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FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

Review by Alex Haberstroh

Stars:  Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Pedro Armendariz, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw
Director:  Terence Young
Audio:  Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono
Video:  1.77:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Studio:  MGM/UA
Features:  See Review
Length:  115 Minutes
Release Date:  October 17, 2000

Film: ****

Starting production in 1962, From Russia with Love was seen as a chance to make an even better James Bond than the first film, Dr. No.  It did.  Seen by many as starting the whole “Bond-franchise,” it created many traditions for Bond films to come, such as the introduction of the beloved equipment officer “Q” (Desmond Llewyln), fancy gadgets, the use of an “opening teaser” for each film, and even the beginning of the movie where Bond walks on the screen and fires at the camera.  The acting is right on as well, with Sean Connery easily slipping back into the part that helped make him a household name after Dr. No.  Villain “Red” Grant is as well played by Robert Shaw in a small part, giving us a taste of what would come in his terrific, later films, The Sting and Jaws.

The film’s premise is that Blofeld, (for any of you who are curious, Blofeld is not shown, only heard until after “Thunderball,” but his character’s antics are what give us “Dr. Evil” from the successful “Austin Powers” movies today) evil head of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. (SPecial Executive for Crime Terror Revenge and Extortion), is angry that Dr. No’s plans of world terror were foiled by James Bond (Connery).  Frustrated, Blofeld directs his “No. 5,” Kronsteen (Sheybal), as well as his “No.3,” recent Soviet defector, Col. Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) to plan revenge.

The resulting plan, full of intrigue, makes this Bond more a classic tale of “cat and mouse” than a typical “shoot 'em up,” and is not only as one of the best, but also one of the most complicated of the Bond series.  S.P.E.C.T.R.E. uses England’s MI6 and Russia’s SMERSH as pawns against each other in their plan to humiliate England, kill James Bond, and steal Russia’s Lektor for themselves.

Klebb, whose defection from Russia to S.P.E.C.T.R.E. has been kept secret, recruits a beautiful Russian cipher clerk (Romanova), under the guise that she will be “doing it all for Mother Russia,” to contact the English and tell them she has access to a Russian code machine or Lektor, that she will only give to them if the man she has fallen in love with, Bond, will take her and the Lektor back to England.  Thus, S.P.E.C.T.R.E. leaves Bond to find a way to steal the Lektor while their chief executioner (Shaw), shadows them, waiting for the time when he can kill them both in bed and take the Lektor so S.P.E.C.T.R.E. can sell it back to the Russians.  Thus humiliating the Brits by killing Bond and screwing the Russians by having them pay for their own stolen property.

The film is actually somewhat different from Ian Fleming’s book.  For one, the chronological order of the books was “From Russia with Love,” “Dr. No” and then “Goldfinger,” whereas in the films the producers reversed the first two.  Also, in the book, S.P.E.C.T.R.E. is not mentioned, it is instead the Russian SMERSH that wants to humiliate and kill Bond.  But having read the book, I enjoy and respect the more complicated story, as I feel that this is a more “thinking man’s movie.”

Video:  ****

 The video really shined here.  The picture was free of both noise and shimmering and the print didn’t seem to show its age.  Those fans of the film on video will immediately notice a dramatic difference, as the film negative actually looked like it’s been washed. 

I also enjoyed the fact that once again MGM used Anamorphic.  Those with widescreen television will be pleased to have the picture almost fill their whole TV.  For those like myself with only humble HDTV’s that aren’t in the “widescreen” format, the picture quality just looked fresher.  

Audio: **

 

Grrrr….I feel this is the only area where the DVD came up short.  When I turned on the movie, the MGM opening music in Dolby Digital 5.1 track was both aggressive and crisp and I got really psyched.  Then I started the movie.

 

Sigh…while I realize that this film was made in 1963 and sound wasn’t really the “thing” back then, I really hated the fact that the sound only came out of my center channel.   Hell, the least they could’ve done is try and put the score in the surrounds.  But in fairness, the sound that did come from the center channel was at least good and free of static.   

 

Features ****

The disc is called a “Special Edition” and I believe it is.  There were many fascinating things on this disc.  The first feature I looked at was the “Inside From Russia with Love” documentary.  This wonderful documentary, around 30 minutes long was a very comprehensive review of many crucial elements concerning the film.  You learn about the producers, the cast and crew, and all the problems that occurred from making what people thought to be a “sure-hit” after the extreme success of Dr. No.  The next feature was another 30 minute documentary entitled, “Harry Saltzman: Showman.”  I found this to be interesting as well.  While not as crucial to the film as the previous documentary, this documentary was an interesting look nonetheless at the story of the producer who helped make Bond films possible.  The disc also included a commentary track that uses old interviews and explains what context they’ve been taken out of for certain scenes.  While I would have preferred a Director’s Commentary Track, I realize that it would be a little hard since Director Terrance Young, and many other crucial people responsible for the film, are dead.  Finally, rounding out the disc were three original theatrical trailers, 3 promotional trailers, radio spots and Animated Storyboard sequences. 

Summary:

In conclusion, despite the fact that it was a little frustrating at times to have only one speaker playing throughout my room, the disc really shone visually, especially during the explosions, and ended up making up for the lack of aggression in the sound mix.  Plus, the movie is probably one of the best Bonds and is good even standing by itself.  Although I still hold Goldfinger and Goldeneye a little higher in my ranking of Bond films, I liked this movie and am proud to have it in my collection.  Plus, “Best Buy” is selling them for $19.99 currently, which makes it a good value for any DVD, especially one with Disney involved.  Recommended.