From Russia with Love: Special Edition

Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Pedro Armendariz, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw. Directed by Terence Young. Aspect ratio: 1.85:1 (widescreen). Dolby Digital mono. 115 minutes. 1963. MGM Home Entertainment 1001093. PG. $26.98.

From Russia with Love, the second James Bond adventure, was a giant step forward in defining the secret agent's persona and style. After the charming but somewhat tentative Dr. No, which introduced Bond and Sean Connery to world audiences, director Terence Young came up with a sharply plotted, twisty espionage caper exploring 007's unique talent for eliminating opponents and impressing the ladies.

Despite the hero's frequent one-liners, the movie itself is anything but tongue-in-cheek. Bond is deadly serious about his task—and about the fair sex. In fact, this is the most overtly romantic of the Bond adventures; he gets more time than usual to develop a loving relationship with Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi), a beautiful Russian-consulate cypher clerk turned secret agent.

Jam-packed with thrills and overflowing with twists and turns, From Russia is a solid Cold War espionage caper, as well as a romance with a sense of humor. Trains, boats, and automobiles hurtle the protagonists across Europe, while underground passages and dark alleys prove as mysterious as oriental bazaars and mosques. What's new here is that, instead of fighting each other, the British and Russians have a common enemy: SPECTRE, the rogue international organization headed by the notorious Blofeld.

The movie opens with a bang, with Bond being garroted to death in a night ambush by ruthless assassin Red Grant (Robert Shaw). When the dead man's mask is peeled off, we realize that he was a double. Under the direction of his boss, the horse-faced, Prussian–mannered Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya), Grant follows the real Bond to Istanbul, where he waits for the British agent to acquire a top-secret decoding machine and then attempts to snatch it away from him.

Klebb then approaches Romanova to steal the machine from the Soviet consulate, convincing her that it's a patriotic act. Romanova sends a letter to England, with the news that she and the machine will be Bond's once he comes to Turkey for her. The Brits know it's a trap but can't resist the challenge. Bond, assisted by a local spy (Pedro Armendariz), outwits several SPECTRE agents, but things get more complicated when Romanova really falls for her man. He's not indifferent either.

Although Blofeld himself is never seen from the waist up (we see him petting his trademark white cat), From Russia has two sizzling Bond villains: Grant and Klebb. Robert Shaw, boasting a robust physique and close-cropped blond hair, is an assassin and convicted murderer who manages to fool Bond (for a moment) by feigning an upper-crust English accent. The fight scene between the two on the Orient Express is a gem of fight choreography.

This MGM Home Entertainment Special Edition boasts a topnotch transfer with pristine images, vibrant, realistic color (including skin tones), and consistent focus. The mono sound, however, is a bit thin at times.

The extras are also solid: a commentary by the director and cast members, documentaries about the filming and about producer Harry Saltzman, and an animated storyboard sequence, among others. Superb entertainment—and not for Bond fans only.