TBT: From Russia with Love (1964)

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Yes, the 2014 FIFA World Cup is going on. This much is true. Somewhere out there amongst the trees and suffocating humidity of Brazil some folks are kicking funny-colored balls around and trying to get them into little rectangular nets at opposing ends of a long, intensely well-groomed patch of grass. No, I like the sport of feet-ball, I really do. Or at least I appreciate it from a safe, respectable distance. I’m not so into it that I’ve gotten the scarf yet or painted my face into crazy distorted shapes that would have a good chance of scaring kids on Halloween but the quadrennial event effectively manages to capture my attention each time. (This time I guess the joke’s on Spain?) The ultimate joke, though, is really on me I think, for letting this classic slip through the cracks for so long. There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned romp throughout Russia with Sean Connery and a hot babe hanging off his arm. This was also quite the struggle as far as prioritizing between this or Daniel Craig’s turn as Bond. Good as Connery is in the role — appearance-wise, he suits it best — the stories around Connery, I’m finding, are just not quite as involving as the modern stories have become. There is, however, delicious nostalgic appeal to films like 

Today’s food for thought: From Russia with Love

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Status Active: May 27, 1964

[Netflix]

Mission Briefing: After killing one of Spectre’s top agents in the form of Dr. No, James Bond finds himself targeted by the global terrorist network as he partners up with Russian beauty Tatiana Romanova in order to retrieve a sensitive war device known mysteriously as ‘The Machine.’ A Russian decoding device, referred to as The Machine, represents heightening tensions between Soviet and American politics as the Cold War continues, with the British Secret Service attempting to intervene and prevent further incident. James Bond will have to overcome his weakness for women in order to recover the device and succeed in his mission.

Mission Support: 

  • Tatiana (Daniela Bianchi) — supportive of anything 007 will ever do; approach with caution
  • Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendariz) — holds critical information about Spectre and its members; a valuable although still more expendable resource
  • Rosa Klebb, a.k.a. ‘Number Three’ (Lotte Lenya) — hostile Soviet member of Spectre; approach with extreme prejudice
  • Kronsteen a.k.a. ‘Number Five’ (Vladek Sheybal) — master chess player who likes to use his skills for predicting Bond’s every next move; it is possible to stay one step ahead of his game, though, if careful
  • Grant (Robert Shaw) — Spectre’s hunk of muscle equally skilled in hand-to-hand combat who is sent to deal with any complications that arise in the theft of The Machine; approach with extreme prejudice
  • ‘Number One’ (Eric Pohlman, voice; Anthony Dawson, body) — one of the prime targets of MI6 is also very cat-friendly but his affection for death and destruction should not be ignored; perhaps one day 007 will get to meet the man face-to-face, but for now, maintain distance
  • Sylvia (Eunice Grayson) — additional eye candy. . .because, you know. Reasons.

Q Branch: Oh, ho-ho, boy-oh-boy do I have a treat for you, 007! This mission will require the use of this one very specific briefcase I have for you. But. . be careful not to open it the wrong way, old chap. Wouldn’t want you to be blown away by what you see, would we?

Performance Evaluation: Sean Connery’s second time around as England’s most dangerous/sexy spy courts even greater danger as his antics in Dr. No just two years prior have incurred the wrath of Spectre, a terrorist organization that will stop at nothing to eliminate this threat to the Soviet’s attempts to win the Cold War. From Russia with Love is the next logically progressive step for James Bond as he operates on Her Majesty’s wishes to keep crown and country above all else. Unfortunately this incredibly misogynistic production is lightyears away from being anything close to being a politically correct film. But I guess we don’t care about those kinds of things when we sign up for the new James Bond movie, do we?

In fairness, we’ve returned almost to the source of Ian Fleming’s rumination on the terrifying dominance of the Soviet Union in this day in age. The character of James Bond was a way of explaining a rational path through the fear and paranoia the world had been plunged into for years on end. It may be a stretch to imagine that Fleming’s apparent hatred and distrust of women (see any number of female leads in these early films getting slapped around as if they were Bond’s personal punching bags) was a simple manifestation of the author’s frustrations of the time into which he was born, but it wouldn’t be the craziest jump to conclusions one could make. There’s plenty verbal and physical mistreatment to be found here, as Bond finds himself unwittingly (but not reluctantly) in the arms of a beautiful Russian spy whose loyalty to her own country absolutely must be questioned.

Along with her shady motives, Bond must also be looking over his shoulder for the treacherous and physically stout Red Grant, Russia’s pride and joy and perhaps Bond’s equal in hand-to-hand combat. Amounting to little more than a thug sent by the sinister Klebb, Grant is on a collision course with Bond in a last-ditch effort by Spectre to eliminate Britain’s involvement in a gradually escalating crisis.

From Russia with Love sports acceptable action sequences, though its colorful imagery, exoticism and period detail has been slightly damaged in the constant comparisons to over 40 years’ worth of James Bond cinema. The novel’s sense of adventure and political tension is recovered, though. And there’s no doubt there are particularly heart-racing moments that nearly stand toe-to-toe to scenes of the modern versions. In the end, though, this particular entry shows its colors on a few too many occasions in terms of its position in mainstream Hollywood and by continuing to perpetuate the ideals of the 60s and 70s that it’s very much a man’s world out there. Guess we need to get used to that, though, for there’s far more of it to come.

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3-5Recommendation: For Bond fanatics, the second Bond film from Terence Young ought to be one of the first of the films viewed, especially if one is to get a sense of continuity and a real perspective on who this near-legendary secret agent is and how he operates. Barring clunky, horrendously cheesy dialogue (par for the course, I’m afraid), over-the-top sound effects and the abysmal attitude held about women in this period, From Russia with Love is a mostly successful action adventure. Connery also has the added benefit of being the first actor to take on the iconic role, and although opinions will always vary on who the best Hollywood fit really is, there can be very little arguing that this man did it with a degree of style unmatched by any other since. Now, if there was only something fans could do to shake an older Connery out of his slurred-speech phase. . .

Rated: PG (okay. . .this is really quite ridiculous, 1960s. . .I mean, the sexual innuendo alone. . .ah forget it)

Running Time: 115 mins.

Quoted: “Let his death be a particularly unpleasant and humiliating one. . .”

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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com