Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Pedro Armendariz, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell
Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, based on the novel by Ian Fleming
James Bond is Back!
The evil SPECTRE plots to use spy James Bond to acquire a Russian decoder by seducing him with beautiful women and getting him to steal the decoder. When SPECTRE agents try to kill him, Bond discovers what's going on.
Runtime: 115 min.
Release Date: 10/17/2000
• Audio Commentary with Director Terence Young, Actors Walter Gotell, Aliza Gur, Martine Beswick, and Lois Maxwell, Editor Peter Hunt, Composer John Barry, Dubbing Editor Norman Wanstall, Special Effects Supervisor John Stears, Production Designer Syd Cain, and Producer's Wife Dana Broccoli
• "Inside From Russia With Love" Documentary
• "Harry Saltzman: Showman" Documentary
• Three Trailers
• Storyboard Sequence
• Three TV Spots
• Three Radio Spots
• Photo Gallery
• Collectible Booklet
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
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From Russia With Love (1963)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 12, 2006)
For reasons that seem absolutely mystifying to me now, I used to dislike 1963ís From Russia With Love, the second James Bond film. I always liked its predecessor, 1962's Dr. No, and I absolutely adored the follow-up, 1964's Goldfinger, but for reasons unknown, I just couldn't get into Russia. I vaguely recall an impression that it was dull and slow moving, but now that I've seen it again, I think I must have watched it on Opposite Day, for the truth of the matter is quite different from my old perception.
In fact, I now feel that Russia is clearly one of the best Bond films. It surpasses Dr. No and definitely rivals Goldfinger and 1965's Thunderball. Man, what was I thinking when I disliked this
movie? I guess I'm not infallible after all!
In any case, I found Russia to offer a thoroughly entertaining and exciting experience. Actually, I must admit that the movie lacks a great deal of action for its first 85 minutes or so; there are a couple of minor bang-bang pieces, but for the most part, the first two acts of Russia relate mainly to the spy-game intrigue.
Perhaps that's why I was put off by the film during earlier viewings, though I'm still unclear because I can't figure out why I'd be bored by the events that occupy the movie's initial two-thirds or so, since I currently thought the material unfolded at a crisp and brisk pace. Yes, the movement is unusual, since most Bond flicks toss in a lot more action right up front, but the progress seems intelligent and logical, and the tension it creates works quite nicely.
Of course, it's not as though there's no action prior to the end of the movie, but the unusual aspect stems from the fact that Bond (Sean Connery) doesn't play that large a role in the scuffles until the last third of the film. I suppose I found this frustrating during earlier viewings of Russia, but now I think it makes perfect sense.
When Bond finally does become an "action hero", I found the results well worth the wait. The final half hour or so of the movie provides almost non-stop thrills and spills, with some of the best action ever presented in a Bond movie. The picture lacks the goofiness that tainted some of the later entries in the series and simply delivers raw drama. The fight between Bond and Red Grant (Robert Shaw) remains one of the best ever seen, and all of the climactic sections work tremendously well.
Add to that one of the prettiest Bond girls in Daniela Bianchi who plays Tatiana Romanova, the pawn in the spy games involving Bond. Although Ursula Andress and Honor Blackman, the female stars of the films that bookend Russia, have received much more attention over the years, Bianchi is unquestionably the loveliest of the bunch. Actually, were it not for the stunning double-bill of Claudine Auger and Luciana Paluzzi in Thunderball, Bianchi would be the best Bond girl of the Sixties and arguably ever. Unfortunately, the character isn't terribly strong, so she's left to her looks and little else.
Despite the relatively weak Bond heroine, the villains are some of the best ever. Credit the strength of Shaw's performance as Grant that though he spends little time on screen, his presence is felt throughout the film. Lotte Lenya also added one of the most unusual and powerful Bond baddies as Rosa Klebb, the very obvious inspiration for Frau Farbissina in the Austin Powers films. Lenya packed a lotta punch into her small frame and comes across as quite foreboding and nasty.
