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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Fishing in the Discount Bin - From Russia With Love

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly look upon the films I own, and I watch them and rant about them.  We're about to go into a stretch of James Bond films, starting with what many regard as the best Bond film ever, From Russia With Love.  This is dated in my notes at March 17, 2013.

Well, I just did Wreck-It Ralph, and when I was about to checkout on Amazon.ca, I figured I should by something for another $5 to get the free Super Saver shipping. And so, my eye drifted to the James Bond films, as they are dirt cheap right now thanks to all the Skyfall hoopla. While I do own all my favourite James Bond films on Blu-Ray, I`ve decided it's time to start on my second favourites. For the Roger Moore era, I've already gotten Moonraker, and now, for the Connery era, it was time for From Russia With Love.

It was rather vital I get From Russia With Love. The consensus is pretty clear: From Russia With Love is generally regarded as THE GREATEST JAMES BOND MOVIE EVER. Three out of six Bonds (Connery, Dalton, and Craig) have called it their favourite, current Bond producer Michael G. Wilson always points to it as the gold standard for Bond films, and even the original Bond producer, Albert R. Broccoli, has said that it's the film where all came together for Bond and it turned into the franchise we all know and love today.

From Russia With Love is the second James Bond movie, and I think that helps the picture as a whole.   The formula isn't there yet, so there's more experimentation with what can and can't be done. And since the formula hasn't been perfected yet, it's still just a tad more unpredictable than all the other Bonds, which benefits things greatly. It's also a lot more low-key, and grounded in reality, which is something that the Bond producers try to emulate every time they decide to reboot.

However, a lot of James Bond tropes are introduced in this film, such as the pre-credits sequence! It opens with Bond being stalked on the grounds of some stately manor. The assassin strikes, Bond falls dead, and floodlights come on. Turns out it was only a man disguised as Bond, and this was some form of training exercise for the assassin.

And then we're treated to the first-ever James Bond opening credit sequence featuring many women in states of undress. We don't get the first James Bond theme song yet...in this one, they decided to save it for the end credits. Instead, composer John Barry treats us to a spectacular instrumental piece featuring many of the film's main themes. Barry is long credited as being THE James Bond composer, establishing the musical style for the franchise, and this is the first Bond film where he's the composer.

So the film actually opens at the villain's lair, and this is the first time we get a glimpse of James Bond's arch-enemy, Erst Stavro Blofeld, head of SPECTRE, a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world. Well, actually, we don't get a glimpse of Blofeld. We're only treated to shots of the back of his chair, and a close-up of his lap, where he's petting a white, long-haired Persian cat. Yup, that's where not just the James Bond trope, but this super-villain trope, originates. Blofeld meets with his agents in charge of this particular caper...Rosa Klebb, the former head of the Soviet secret service and recent defector to SPECTRE, and Kronsteen, a SPECTRE strategist. Their evil plot is to swipe a LEKTOR coding machine from the Soviets. Their plan is trick a low-level clerk in the Soviet intelligence agency into defecting, take a LEKTOR along, and then steal it en route. And in order to gain vengeance for being the one who assassinated SPECTRE agent Dr. No in the last film (whee! continuity!), they'll have this defector approach the British, who'll no doubt send James Bond to look after the operation.

Oh, and I should point out, Rosa Klebb was very expertly spoofed as Frau Fabrisina in the Austin Powers films.

The plot goes into action. Klebb makes a quick trip to SPECTRE's training facility, where she selects the assassin we saw in the beginning to be the muscle for this mission. She then heads to Turkey. The Soviet clerk they've selected: Tatiana Romanova, who works at the Soviet embassy in Istanbul. As Klebb's defection hasn't been made public yet, she's quite easily able to convince Tatiana that she's being recruited for a secret mission. Her mission is to tell the British that she's willing to defect and bring a LEKTOR device with her, but that she'll only defect to James Bond.

And here we are now, 20 minutes into the film, and this is when we finally catch up with Bond. Bond is called away from his latest romantic conquest to come to HQ and get his mission from M. Bond's mission: head to Istanbul, find out of if Tatiana's offer of a LEKTOR is genuine, and if it is, get the LEKTOR and help her defect. They can't quite figure out why she requested Bond specifically for this...the best they can come up with is she must have become infatuated with Bond as reports of his exploits came across her desk.

But before he goes, Bond gets his first true James Bond gadget. We don't get the full scene in Q's workshop yet...Q just walks into M's office and presents it to Bond. What's the first Bond gadget? A briefcase, full of hidden compartments with a throwing knife, a rifle and ammo, some emergency money, and it's booby trapped so if it's not opened in a special way, you get a faceful of tear gas.

