4th January 2018
Brady Major takes an in-depth look back at From Russia With Love
By Brady Major
In this third part of an in-depth review of 'From Russia With Love', we focus on the supporting characters, who both help and hinder James Bond.
MI6 Staff & Performance
M - Bernard Lee makes good use of his short screen time here in his second turn as MI6’s head honcho. Right off the bat, I love how he defuses Bond’s attempt to impress Moneypenny with his hat toss. Then, in the briefing, the pair feel like true equals in mind and strategy as they agree that the chance to possess a Lektor should be pursued by MI6 even with some of the risks that could be posed by it. He and Bond have a nice dynamic here that is very relaxed, accommodating and respectful. M isn’t lecturing Bond on something he’s done wrong, and Bond isn’t trying to defend himself for a mistake he’s made recently like the briefing of Dr. No.
I also love how M acts later in the film when he’s listening in to Bond’s questioning of Tatiana about the Lektor decoder. When he overhears Bond talking about an experience the two of them had in Tokyo, M is fast to switch off their communications in an effort not to embarrass himself in front of his colleagues and underlings, including Moneypenny. It’s a unique moment in the Bond canon where M breaks out of his stoic, stiff upper lip demeanor to display a rattled constitution.
Moneypenny - Lois Maxwell is just as exquisite here as she was in Dr. No, but it’s impossible for her to do wrong, so that’s not saying much. Although the meeting between her and Bond goes by fast, it’s a sweet and flirty moment as the agent pecks her with kisses and whispers, “let me tell you the secret of the world.” It’s one of my favorite lines from their many interactions together throughout the series, and very representative of what their dynamic is, as M interrupts Bond just as he’s about to continue his ritual. Their time together is always short, and both parties feel wanting for more privacy.
This film only continues to prove that no other actor talked to Lois’s Moneypenny as well as Sean’s Bond did. Their interactions always feel genuine, and their chemistry is unmatched. The playful, child-like nature of their relationship remains as Bond attempts to impress her with his hat-throwing skills. While in Dr. No Bond looks to see that Moneypenny is there before he makes his toss, in 'From Russia With Love' with Love he throws the hat immediately, wholly unprepared for his boss to be just behind the door, cramping his style in a way your parents would if they showed up right as you were trying to ask out a girl you fancied.
There’s an inherent sweetness in the words and glances Sean’s Bond and Lois’ Moneypenny share as if they enjoy each other’s accompany above all others. Bond enchants Moneypenny with tales of travel as she’s sat desk-bound, and before she knows it he’s off again, bidding her adieu with his classic, “Ciao” from the first film. For all this fun and frivolity, there is a sense of forlorn sadness pulsing underneath these scenes. Moneypenny only gets to hear of crazy adventure and exotic locales from outside sources, never escaping the four walls of the intelligence office to see them in the flesh. Bond is vital to her, then, as she lives vicariously through him and the enchanting stories he brings back to her from the field. Watching Bond sit on her desk and hear Sean speak to Lois as only he could, it’s not hard to imagine Moneypenny thinking, “Tell me another story, James, will you?”
Q - Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know he’s technically only referred to as “Boothroyd” here, but I’m counting it anyway.
In just a quick exchange here with Bond and M, Q’s love of his work is heavily visible. He seems so pleased watching Bond play with his creation, testing it out. It’s also interesting to see Bond and Q interact with each other before Goldfinger would set them into their permanent roles. In this scene Bond doesn’t have the time to be so cantankerous and loose with Q’s gadgets, as the moment is pressing and I think he knows he can’t act out around M when there’s serious business on order. This detail tells us much about Bond, proving that he only horses around with Q when his boss isn’t around to witness his unprofessionalism. In the same token, because Bond is behaving Q has no need to remind him that his work is serious. It’s a great little exchange between the two, with Sean’s Bond reacting in giddy awe to his new toy and Desmond’s Quartermaster debuting in a minor role that will soon make him an unforgettable cinematic icon.
Bond really owed Q big time on this particular adventure, because without the gadget master’s attaché case he’d have been dead to rights in the crosshairs of Grant. This film shows better than most that Bond is never a true loner. He always depends on others to help him out of tough patches and can’t do everything on his lonesome.
Kerim Bey - A mix of great character details and interactions make Kerim a great ally for Bond, and assures a place for him as one of the premiere best in the franchise.
