A while back, I watched Dr. No, the first James Bond film, for the first time, and started a thread about it. (Holy crap, that was a year and a half ago. Time flies!)
Last night I moved on to Bond #2, From Russia With Love (1963). I figure I might as well keep going now. I’ve seen several of them, but I don’t really recall which ones, so what the heck, let’s just go in order. I won’t wait another year and a half for the next one, but I’m not going to binge either; just whenever I have an evening to kill and feel like I’m in the mood for some 007. I figure instead of making a new thread for every film, I’ll bump this one each time I watch the next installment.
My only request for this thread is that we not discuss any of the films ahead of time. If you’re dying to talk about, say, Moonraker, please do so elsewhere until I’ve posted here that I watched it. Let’s see how long this takes (probably years!), but now that I’ve publicly announced my intention, I guess I’m stuck.
I won’t re-hash Dr.No here; the previous discussion is there if you want to read it. Quick summary: I enjoyed it, but found it much cheesier and campier than I’d expected.
So, From Russia With Love: Wow. Leaps and bounds ahead of Dr.No just a year later. A bigger budget and a much more cohesive vision. You can see all the franchise’s thematic staples beginning to emerge. According to IMDB, Sean Connery, Barbara Broccoli, and several others associated with the Bond series point to this one as their favorite. And I can see why – this is where the bar was set.
The plot is a somewhat simple McGuffin chase involving a decoding device and a ride on the Orient Express. SPECTRE also wants revenge on Bond for the killing of Dr. No, which ties it back to the previous film. You’ve got everything you want in a Bond movie crammed in there. Menacing bad guys, frying-pan-into-the fire action sequences, cool gadgets, and of course, the Bond Girl.
Robert Shaw was great as the menacing tough guy, teased before the credits and then worth the wait when he finally gets into the action. Lotte Lenya created an amazing character that has influenced countless other characters and spawned many parodies over the years. Brilliant.
One of my favorite parts: Immediately after a brutal, protracted hand-to-hand battle to the death in the train compartment, Connery stands up, straightens his tie, and buttons his jacket. Pure Bond.
One aspect that hasn’t really aged well is the movie’s treatment of women. Tatiana betrays her country because… why, exactly? Because Bond is good in the sack? Because she’s fallen in love with him for no good reason? Even after he roughs her up a little? Oh, and he allows Grant to poison her without knowing whether it’s lethal or not. OK.
Then there’s the Gypsy camp scene. Bond doesn’t want the women to fight each other; that’s fine. And the line “You heart is too soft to be a true Gypsy” was cutely ironic. But what’s the resolution to that situation? A threesome, apparently. The scene doesn’t go anywhere except a superfluous sexual innuendo. Unless I missed something, I could have done without that whole bit.
But overall, a really entertaining film. By all accounts one of the best – if not the best of the Bonds. We’ll see how well it holds up as I go.
(To self-hijack for a minute, I have a confession: I did not realize Lotte Lenya was a real person! I always figured that was just a name in a song. Turns out she was married to Kurt Weill, who wrote “Mack the Knife.” Some accounts claim that Louis Armstrong improvised her name while recording the song; others say she was originally written into the lyrics. It doesn’t matter – if you’re name-checked in “Mack the Knife,” you’ve got instant badass cred in my book!)