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FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE
Vintage Barry music for his first full Bond
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2003 Danjaq, LLC; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
Ask most people what their favourite Bond movie is and they'll say Goldfinger; ask me and I'll say From Russia With Love. After the terrific Dr No, the makers got the mood exactly right in this one, with the grit still there, a wonderful sense of escapism still there, but the ludicrousness not quite getting out of hand yet. It's got the best villain of all (Robert Shaw's Donovan Grant), Sean Connery is at his very best, there's a great pace and some wonderful action scenes. The perfect Bond movie.
It was John Barry's first full Bond score, though he wasn't yet entrusted to write the title song, the producers opting instead for the not-inconsiderable talents of Lionel Bart, whose "From Russia With Love" is a truly classy ballad sung by the ever-wonderful Matt Monroe. The Bond films have inspired some truly wonderful songs over the years, and this is amongst the best of the lot. It wasn't actually heard over the opning titles (being used as source music later on in the movie instead), allowing Barry the chance to give it a dynamic orchestral arrangement for the titles, book-ending it with his brilliant "James Bond is Back" fanfare. Barry also incorporates the theme once or twice within the body of his score, including a lovely romantic arrangement in "Bond Meets Tania".
Elsewhere, Barry also took the opportunity to present an alternative theme for James Bond himself (one he was actually allowed to take the credit for writing), "007", a nice heroic piece which appeared in several later Barry/Bond scores, though of course it's not gone on to receive the iconic status of Bond's main theme (which itself is given a solid work-out in the bizarrely-titled "James Bond with Bongos"). There's not actually all that much action music here, but what there is can certainly not be sniffed at - "Girl Trouble" marks the first ever appearance of Barry's unmistakable James Bond action sound, complete with the driving percussion and brass - and xylophones!
"Death of Grant" is a superb piece, with muted trumpets playing a strained interpolation of the song melody before some more of that action music comes in. Even the source music here is good - OK so it's hopelessly dated, but there's still something damn cool about "The Golden Horn", "Gypsy Camp" and "Leila Dances" that's impossible to resist. You never really hear about it, but what tends to dominate Barry's Bond scores is the suspense music, and he does it in such a sexy way, it's unlike any other (and what makes the scores so special) - a piece so compositionally simple as "Man Overboard / Smersh in Action" or "Stalking" is emotionally, far-from-simple, and so full of sexy swagger. Brilliant!
This is a fantastic score, not quite up to the level of the very finest Barry scores for Bond which would follow, but it's full of class, boasts one of the series' finest songs and lays down the templates for the rules Barry would follow ten times on the subsequent films. What more could you want?