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Restoration underway for fall 2006 release of James Bond classic,
This review is from: From Russia With Love [DVD] (DVD)
A favorite of many Bond fans and filmmakers alike is this second entry into the EON Bond film canon (a separate production company had produced Fleming's CASINO ROYALE for American television CBS in the 1950s). Alongside 1969s ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE as one of the more faithful movie adaptations of the Fleming book this movie is disliked by some for its slower pace and less fantastical plot and adored by others for precisely the same reasons.
I suppose it all depends on what you are looking for in a Bond movie. For it was not until the next entry in the series in 1964s GOLDFINGER that the movies budgets ballooned and took on the more recognizable Bond-movie shape of fantastic world domination plots, cartoonish action and over-the-top villains. Here, we have a more quiet down-to-earth plot involving extortion and revenge, but its carefully woven plot makes the movie just as thrilling and the action just as compelling.
There are some deviations from the plot of the Fleming novel, but nothing that detracts too seriously from what is the most important element here - the story and characterization. For example in the book Flemings villains was the real-life Soviet agency SMERSH, which is changed to the fictional private organization SPECTRE (which Fleming created along with Kevin McClory for a failed movie script after he had written the novel on which this movie is based.) No doubt the filmmakers decided to change the villain for political reasons as well as to develop the recurring villain mentioned in passing in the first of the EON movies (1962s DR. NO).
The plot concerns SPECTRE's attempts to use British intelligence to steal a valuable Soviet decoder, blackmail British intelligence and murder British agent James Bond in revenge for the loss of their agent Dr. No.
In order to pull off this audacious scheme, SPECTRE's Col. Rosa Klebb (brilliantly played by Lotte Lenya) enlists the aid of Russian clerk Tatiana Romanova who believes that she is working for the KGB. Romanova is chosen for her beauty as a lure for James Bond and the Lektor decoder as a lure for 007 and British intelligence. Indeed the ploy works to perfection as we witness later the disinterest of 007 change to amiable interest after being shown a picture of Romanova.
Following the traditional gunbarrel sequence we are given our first true precredits sequence. In the first movie the gunbarrel went straight into the credits sequence, but here we are treated to a mini-adventure in what would become a standard trademark for the series. James Bond is on the hunt, or is he the hunted? Stalking around a garden in the middle of the night when all of a sudden Bond is set upon by a giant man (played to perfection by the always excellent Robert Shaw.) Who then pulls a wire from his watch and garrotes the British agent. The sequence serves as a foreshadowing of a scene towards the end of the movie and is also the first instance in which the audience is tricked into believing that 007 has been killed. In the future 007 movies 1967s YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE and the rogue movie 1983s NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN this ploy would also be used. Sure enough following the death of "James Bond" the lights go up revealing a big estate house (actually a house on the backlot of Pinewood Studios) and it is revealed as a SPECTRE training session with a man posing as 007.
Shaw is excellent as Red Grant. Even today over 40 years later he regularly tops the list among Bond fans as a favorite villain. He plays the role with understated deliberate menace and the fight scene on the orient express (which is usually cut down for television) is brutal and frenetic. Similar scenes of fighting on a train have been repeated in later Bond movies but none have quite matched this one.
Other elements that would become a series trademark also make their first appearances in this picture. We have the introduction of a real bona fide gadget and the first screen appearance of the actor who would become famous for introducing James Bond to all manner of incredible gizmos while in real-life being the most un-mechanically minded of people - the late Desmond Llewelyn.
Here Bond is equipped with a briefcase with such hidden qualities as a knife that protrudes out of the side, coinage for bribing enemy agents and a innocent looking bottle of talc that is actually tear gas for disabling prying eyes who open the case the wrong way. Of course all of these help save 007 later on in the movie (strange how he always seems to have just what he needs for any eventuality).
Overall then we have a taut, well-crafted James Bond movie with standout performances from all the principal actors. Of par5ticular note is the Mexican actor Pedro Armendï¿½riz who plays the Turkish British agent Kerim Bey. There seems to be a genuine friendship between Bond and this amiable rogue, a chemistry similar to that between Bond and Columbo in the 1981 movie FOR YOUR EYES ONLY.
With a travelogue feel that was a feature of the early movies, this was after all before the holiday shows and Discovery Channel documentaries on different areas of the world. And some compelling action (though on a smaller scale than later scenes the fight between Bond and Klebb with the latter wielding a poisoned tipped shoe is white knuckle stuff). This is a movie that should be on everyone's must-see list.
In addition to a commentary spliced together from interviews with many of those behind the camera (Director Terence Young for example had passed away in the early 1990s), there is also a great documentary on producer Harry Saltzman, featuring on-camera interviews with his children colleagues and friends. The late Saltzman had been one of the original duo (with Cubby Broccoli) who brought the British spy to the screen but had to sever his relationship with the series in the 1970s after falling into financial trouble. The documentary paints Saltzman as a loving father and doting husband who feel afoul of the business world, it's a touching portrait and a great tribute.
There is also a making off documentary with some archival and new interviews with the production team.
People should note that Lowry Digital is performing a restoration of this movie for a planned special edition reissue later this year so if video and audio are of primary importance then you may want to wait on picking this up.