DR. NO was the first James Bond film. GOLDFINGER is the most famous. THUNDERBALL was the most hyped. DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER is the funniest. CASINO ROYALE was the most successful. But 44 years and 19 films later, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE is still the best.
Consider this brief overview... On the orders of ruthless KGB officer Rosa Klebb, who is secretly working for the terrorist organization SPECTRE, a beautiful Russian cipher clerk named Tatiana Romanova is used as bait to compel James Bond to steal a Soviet code encryption device from an embassy in Istanbul. Before he can complete this task, he gets a front row seat for a vicious catfight between two gypsy girls, and becomes embroiled in a bloody battle between the gypsies and a team of Russian gunmen. After a daring mission to acquire the coveted machine, he and the girl must flee for their lives across Europe, pursued by an army of SPECTRE agents led by the KGB traitor and her ruthless henchman, a towering Aryan assassin named Red Grant. From a deadly fistfight on the Orient Express to a harrowing escape from a strafing helicopter to a breakneck boat chase through a sea of fire, Bond and his lovely companion face death at every turn. Their journey ends in a Venice hotel room, where the villainous Klebb corners Bond with a retractable knife blade hidden in her shoe and Tatiana must choose between her loyalty to Russia and her love for 007.
Still not convinced? Consider the cast. Sean Connery is back for his second turn as the British Secret Service agent with a license to kill. Joining him are Academy Award-nominee Robert Shaw as Grant and Tony Award-winning actress and singer Lotte Lenya as Klebb. Appearing for the first time in a Bond film is beloved actor Desmond Llewelyn as Q. Returning from DR. NO are Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, and Eunice Gayson. Among the Bond girls are two Miss Universe runner-ups (Aliza Gur as one of the battling gypsy women and Daniela Bianchi as Tatiana), a professional belly dancer (Lisa Guiraut, dancing suggestively in the gypsy camp sequence and behind the opening titles), and a former Miss Jamaica (Martine Beswick, who also appeared in THUNDERBALL and the dinosaur epic ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C.). Making his final screen appearance is respected Mexican thespian Pedro Armendariz, who insisted on finishing the film despite being diagnosed with inoperable cancer and suffering pain in his hips so debilitating that he had to be propped up from behind for his standing scenes.
If the cast and the plot aren´t enough to make you believe FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE is the gold standard for spy cinema, a single viewing of this seamless masterpiece will erase any doubt. From the tense pre-title sequence (the first time the now-requisite device was used in the series) in which Bond appears murdered by strangulation in a SPECTRE training exercise to the closing kiss between 007 and Tatiana on a Venice canal, the second in the ongoing James Bond franchise is a sweeping, epic adventure, filled with romance, violence, intrigue, and plenty of hard-hitting, edge-of-your-seat action. Director Terence Young (who was nearly drowned on location when his helicopter crashed into a lake, yet was back on the set directing a scene a half an hour later!) and editor Peter Hunt expertly combine the sharp tension of THE 39 STEPS, the suspenseful spectacle of NORTH BY NORTHWEST, and the two-fisted machismo of THE MALTESE FALCON to create a celluloid thriller that, in many ways, surpasses the Ian Fleming novel on which it was based. Though the Tatiana character isn't as tough or iconic as Honey Ryder in DR. NO or Pussy Galore in GOLDFINGER, Bianchi (who also had a brush with death when her limo driver fell asleep on the way to a 6:00 AM shoot and drove her right over a 15-foot cliff!) might have been the most alluring woman in the entire world when she accepted the role in 1963, and is certainly the most breathtaking Bond girl to date. Lenya (playing against type) and Shaw deliver first-rate turns as two of the most memorable movie heavies of all-time. Connery is his usual charming, swaggering self, appearing to have even more fun here than in his first outing.
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE suffered numerous production delays and cost overruns, but still managed to open on time and become a blockbuster hit around the globe. Nearly a half century later, it hasn't lost any of its power to thrill and entertain. It is cinematic kismet, that incredibly rare example of all of the elements coming together to form a sequel that surpasses its predecessor in nearly every way imaginable. It's smart, sprawling, and spectacular, a shining example of how movies should be made and, sadly, seldom are. To coin a phrase that would become the series' favorite tagline more than a decade later, nobody does it better than Bond, and no Bond does it better than FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE.