Saturday, August 12, 2006

From Russia With Love

1963, UK, directed by Terence Young

It didn't take long for the Bond producers to figure out the magic formula, for this second entry in the series is probably the best of all the Bonds. Like its predecessor, it's relatively small in scale: although über-villain Blofeld is introduced, the real threats are in the more down-to-earth forms of Robert Shaw and Lotte Lenya, two of the most memorable henchmen in the 40-year-plus history of the films. Shaw is perfectly cast as a blond ex-army man, credibly suave when required, and equally credibly thuggish when the time comes (especially in a great fight scene in the cramped confines of a train compartment). The exotic location this time around is Istanbul, conjured up with plenty of cinematic charm, and an enjoyable performance from Pedro Armendáriz (in his last film role) as Bond's man on the ground. Although Bond has had just one film to establish his reputation, it's clear that SPECTRE considers him the biggest threat to their activities, and they concoct an elaborate false plot to entrap him -- with Bond happy to take the female bait. The comically over-the-top sets, and even more comical killing methods, of later films are absent here, but Desmond Llewellyn makes his first, brief, appearance as Q, a fixture that is one of the most enjoyably playful aspects of the series.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States