From Russia with Love
This is a James Bond weekend for me and I couldn’t be happier. With six of the films getting new releases on DVD and Blu-ray this is a chance for all Bond fans, and there are a lot of us, to rejoice. It is also a special time for those of us that got started in the world of Bond with the novels written by Ian Fleming. While subsequent films in the series would be loosely based on those classic novels ‘From Russia with Love’ was one of the very few that stuck pretty much to the book. Since 1962 there is only one name that comes to mind when a person thinks about spies; Bond, James Bond. These films are one of the most successful, famous and let’s face it, profitable franchise in the history of cinema. This film, the second in the franchise, was based on the fifth novel in the Bond series by Fleming but is slightly retooled here as a direct sequel to ‘Dr. No’. Other than that this is the real life realization of the novel. This was a different Bond that is around today. Now, Bond is known for his great spy gadgets that can do just about anything a secret agent could want. In this film a tricked out attaché case with some gold pieces, a knife and an exploding canister of bath power is about the closest thing you will get as a gadget. Back in 1963 when this film was released the toy to have was a plastic version of this case. These are the films that solidified the love affair that the movie going public has maintained with spies. For the true Bond aficionado this is one of the last pure films of this particular genre. Bond was still a man who had to think and fight his way out of a difficult situation instead of shooting a bullet out of a cigarette or flying of in a little helicopter. All the Bond films have popped up on DVD many times in the past but this is the definitive release. You can get it in DVD or Blu-ray as a single movie or part of a special three pack set. Once again MGM raises the bar on how a film should come into your home so take advantage of it.
There have been 22 Bond flicks so far and by the looks of it the franchise is showing no signs of slowing down. ‘From Russia with Love’ started many of the traditions that have pervaded and defined this series. While not as elaborate as the ones that will follow much of what you think about a Bond movie had its roots here. One was the introduction of Desmond Llewelyn as Major Boothroyd although later he would be known simply as ‘Q’, the master of spy hardware and gadgets. Llewelyn would find a place in the cinematic history books as playing the same role in more films than any other actor. Also returning here is Bond’s stoic boss, the head of Her Majesty’s Secret Service, ‘M’. he was played in most of the series by the incomparable Bernard Lee. He was the master of rolling his eyes at the antics of his best double ‘0’ agent. There is also the reprise of ‘M’s’ secretary Miss Moneypenny played by Lois Maxwell. She ranks second in the ranks of playing the same role with 14 appearances as Moneypenny to Llewelyn’s 18 for ‘Q’. Bond would always shamelessly flirt with her but we all knew it was never to be consummated. She was the one woman who could resist the charms of Bond. This is also the first of the Bond films with a title specific opening song. It was song by Matt Monro. The action theme for all other Bond flicks was first used in this movie. This film had a reported budget of $2 million. That was double the cost of ‘Dr. No’ but would hardly cover fake bullets in modern Bond flick. It took in over $78 million world wide so it was a no real decision for the studios that this was only the beginning. Actually it ended with the words ‘The End…. Or is it?’ Of course, Sean Connery reprises his role as Bond and a film legend is born.
Also back are a few people behind the scenes. Johanna Harwood returns for the scripting responsibilities. He does the best possible job of remaining true to the novel. In this he provides a taut and thrilling spy story that was perfect for the time. This was the height of the cold war so any villain with an Eastern European accent was acceptable to the audience. Without the gadgets to fall back on as plot devices Harwood was free to paint a picture of Bond as a cold blooded killer. In this sense the term refers to his willingness to put down an adversary and make sure he stays down. Killing was a major part of being an agent with a license to kill and Bond took the responsibility seriously. Naturally even in this prototype of a Bond film there has to be a beautiful woman to seduce our hero. It was one of the better perks to the job as far as Bond could see. Directing this film was Terence Young who returned after his success with ‘Dr. No’. Once again he plays it straight as an espionage film.
In this film the international terrorist organization SPECTRE is not at all happy with how Bond spoiled their operation with Dr. No. They decide to send their best agent, Red Grant (Robert Shaw) to take care of Mr. Bond, permanently. He was well trained and is under the supervision of the ex- SMERSH master operative the small but lethal Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya). She can kill many ways but one of her favorites is the blade hidden in her sensible shoe. In charge of the operation is the evil mastermind Ernst Stavro Blofeld, played by Anthony Dawson although his face is not seen at this point. They would need the right bait to lure Bond into their trap. To this end they set up a minor but beautiful cipher clerk, Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) who will claim that she will turn over a top secret encryption device but only to Bond. He takes her on the Orient Express to bring her back to England and it is there the trap will be sprung. Once again by the end the bad guys have been vanquished and Bond sails off with the current Bond girl.
MGM/UA has both DVD and Blu-ray versions of this film released as ultimate editions. Now that is a term that is bandied about a lot but they mean it. The video is re-mastered to crystal clarity. The audio on the Blu-ray offers a choice between the original mono and lossless DTS HD. As with other members of this release set there are also plenty of extras to keep you going long after the ending credits roll. This is a must have for your collection.