Thursday, 6 June 2013

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1963: Robert Shaw in From Russia With Love

Robert Shaw did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Donald "Red" Grant in From Russia With Love.

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.


Anonymous said...

I know I remember you saying you think Bardem was the best Bond villain but I don't think he comes close to Shaw. Bardem was a bit too broad and flamboyant for me whereas Shaw could hint at menace with just one look and I think he had the more difficult role.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I'd say Auric Goldfinger is a great Bond villain, minus the obligatory Bond Villain Stupidity (TM) that followed. Too bad it wasn't really a performance with his voiced dubbed over.

Actually, I agree with Anonymous that Bardem was broad and flamboyant, which is exactly why I thought it was so damn amusing.

Michael Patison said...

I'm in the same boat as Louis here. Bardem's not just my favorite Bond villain, but one of my favorite villains ever in any movie. His brilliance is in how he combines flamboyance with real emotion. He's also so impressive because he makes sure to make utilize a controlled flamboyance as opposed to an over-the-top mess.

Michael Patison said...

I also agree that Goldfinger is another great villain, though I agree and wish we could have heard Gert Frobe instead of having the dub.

Some other Bond villains I particularly enjoy for one reason or another are:
-Telly Savalas as Blofeld in On Her Majesty's Secret Service: I haven't seen this in a while, but Blofeld is the classic Bond villain (whether that's because he appeared so often or something else isn't for me to say).
-Christopher Lee as Francisco Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun: Yes, the film is subpar, but just might be the second-best Roger Moore film. (#1 is the great The Spy Who Loved Me, mostly thanks to the stunning Barbara Bach, with no thanks going to the ridiculous Curd J├╝rgens as the villain. I don't consider Jaws to be a villain as he's more of a henchman, though if he were I'd list him.) Christopher Lee is always fun to watch even if he's always doing the same character just with slight variations since he's great at it. The third nipple is ridiculous, but he's definitely memorable.
-Christopher Walken as Max Zorn in A View to a Kill: The movie's terrible, Roger Moore's, well, Roger Moore, and Grace Jones is the most hideous Bond girl ever (unless you have a Masai fetish), but Walken is the only reason I'd ever watch this for a second time.
-Sean Bean as Alec Trevelyan in GoldenEye: An underrated actor, as has already been stated and echoed on this blog, Bean is great and really sells his anger, resentment, and greed in equal measure.
-Famke Janssen as Xenia Onatopp in GoldenEye: She's such a ridiculously weird character. That being said, Janssen is so much fun as she suffocates men during sex with her legs of steel and mowing down Russian computer workers that I can't help but like her.
-Mads Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre in Casino Royale: I hope I'm not alone here, but I love this performance and think he does wonders with a pretty limited part. His scene "ball-busting" Daniel Craig is a brilliant scene for both parties. He does both the quiet menace at the card table and the violent side in the hotel room excellently.

Also, absolutely no surprise on the ranking or any of the thoughts on Shaw here.

Anonymous said...

I hope you continue to review some more Robert Shaw performances. The man is so underrated.

houndtang said...

This is off-topic but I was just watching Far From the Madding Crowd and when you get to 1967 it would be very interesting to review and compare Bates, Stamp and Finch in this film. Three great performances as three deliberately very different characters.

RatedRStar said...

I liked FFTMC and its performances (particularly Stamp) Ive never really liked Alan Bates as an actor, he always seems too unlikable and kinda overdoes roles when he should really be more likable and low key (Georgy Girl and Women In Love spring to mind)

Houndtang said...

I know what you mean about Georgy Girl - very annoying performance - but I thought he was excellent in FFTMC

Louis Morgan said...

Michael Patison: I might need to finish man with Golden Gun just to see Lee, I stopped watching it before he showed up even. As for the others I pretty much agree particularly for Mikkelsen and the torture scene.

Anonymous2: I'll take any chance I get to review some more Shaw.

houndtang: Well I'll certainly consider doing those three in 67, although I do think I would do them as a single grouping.