I have to admit the first time I watched From Russia With Love it took me quite some time to recognize Robert Shaw as the villain who is always on Bond(Sean Connery)'s trail despite having seen several of his films before this one. This can in part be attributed to his very short and very blond hair that he sports here that is quite the contrast from his dark hair in his 70's work. The even bigger reason though is that Shaw does not speak until late into the film despite having a great deal of screen time throughout the film. For over an hour Shaw plays Red Grant who stalks Bond for the agency SPECTRE to make sure that Bond inadvertently gets SPECTRE important spy equipment which he does by killing anyone who might interfere as well as preparing to set up Bond's own demise in the worst possible fashion.
I suppose it is easy enough to disregard the silent killer performance, but one should still give credit where it is due. Throughout the Bond films (and I have seen most of them) there often is the silent killer character. Usually they are quite forgettable and there actually is not all that much menace to their performances as they usually are not exactly the greatest actors. This is Robert Shaw though and he no doubt would not allow himself to be forgettable ever. Although he is indeed silent Shaw is very good in creating that menace in every moment he is making sure we never forget him. Shaw as well perhaps just a little extra through his demeanor that suggests through his expression, that do suggest emotion, that Grant finds killing all the low level henchman just a bit tiresome and there is a bit of hint that he is waiting for the bigger game which is Bond.
Shaw does make for the best silent villain in Bond history but he suddenly breaks the silence after he kills an MI6 agent and then impersonates the man claiming he was sent there to help Bond escape enemy territory. Shaw breaking his silence has to be for me one of the best parts of the film, and on my original watch it was quite a revelation as Shaw reveals himself through his always ear catching voice. It isn't exactly the usual Shaw though and Shaw quite brilliantly does a posh upper class type accent that has a certain affected manner to. It is a great accent that Shaw does as he is playing Grant who is playing the role of the desk jockey agent who would have been sent to help Bond. He is quite enjoyable with the slight parody he does yet he has a certain incisive quality still there. Although his menace is in part hidden he inserts a passive aggression in his performance through his sly smile and the way he seems to take so much joy in calling Bond "old man".
Due to Bond catching on a bit Grant takes action leaving Bond standing in front of the wrong end of the gun. Grant drops the act and so does Shaw giving us the full villain. Shaw loses the fake accent shifting to Shaw's far more vicious voice. This is a terrific moment for the film as a whole because the moment his voice changes we can see that Bond's danger is real. Shaw now does not hold back and it is Shaw doing what he does best which being awesome. Shaw's intensity is incredible as he announces his plans to kill Bond and make him beg to die. Shaw even manages to make the talking villain work because of how much sadistic joy that Red Grant is getting as he mocks Bond with the fact that they have been playing him all along. Shaw doesn't even leave it there going the extra mile and even suggesting a little bit extra about Red Grant, which technically speaking was not at all required.
For example when Bond asks what mad house they got him out of Shaw actually portrays Grant as taking a little offense from that than he possible should otherwise from this suggesting actually a bit of Red Grant's past which was mentioned earlier. Also when Bond offers him money Shaw plays it showing a honest bit of interest but his better judgment turns him from the offer. Shaw gives a bit of motivation there with him and shows that half of him cares only about the money enough to give him a second thought, but he as well shows that his other half would rather just enjoy the fact that he gets to make Bond suffer as well as not disappoint his employer. These might not be substantial moments, but usually these types of roles are never given any shading so its nice to see that Shaw puts in the extra effort here.
Shaw is like an in the hole for the film. He waits and stays hidden until its time to make his impact. He's a great villain all together being the right physical threat for Bond, and later even a proper mental opponent as well. Shaw's portrayal of Red Grant makes the entire film better because his presence and his relatively brief set of scenes where he can finally talk. Shaw, I think, perhaps made Connery up his game too as his best work in the film is his confrontation scene with Shaw. They are great together and Shaw makes more than a worthy foe for James Bond. As with most of Shaw's work I just loved watching Shaw here and the wait for him to strike only makes his performance seem all the more remarkable here. Many Bond villains are forgotten as soon as they are dispatched. The incomparable Robert Shaw would never let that be and instead, with his relatively limited role, made Red Grant the greatest Bond villain for over five decades.