Plot Quality: From Russia With Love has one of the best plots in the series, if not the best plot. The story involves an attempt by SPECTRE to steal a Lektor cryptographic device from the Soviets and revenge themselves against James Bond in the process. The plan calls for having a cipher clerk (Tatiana Romanova) at the Soviet embassy in Istanbul help James Bond steal the device. To get her to do this, they trick her into believing that she is working under orders from Soviet intelligence. They achieve this with the assistance of the recently defected Rosa Klebb of SMERSH. Tatiana is to tell the British that she wants to defect and that she can deliver the Lektor, but she will only do so if Bond picks her up personally. Once Tatiana and Bond have the device, SPECTRE will kill Bond and take the device.
Bond Quality: This is Connery’s second film and it’s Connery at Peak Bond. In Dr. No, Connery focused on presenting cold-blooded Bond. Yes, he was still suave and had some sex appeal, he also gave hints of his loyal side with Felix Leiter, but the primary feeling one got of his Bond was his cold-blooded relentlessness. In this film, Bond maintains that cold-bloodedness, but he simultaneously adds a playful sexuality and a strong sense of loyalty. In effect, he completes the character in this movie and sets in stone the traits a good Bond is required to possess. This is the best Bond will ever be. Ironically, Connery never again presents the complete character in the rest of his films.
In any event, Red Grant is the real villain and many people name him as the best villain ever. What makes Grant stand out compared to the rest is the savage nature of his character. This man is a hot-blooded killer who prefers to humiliate his victims and feel their last seconds of life drain from their body. He also seems to suffer a strong inferiority complex when it comes to the British agents and that makes him particularly savage to them.
If From Russia With Love has a problem, it’s the lack of a “big” plan on Grant’s part. When you get down to it, Grant is cool, but he’s just a thug. And SPECTRE’s plan sounds very much like something spies would do, but at the same time, this doesn’t feel like a story with major consequences. Yes, if Bond can steal the Lektor, that would be a major triumph, but there’s little in this one for the audience. It also doesn’t really have any iconic moments. That said, the story is fast-paced and tight, the characters are engaging and the story never wants for action or twists and turns, despite this. Also, the Lektor does have a MacGuffin feel to it, but probably not enough to bother the audience. So the story is strong even if it lacks the larger-than-life scheme, the larger-than-life villain, and the larger-than-life ending compared to the others.
So how should this film rank? Well, it’s a fantastic film with nothing to criticize. This film boasts the best Bond, a tremendous Bond Girl, some wonderful supporting characters, and the toughest, most visceral villain of them all. If there is a criticism it’s that this film doesn’t have the over-the-top stuff that the other films do. But does that set the film apart in a good or bad way? In terms of popularity, this one is always in the discussion of top films, but you rarely hear it win. So where should this film rank? Is it worthy of the top spot? You tell me.