Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Love on the Train from Istanbul

Why is Sean Connery's delight so appealing? Why is it that when I see he's happy, I'm happy too? He's not just handsome--his face is very expressive with the huge eyebrows, huge eyes, big mouth, and the deep lines on his cheek that emphasise every smile. These are the qualities that make his Bond films superior. It'd been several years since I watched one, though, but then I saw a beautifully restored version of From Russia with Love was available for free to Amazon Prime subscribers. Not all the Bond movies are--Goldfinger isn't. I remember there used to be a division between people who thought Goldfinger was the best Bond film and the people who thought From Russia with Love was. I was always in the latter camp so this was a win for me.

Though I haven't been much in the mood for James Bond for years. I haven't seen any of the newest movies since the Daniel Craig version of Casino Royale, a movie I enjoyed but thought borrowed a lot from Spielberg. At its best, even in the Connery era, I always thought the Bond movies were pale imitations of Alfred Hitchcock and I still think that's true but there's a kind of simple pleasure to be taken in From Russia with Love.

Certainly none of the women Bond runs into are as complex as the ones in Hitchcock films but Bond himself isn't that complex, either. The love scenes are almost like billboard advertisements with Bond's trademark corny jokes being like slogans. The difference is entirely in the actor--Connery's face can't seem to help expressing ten times more than whoever he's with. The only woman who really compares is Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny whose mixture of bemusement, mischievous reproach, lust, and envy make her a surrogate for the viewing audience.

But From Russia with Love does have some moments of real tension. There are two climaxes--first there's the showdown between Bond and the SPECTRE agent played by a surprisingly soft looking Robert Shaw and then there's the impressive speedboat chase.

At a time when such action scenes would typically have been filmed with rear projection it must have been amazing for audiences to watch this scene where Connery and actress Daniela Bianchi were clearly actually in the boat with an array of pursuers behind them. But the real climax for me is at the beginning of Bond's showdown with Shaw's character.

That's when Connery's performance shows why Bond earns big bucks from MI6. It all hinges on the trick exploding briefcase provided by Q. Shaw has a gun on him and Bond has to act in such a way that he makes Shaw want to open the case himself rather than force Bond to do it. Connery does it with just the right kind of hesitation and furtive glance before opening the case. The tension in his manner could mean a lot of things, Bond needs it to mean a specific thing--he wants Shaw to feel like he's perceiving a feeling Bond is attempting to suppress; "Don't let him see I want to open the case myself." It's entirely Connery's performance that communicates all these layers in one simple moment.

The film also has some amazing location work in Istanbul and a wonderfully silly Gypsy cat fight. I can definitely say I'm in the mood for Bond again.

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