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James Bond, agent 007 (Sean Connery) is sent into Turkey to confiscate Lektor, an encryption device – but this is actually a trap for him by the evil organisation, SPECTRE. Bond faces the vicious Red Grant (Robert Shaw) and the ruthless Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya), a former KGB agent with poison-tipped shoes. But at least he has the distraction of Soviet defector (Daniela Bianchi) . . . for a while.

This DVD release is part of a special Bond series, including Dr. No, Goldfinger and The World is Not Enough.

Not only is it still one of the best Bond films ever made, From Russia With Love has a lot of behind the scenes stories to offer - which makes for an entertaining and informative (even moving at times) DVD offering, bringing together many of the key players. The 30 minute documentary featured here, Inside From Russia With Love, is somewhat unusual in that much of it was made before DVD was invented but it has had some new content added, including a couple of short comments by an older Sean Connery. (Of course you wouldn't know it was 30 minutes unless you play it; this is the subject of one of my most frequent criticisms of DVD releases. It doesn't take much space to print the running time of the extra material.)

Full of major and minor trivia, the doco is rich with content: there is the tragic story - respectfully told by several of the cast and crew - of Pedro Armendriz dying of cancer during filming, and how everyone struggled with the circumstances. Two weeks after he left the set, Armendariz chose not to decay slowly and shot himself. His son, 25 years later, played a support role in another Bond film - Licence to Kill.

Ian Fleming appears in this doco, as does director Terence Young, and composer John Barry, who provides a brief insight into film composing for a Bond film.

This is the second Bond film (after the series' successful introduction with Dr No) but it has the first gadgets - starting with a device-laden briefcase - and introduces lovable old Q; except he wasn't quite so old then.

The second major feature is a profile of Harry Saltzman, the showman who first optioned Fleming's books for film, and teamed with Cubby Broccoli to produce nine of them. Edited to within an inch of its life, this doco brings together some seminal faces (now mostly white haired senior citizens), from the Bond archives; Honor Blackman George Lazenby, Roger Moore and Ursula Andress to name a few, as well as his daughter Hilary and son Steven. It's a fascinating story, crucial to a fuller understanding of not only how the Bond films began and evolved, but why.

Now for a bit of bad news: the DVD slick suggests there are two commentary versions, but in fact it's all contained in one. And it's not the disc's greatest attraction. Producer/director John Cork plays the MC and comes across as rather formal and clinical. The best DVD commentaries seem to be those that have a sense of intimacy and establish a sense of privacy with the lounge audience. This is missing from the crowded and stiff commentary presentation.

Still, it has merit, and an astonishing remark by director Terence Young about the opening sequence set in a huge formal garden at SPECTRE's stately HQ, which he wanted to shoot at night and give it a mood similar to a scene from that fascinating French arthouse classic, Last Year in Marienbad (dir Alain Resnais, 1961). It's not a link one would expect to make, Marienbad and Bond….

Second bit of bad news: the promised 'Behind-the-behind-scenes' still gallery of 16 images is nowhere to be found - but then it could be a fault of the menu and navigation, which are rather poorly designed and executed.

Back to good news: the film itself - thankfully transferred in original aspect ration [widescreen] - retains its appeal in every department, from the story to the performances. The baddie here is never seen, except for his hands while stroking his chinchilla cat, and he is the head of the SPECTRE orgainsation, which is after the state-of-the-art Soviet Lektor decoding machine. Bond's mission to is to stop them. Lionel Bart's title song also ranks among the best of the Bond songs (along with Goldfinger and perhaps Thunderball). And the title credits, sliding erotically across the body of a belly dancer from various close up angles, is a standout, challenging even today's digital-powered designers to come up with something as inventive, effective and sexy without being vulgar.
Andrew L. Urban

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CAST: Sean Connery, Pedro Armendariz, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw, Bernard Lee, Daniela Blanchi

DIRECTOR: Terence Young

RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: July 12, 2000


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