We also get a terrific "sidekick" in Kerim Bey, portrayed by Pedro Armendariz. Bey fills the usual "helper" role played by Felix Leiter but he does so with much more flair and pizzazz. Armendariz makes Bey a much more exciting and compelling presence than he has any right to do, for two reasons. First, the character has a fairly small role and is limited in his actions. More significant, however, is the fact Armendariz was dying as he filmed Russia. The actor became seriously ill during the shoot and would be dead before its release. How such a sick man conveyed so much life and vitality is a mystery, but Armendariz capped his career with an excellent performance in what would become his signature role.
Although I suppose this wasn't too difficult to do since it was only the second Bond film, it should be noted that Russia featured a couple of new components that would become staples of the series. It presented the first pre-title sequence as we see the apparent death of Bond. It also offered the first appearance of Desmond Llewelyn as "Q". Actually, he's unnamed in the film and is only called the "equipment officer" from "Q" Branch, though the credits refer to him as "Major Boothroyd". A different actor played Boothroyd in Dr. No, but Llewelyn would ride out the role until his death last year and he'd always be called "Q" for the remainder of the films.
I hate to admit that I was wrong, but I clearly was way off-base when I used to think that From Russia With Love made for a boring Bond film. In reality, it's one of the best the series has to offer as it packs in an excellent plot and some well-executed action. I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with Russia.
The DVD Grades: Picture C-/ Audio C+/ Bonus B+
From Russia With Love appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. There's a bit of controversy about this aspect ratio since the film actually used two for its theatrical release. In Europe, it utilized a 1.66:1 ratio, whereas the US got 1.85:1, which seems to be duplicated on this DVD. As such, some may disagree, but the ratio used for this DVD seemed legitimate. In any case, I certainly didn't notice anything about it that appeared cropped or misframed; the ratio looked fine to me.
Unfortunately, the picture quality was iffier. Sharpness was a definite issue. Although parts of the movie offered good definition, more than a few soft shots appeared. Some of this resulted from the noticeable edge enhancement, and the film lacked the clarity Iíd expect. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but print flaws were a distraction. Effects shots demonstrated a fair amount of grain, while speckles, blotches, scratches and other marks created problems. Though a reasonable amount of film passed without concerns, I still noticed an awful lot of defects.
Colors were generally adequate to good, with some well-saturated and rich hues. At times, skin tones and earth shades had some problems and appeared more brown than they should, but this wasn't a major issue, and most of the colors look acceptably bright and bold. Black levels were deep and dark, but shadow detail was a concern. The worst problems with that aspect occurred during some "day for night" scenes. As is typical of these kinds of shots, the filtering makes everything too dark and it's somewhat difficult to make out the action. Other than those, shadow detail looked decent but tended to still conceal too much of the picture. Overall, I found the image of From Russia With Love to look passable but flawed.
From Russia With Love featured its original monaural soundtrack, and it seemed acceptable given its age. Although dialogue occasionally appeared slightly out of synch with the image, speech sounded fairly clear and distinct, with no edginess. Effects were somewhat trebly but they seemed clean and reasonably natural, with few signs of distortion. I noticed some harshness during the explosions, but this tendency appeared minor and not really problematic. Music came across with slightly bright qualities but the score generally was clear and smooth and worked well. I noticed very light background noise at times. It's not a special track, but it seems fine for a film of this vintage.
I've come to expect some fine supplements with MGM's Bond DVDs, and From Russia With Love is no exception. First up is an audio commentary. Hosted by John Cork of the Ian Fleming Foundation, this track uses the same format common to most of the other Bond commentaries. Instead of the scene-specific method used in many other tracks, most of the Bonds take a series of interviews with various film participants and edit them together into a coherent whole that discusses a number of
topics related to the movie.
