From Russia With Love

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So with the rights to Casino still tied up we went onto the third book in the series after JFK said he liked it so much; that being …..

In this film we get our first pre-title sequence as Bond stalks around some country garden hunting or being hunted by some towering blonde chap. Dropping us into the action helps here as it builds on that history Bond had from the first movie letting us believe that we aren’t maybe seeing all of his missions on the big screen. Of course seen as how this mission only lasts one minute and fifty two seconds and also ends with the death of Bond this probably isn’t worth a whole movie to itself. The Bond in question is a man in a rubber mask and this is all some training exercise. Now I like the idea of this scene as it gives that whole Wrath of Khan vibe where they killed off the entire original cast in the opening few minutes. How well it worked considering we’re only on movie two of the series rather than three t.v series and a motion picture in I couldn’t say as I wasn’t born at the time FRWL came out though coming back to it your mind gets distracted by silly questions like why did they bother having the guy where a Sean Connery mask just to go round the garden and get killed. I understand the reason for the audience but in universe it doesn’t make too much sense and this is after allowing the use of a tux for such an exercise.

Then I would ask why they killed the guy playing the target? I understand that we’re the bad guys here but it seems a bit of a waste of man power to me but then again I am not an evil genius out to take over the world. As these guys are SPECTRE. Who I forgot to mention in my last review. I hadn’t realised how much we had built up SPECTRE until I came back for these reviews and so far we are already doing better than the Quantum/ Spectre debacle would do later on in the same series.

SPECTRE here of course filling in for S.M.E.R.S.H from the novels whose acronym stood for Vodka, Tetris, Bears, and Furry Hats (at least in the original Russian). In truth the books around this time were already starting the phase SMERSH out in favour of SPECTRE presumably because the cold war was thawing around this time and possibly because Britain’s place in it all was dwindling. This is especially true when you are trying to sell movies around the globe. Having a Brit defeat the red menace is probably a harder sell, for such a budget, than a good guy defeating some vague evil shadowy organisation. Either way it means the bad guys are getting gadget laden watches before our hero as the big blonde gets a garroting wire to finish off the would be James Bond. Don’t worry as Bond will get himself a gadget watch with garroting wire before the end of the movie but until then he will have to make do with the first appearance of Q who shall be appearing in this movie with a brief case of gadgets and none of his trademark charm and put upon eye rolling. The argument is still out on whether he was in the last one but this definitely marks the the first appearance of Desmond in the series. A part he would play until ‘The World Is Not Enough’ thirty six years and just shy of twenty movies later.

Speaking of recurring parts the woman who broke into Bond’s house is back and is once again keeping him from the mission. Sylvia Trench it seemed was intended as Bond’s “bit back home” possibly building up to take Tracy’s place when Bond does indeed tie the knot. I don’t remember her at all so I’m not sure how long this lasted but considering how I don’t remember her at all I’m going to guess not long. Anyway I’ve completely skipped over the SPECTRE training grounds and at first I thought they were being very clever for how much it actually made me think of the Q-labs with all these drills and tests going on in the background. Jets of flame shooting out as one character leads another through while giving them some much needed exposition. Regretfully this was not the case, at least not yet as while Q is in this movie he’s little better than the gun handler in the last flick so it wasn’t an allegory we were trying to make between SPECTRE and MI6 and considering the parallels between Bond and Grant that’s a shame.

The plot that is given to us from these two sides, one from SPECTRE and the other from M’s office involve a Russian agent willing to defect and bring a code cracker with her so long as Bond is the one to take her back to Blighty (not a euphemism). Of course MI6 reckon this to be a trap but the idea of getting their hands on a Russian code machine is too good to pass up. The real plot being that SPECTRE is trying to stir things up between the two, grab a decoder for themselves, and with the added benefit of getting revenge on Bond for his handling of Dr No last movie.

