Category Archives: 1963 Movie reviews

From Russia with Love-1963

From Russia with Love-1963

Director-Terence Young

Starring-Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi

Reviewed February 5, 2017

Grade: A

From Russia with Love (1963), only the second in the storied James Bond film franchise, is a sequel to the debut installment, Dr. No, and received twice the budget that its predecessor did. This is evident as the cinematography and the look of the film are exquisite with chase and battle scenes galore. The film is lavish and grand and what a Bond film ought to be- consisting of adventures through countries, gorgeous location sequences, and a nice romance between Bond (Sean Connery) and Bond girl, Tatiana (Daniela Bianchi), though she is not in my top Bond girls of all time. Terence Young returned to direct the film with successful results.

Vowing revenge on James Bond for killing villainous Dr. No, SPECTRE’s Number 1 (seen only speaking and holding a cat) recruits evil Number 3, Rosa Klebb, a Russian director and defector, and Kronsteen, SPECTRE’s expert planner, to devise a plot to steal a Lektor cryptographic device from the Soviets and kill Bond in the process.  Klebb recruits expert killer Donald “Red” Grant, and manipulates Tatiana into assisting. The story takes Bond mostly through Istanbul, Turkey, into a gypsy camp, and via the Orient Express through Yugoslavia to the ultimate climax.

The villains in From Russia with Love are outstanding and a major draw to the film. Both Klebb (Lotte Lenya) and Grant (Robert Shaw) are perfectly cast. Klebb, militant and severe with her short cropped red hair, has a penchant for deadly footwear (she has a spike that shoots out from her boot containing venom that kills in seconds) and casually flaunts her lesbianism in front of Tatiana. I admire this level of diversity in early Bond films from a sexuality perspective- it was 1963 and this was extremely rare to see in film.

Grant, on the other hand, is handsome and charismatic and has a chest of steel. With his good looks and beached blonde hair he is a perfect opponent for Bond as the final battle between he and Bond aboard the Orient Express is a spectacular fight scene and a satisfactory conclusion to the film.

The action sequences are aplenty and compelling especially the aforementioned, and lengthy Orient Express train sequence finale, which is grand. As Bond and Tatiana, along with their ally Ali Kerim Bey, a British Intelligence chief from Istanbul, embark on a journey, they are stalked by Grant, who waits for an opportunity to pounce on his foes. This sequence is the best part of the film for me- Grant, posing as a sophisticated British agent, has a cat and mouse style conversation with Bond and Tatiana over a delicious dinner of sole. Grant drugs Tatiana by placing capsules in her white wine- the fact that he orders Chianti with sole- a culinary faux pas- gives him away.

Other notable aspects of From Russia with Love are the soon to be familiar cohorts of Bond who will be featured in Bond films for years to come: M, Q, and Miss Moneypenny become treasured supporting characters that audiences know and love. Mere novices in this film, it is fun to see their scenes- especially lovelorn Moneypenny.

An odd scene of sparring female gypsies is both erotic and comical as the two women wrestle and fight over a gypsy chief, only to soon forget their rivalry and both bed Bond- falling madly in love with him as the two women suddenly become the best of friends.

The chemistry between Connery and Bianchi is good, but nothing spectacular and not the real highlight of this Bond entry. Don’t get me wrong- they make a gorgeous couple- his dark, suave looks, and her statuesque blonde figure look great, but I found the pairing just decent rather than spectacular.

The action sequences, especially the Orient Express scenes are a spectacle and the many locations shots in and around Istanbul are ravishing. From Russia with Love is a top entry in the Bond series and a film that really got the ball rolling with fantastic Bond features- it is an expensively produced film and this shows.

The Birds-1963

The Birds-1963

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor

Top 100 Films-#2     Top 20 Horror Films-#2     

308926

Reviewed September 20, 2014

Grade: A

The Birds is one of Director Alfred Hitchcock’s finest works. Made in 1963, following Psycho, it continues Hitchcock’s run of successes, both commercially and critically. Set in northern California (in both San Francisco and Bodega Bay) it tells the story of unexplained bird attacks in a peaceful small bay town.

Tippi Hedren plays Melanie Daniels, a wealthy socialite from San Francisco, who drives to Bodega Bay to romantically pursue a love interest, Mitch Brenner. Mitch, played by Rod Taylor, is a successful attorney who meets and shares a flirtation with Melanie the day before at a San Francisco pet store. He regularly visits his mother (Jessica Tandy) and sister (Veronica Cartwright) in Bodega Bay. Once Melanie arrives in town birds begin periodically attacking the locals living in the sleepy community.

The Birds is a film that holds up incredibly well and is as exciting and horrifying today at it has ever been in the past. One intriguing aspect of the film is that it offers no rhyme or reason for the bird attacks, which keeps the viewer guessing from the moment a gull swoops down and attacks innocent Melanie- It is completely mysterious and open to interpretation- are birds fed up with being caged? Are the love birds that Melanie purchased the cause of the attacks? Do the birds hate humans? Why do they attack the children? Why do they peck the eyes of their victims out? One could spend hours debating these questions. A major creative success of the film is its elimination of a musical score. The eerie silence mixed in with the loud sounds of the birds attacking is a haunting dynamic.

My favorite scene of The Birds features Melanie sitting on a wooden bench in the schoolyard enjoying a cigarette. Behind her is a deserted jungle gym. She barely notices a tiny bird innocently fly past her and land on the jungle gym. She continues smoking her cigarette. The viewer sees what Melanie cannot- as slowly hundreds of birds land on the jungle gym behind her. Without music this scene is deadly silent and very dramatic as it switches from close-ups of Melanie to long shots of the birds gravitating behind her. Another interesting aspect of The Birds is the character relationships- Mitch’s mother Lydia is afraid of losing her son so she initially despises Melanie; Mitch’s ex-girlfriend, schoolteacher Annie Hayworth strikes up a close friendship with Melanie- one might expect them to be rivals. A hysterical mother lashes out at Melanie, calling her evil, blaming her for the attacks. One wonders, amid the long periods of calm, when the next attack will occur- and we know it will. We look for clues as to what triggers the attacks and we find none. This makes for brilliant and suspenseful film making. They hardly come better than the masterpiece that is The Birds.

Blood Feast-1963

Blood Feast-1963

Director-H.G.Lewis

Starring-Thomas Wood, Connie Mason

26602278

Reviewed July 9, 2014

Grade: B-

Blood Feast is the debut film by horror master H.G. Lewis, who invented the gore genre. The film is simplistic and makes his later films almost seem big budget. This film is clearly not meant to be taken seriously and anyone who does is completely missing the point. It is exploitation, but completely over-the-top, with wooden performances for laughs, specifically by Connie Mason who stinks.

The story involves a demented caterer who is hired by a mother to cater an Egyptian themed dinner party. He, of course, uses real body parts to complete the meal and is obsessed with some silly curse and owns a female Egyptian statue who talks to him. The kills are laugh out loud in their basic shock value and all the victims are women. One victims tongue is torn out, as another is whipped to death, which, in a more modern film like Saw would be horrific. But the kills are so comedic, and the gore blood so amateurish, that the audience cannot help but chuckle.

The highlight for me was the intentionally (let’s hope) horrendous acting by all involved. I much preferred H.G. Lewis’s later films, but this blueprint is a nice introduction.