Welcome to the second day of this immense undertaking. I watched From Russia With Love last night and gleaned even more insight into the Bond universe.
I had certain expectations for From Russia With Love, but I found that they were turned a bit upside down. It was solid and pretty well done, but I have to confess that when I finished the film, I found myself thinking, “Gee, that was kind of, well, boring.” That’s right, I said it: boring. Was it a better made film than Dr. No? I’d say so, yes. Was it as much fun to watch as Dr. No? Not for me, really. While you’re chewing on that, let me offer you some thoughts to help you digest.
Connery nailed the role again, but like much of the film, he felt somewhat subdued to me. Where were the random displays of flair from the first movie, like the suave twirl he did when he stood up from Miss Moneypenny’s desk and entered M’s office for the first time? Where was the goofy sidekick a la Quarrel, the over-the-top villain, the extras with bad aim and even worse accents? And what of the classic “Bond. James Bond?” Maybe my preconceptions simply clouded my judgment, and I’m coming at the Bond franchise all wrong. I also don’t want to sound like I didn’t enjoy From Russia With Love, because I did; just not as much as Dr. No. Having said all that, let’s get to the fun stuff.
There were a number of interesting things to note. First off was the unexpected introduction of Blofeld, the other Bond villain I’m told Dr. Evil is based upon. You never actually hear his name spoken, nor do you see his face, but there he is in the end credits, played by a gentleman named “?”. Like Prince. Then there was young, barrel-chested Robert Shaw as Red Grant, a rival superspy with Bond in his sights and Bond’s true nemesis in the film. He was a great villain, smart, strong, and unflinching, but because of Blofeld’s mysterious presence, I failed to realize Bond’s fight with Grant was the climactic one-on-one battle.
Moving on, when Bond appears for the first time, he’s sharing a picnic with none other than Sylvia Trench, the same saucy dame from the casino in Dr. No! Bond is quickly called away for duty, but indulges in a farewell shag with Sylvia — again — before leaving her to save the world. I’m sensing a pattern here, and I won’t be surprised if Sylvia randomly appears throughout the franchise to help remind us that Bond’s got pros in all area codes.
The film’s main sexpot, however, is Tatiana Romanova, a Russian agent who falls prey to Bond’s charms. She was pretty in a Cybill Shepherd sort of way, but I personally didn’t think she held a candle to Honey Ryder, nor did she have as cool a name. I also couldn’t tell whether she was only pretending to love Bond or actually in love with him; the latter, of course, turns out to be the case. Furthermore, consider that Bond winds up in an implied threesome with two gypsy women after a gratuitous catfight over another man, and I think it’s safe to say no woman is off limits for 007.
I liked From Russia With Love, but I think the impossibly debonair Bond of the first film lost just a little bit of his luster here, in favor of a stronger plot and more interesting characters. Maybe I was just shell shocked to discover not all of the early Bond films were entirely campy and ridiculous. I imagine if I’d seen it back in ’63, before all these plotlines and archetypes had time to impregnate the imaginations of aspiring copycat screenwriters, I might have turned in a CIA application the very next day.
Favorite line: “I’d like to see her in the flesh.”
Favorite moment: The gratuitous gypsy catfight, for various reasons.