From the very beginning, Kerim is depicted as warm and inviting, speaking to Bond about his background and family in the first minutes of their meeting. I love the visual details we get about him, like his history of growing up breaking chains and bending bars in the circus, and how keen he is to always share a story from his “interesting” life. Even more so, he’s an endearing family man who knows the true value of blood and trust better than most. It makes sense for a man such as himself, so entrenched in the world of espionage, to hire only family to work for him. Loyalty in that business is everything.
Through Kerim’s eyes, we also get to see an interesting window into the spy craft of Turkey. The relationship Kerim and his agents have with the Russians in Istanbul is fascinating. While the west is eager to hide in the shadows to stalk their enemies, Kerim and the Russians are overt towards one another and don’t play any games. It’s a great contrast to the kind of locations Bond usually visits where enemies aren’t out in plain sight.
One of my favorite scenes of the entire franchise comes as Bond and Kerim going underground through the Byzantine tunnels to eavesdrop from underneath the Russian’s own consulate. This ingenuity shows Kerim is prepared for anything and I love the image of him and Bond spying on the Russians from underneath their “home” base. He is a man of détente with the Russians, but isn’t afraid to use a little cunning to make sure he can still keep an eye on the Soviets, lest they be planning any counter-operations of their own. This “I see you, you see me” dynamic that the Turks and Russians have is fascinating, as is their collective awareness that they are always surveying each other. In that part of the world during a period of the Cold War, I guess that was the only safety, and in many ways, a great assurance to both parties. If you’re always being watched, you can’t do anything stupid.
Symbolically, Kerim’s character is a great window for Bond and the viewer into how Turkey’s espionage operations differ from the rest of the world. His experience in these matters is palpable and he’s like a tour guide for us as he takes us everywhere from underground tunnels and hidden-away espionage offices to a smoky gypsy camp, around crowded bazaars and on roaring trains speeding across international borders. He represents a bit of a counter-point to Bond as well, contrasting in how they experience leisure. One of my favorite character details for Kerim is the moment when the woman in his office wears him down to sleep with her again. While in other scenes he seems to be quite a lustful man, here Kerim views sex as an obligation and not as a fun recreational activity like Bond does.
Kerim’s death is a particularly poignant moment in the film, not only because he is such a wonderful character, but also because of the effect it has on Bond that shows him there’s a greater conspiracy afoot than he realized. Kerim’s last words to Bond, “Life in Istanbul will never be the same without you” cement him as a great ally who was always kind and welcoming to Bond from the very start in a fatherly capacity, and it’s a moment underscored with sadness for those of us who know what’s coming. Bond’s melancholic shock and smoldering rage at Kerim’s passing is palpable, displaying just how much the Turkish man meant to him as a partner and friend.
As sad as Kerim’s death is, what the actor behind the great performance, Pedro Armendáriz was going through rings even more tragically. A consummate professional, Armendáriz was suffering from a debilitating illness during the filming of 'From Russia With Love' with Love. Stricken with cancerous hips, he can be seen limping in some scenes, and shooting schedules had to be built around his illness, with Terence Young sometimes having to step in for the actor during certain moments. But Armendáriz never complained through the pain and worked through it to ensure that his family would get his paycheck from the film. In June of 1963, while filming on 'From Russia With Love' with Love was still being undergone, Armendáriz found himself in a UCLA medical center tormented by the pain that would soon await him and his family as his cancer worsened. In a moment of self-mercy and selflessness, Armendáriz took a pistol he smuggled into the hospital with him, held it to his heart, and pulled the trigger.
'From Russia With Love' was Armendáriz’s last movie, and with the personal straits he was facing while filming the picture in proper context, it’s doubly tragic to watch Bond find Kerim dead and blooded in the train compartment, knowing our dear Pedro would be found in much the same state not long after in reality. Still, his work lives on as one of the all-time greatest Bond allies we shall ever see and watching him smile and joke around, so full of life in his performance here, you’d never guess that inside he was dying from cancer. In the original novel, James Bond describes his friend Kerim as a “wonderful man who had carried the sun with him.” It is fitting that Armendáriz landed this now iconic role in the franchise, then, because he was able to bring out that sense of life and mirth that his character signified on set and off. A true professional and gentleman, to the very end.
Part four will cover the Bondian elements in 'From Russia With Love'.
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The opinions expressed in this review are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MI6-HQ.com or its owners.