casual way that the title of the film gets featured near the beginning of the movie. In Dr. No, we see the title on a file containing information about the titular character. Here, the title shows up on a hastily scribbled note between Moneypenny and Bond. It’s such a minor thing, but I love that kind of integration and it’s really a shame that they didn’t carry that through the franchise. Alright let’s talk about the pros and cons. Pro number one is the tone.
This movie is just classic spy thriller. Secret criminal organizations, assassins, double agents… it’s the kinda stuff you think of when imagining an espionage story. While retaining that glamorized sheen of a Bond movie, From Russia With Love still manages to capture this Cold War believability. The plot, while a tad convoluted, is never silly and the espionage tactics and spy gadgets all seem reasonable too. Although there aren’t actually that many Bond movies like this one, this is the type of story that comes to mind first when I think of Bond.
The second pro is Tatiana Romanov. Even though we see a few stronger and more involved Bond Girls later in the franchise, Tatiana is definitely the first good one we get. She isn’t just eye-candy for Bond and the audience to ogle at. There are certainly still moments where her character is used in that way, but she actually has stuff to do in this movie other than just run around behind Bond as a damsel in distress.
Her character’s central to the plot and without her, the film simply wouldn’t work. On the con side, my only major issue is that the movie really drags at points. [2. Drags] As a whole, the movie’s actually quite compelling, so unlike with Dr. No, it’s easy to stay engaged through the third act. Unfortunately, there are a few scattered dull segments that are oddly lingered upon. The scenes aren’t terrible and really wouldn’t be bad if they were shorter, but they just go on and on. I’d say the most egregious example here is an extended sequence that occurs at a gypsy settlement. It doesn’t add much to the plot and it drags on for far too long. I’m gonna give From Russia With Love 4 out of 5 paws.
This is a wonderful spy thriller and one of my personal favorite Bond films thanks to its grounded tone and strong plot. I would recommend From Russia With Love to fans of spy films that feature realistic espionage. It’s a Bond movie, so it’s still more glamorized than it is gritty, but it features a really interesting story and the final act, which takes place on a train, includes some great espionage sequences, and a good deal of suspense. If you’re just getting into Bond, I would actually recommend this film as your first foray into the series, rather than the actual first film, Dr. No. If you liked From Russia With Love, I would recommend Casino Royale.
It’s the 21st James Bond movie and is another 007 film that takes on a more serious, espionage-based approach, although it is quite a bit grittier and more action-oriented. I’d also recommend North By Northwest for its suspenseful spy plot, as well as a number of visually familiar moments, including a wonderful aviation scare tactics scene. If you like the train setting and its elements of mystery, I’d also recommend Murder on the Orient Express for a pretty solid whodunnit murder mystery. Alright, a couple questions for you guys. Number one: Have you seen From Russia With Love? If so, what’d you think of it? And number two: What’s your favorite spy thriller? Be sure to leave your answers in the comments below so we can get a discussion going.