Spy 100, #39: From Russia with Love

Believe it or not, this is my first careful look at a James Bond film from the Sean Connery era. From Russia with Love (1963) is definitely a step up from the Roger Moore camp I’m slightly more familiar with, but in general I still find myself immune to the charms of 007.

In this outing, the devious agents of SPECTRE contrive a plan to steal a Russian encryption device by pitting British and Russian agents against each other. In the process, they plan to eliminate Bond (Connery), in revenge for thwarting them in the first Bond film, Dr. No. The plan? Lure British intelligence into sending Bond to Istanbul, where former KGB agent Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya), now working for SPECTRE, has tricked unwitting embassy clerk Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) into serving as bait. Although British intelligence suspects it’s a trap, the device is too good a prize not to pursue, and Bond is sent in to investigate. In the process, he and Tatiana fall for each other, even as they unravel the SPECTRE conspiracy and attempt to carry out the recovery of the device.

Refreshingly, I found From Russia with Love somewhat less cartoonish than most of the Bond films I’ve seen. This isn’t to say it isn’t still wish-fulfillment spy fantasy, filled with ridiculous action sequences and casual sexism. Connery is engaging in the lead, Bianchi makes a fetching Bond girl, and there’s formidable villainy from Robert Shaw. As usual there’s plenty of gorgeous international scenery on display.

But I just couldn’t get invested. I just don’t much like the cocky and superficial Bond as a character, and that lack of interest is just the death knell for me with this franchise. Part of the problem may be that I’m experiencing Bond too far removed from its initial impact; I’m pretty familiar with Bond derivatives and spoofs, so my viewing of the source comes through a tainted lens. From Russia with Love has a reputation for being among the best of the Bond films, but for me it was just okay, an attractive but hollow spectacle; for my tastes, the series just isn’t liable to get much more in my wheelhouse than Casino Royale.

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