28 August 2005 | bishop_guido
Best of the Bonds?
The first three Bonds (Dr. No, FRWL, Goldfinger) are without question the best in the series, though From Russia with Love may well be the best of the best. It has all things we look for in a great Bond film - exotic locales, sinister villains, beautiful women - but it was made before Goldfinger established the ingenious-yet-demented-supervillain-plus-indestructible-henchman formula as canonical, so its plot line may surprise viewers reared on the later Bond films. For one thing, there's little or nothing in the way of gadgetry (though Q does provide our hero with a pretty nifty briefcase). Beyond a brief encounter with the faceless Number One, there's no arch-villain looming over the action, and the henchmen are at once less invulnerable and more interesting than most of their successors in the series. Particularly memorable, of course, are Lotte Lenya as the hatchet-faced Colonel ("She's had her kicks") Kleb and Robert Shaw as the brutish Donald "Red" Grant. Kleb's edgy menace is neatly offset by her terror at the prospect of failure (an option which Number One refuses to countenance); her subtle come-on to Tatiana Romanova was positively daring by 1963 standards, and she manages to do for footwear what Goldfinger's Odd Job went on to do for head gear. Grant is no superman, but a vicious, small-time thug, recruited by SPECTRE and transformed into a fearsome enforcer; his bitter encounter with Bond on the train speaks volumes about the class tensions that still underlay British society in the post-war era.
Connery, for his part, gets to build on the character he first fleshed out in Dr. No. His Bond really emerges here as a complex man, formidable but flawed. He's genteel and sophisticated, but he doesn't always keep his cool; unlike the too-often unflappable Roger Moore, Connery's Bond betrays both anger and fear when the circumstances seem to warrant it. He intervenes chivalrously to stop a fight between two Gypsy women, but he's not above slugging a woman in the service of his mission. I've always enjoyed the humanizing chemistry between Connery and Pedro Armendariz's larger-than-life Kerim ("I've led a fascinating life") Bey, the most charming of Bond sidekicks; their friendship comes across as genuine and multi-dimensional. Today's viewers (especially women) will likely find Daniela Bianchi's Tanya ("I LOVE you, James") Romanova an uncomfortably passive damsel-in-distress, but, hey: she's drop-dead gorgeous and has some nice scenes with Connery. The Turkish and Balkan settings are spectacular and the train sequence at the end is both exciting and suspenseful. Cold War scenario notwithstanding, this one has aged very well. Shake yourself a pitcher of vodka martinis and spend a Friday night watching Dr. No, From Russia with Love and Goldfinger.