It didn’t take long for James Bond to take off, and a year after his first adventure, Dr. No, the super spy was traipsing around the globe, off to rescue a beautiful woman and, less importantly, a secret decoder device from the hands of the enemy. Hey, if you were Bond, which would you make a higher priority?
The upcoming Quantum of Solace is getting a lot of credit for being the first direct sequel in the Bond franchise, picking up moments after Casino Royale ended. There may be a time separation between the two, but in many ways From Russia With Love is a fairly dedicated sequel to Dr. No. The first movie is referred to several times, a few supporting characters show up for a second time, and the return of SPECTRE, the society of villains introduced in the prior film, is motivated primarily by a desire for revenge over the death of Dr. No. Doesn’t that sound like a sequel to you?
Not everything in From Russia With Love is a repeat of the previous movie, and the villains move up in quality significantly. Robert Shaw’s silent stalker Red Grant is probably one of the best baddies Bond has faced off with - an enemy agent who manages to stay a step ahead of Bond through most of the movie. It doesn’t feel like an artificial step ahead though, like many spy movies seem to make (see: Mission: Impossible III). Grant just appears well trained enough and devoted enough to know how Bond would act and react. The movie also offers us the first look at Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the head of SPECTRE who would go on to plague Bond for some time.
From Russia With Love more than makes up for the weak start of Dr. No, essentially giving us the formula that would continue to spell success for James Bond for decades to come. The spy sees more exotic locales as he rescues a Russian defector who carries with her a top-secret decoder device. Bond makes daring escapes by boat, crosses countries by train, and takes on enemy agents in helicopters. The movie definitely gives the impression of Bond as a world traveler, which is much more in line with the characterization the spy had originally been given.
The second movie also starts the time-honored tradition of Bond’s gadgetry, with some spy gear that is steeped more in reality than the fantastical devices the franchise will eventually put in Bond’s hands. Here the spy gets a tricked out attaché case, complete with money, extra ammunition, and a nice little booby trap for enemies who aren’t aware of how this standard issue case operates. A nice folding rifle also makes its way into Bond’s arsenal. The nicest addition, however, is the friendly face of Desmond Llewelyn as “Q” (here referred to by a more formal title of Major Boothroyd). Llewelyn is such a remembered presence in the Bond universe that it was weird to remember he wasn’t actually part of the franchise until the second film.
From Russia With Love is a wonderful transition from the slow start of Dr. No to the brilliant Goldfinger (which some would consider the best of Bond’s adventures). Oddly, it isn’t usually listed among the favorite Bond films of movie fans, but between the introduction of Blofeld, Shaw’s villainous portrayal, and Bond’s first real stint acting like a spy, it’s definitely a Bond flick worth revisiting.
As part of the same wave of Blu-ray releases as Dr. No (which we’ve already looked at here), a lot of my complaints remain the same. This is the same content we’ve seen on previous DVD releases, some of which has been remastered into high definition and some of which hasn’t been. Much like the other releases in the season, the upgrade of the movie to high definition is going to be the impetus in picking up this Blu-ray. If you’re only a Bond fan with standard DVD capabilities, you’re not missing out on any bonus material here.
The transfer of From Russia With Love to Blu-ray is absolutely beautiful, and with Bond doing more traveling in this picture, more locales are given the opportunity to shine. Establishing shots of different locations are gorgeous, and Bond’s conflicts by boat and helicopter are moments of beauty. The production design of the time is kept in mind, however, with the color range of the era maintained. Bond doesn’t suddenly live in the twenty-first century, but the movie makes a fantastic transfer into that world.
This was the last movie Bond creator Ian Fleming got to see before his death in 1964. As such, the DVD pays tribute to Fleming with several vintage interviews in the “Declassified MI6 Vault.” One interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Company looks at Fleming’s approach to the character in the novels more than the films. Another shows Fleming talking with American author Raymond Chandler. All three interviews are brief but insightful glimpses into the man who created such a formidable character, and his inspirations behind the creative process. Two of these featurettes are audio content, with visuals added in to remind you what Chandler and Fleming look like. The third is a video interview that was not remastered for this release, and really shows signs of its age.
The highlight of the disc is located under the “Mission Dossier,” which is the making of documentary for the movie: “Inside From Russia With Love.” The documentary, remastered in high definition, runs just over half an hour and explores the making of the film, picking up after Dr. No left off, looking at the addition of new cast members, and changes that had to be made when crew members moved to other projects. It’s shorter than the documentary on Dr. No, but just as insightful. A second featurette focuses on “Harry Saltzman: Showman,” one of the producers for the franchise.
As with the rest of the series, the low point of the release is the “Interactive Mission Control” feature, which basically just jumps to important parts of the movie, which are divided up by category. Want to see where Bond uses a gadget? Here you go. Here’s where one of the Bond girls makes her big introduction. Do yourself a favor - watch the movie as a whole instead. You’ll enjoy it more.
Other bonus material includes another patchwork commentary track with director Terence Young and members of the cast and crew, trailers, TV spots, and an image gallery. It’s a nice way to look at the making of the movie for the truly dedicated, as well as the how pictures of the 1960s were marketed.
If From Russia With Love isn’t listed among your favorite Bond movies, you might want to give it another look. The movie itself has some of the franchise’s memorable moments, and Blu-ray showcases the film very well. I wish there was more incentive offered for true Bond fanatics to pick up this release, beyond just getting it in high definition.