The commentary features director Terence Young, actors Walter Gotell, Aliza Gur, Martine Beswick, and Lois Maxwell, editor Peter Hunt, composer John Barry, dubbing editor Norman Wanstall, special effects supervisor John Stears, production designer Syd Cain, and producer's wife Dana Broccoli. As usual, the track provides a nice overall look at the film. It covers the development of the pre-credit sequence and the opening titles, music, cast and crew notes, sets and production design, shooting in Istanbul, adapting the novel and challenges related to the seriesí second effort, story and characters, editing, stunts, fight and effects.
As with other Bond commentaries, this one offers a good overview. It emphasizes anecdotal elements and throws out many of nice stories. We learn a lot about the production in this warm and informative discussion.
Russia includes two video programs. First up is Inside From Russia With Love, a 33-minute and 20-second documentary hosted by Patrick Macnee. If you've seen the other Bond DVDs, you'll know this format, as it's duplicated on almost all of them. The program combines a variety of interviews with cast and crew plus production shots and film clips.
"Inside Russia" covers the making of the film in an interesting and efficient manner, especially as it discusses the variety of challenges that affected the production. Some of these were already mentioned in the audio commentary - such as actor Pedro Armendariz' illness - but others are exclusive to the documentary. For example, more details of the fight choreography are explained, and we also learn of mishaps on the set. Most compelling to me were the discussions of how editor Peter Hunt dealt with some problems caused by the fact the film ran over-budget and they couldn't afford to reshoot some material. It's another solid Bond documentary that added to my enjoyment of the movie.
The second program is called Harry Saltzman: Showman. This piece about the co-producer of the first nine Bond films runs for 26:20 (not the 29 minutes listed on the DVD) and provides a nice biography of Saltzman. We hear from a variety of Bond participants, including his children, the first three actors to play the role (Connery, George Lazenby, and Roger Moore) plus a slew of other cast and crew members as they discuss Saltzman. Various photos and even some home movies complement these interviews. The portrait painted of Saltzman is somewhat sentimental but apparently fairly honest - frankly, he sounds like he was kind of obnoxious - and it gives us a solid look at the man. (In case you're wondering, co-producer Cubby Broccoli - the much-more-famous half of the team - receives his video tribute on the Diamonds Are Forever DVD.)
A slew of advertising materials appear on the DVD. We get three trailers. These include the original theatrical clip plus one for a double-bill of Dr. No and Russia and another for a double-bill of Russia and Thunderball. Three TV spots and three radio ads can be found as
well; all six of these cover the aforementioned Russia/ double-feature.
Another feature offers some pre-shoot artwork created for the film. Storyboard Sequence: The Boat Chase shows the panels drawn to set up that exciting segment of the movie. This 70-second piece displays the boards as a running video and includes some film footage as well. I'm not a huge fan of storyboards, but these make for an interesting addition, especially since they're in color and are higher quality than most boards we usually see.
Within the From Russia With Love Gallery we find a slew of stillframe pictures. This domain includes 16 subsections. Each of these presents some text to introduce the area and then displays various production photos, publicity stills, and promotional art. Each subsection varies from a low of two frames ("Smoke On the Water") to a high of 22 ("Around the World With 007") for a total of 138 pictures, not including the text frames. This was a bit sparser than some of the other Bond stillframe areas, but it features some good shots. I was especially interested to see how attractive Lenya looked off-camera; no, she wasn't a babe at that point in her life, but the photos make it clear that her ugliness as Klebb came largely from acting.
Finally, Russia includes a nice booklet with a slew of details about the film. These are always satisfying.
I remain perplexed over my prior negative impressions of From Russia With Love, as I now recognize what an excellent piece of work it is. It may not be the best Bond ever, but it's certainly in the running. The DVD features flawed picture plus relatively acceptable sound and a fine complement of extras. Due to the problems with the presentation, this isnít a great disc, but the quality of the film in question means it deserves my recommendation anyway.
Viewer Film Ratings: 4.2434 Stars
| Number of Votes: 152