Just over a year after Dr. No released, the second James Bond movie entered theaters. There’s no way a movie series of this type would pump out movies this quick these days, but back then, the James Bond movies were still relatively low budget. And like the first movie, it helped establish a number of traits still existing in the movies to this day.
Released on October 10 of 1963, From Russia With Love features pretty much all the same players as the first movie. Terence Young returns to the director’s chair. Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli produced the film. Sean Connery portrays the title character. Richard Maibaum wrote the script (he’d end up writing 13 of the James Bond movies from Dr. No to License to Kill, only missing three of them in-between).
Although the massive success of the first Bond movie helped double their budget for the second, $2 million still didn’t make this a high budget movie by any means. Yet the movie was a massive success, earning $12 million in its initial release, and totaling at $79 million after several re-releases. Although it wasn’t as warmly received at the time of its release as Dr. No, most people consider it the better of the first two movies. Some online outlets even call From Russia With Love the greatest Bond film of all-time.
That’s a bold statement. But with Sean Connery, Timothy Dalton and Daniel Craig all considering this their favourite Bond movie, it’s a statement that carries some weight.
Choosing From Russia With Love as a follow up to Dr. No was a great idea. The book is also a favourite among Ian Fleming’s novels. President John F. Kennedy even described it as among his 10 favourite books of all-time. It’s worth noting that From Russia With Love is the last film Kennedy screened at the White House, on November 20, 1963, before he was assassinated in Dallas 3 days later.
From Russia With Love introduces several new aspects to the franchise in addition to the tropes established in the first. It introduces us to the song written for each movie with the title in the lyrics, even if this song isn’t played in the opening credits. It features the first pre-title sequence in the bond movies, playing the famous Bond theme instead of the movie’s title theme song, along with a woman dancing in front of a projector. Sometimes, the credits morph around her arms as a result for a neat effect. It started the trend of saying “James Bond will be back” to close off the ending credits. It introduces the Q branch of MI6, which has been giving Bond all sorts of fascinating gadgets for decades. More importantly, it introduces Desmond Llewelyn as Q himself, and he played the role for 17 bond movies between 1963 and 1999, shortly before his death.
The gadget introduced in this movie is fairly straight forward, yet realistic and practical. It’s a suitcase that holds a number of weapons, ammunition and even a security feature that makes it explode if it’s opened the wrong way.
But where this movie really stands out in the series is the story and the writing. Unlike the first movie, the plot is a lot clearer in From Russia With Love. The British are trying to acquire Russian communication technology to make it easier to intercept and decode messages. The Russians are trying to give MI6 false information about the device. But SPECTER, the criminal organization introduced in the first movie, is playing both of them. They also want to assassinate James Bond for destroying their operation in Jamaica. And they’ve got defectors from both sides of the Cold War.
Not only is the story a lot more clear, but Bond is forced to use his brain a lot in this. There are several brutal fight scenes, including one particular fight with an assassin on a train that’s been copied several times in later Bond movies. There’s an intense gunfight. There’s a boat chase. Bond takes on a Helicopter with a sniper rifle at one point.
And then there’s the tension behind the action. One of the major plot movements is that the Russian agent, Tatiana Romanova. She’s supposedly defecting and is supposed to pretend to be in love with Bond, but she’s actually assigned to give Bond false information. It’s fun to see them play against each other in the first half, while also pretending to fall in love. But once they learn that SPECTER is working against them both, they really start to fall for each other. While they’re being chased by both Russian agents and SPECTER of course. Italian actress Daniela Bianchi does a great job portraying the Russian agent, showing intelligence, a seductive atmosphere and a wide range of emotions in the second half of the movie.
Amusingly enough, Bianchi later appeared in a James Bond spoof called Operation Kid Brother, starring Sean’s brother Neil Connery. I might cover that when I cover all the unofficial Bond movies in one month, in addition to the George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton entries.
While the first movie took place in Jamaica, it didn’t show too many beautiful locations beyond some nice beach sets. This movie does. There’s the famous Hagia Sophia mosque and other locations in Istanbul. There’s a hillside thin Eastern France. The movie ends in Venice, with Bond riding a boat with Miss Romanova. It gives the movie a strange feeling of finality as if their relationship may continue. If it weren’t for Bond’s long history of ending movies this way, I might have actually believed it in this case.
As a whole, From Russia With Love is a bigger movie than Dr. No, but in some ways it feels like it’s on a smaller scale. That actually works in this movie’s favour. It feels like a straight spy thriller, when most of the later movies are action movies with elements of a spy thriller. Yet there’s still more than enough action to keep the pace going. There’s a lot of intelligence shown on all sides of the conflict, with all three parties outsmarting the others on at least one occasion. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it my favourite Bond movie, but it’s probably up there.
And here is the fun part of this blog post. The Bond counters. We’ll keep a running tally of the kills as this blog series goes along.
Bond kills 11
Other’s kills – 16
Total kill count – 27
Sean Connery’s kill count so far – 15