Monday, December 31, 2012

Double Oh... 2: From Russia With Love

[Over the next few weeks I'll be jotting down some thoughts on Bond, James Bond as I run through the series in order, barring the campy 60's version of Casino Royale.  I haven't decided yet whether the Thunderball reprise, Never Say Never Again, will make it in. ]

From Russia With Love Preamble: As with all the Connery films, I haven't seen From Russia... before.  Compared to Dr. No, which features many iconic scenes and introduces many Bondian elements, From Russia... seems a lot less prominent in the Bond lore and pop culture at large.

Villain(s): Carrying over from Dr. No, S.P.E.C.T.R.E. rears its head again, this time "S.P.E.C.T.R.E. Island" the headquarters and training grounds for the nefarious organizations' agents (The training camp is delightfully ridiculous, but the weak are weeded out apparently by training with live ammunition.)
We're introduced to Blofeld for the first time (as "Number 1") and he has a great introduction as he ponders his Siamese fighting fish in a non-SPCA approved sequence.  Blofeld is only shown from behind his chair, so mostly he's just arms, within which his trademark Persian cat sits (and I fully get the Inspector Gadget/Dr. Claw reference now).  He serves a minor purpose here (to show that Bond's not anywhere near dealing with the top) but an effective intro.
Kronsteen is a chess master who S.P.E.C.T.R.E. pulls into to orchestrate a plan to obtain the Maguffin.  Kronsteen may be a tactical wizard but you can't manipulating chess pieces isn't the same as manipulating individuals with free will.  His failure is no surprise.
Klebb is a stern Russian defect, integral to Kronsteen's plans.  She's a patented Russian taskmaster, though her role is basically reduced to recruiting Donald "Red" Grant, the henchman who does all the legwork.  Grant performs a lot of great behind the scenes work to keep Kronsteen's plan alive, but doesn't prove all that intimidating once James encounters him face-to-face.

Bond Girl(s):
Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) is unconvincing in whatever duplicity-turned-sincerity she's supposed to have.  Her cover is that she's fallen in love with Bond after reading his dossier, only to really fall in love with him.  Bianchi doesn't sell it very well.  She has nice fluttering eyes though.
Sylvia Trench (Eunice  Gayson), from the opening sequence of Dr. No, is back proving that Bond does have a few regulars he cavorts with.  IMDB tells me she doesn't appear again, which is too bad.  It seemed to be a fun running gag and a minor imposition on the overall story.  She's certainly more appealing than Moneypenny.

Theme/Credits: no song over the titles, just straight John Barry score.  The visuals are of a belly dancer (alluding to the Gypsy sequence mid-way through the film) with multicolored titles projected on her.
The "From Russia With Love" theme plays over the lingering closing frames.  It's an outdated-even-for-the-60's croon from Matt Munro  Dull.

Bond: This outing finds Bond primarily libido and vengeance driven, though the latter definitely surpasses the former.  Bond is not exceptionally calculating in this one, but he is somewhat intuitive.  He never seems ahead of the curve, cluing into the plans of others, but he's pretty good at catching up.  Connery's turn is harder to read this time around, keeping Bond emotionally guarded most of the time.

Movie: Th film takes its time with its asides (it's nearly 20 min before Bond first shows) early on, and once the plot kicks in, it's the silliest pretense to kick off a Bond adventure (Romanova, a Russian translator having fallen in love with Bond's photo/profile wishes to defect... it's kind of stalkerish).   Far more intrigue and spy shenanigans occur in From Russia... than in Dr. No, and tossed into the mix are also some gypsy girl fights and escalating blood feuds.  The first two acts move at a great clip consuming a brisk first hour, but the third act on the train drags and drags.  I was hoping for a classic roof-top Bond fight on the train, but the cabin fight was a cracking substitute, once it finally occurred. There seemed to be resistance to writing too much character/relationship drama for Bond back in the day, so with all the lulls and gaps in the third act,  there's little but cold silence filling in the voids as Bond and Romanova pad out the screen time.

Q gadgets: apparently all fiels agents now receive a trick briefcase with secret ammunition, collapsable gun, hidden knife, gas canister, etc as standard issue.  Naturally, every aspect of the case's tricks come into play.

Classification (out of 01.0): 00.7