From Russia with Love
(United Kingdom, 1963)
What "Top 100" list would be complete without at least one James Bond movie? After all, when it comes to the action genre, no single movie series has had a bigger impact upon the industry - nearly 40 years old and still going strong. For me, the best of 007 is From Russia with Love, although Goldfinger and On Her Majesty's Secret Service are close behind. I haven't always been partial to Russia - when I was in my teens, before I had been adequately exposed to the Sean Connery incarnation of the super-spy, I preferred Roger Moore (and especially The Spy Who Loved Me). But, over the years, as my taste matured, I came to appreciate Connery as the "real" James Bond. And, of all Connery's adventures, Bond's second cinematic outing became my favorite. Only From Russia with Love avoids slipping into the comic book realm of Goldfinger and its successors while giving us a sampling of the familiar Bond formula (action, gadgets, women, cars, etc.). From Russia with Love is effectively paced and plotted, features a gallery of detestable rogues (including the ultimate Bond villain, Blofeld), and offers countless thrills. It also presents one of the most tender of Bond's numerous romantic entanglements. In the end, I favor From Russia with Love over the other 18 "official" Bond movies because it is the complete package. A more satisfying action/adventure film is difficult to find.
Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
Unlike the megalomaniacs in later Bond films, the villains in From Russia with Love aren't after world domination (at least not immediately). In fact, they want something significantly less ambitious: a Russian decoding device. Two of SPECTRE's top operatives are on the mission: #3, former KGB agent Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya), and #5, Kronsteen (Vladek Sheybal), a chess master who has meticulously plotted every move and weighed all alternatives. The pair reports directly to the mysterious #1, Blofeld, whose face remains hidden until You Only Live Twice. Kronsteen's manipulative plan involves using Bond and Russian cipher clerk Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) as pawns. Once the British agent has obtained the decoding device from Tatiana, SPECTRE thug Red Grant (Robert Shaw) is to take it from him, leaving behind a corpse. Even though 007 suspects a trap, the lure of a beautiful woman and a valuable espionage coup is too enticing to resist. So he travels to Istanbul, where Tatiana has arranged to meet him.
From Russia with Love is among the most tightly-plotted of all the Bond films. It moves briskly, blending intrigue, romance, and action into an immensely satisfying whole. Russia exudes style, as typified by a fight in a gypsy camp where Bond offhandedly dispatches rogues to the strains of John Barry's "007 theme". Standing at the pinnacle of the series, From Russia with Love shows how good a Bond film can be when all the ingredients mesh. This movie isn't just a fun popcorn-munching action adventure flick; it's a good motion picture by any standards.
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