FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE - Blu-ray review

...a film that didn't need over-the-top action to entertain.

DeanWink

"From Russia With Love" is the second of the James Bond films and finds star Sean Connery cementing his status as the finest actor to portray the British super spy. The film reunited producers Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman and Terence Young with Connery and "From Russia With Love" continues with the same formula as its predecessor and has Bond relying more on his fists and his experience to come out victorious and less on fancy gadgetry and high octane action. The characteristic one-liners are perhaps a little cheesier in this film than the first, but it isn't until a few films later than Bond slides into caricature when Roger Moore took over as James Bond and while "Dr. No" feels a little more stylish and classic, this second adventure of Ian Fleming's character is a better film and very possibly the greatest overall Bond film produced.

The film is a true sequel to "Dr. No" and continues the storylines began during the first film. The Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion (SPECTRE) is once again the primary villain behind the scenes in this film and James Bond finds himself being required to foil another plan by the terrorist organization. Bernard Lee appears again as M and Lois Maxwell is again Miss Moneypenny. Anthony Dawson had a role in "Dr. No" as Professor Dent and is given an uncredited role as SPECTRE leader Ernest Blofeld. Desmond Llewelyn makes his first appearance as Q in the series and began what would be the longest continual role for an actor in the entire Bond history. This also marked the introduction of more specialized gadgets that are a staple of any proceeding James Bond film.

The sequel begins on a dark tone as the audience is led to believe that James Bond has been killed. Of course, Bond is not dead or this second film would have likely ended the franchise that continues nearly two dozen films later. This is simply a training exercise and Bond (Connery) has become the top target of SPECTRE after he defeated Dr. No in the first film. Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) is given the primary job of bringing Bond down and a complicated and deep plan is formulated where Russian spy Tatianna Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) is to have Bond travel to Turkey and secure a Lektor translation device that would be a tremendous coup for British Intelligence. There she is to pretend to fall in love with the handsome British spy where SPECTRE agent Red Grant (Robert Shaw) will kill Bond and obtain the Lektor device for SPECTRE.

In Turkey, Bond meets up with British operative Ali Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendariz) in Istanbul. Bey notifies Bond that his journey to Turkey is meaningless, but the two find camaraderie and are further united when a supposed attempt on Bey's life fails. Bond and Bey travel through an underground waterway to use a periscope that oddly can look into the Russian consulate's office. They next journey to a gypsy village and "From Russia With Love" introduces a very gratuitous plot line involving two women fighting to present the suave spy with two female love interests. Even in 1963, cinema understood that ‘cat fights' sell tickets. The gypsies are attacked and Bey is wounded. This provides Bey with full understanding that his life is truly in danger and he and Bond track down and kill the man responsible and Bond delivers a truly horrid one-liner.

The film progresses and Bond and the gorgeous Tatianna begin a very amicable relationship that has Bond and the sculpted blonde between the sheets and in front of a camera operated by Klebb. Soon afterwards Bond and Tatianna obtain the Lektor and feel to safety on the Orient Express along with Bey. A few murders occur on the train and Red Grant pretends to be a fellow British agent in an attempt to gather the Lektor and have Bond and the British Secret Service pay for destroying the SPECTRE operation in Jamaica that was led by Dr. No. I will not spoil the final outcome of the story, but you can be rest assured that Bond and Tatianna will have one more romantic tryst before the credits roll and a few quips from the British actor will remind audiences of the unusual sense of humor had by James Bond.

While "From Russia With Love" introduced the all-too-familiar gadgets to the franchise, the film does not rely on them to carry the plot. A watch is shown early in the film with a garrote wire. Shoes with poison-tipped retractable blades are a popular item in the film. A suitcase (that I had erroneously mentioned in my "Dr. No" review) features a hidden knife and tear gas. None of these devices come across as being something that couldn't exist and "From Russia With Love" uses them smartly, although the fight scene with Lotta Lenya trying to kick Sean Connery does feel a little hokey. The only part of the film that has never set well with me was the periscope used to spy on the Russians. I'll just never buy into the notion that the cleaning lady or the Russians sitting in the room would not see a periscope peering at them.

This story is considered one of the finer novels and films in the James Bond franchise and "From Russia With Love" does not disappoint. There are some moments in the film that I have typically felt keep this movie from being truly classic, such as the gypsy camp and the spy periscope, but the remainder of the film is quite solid. Connery is again spectacular as the save 007 and aside from a jetpack and a deadly attaché case, the agent again resorts to using his mind and muscle to get out of a tight spot. This was the last of the Bond films before the injection of Q into the story began to send the series more into a direction where gadgetry and super-sized stunts started to take over. Had Connery and company stopped after "Dr. No" and "From Russia With Love," this series would have been classics and Bond would still be fondly remembered as some of Connery's finest work.

Video:

"From Russia With Love" looks quite strong on Blu-ray and is a noticeable improvement over the previous DVD editions, but it uses the same digital master as that which was used for the Ultimate Editions. The 1.66:1 framed picture uses curtains on each side to provide the correct framing on a 16x9 television. The film is compressed to Blu-ray with the AVC codec. Detail is very strong, but I didn't feel that "From Russia With Love" was as visually impressive as "Dr. No" and some of the finer details didn't pop from the screen. Colors are bright and nicely saturated, but this film actually looks older due to grain and other elements of aging that didn't seem quite as prevalent with the first movie. This film had twice the budget, but doesn't look any crisper. This is still a clean looking transfer and I am greatly enjoying how Bond looks on Blu-ray. The source print was in very good shape and aside from some limited shimmering in the opening chase sequence, I couldn't think of any other flaws I witnessed.

