Many people believe that Sean Connery is the ultimate James Bond and I have to confess that I am one of those people. With this notion in my head I realized as I was starting From Russia with Love that I have not watched a Connery Bond movie in over 15 years. Could I be mistaken, am I simply fondly remembering the esteemed actor as the best in the franchise? After watching the second Bond movie, also Sean Connery’s second appearance as the superspy, I can safely say we are still right.
From Russia with Love is a landmark in the Bond franchise, it marks Connery’s second outing as the character, but it is also the film before Bond became a mega-hit franchise with Goldfinger. From Russia with Love is a more gritty look at the spy and had not yet established the premises of the over-the-top gadgets, intros, and femme fatales that the series is famed for.
Set (and filmed) in 1963 the story starts with Bond being called into MI6 to tackle a new mission. The Russians are in poised to take possession of a Lektor cryptograph that could allow them to decode secured communications between western allies. Bond is tasked to meet a Russian cypher clerk, Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi), and escort her safely as she defects. Of course she has been told to fake her defection and seduce Bond in the process to get access to the Lektor and Bond.
All is not as it seems and Romanova's contact Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) is in fact not an agent of Mother Russia, but of the nefarious group SPECTRE who hopes to rule the world. They are using Romanova to gain access to MI6 and extract revenge on Bond. Bond has to face off against assassins, double-crossing agents, and his own emotions as he tries to deliver Romanova to a safe place.
From Russia with Love is a very ‘real’ feeling movie. This Bond is not the "laugh in the face of danger" superspy we are used to; he makes mistakes, he loses at times, but he never gives up. Instead of relying on gadgets (although there are a few) he relies on his intuition, skills, and intelligence. The story is interesting and fast-paced, From Russia with Love is a great movie and one of the best in the Bond series. I really enjoyed the fact that the plot device of the Lektor cryptograph was a real idea that had great impact in its day as opposed to space stations and pinpoint lasers that future stories employed.
Connery, as described, is perfect as Bond. His cool confidence, rugged build, and sheer force of will make us believe he is the iconic superspy and we want to see him tackle each situation. One of the things that is a hallmark of the character is Bond’s appetite for women; Connery is the embodiment of the Alpha male in this role, with throaty responses and suave confidence he makes Bond all you believe he is.
I was incredibly surprised when I started From Russia with Love on Blu-ray. Having been filmed in 1963, I was expecting washed-out, overly saturated colors, and poor black levels, but this transfer is amazing.
Presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio in 1080p encoded as AVC MPEG-4 this film was revitalized using the Lowry Restoration Process. I am not sure what wizards were involved in restoring this film, but they did an amazing job.
It is not perfect, of course, some of the colors seem off and there is the odd washed-out scene, but by and large this movie looks amazing and could compete with modern films visually. Part of it is due to the environments of the film, the careful shooting and lighting techniques, but the movie pops on screen with deep blacks, generally vibrant colors, and a clean look. Detail levels are extraordinary as well; textures on clothing and buildings stand out and add to feel of this film.
I was very surprised to see that From Russia with Love featured a 5.1 DTS-HD lossless Master Audio track considering the film appeared in theatres with a Mono soundtrack. Once again the engineers have done an exemplary job with limited material, but it is perhaps too much for what the film intended.
They have managed to make a capable surround mix with effects and music using the rear channels fairly effectively. This is an old-school Bond movie so there is plenty of important dialogue scenes. Unfortunately the audio levels are up and down in these scenes (especially when action is involved) and the audio stumbles a bit.
The inconsistent audio is really apparent in action sequences; it is noticeably much louder when bullets, fists, and enemies are flying around the screen. To the point that I was turning down the audio and back up again when the sequences ended. I imagine the sound mixers were trying to give the scenes some depth and urgency, but it was mishandled slightly.
For a 45-year-old movie I was pleasantly surprised to see a fair amount of extras and a really interesting menu system. The menu is themed around spy terms (Initiate Mission – Play and Language Decryption – Audio) and is centered on a roulette-style selector wheel.
- Audio commentary hosted by John Cork of the Ian Fleming Foundation – This commentary track pulls in various interviews from director Terence Young and cast members as the scenes warrant and while disjointed add a lot of depth to the film.
- Inside From Russia with Love – Discussing how challenging it was to film Bond movies back to back and produce the finished products in between.
- Harry Saltzman: Showman – A great look at Harry Saltzman and his big plans for the Bond franchise. He moved on after a number of Bond films, but definitely left his mark.
- The CBC Interview – a candid interview with Fleming as he discusses From Russia with Love and the Bond series in general. This was my favorite feature; although short it gave insight into Fleming that I found intriguing. He was a very intelligent and thoughtful man and it is very obvious in this brief interview.
- BBC Audio Clips – Accompanied by black and white photos there is a dialogue between Ian Fleming and Raymond Chandler discussing their writing differences and DESERT Island Discs which talks about real spy organizations.
- Animated Storyboard of Boat Chase scene
007 Mission Control – An odd extra that has titles for all the main themes such as women, allies and villains. It allows you to see scenes pertaining to only those themes.
Ministry of Propaganda – Four theatrical trailers, three TV spots three radio commercials can be reviewed in this section. There is also a large amount or promotional and behind the scenes images to be viewed.
The Final Word
From Russia with Love is one of the best Bond movies in the long-running series and features arguably the best James Bond, Sean Connery, in his prime. The story takes center stage and is enhanced, not overshadowed, by the great action sequences. An outstanding video transfer and capable audio enhance an already great film and allow it to stand up to and better modern action/espionage movies.