Belated Film Review: Bond at His Best in ‘From Russia with Love’

You’ll have to forgive From Russia with Love. It has obviously aged.

The damn thing was released in 1963, after all. Back then, Istanbul, Tangier and Beirut were to the West what Dubai is today – playgrounds for the artistic and the rich, especially if you were both. James Bond’s charm comes from Sean Connery’s so-simple and exquisite ability to play a man of both passion and precision, and this is perhaps his defining performance as 007. Just as the movie is perhaps the defining Bond film. It was when the series was about the chase, not just the explosions or the tits.

The awkward first impression came and went with Dr. No. Things started to slip into Roger Moore cornyness with Goldfinger and Thunderball – I love both those movies, but they were starting to ‘go comic book’ just a bit, with a henchman named Oddjob (who threw an iron hat, for Christ’s sake) and killer sharks serving a bad guy with an eye patch.

From Russia with Love has all the mistakes of any film – Bond or broader – from that era, especially when you watch it 50 years later. The voiceovers don’t always match the mouths that are speaking them. The action is just this side of the old Batman TV series, stopping critically short of having ‘BANG!’ or ‘KAPOW!’ appear after every punch and gunshot.

But this is a gorgeous, brilliant movie. The plot is subtle and often slow, easing its way toward a final confrontation between Robert Shaw’s silent blond assassin and Connery’s Bond. It’s a film about the espionage, not the action – in the same way The Dark Knight was about crime and politics, not about grappling hooks or Batmobiles. The Godfather is the greatest mob movie of all-time, because it’s about family and duty, not the mafia.

From Russia with Love is about the characters. It’s about the middle as much as the intro and the climax. And what’s better is, it’s probably not as famous for the casual Bond fan as Dr. No or Goldfinger or Casino Royale. Or Goldeneye. Hell, even Live and Let Die.

This is the serious Bond fan’s film. And I’m so stupid, trying to explain why. If you have 115 minutes, you can find it out for yourself.

VIDEO: Original Trailer for From Russia with Love (1963)

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