Audio:

MGM and 20th Century Fox again provide a new English DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio soundtrack and the film's original Mono Original Audio mix. Spanish is supported with a second Mono soundtrack and French is included in full Dolby Digital 5.1. Subtitles are included in Spanish and English. This is another film where the DTS HD mix does show some directional effects from left to right and minor presence in the rear surrounds and subwoofer, but it is not a large leap over the original audio. In fact, I found myself preferring the original audio mix because of the clarity of dialogue. Vocals seemed unhealthily low in volume and often times I found myself needing to turn up the decibels to hear every one liner thrown by Connery and then quickly rushing to turn the volume down for the oncoming sound effect. I'd be curious to know if others find the mono mix better balanced, although the newer mix is cleaner.

Extras:

"From Russia With Love" is another high definition port of the previous Ultimate edition of the film on DVD. This version does receive some upgrades as many of the features are now shown in high definition, but MGM has not included anything new to the release. The bonus features begin with the MI6 Commentary. As was the case with "Dr. No," Ian Fleming Foundation member John Cork serves as lead commentator and host as numerous members of the cast and crew are interviewed and these segments are pieced together to create a full length commentary. Director Terence Young is the lead talent that is interviewed and the first up to talk about the film. Cork may not be the most engaging speaker, but he does a very good job of introducing the interview segments and providing his own knowledge to the commentary track.

The remaining supplements are arranged in similar fashion to those from "Dr. No." The "Declassified: MI6 Vault" contains four items. The Ian Fleming: The CBC Interview (7:42) is a short vintage interview with author Ian Fleming. This is a very nice little segment and was shown just after Fleming died at age 56. Ian Fleming and Raymond Chandler (5:11) is another brief vignette where the two men are engaging in a short conversation and images of the two are flashed on-screen during the chat as they talk about writing, Las Vegas and other things. The Animated Storyboard Sequence (1:28) shows the storyboards from Bond and Tatianna's aquatic escape, set to the James Bond theme. While not very deep, it is a decent storyboard supplement. The Credits for the special features are also included under this menu heading.

"007 Mission Control" is the second main menu heading under "Special Features." This is outlined exactly as it was for "Dr. No" and features sections for "007," "Women," "Allies," "Villains," "Mission Combat Manual," "Q Branch" and "Exotic Locations." These are typically jumps to scenes in the film that have to do with either characters, events or plot lines from the film. I'm not going to go into as deep of detail as I did with "Dr. No," but I will point out that Maude Adams returns for the Exotic Locations (3:15) and briefly talks about locations used for the film. This is the only non-scene jump under this menu heading and I'm not fully sold as to the value of this supplement.

The next menu items contain more meaningful supplements. "Mission Dossier" begins with the making-of Inside From Russia With Love (33:46), which is now displayed in 1080i resolution. This is a decently long look at the film and the hype around the second James Bond film. This is more documentary feeling that promotional in nature and worth checking out. Harry Saltzman: Showman (26:42) looks at one half of the producing team that brought the James Bond films to life. Saltzman was involved in the first nine Bond pictures and this makes a nice companion piece to the first making of documentary as his family, cast and crew remember the man and his way of entertaining. These two features are probably where any viewing of bonus features on this disc should begin.

The "Ministry of Propaganda" and the "Image Database" are the final two menu selections available. The "Theatrical Archive" contains the Original Theatrical Trailer – SPECTRE (3:46), Bond: Back to Back (2:01) and The Biggest Bond Sale Ever (1:54) trailers that were used to promote the film. The third trailer is a little odd in its wording, but advertises "Thunderball" and "From Russia With Love." "TV Broadcasts" contains three more advertising bits: Sean Connery is Bond (:11), Bond All Over (:22) and More Thrills Per Minute (1:01). Old marketing is always fun to watch. "Radio Communication" contains three radio ads: Fantastic Bond Sale (:51), Famous Named Villains (:26) and Sean Connery Is… (:10). The marketing of this film combined with "Thunderball" was all about the Bond sale; a rather unusual campaign. The Image Database contains images from the film's production and release.

Closing:

Sean Connery, Terence Young and others returned one year after "Dr. No" for the second installment in the long-running James Bond franchise. This was the second of two true classics and while "From Russia With Love" has its flaws and I wouldn't go as far as calling it a truly great film, it is very entertaining and shows the character of Bond as he should have always been portrayed; as a veteran agent who didn't rely on gadgetry to get by and a film that didn't need over-the-top action to entertain. The Blu-ray release of this film presents an improved picture quality and a cleaned up, but flawed audio mix. The supplements should be very familiar to those who previously purchased the Ultimate edition, but they are still nice the second time around. Bond is back and I'm enjoying his return on Blu-ray.

Ratings

Video
8
Audio
5
Extras
6
Film Value
9