James Bond
From Russia With Love
Ultimate Edition 2-Disc DVD Set

Starring: Sean Connery
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RRP: £16.99
Certificate: PG
Available 17 July 2006

International crime syndicate SPECTRE has hatched a devious plot to play the British and Russian governments off against each other. In a race to seize the Soviet Lektor decoding device, James Bond is thrust into a thrilling boat chase, a brutal helicopter attack and a deadly brawl aboard the Orient Express...

Is the James Bond series science fiction? That's a question our readers ask us from time to time. Certainly most of the movies have used science fantasy elements such as lasers, incredible gadgets, space probes and satellites. Even Dr. No tied in with the US space programme.

However, From Russia With Love is the least fantastical movie in the series. More than any other Bond film, this can truly be described as an espionage thriller. Later entries would veer further into action/adventure territory, with varying degrees of espionage thrown in as a secondary consideration, but this one has enough twists, suspense and intrigue to bear comparison with the works of Alfred Hitchcock. And despite a noticeably larger budget than that of Dr. No, the gadgets have not yet taken over. Bond has only an exploding attaché case, his trusty Walther PPK and his wits to rely upon. This is particularly evident during his gritty fight scene against SPECTRE agent Grant (portrayed with chilling sadism by Robert Shaw) on board the Orient Express.

This movie marks a number of firsts for the Bond franchise. The aforementioned attaché case is introduced by the late great Desmond Llewelyn, though his character is credited here as Boothroyd rather than Q, and he displays none of the famous condescension towards Bond that Q would adopt from Goldfinger onwards.

Also for the first time, we have a pre-titles sequence, though this is more of a teaser to the main story than the "mini action movie" format that would become typical of the later films. From Russia With Love also features the first Bond song (sung by Matt Monro) to share the title of the movie, though, unlike the standard adopted from Goldfinger on, the song is not combined with the title sequence.

Finally, this is the first Bond movie to feature a musical score composed by John Barry. Having previously conducted Monty Norman's soundtrack to Dr. No, Barry provides a rousing score of tremendous range. It is marred only by the slight overuse of the James Bond theme as 007 searches his hotel room for listening devices, which makes it appear as though Bond is actually trying to find where the music is coming from!

However, what is most remarkable about From Russia With Love, as the DVD's "making of" documentary reveals, is not that the film is so good, but that it was completed at all. The production was bedevilled by potentially fatal accidents involving leading lady Daniela Bianchi and director Terence Young. A problematic script, in which the Russian villains of Ian Fleming's original novel are replaced by SPECTRE, required last-minute rewrites in order for it to make sense to a cinema audience. During filming it also become apparent that Pedro Armendariz (who played the Turkish agent Kerim Bey to perfection) was terminally ill. In the end, the movie was literally saved on the cutting room floor with the aid of some ingenious editing by Peter Hunt.

In addition to the previously released documentary about co-producer Harry Saltzman, the Ultimate Edition also features newly discovered vintage interviews with Bond creator Ian Fleming, including an appearance on Desert Island Discs, and an animated storyboard sequence (though the latter items were not provided for review).

A lot of love has gone into restoring this fine movie, so it's well worth rushin' to the shops to pick up this new edition.

Richard McGinlay

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