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From Russia with Love (1963)

February 9, 2011

7/10 Gypsy Kings

Misleading title for something takes place entirely in Turkey, but still a solid follow-up.

From Russia with Love finds our pimpdaddy supreme double-O agent heading off to Istanbul in the hopes of recovering a Russian decoder for the Brits while fully aware that he’s walking right into a trap that’s probably been cooked up for the sole purpose of getting his ass killed. Turns out he’s totally right because the same crew that was rolling with Dr. No is now pitting the Turks and the Russkies against each other so that they can snatch that decoder for themselves and off that studly bastard JB in the process for killing one of their own back in Jamaica. TIME TO KICK SOME ASS!

So I guess you could probably cite this as the first example of the “definitive” James Bond formula in the series since this is the first movie that includes two James Bond staples that were very much missing from Dr. No: gadgets and an opening credits sequence that was probably on par with watching hardcore porn back in ’63. Not much to say about the credits outside of their being an upgrade from the funkadelic strobe light montage that kicked off the first movie, but when it comes to gadgets, this is one of the few instances where it actually ends up being a pretty awesome addition to the mix.

To defend himself from Turkish hitmen and their assassination attempts that tend to involve some sinister blend of curry and sulfuric acid, our boy Q outfits Bond with a briefcase of exploding death to carry in tow. It’s got a secret pop-out knife, hidden ammo and money compartments, a fake container of talcum powder that’s actually filled with tear gas (because apparently people were all about talcum powder in the ’60s), it’s just big enough to hold a Swiss Army sniper rifle, and if you open it the wrong way, it goes kaboom in your fucking face. The reason I’m going on about this Ultimate Briefcase is because it’s cool as well as practical without catering specifically to situations that would probably happen to nobody, a combo which gets increasingly hard to come by with each new installment if I’m not mistake.

After this, I have a feeling that things in the series are gonna take a sharp nosedive towards bullshit, particularly in the gadgetry department, so if there’s a time to celebrate Q’s inventions without having to question how often you’d really need a wristwatch with a lazer in it, this is it. But aside from all that, this is pretty much more of the same that we got from Dr. No. Not that that’s a bad thing ’cause that was a pretty solid formula to begin with, although I really don’t know how I’m gonna come up with new stuff to say about all 20-some-odd movies in this franchise if this keeps up.

Instead of Dr. No for a villain, we’ve got the rest of the SPECTRE crew represented by a pissed-off Russian lady whose main line of attack is a one-inch shoe knife, a chess master who bears a striking resemblance to Le Chiffre, we get to see a faceless Blofeld petting his cat, and best of all is a young, bleach-blonde Robert Shaw as Bond-killer extraordinaire, Donald Grant. Very cool. Only problem is that he doesn’t say a word for 95% of the time he’s on screen, then when he finally opens his mouth he’s got this annoying-ass British accent and cheerily calls Bond “old man” 36 different times. Luckily, he sheds that shtick after a while, but for such a hardcore dude, he probably just should have stayed a mute.

And not counting a questionable scene that I’ll mention in a minute, the action here is surprisingly solid. Bond’s North by Northwest-y showdown with a grenade-droppin’ helicopter and his knock-down, drag-out brawl with Quint were freakin’ wild and totally unexpected considering that the best we got from Dr. No was a sorry excuse for a car chase and a sorry excuse for a wrestling match that ended in all of ten seconds with Dr. No boiled like a radioactive lobster. Really good fight with Quint, actually. Amazing what happens when you replace judo chops with dropkicks.

You know, for the most part, this movie’s an 8 and it’s pretty damn fun throughout. But then there’s this one bizarre scene that I keep coming back to where Bond’s Turkish brother from another mother takes him to a shindig at a nearby Gypsy settlement. They show up, throw back some Turkish vodka while a belly dancer jumps their bones for five minutes, and then they watch two broads get in a full-fledged Greco-Roman wrestling match for another five minutes. As if that wasn’t random enough, the Reds confirm their reputations as the UN’s biggest buzzkills by crashing the gates with guns blazing, so James starts tripping, judo-chopping and shooting fools from the hip until they all run back to Moscow, and then he has a threesome with the two Gypsy gals who were fighting from before because the village chief declares him his “son” for being such a stone cold badass. A truly bizarre series of events that was weird from the get-go and even weirder by the end.

Really have no idea what the point of that scene was other than to showcase everything that was already unintentionally hilarious about these movies in one fell swoop by having Bond run around nonchalantly killing waves of nameless thugs and getting rewarded for it all by contracting eight different strains of Gypsy venereal diseases. In retrospect, it’s actually kind of awesome and it might have bumped the verdict up to a 9 if I had been drunk at the time, but who am I kidding, that shit came out of nowhere.

All the same, From Russia with Love is a solid Bond entry and a swell example of 007’s glory days. With the exception of Blofeld and his cat, the Russian lady with the dagger feet who Blofeld refers to as “Number Three”, Bond judo chopping like a madman and the mindboggling fact that he gets laid even more in Turkey than he did in Jamaica, there weren’t too many moments that made me immediately think of Austin Powers. Alright, that’s actually kind of a lot, but it’s far less noticeable in light of everything else that works. Connery’s still lookin’ good and he’s still the man, Daniela Bianchi ain’t too shabby as our Bond girl and title inspiration, Tatiana Romanova, I dig that their relationship reminded me a lot of the one from Casino Royale, and Pedro Armendariz is great as Bond’s Turkish MI6 contact, Kerim Bey.

Also has a damn good sense of humor until Bond starts running out of witty quips for each new guy he kills at the end. But, boy, does he keep those quips a-comin’ for a while there.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Ryan permalink
    February 9, 2011 9:35 am

    Gypsy camp scene should bump this up to a 9, not down to a 7.

    • February 9, 2011 9:45 am

      hahaha. like i said, if i’d been drinking, i wouldn’t argue that for a second.

  2. HermioneO permalink
    February 9, 2011 12:07 pm

    Sean Connery can make anything look good. Look at Zardoz.

    • February 9, 2011 12:16 pm

      Haha. I need to see that solely because of that absurd red leotard from the future I keep seeing. Will report back.

  3. February 9, 2011 6:35 pm

    The Gypsy scene took this from a film I thought was okay to one I didn’t care for at all. It was too overindulgent and unnecessary. There were some great moments. The opening was brilliant, but I just found myself less and less interested in the film as it went on.

    • February 10, 2011 2:27 pm

      Haha. It was definitely unnecessary, but you’re right, there were some great moments and that made up the difference for me. Don’t blame ya’ for feeling otherwise though.

    • Bobton permalink
      December 1, 2013 9:30 pm

      I agree with your last comment in particular. That’s exactly how I felt…I didn’t mind the gypsy stuff tbh, cause I at least still felt entertained. Once they get to the train, though, it really starts to drag (er, no quip intended!) for me. What the heck was it with the none quip thing near the end lol!? But yeah, that last half hour of film seemed a lonnnnnng half hour of film.

  4. Bobton permalink
    December 1, 2013 9:26 pm

    Lol yeah, there are a couple of iffy quips…one of which, near the end, isn’t even a quip…but they try and deliver it as if it is anyway lmao. I just rewatched this film for the first time in years. Lol gotta say, I felt you were being generous, giving it a 7, but your review was a very entertaining read 🙂

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