From Russia With Love (1963)

Featuring what is perhaps the strongest cast of the series, all supporting a towering performance from Sean Connery, it’s difficult to dispute From Russia With Love‘s status as a classic 007 movie. It also contains one of the franchise’s only plots of pure espionage, as Bond finds himself chasing down a Soviet intelligence device he becomes embroiled in a shadowy scheme from the lurking organization SPECTRE. The infamous syndicate is arguably at their best here as well, with a concealed Ernst Stavro Blofeld pulling the strings on an ingenious criminal scheme bent on playing both sides from the shadows, stealing the Soviet intelligence device, selling it back at an outrageous price, all while exacting revenge on 007 for the murder of Dr. Julius No.

All of this surrounds the panther-like Connery, who finds himself in Istanbul alongside Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendariz) and Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi), the unwitting femme fatale who finds herself just as overwhelmed as Bond. Here Connery displays, for the second time, why nobody has ever done it better in the role, his magnetism, charm, charisma, and lethality all balanced and bottled into a pitch-perfect performance. His strong chemistry with Bianchi convincingly gives Love its promised romantic edge and simultaneously builds dramatic dimensions. There’s a reason his Bond films are some of the best: he’s completely effective. Much of this effectiveness is likely due to director Terence Young, who previously helped shape the rugged Connery into 007 in Dr. No. There is more Fleming in Young’s films, lurking in the locations, the performances, and From Russia With Love often manages to feel like Ian Fleming’s prose. Istanbul as a city oozes intrigue and espionage, and Young, perhaps the most atmospheric Bond director, splendidly evokes a palpable sense of place.

Few, if any Bond films since have successfully built such an exhilarating and thrilling mood and sustained it throughout. Connery’s charm and innate sense of humor, mixed with the ever-present twinkle in his eye, keeps things balanced. SPECTRE’s presence stretches throughout, in the form of Robert Shaw’s menacing Red Grant, covering the film’s proceedings in its shadow. Indeed, Shaw’s now-legendary performance, coupled with Young’s taut directing, culminates in one of the only showdowns that has truly convinced an audience into thinking, “Bond may not walk away from this one.” Exotic, thrilling, and drenched in espionage intrigue, From Russia With Love earns its title as a classic, and then some.

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