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FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Pedro Armendariz, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw
Director:  Terence Young
Audio:  DTS HD 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.66:1
Studio:  20th Century Fox
Features:  See Review
Length:  111 Minutes
Release Date:  October 21, 2008

“It was perfect.”

“Except for one thing…we’re dealing with Bond.”

Film ****

While watching From Russia With Love, the thought kept occurring to me that if Alfred Hitchcock made a Bond film, this would be the one.  Later I found out that years earlier, Mr. Hitchcock was actually considered for the job of making this movie, but the box office failure of Vertigo (can you imagine?) led the producers to look elsewhere.

This was Sean Connery’s second outing as Bond, and this time around, the role fit him as well as one of 007’s tailored suits.  With confidence and meat to go along with the style and charm, Connery made the role his, and for many fans of the British super spy, remains the best ever to play the part.

SPECTRE is back, and this time, the unseen mastermind Blofield has a nefarious plot in mind.  He wants a special decoding device (a perfect Hitchcockian MacGuffin), but also to turn the Cold War a little warmer by playing both East and West against each other.  Much like the chess game seen in the opening, the pieces are being manipulated by a master.

In Istanbul, where East and West live in uneasy peace with each other, the defecting Soviet agent Rosa Kleb (Lenya) is using a beautiful double agent named Tatiana (Bianchi) and a ruthless, psychotic hit man named Red (Shaw) as part of the plan.  When Britain learns of the availability of the decoding device called the Lektor, only one man can be on the case.  Bond…James Bond.

Tatiana’s role is to feign love for Bond and to lead him to the device while SPECTRE sets the Russians on the hunt for them both.  The trail leads from Turkey on a train across Europe, and eventually a boat to Venice, but Bond’s enemies are on all sides, and with him every step of the way.

This is one of the most intriguing and satisfying plots for a Bond movie.  Based on the book by Ian Fleming, producer Albert R. Broccoli considered this one of his three favorite films, and Sean Connery himself thought this was his best one.  There is much less action and much more character and suspense.  A long train ride can present many dramatic occurrences…Hitchcock taught us that, after all.

And may I just say for my money, Daniela Bianchi is THE most beautiful Bond girl ever.  Her character, torn between duty and her growing loyalty for Bond, is well written and played.  It’s a most satisfactory working relationship…well, when work is actually involved.

This movie marked many new trends for the series, including John Barry writing the score and the appearance of Desmond Llewelyn as gadget mastermind Q.  Here, for the first time, we see Q demonstrate a device that will later come in most handy.  And then, of course, those laboriously talking killers, spilling the details when they should be terminating Bond.  But then, we’d have missed out on a lot of movies, wouldn’t we?

Other trends would be short lived, such as the open references to the film that preceded it, such as the death of Dr. No.  Hope I didn’t spoil that for anyone who hasn’t seen the first movie first.  But the look ahead would last longer…promising the return of Bond in Goldfinger, that trend would continue through the 80s and Octopussy.

This is just a tremendously good film, Bond or otherwise.  It has all the drama, style, and panache of a terrific suspense thriller, lightened up by Connery’s wit and charm as Bond.  The violence is kicked up a notch, as well as the sex appeal, making this series a sure-fire testosterone rush for guys.  I mean, two gorgeous and scantily clad gypsy girls in an all out cat fight?  MROW!

But it was the character that made the series endearing, and here, he’s at his best.  The franchise would continue on through high and low points, sometimes treading into self-parody, but From Russia With Love shows Bond the man and the movie series at their most confident and slick best.

Video ****

I continue to be enthralled by these high definition Blu-ray offerings, and all I can say is, bring more on.  The coloring and detail level throughout the movie is breathtaking, through lighter and darker sequences, and from indoor to outdoor settings.  Images pop off the screen with a vibrancy not seen since the movie was brand new, if even then.  An absolute treat for fans!

Audio ****

The remastered lossless audio is no slouch, either.  Blofield’s voice sounds particularly menacing as it emanates from all channels, but John Barry’s music is also a lush plus.  Dialogue is clean and clear throughout, and the big action sequences, particularly the helicopter and boat chases, deliver plenty of dynamic range with smooth crossover signals.  Very well done.

Features ****

This loaded disc starts with an edited-together commentary track featuring Terence Young and some of the cast members.  There is a very cool CBC interview with Ian Fleming, featurettes on Fleming and producer Harry Saltzman, an interactive guide into the players of the movie, a reflective featurette on the film, animated storyboards, an image database, and trailers with TV and radio spots.

Summary:

From Russia With Love is the first truly great Bond film, and remains one of the franchise’s highest points.  No fan should be without these exemplary new Blu-ray releases from Fox.

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