One nice touch to show they’re paying attention is when Bond is picked up from the airport. After last movie we may object to Bond jumping in with anyone who claims to be here to pick him up but they give us a nice bit of code play about matches to ease our fears. Likewise the tailing adds to the feel of this being a spy movie rather than an action adventure film. Though after Bond so easily spots the bugs planted in his room the idea that the Russians have a periscope hidden in theirs without them knowing seems a little silly. There is a bit more spy work from Bond in the film aboard the train and some more examples of Bond not been an all knowing ubermench as he would become which I appreciated. The look on his face as he tries to make his mind up about Grant going back and forth help sell the whole thing to us. The way he has to explain the villains plan to Bond before he dies isn’t as bad here as it could be though there is a sense that they couldn’t figure out how to get Bond to work this out, as the viewers have had enough information to put it together by now, but to that I ask why he needs to. After all Bond is here for the cypher with the girl a bonus. This man is trying to stop him so Bond has to best him and get to safety there’s no real reason he needs to know it all. Though it is once again building on the SPECTRE plot laid down in the last film.

Speaking of SPECTRE; if you said that Grant was the villain of the piece I would say okay. He’s lacking a bit compared to other Bond baddies but he works well as a slightly stronger counter to Bond. Sort of a proto Sean Bean or dare I say it a model for Daniel Craig. He’s fine in the role as you would expect from Robert Shaw, Quint from Jaws for those who would look at those two side by side and never see it, but the truth is he’s not the villain of the piece. Who is? Well that’s hard to answer. Blofeld is in this movie though he isn’t called as such as doesn’t really do anything. Kronsteen is I think supposed to be the bad guy and he’s not only introduced as such but introduced really well. You might be wondering why I didn’t discuss him earlier and that’s because he gets a chess playing intro before being called to deal with the Bond problem after which he vanishes from the film until the last few minutes. You might forget all about him until he shows back up. At least Klebb is present enough to stick in your mind when she shows back up. She doesn’t come up with the plan but she gets it rolling by finding a soviet honey from Bond to get sweet on. I want to say that we could have dropped Kronsteen but if that were true then we’d introduce Blofeld by having him come up with a plan to best Bond and get foiled by the end making him feel more like a Saturday morning cartoon villain. This way it’s the first time the secret agent has come to his attention so he has delegated it and when it fails he punishes Kronsteen appropriately setting him up for a future appearance. Sort of like Thanos in the first Avengers movie. Yes the good guys won but that’s because he left the whole thing in the hands of Loki.

The end of the movie, aka from getting off the train on wards, the movie struggles as it seems almost unsure of how much run time it has left and so will wrap itself up before going oh right another few minutes. We have a North by Northwest homage as they make their way across country on a flower truck that doesn’t really do much. Bond runs around ducking a bit and then shoots one of the guys flying it which causes the bird to blow up. Thinking that is it they grab a boat and head off into the sunset only to be accosted by SPECTRE boats on the way. Bond blows them up too and they finally hit Venice and a nice hotel room. But then Klebb shows up. I actually like her intro here as the camera doesn’t make a big thing about her letting her slip into the scene as though she was indeed just the maid she claimed to be. Tatiana finally picks a side which is probably for the best as Bond’s plan seemed to be just keep her pinned against the wall until she tired herself out. Then we get a boat ride through Venice before the credits roll. Considering Grant has been our actual enemy throughout much of this film and he died twenty minutes ago at this point you get a bit of a mixed feeling for the film.

There are also still a few bits that feel like they could be cut or trimmed. If we’re not going to lose the Gypsy camp then could we not have lost the “girl fight” as it really doesn’t go anywhere, except of course to Bond’s bedroom. It’s sort of like Trench from the last movie. See outside of them the film takes some time to set up each of the women that Bond will bed and explains them as either the main love interest of the piece or doing so as part of a ploy, I’m not saying these are all good reasons but they’re better than the alternative, others just feel like they’re tacked on afterwards as though to say Bond sleeps with two women this film; better make that three just to get across how cool and manly he is. Also we once again fail to build on that supporting cast. M and Moneypenny are great of course but considering how we’ve kept Trench around it seems a bit weird that we kill off yet another supporting cast member to add to the tension. Now sure Bond suffers from both of these being in fixed locations meaning that for instance had Bond not been planning to come back to Jamaica any time soon there is no real reason to keep Quarrel alive but to do so again sets a bit of a precedent considering we’re now two for two of local aids to our hero. This is a better movie than the last in a lot of regards but I wouldn’t say it beats it in every regard.

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