From Russia With Love

(1963) *** 1/2 Pg
116 min. United Artists Films. Director: Terence Young. Cast: Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Pedro Armendariz, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw.

/content/films/3246/1.jpgSean Connery's second outing as James Bond became his personal favorite, and that of many Bond fans around the world. Ian Fleming's novel From Russia With Love was also one of President John F. Kennedy's top ten favorite books, which made it a natural choice for the fast-tracked screen sequel to 1962's Dr. No. Coming at the height of Cold War apprehension, the second film proved bigger and better, with more international intrigue (spanning London, Istanbul, Belgrade, Trieste, and Venice), tougher action, and no lack of sex appeal.

This time out, Bond is tasked with stealing a valuable Soviet decoding machine. Though he rightly suspects a SPECTRE trap, Bond still unwittingly plays into the hands of a conspiracy engineered by the unseen, cat-stroking villain Ernst Blofeld; his "Number Two," chess grand-master Kronsteen (Vladek Sheybal); and his "Number Three," lesbian powerhouse Rosa Klebb (singer Lotte Lenya, dressing down considerably from her previously glamorous image). Wrapped up in the mystery is Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi, with a voice-over by Barbara Jefford) of Soviet intelligence; she and Bond put up little resistance to their mutual attraction. While in Turkey, Bond gets considerable help from local station head Kerim Bey (a perfectly likeable Pedro Armendariz), who also proves a welcome foil for some lascivious male bonding aimed at objectifying any woman in the vicinity (a truthful dynamic depicted with surprising rarity in the movies).

The urbane dialogue and prototypical action-hero quips come courtesy of returning screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Johanna Harwood. John Barry supplies the fine action score (utilizing Monte Norman's theme), Terence Young and Peter Hunt return as director and editor, and Syd Cain takes over art direction duties from Ken Adam (who was busy making Dr. Strangelove for Kubrick). Though the character of Major Boothroyd appeared in Dr. No, From Russia With Love also features the first appearance by Desmond Llewelyn as Boothroyd, equipment officer from "Q" branch (Llewelyn would play the part of "Q" in sixteen more films).

Among From Russia With Love's many memorable moments are a powerboat chase, a gypsy catfight, and a thrillingly brutal brawl between Bond and SPECTRE assassin Red Grant (Robert Shaw) on the Orient Express. The film epitomized the spy intrigue that captured the world's imagination in the 1960s, making it a no-brainer for the producer's to promise at film's end, "James Bond will return..."

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Aspect ratios: 1.66:1 Widescreen

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio, 1.0 Mono

Street date: 10/21/2008

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Part of the new Blu-ray wave of Bond releases, From Russia With Love looks stunning in a full-HD transfer of the Lowry Digital restoration, along with the full suite of extras from the recent DVD Ultimate Edition (with two key featurettes kicked up to full HD!). Without sacrificing the filmmaker's original intent, the transfer presents the decades-old film looking good as new. A frame-by-frame process leaves From Russia With Love looking spotless, colorful, tight, and gloriously detailed. As remastered in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio, the film's soundtrack has never sounded so good on home video. Fox deserves kudos for including not only a creative 5.1 mix but the film's original mono track, so purists can make up their own mind as they view and review this old favorite.

As with all of the Bond titles, Dr. No comes with a staggering array of bonus features. The audio commentary narrated by John Cork of the Ian Fleming Foundation gathers comments (recorded separately) by director Terence Young, actors Walter Gotell, Aliza Gur, Martine Beswick, and Lois Maxwell, editor Peter Hunt, composer John Barry, dubbing editor Norman Wanstall, special effects supervisor John Stears, production designer Syd Cain, and producer's wife Dana Broccoli. Topics include the development of the pre-credit sequence and the opening titles, music, the cast and crew, production design, the location shoot in Istanbul, adapting the novel and attempting to top Dr. No, story and characters, editing, stunts, and effects.

Declassified: MI6 Vault begins with "Ian Fleming: The CBC Interview" (7:42) is a posthumously aired 1964 chat with the author at his Jamaican estate. Fleming discusses where he gets his ideas, Bond's appeal, his risque subject matter, and what he has in common with Bond. "Ian Fleming and Raymond Chandler" (5:12) is a historic conversation between two legendary novelists, recorded just after Fleming completed Goldfinger. The radio interview "Ian Fleming on Desert Island Discs" (5:11) covers Fleming's early career, the origins of Bond, and their then-recent adaptation to film. "Animated Storyboard Sequence: The Boat Chase" (:88) edits together the original storyboards into a video sequence. The 007 Mission Control Interactive Guide comprises "007," "Women," "Allies," "Villains," "Mission Combat Manual," "Q Branch," and "Exotic Locations," with "Locations" (3:13) offering clips narrated by Maud Adams. The rest are simply selected scenes from the film.

Mission Dossier kicks off with "Inside From Russia With Love" (33:43 in HD), narrated by Patrick Macnee. Those telling the complete story of the film's development and making are Hunt, Gur, Beswick, Bianchi, Cain, Dana Broccoli, Stears, Wanstall, Gotell, Barry, Dr. No production designer Ken Adam, stuntman Richard Graydon, actors Sean Connery and Desmond Llewelyn, and optical effects artist Cliff Culley. "Harry Saltzman: Showman" (26:42 in HD) gathers the producer's children, the first three actors to play Bond in the big-screen franchise (Connery, George Lazenby, and Roger Moore), Hunt, Dana Broccoli, Stears, Adam, Barry, writers Tom Mankiewicz and Simon Raven, production designer Peter Murton, former UA executive David Picker, Cubby Broccoli, Cubby’s stepson Michael G. Wilson, Eon Productions former VP marketing Charles “Jerry” Juroe, production buyer Ron Quelch, assistant Sue St. John, continuity supervisor Elaine Schreyeck, biographer Donald Zec, and actors Honor Blackman, Gloria Hendry, Chaim Topol and Ursula Andress. Also included are rare photos and home movies.

Ministry of Propaganda presents three Trailers (the original theatrical clip plus one for a double-bill of Dr. No and From Russia with Love and another for a double-bill of From Russia with Love and Thunderball), three TV Spots and threeRadio Spots. The Image Database presents 138 pictures in 16 subsections.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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