James Bond (Sean Connery), Agent 007 of the British Secret Service, is being stalked by a hitman. He tries to escape from the grounds of this country house, creeping silently as he can through the gardens, when he hears a twig snap behind him and is immediately on his guard, but the pursuer is too clever for him and taking a cord drawn from his wristwatch strangles the agent to death. But wait - this is not James Bond at all, as the boss of the hitman goes over to the body and takes off his Bond mask; the secret organisation behind this, SPECTRE, are satisfied that their plans to pit East against West are coming to fruition - and Bond is in their sights...
The second of the Ian Fleming novels about the most famous secret agent in the world is judged by many to be the best of the lot, although there are those who prefer Goldfinger if they're choosing their favourite of the Connery Bonds. There was a time that From Russia with Love was considered the finest of all because it appeared far grittier and grounded in the real world than the excesses of what came later, and you can see the Daniel Craig instalments were keen to emulate this supposed adherence to authenticity, what with the lack of fantastical gadgets or a quip every five minutes.
Yet watching the film these days, it's hard to see why observers took it to be lacking gloss and relying on its more genuine qualities, as it doesn't appear any less slick than the other Bond films of the sixties. It could be the passage of time which has diluted its rough and ready style, but director Terence Young now comes across as handling this as ideally for the franchise as any of the other men to helm the series, and all the exotic locations, beautful women and diabolical villains come across as pleasing clichés well within the mould of the character's adventures. Our lead Bond girl is Daniela Bianchi playing Russian Tatiana Romanova, heavily dubbed but an appealing partner to Connery.
Indeed the romance here is one of the most believable in the canon, and matched by the bad guys who are some of the most formidable. Everyone recalls Robert Shaw's Red Grant, the convicted murderer who has been recruited by SPECTRE as his psychopathic tendencies will come in handy for their purposes. Shaw doesn't do much for the amount of time he spends on screen, but Grant's menacing presence, always seeming to be hanging around after Bond, is not noticed by biding his time to get his bosses' schemes into effect near the end of the film. We don't even hear him speak until the last quarter of the story, but we have seen enough to know that he spells danger.
Also a relishable evildoer is Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya), supposed Soviet agent but actually working for the secret organisation using a stolen code machine to get the West interested, then causing an international incident in the process. She is the one with the poison-tipped blade in her shoe, one of many eccentric touches identifiable with this series, but the whole plan concocted by SPECTRE is alluded to as being in the style of a chess game, manipulating the pieces of which Bond is an willing example. Connery exudes confidence, probably as the result of him becoming an international star after the success of Dr. No, and his Bond never seems like a fish out of water even when he's witnessing a gypsy catfight, always with some ingenuity to get him out of whatever situation his job has landed him in. This is still one of the best of its kind, even if its thrills and glamour don't make it appear any more abrasive than any of the other spy spectaculars of this decade. Music by John Barry.