Is it as good as Dr No? Is it better? These are the only questions a critic has to answer about From Russia with Love (Odeon, Leicester Square) but I’m afraid that I can’t answer them. Dr No was such a lot of fun that it set me on to reading Ian Fleming, and so I came to From Russia with Love with a lot of preconceived ideas. Which is not to say that I was disappointed by the second film, but it didn’t seem quite so lively, quite so fresh, or quite so rhythmically fast-moving.
But the second film is almost as good as Dr No. There aren’t so many juicy girls; but, then, there is Lotte Lenya. As Doktor Rosa Klebb, former head of the Russian secret service, she is superbly tough: when asked to inspect new recruit Robert Shaw, she surreptitiously dons a pair of brass knuckles, then gives it to him hard in the stomach. When Shaw barely grunts, she grudgingly admits, “He seems fit enough.”
Those who have read the book will wonder at my calling the divine Klebb former head of the Russian secret service; I was surprised, too. For whatever reasons (Foreign Office? Pest-test-ban-euphoria? Distribution in the uncommitted countries?) the straight fight between us and the Russians has been changed in the film to a battle between us and “Spectre,” the international crime syndicate which preys on Communists and capitalists alike. Hence there are no Moscow scenes, everything happens in Istanbul (including its ravishingly columned if disgustingly rat-infested sewers) and on the Orient Express.
I wouldn’t dream of recounting the plot; but get there at the beginning, because the pre-credit sequence is great. I suppose one should add that the film is highly immoral in every imaginable way; it is neither uplifting, instructive, nor life-enhancing. Neither is it great film-making. But it sure is fun.