Equipment in hand, Bond heads off to Istanbul, and he meets up with Karim Bay, the head of MI6's Turkish operations. Bay reveals that the Cold War has gotten pretty laid back in Istanbul, as Western and Soviet agents freely know each others daily routines and pretty much treat it like a game. Apparently, according to Tatiana's instructions, Bond is supposed to wait for Tatiana to contact him, so Bond just chills out and enjoys the sites in Istanbul.

But, the Cold War is about to heat up, as that SPECTRE assassin (I never caught his name, but Wikipedia says it's Grant) shows up cause trouble. Grant assassinates a Russian agent, and makes it look like the British did it. The Russians retaliate by attempting to kill Bay. Bay tells Bond that the city is no longer safe, so they decide to spend the night with some of Bay's friends...a gypsy camp out in the countryside. While Bay and Bond enjoy the hospitality of their gypsy hosts, the camp is soon raided by some mercenaries working for the Russians, wanting to finish the assassination, and the gypsy camp fight is generally regarded as one of the greatest action sequences in James Bond history.

With that insanity done, the next morning, Bond and Bay return to the city.  Bond goes to his hotel room, and whose waiting in his bed but Tatiana?  She's made contact, and those stories of her being infatuated with Bond turn out to be true, as they promptly tumble into bed together.  However, they start making plans to verify that what she's promising really is a LEKTOR, and how to get it out of the Soviet embassy. 

Their first attempt for her to describe the LEKTOR goes awry, as she's made by a Soviet agent, but Grant steps in and kills the agent.  Their second attempt goes much better, as Bond questions Tatiana about the LEKTOR and records her description.  The tape is sent back to M at MI6 HQ, as everyone listens to it and verifies that the article is genuine.  It does get humorous, though, as Bond tries to stay all business, but Tatiana's infatuation gets the getter of her and all she tries to do is seduce Bond.  Needless to say, the tape the listen to back at MI6 gets...saucy in some places. 

But the order comes back the it's the genuine article, so plans are made to swipe the LEKTOR and get Tatiana to the west.  So how do they do it?  In the middle of the night,  under cover of darkness?  Nope!  It's a brazen daylight robbery.  Bond goes into the Soviet embassy pretending to get a visa.  Bay sets off a bomb in the tunnels beneath the embassy, and in the confusion, Bond grabs Tatiana and the LEKTOR and they run like Hell.  Bond, Tatiana, and Bay all make it down to the train station and hop aboard the famous Orient Express and they head to the West...and freedom!  But they're not free yet, as a Russian agent and Grant both make it onto the train.

Fun trivia fact:  in the crowd on the rail platform watching the Orient Express depart is Bond's creator, Ian Fleming.

On the train, Bond and Bay easily take care of the Russian agent, but Grant soon kills Bay and the Russian agent, making it look like they killed each other.  This troubles Bond, so at the next stop, he sends word to HQ requesting back-up.  But instead, Bond is met by Grant.  They  haven't met face-to-face yet, so Grant easily impersonates the British agent that was sent to help Bond.  But Grant slips up a little bit, and Bond confronts him.  Grant, even though he should just kill Bond and complete his mission, starts monologuing, explaining how this whole thing was a SPECTRE plot to stir up Cold War tensions and swipe a LEKTOR in the confusion.  Bond attempts to bribe his way to freedom, saying that one of the hidden compartments in his briefcase contains gold sovereigns.  Grant goes for the money, but he gets a faceful of tear gas, Grant and Bond throw down, and Bond wins the day.

Bond and Tatiana flee the train, swipe the truck that Grant was going to use to escape, and head for the border.  A SPECTRE helicopter shows up, and Bond does battle with it, eventually shooting it down.  Bond and Tatiana get to a boat, and start making their way across the Adriatic Sea to Venice. 

Meanwhile, back at SPECTRE headquarters, they're pissed that their plan has gone to pot.  SPECTRE agents are sent to get Bond.  One thrilling boat chase later, Bond and Tatiana arrive in Venice.  Klebb is given one last chance to redeem herself by sneaking into Bond and Tatiana's hotel room disguised as a maid.  Bond and Klebb throw down, and eventually, Tatiana gets the gun.  This is it...her final test.  Are her feelings for Bond genuine, or was it all part of the plan?  Tatiana shoots Klebb, saving Bond.

Bond and Tatiana enjoy the romance of Venice before heading off to London, and we're treated to another first appearance of a James Bond tradition...the closing credit, "The End but James Bond will return in

And that's From Russia With Love.  It's reputation as the best is well-deserved, because it's still so new that they're trying to be realistic with it.  It hasn't gotten ridiculous and over-the-top yet.  It's still...well, gritty and realistic.  It's just damn good, and I don't know what else to say, and I'm bored with writing.

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