From Russia With Love


England starts a month of lockdown today and the rest of the UK has also imposed restrictions, so time for some more movies. And, of course, the great Sean Connery died at the weekend, aged 90. It took me time to think of a fitting tribute as he was in so many good movies. He was a true movie star and had hits in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and the early 2000s.

The first that sprung to mind was John Huston’s “The Man Who Would Be King”, in which he and Michael Caine have a grand old time as soldiers in Colonial India who find themselves the rulers of a small, remote country. It’s a fantastic film based on a Rudyard Kipling story and you should definitely watch it.

Then I thought of Sidney Lumet’s “The Hill” in which Connery plays a soldier in an army prison where the men are physically and mentally tortured, most ominously on the man-made hill in the training ground. Connery made it between Bond films to show that he could really act and he’s fantastic, as always.

I thought about Hitchcock’s “Marnie”, which was made around the same time as “The Hill”. Connery is incredible but, while the film is amazing, it’s also very difficult to watch now. Once again, Hitchcock tells a story which allows him to mentally and physically torture a troubled blond woman.

Then there are the fun ones that Connery made in his renaissance, such as “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” in which he steals every scene he’s in, or “The Hunt For Red October” in which he plays a Russian submarine captain with a Scottish accent (you gotta love Sean). There’s even “The Rock”, which is probably the only Michael Bay movie I can watch. Bay luckily knew the movie was silly so he got Connery and Ed Harris to lend it some gravitas and, boy, do they deliver. Connery plays an aging British spy. Hmmm…

But it has to be Bond. I mean, c’mon. “Goldfinger” is probably the all-time classic, but I think “From Russia With Love”, Connery’s second Bond movie, is one of the best. After warming up to be Bond in “Doctor No”, Connery really is the character in this. In addition, it’s almost a proper spy story about the Cold War instead of an action-adventure romp. Later Bond films would be about actions scenes and mad megalomaniacs who want to get super-rich, or take over the world, or both. But “From Russia With Love” is mostly down-to Earth (if you can describe any Bond film as “down-to-Earth”), featuring defecting Russians and code machines.

It’s slower and less action-packed than later Bond movies. It’s more about stealth and brains rather than brawn. There’s so much to love about this movie. I first saw it when I was about nine or ten and was enthralled. I remember finding the defector, Daniela Bianchi, incredibly beautiful (she was a runner-up in Miss Universe) and it took me a few years to realise that the frightening, gentleman super-assassin after Bond is Robert Shaw, the grizzly old shark-hunter from “Jaws”. It also features, let’s not forget, the incredibly memorable Rosa Klebb, the deadly ex-Soviet Colonel with poisoned blades in her shoes.

While heavily influenced by some of Hitchcock’s films, especially “The 39 Steps” (chased over a moor by a helicopter anyone?), it evolves many of the elements that have now become tropes of Bond movies. Q and Blofeld make their first appearances, Bond travels to an exotic location and takes a romantic train ride. More than “Dr No”, this set the blueprint for the Bond films of the future and Connery became the Bond that will probably never be topped. Suave, sophisticated and desirable but also dark, manipulative and cold-hearted. RIP my fellow Scot, a true legend.

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