Pedro Armendáriz as Ali Kerim Bey, gregarious MI6 station chief
Istanbul, Turkey, Spring 1963
Film: From Russia With Love
Release Date: October 10, 1963
Director: Terence Young
Costume Designer: Jocelyn Rickards
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Kerim Bey, the gregarious head of MI6’s Station T (T for Turkey), is one of the more memorable characters from the early films of the James Bond franchise. A proudly streetwise counter to the taciturn and sophisticated agent 007, the two got on like gangbusters. It’s tragic that Kerim was designated by Ian Fleming as the story’s “sacrificial lamb” as it would have been satisfying to follow his interactions with Bond across multiple adventures à la Felix Leiter or even René Mathis, who actually returned in Fleming’s novel version of From Russia With Love, though Armendáriz’s death would have prevented this anyway. Today’s 00-7th of May post is a tribute to this charismatic character.
From Russia With Love was the final film for Mexican actor Pedro Armendáriz, who was born 107 years ago this week on May 9, 1912. Though he was only 50 years old during the film’s production, the actor was terminally ill and grew weaker over the shoot, at times to the point that director Terence Young would step in as Armendáriz’s double. Soon after production wrapped, Armendáriz smuggled a handgun into his Los Angeles hospital and committed suicide on June 18, 1963, the day before the release of his penultimate film, Captain Sindbad, in which he played a character named El Kerim.
Armendáriz was only 51 when he died, leaving two children, a daughter—Carmen—who became a TV producer, and a son—Pedro Jr.—who would follow his father’s footsteps as an actor and even appeared in the Timothy Dalton-starring 007 adventure Licence to Kill (1989).
What’d He Wear?
Not only was the role of Kerim Bey seemingly tailor-made for the charismatic Pedro Armendáriz, but the character is finely tailored in his suits, continuing the tradition from Dr. No of establishing an ally that dresses appropriately for accompanying the Savile Row-tailored James Bond on his adventures. While he doesn’t wear as many suits as Bond, Kerim arguably exhibits a more colorfully diverse wardrobe with his warm weather-friendly lounge suits in light gray sharkskin, gray pinstripe, and beige gabardine—all in the same style and cut—with a rotation of striped ties.
“Ah, my friend. Come in. Come in.” A very large man in a beautifully cut cream tussore suit got up from a mahogany desk and came to meet him, holding out his hand. A hint of authority behind the loud friendly voice reminded Bond that this was the Head of Station T, and that Bond was in another man’s territory and juridically under his command.
— From Russia With Love (1957), Chapter 14: Darko Kerim
The “cream tussore suit” is the only one of Kerim’s outfits that is well-described in Ian Fleming’s novel, and it may have inspired the filmmakers to dress Pedro Armendáriz in this beige gabardine suit with a sheen that suggests a silky material, evocative of the novel’s coarse tussar silk suit.
Kerim’s suit jacket has narrow lapels, each with a gently rounded notch similar to the “clover”-style lapel, which roll to the three-button front, which he almost always wears with the top two buttons fastened across all of his suit jackets. The ventless suit jacket has three-button cuffs, straight flapped hip pockets, and a welted breast pocket that he wears without his usual neatly folded white pocket square.
Kerim wears a cream poplin shirt that harmonizes with the beige suit for a softer contrast than if he had worn a plain white shirt. The light cream shirt has a spread collar, front placket, and double (French) cuffs that are worn with flat gold rectangular cuff links.
Kerim’s tie is multi-striped in the “uphill” right hip-to-left shoulder direction, a repeating pattern of a medium-width black stripe flanked by thin stripe sets in silver, rust, and silver. Each of those stripe sets are separated by fourteen thin stripes alternating in silver and black. He wore the same tie earlier in teh day with his gray pinstripe suit when his office was bombed and he and Bond staked out the Russian consulate.
It’s tied in a Windsor knot, so obviously the cinematic Bond doesn’t share the literary Bond’s untrustworthy connotation of the knot as Kerim Bey provides to be one of 007’s most trustworthy and reliable allies across the series. The tie is held in place with a gold tie bar at mid-torso, just visible above the jacket’s buttoning point.
Kerim’s habit of wearing his suit jacket buttoned at all times, even when sitting, prevents the viewer from observing the details of his suit trousers, particularly around the waist and hips. Below the jacket, the legs taper down to the turn-ups (cuffs) on the bottoms.
Kerim appears to be wearing the more casual and country-friendly dark brown suede derby shoes, possibly even ankle boots, as opposed to the black lace-ups he wears with his business suits.
Had Bond known that his mission to Istanbul would have included dinner at a gypsy camp, he may have packed something other than his businesslike black derbies as well—perhaps the similar brown suede derby-laced low boots that he sports with his tweed jacket in Goldfinger—but, alas, our protagonist wears the most countrified of his multiple gray business suits, a charcoal flannel two-piece, for his evening with Kerim and Vavra.
Kerim also sports his standard headgear, a natural-colored straw hat with pinched crown. The narrow black band is all but hidden by the upturned brim when Kerim wears the hat.
Less prominent than Bond’s Rolex is Kerim’s yellow gold wristwatch, which shines from his wrist with its round case, silver dial, and flat gold bracelet.
What to Imbibe
When in Istanbul… do as the Istanbulites do. For James Bond, that’s accepting Kerim Bey’s gracious offer of rakı, the national drink of Turkey despite Kerim disregarding it as “filthy stuff”. An anise-flavored apéritif similar to ouzo, rakı is different from raki (with a dotted “i”), a grape-based pomace brandy similar to grappa.
Fleming’s novel also features rakı during Bond and Kerim’s interlude at the gypsy camp as well as during an earlier lunch, where Bond offers that his first taste of rakı was “identical with ouzo.”
“It will be disgusting but I have sent for rakı,” Kerim assures Bond as they make their way to the table, where in front of each of them was a large plate of some sort of ragout smelling strongly of garlic, a bottle of rakı, a pitcher of water and a cheap tumbler. More bottles of rakı, untouched, were on the table. When Kerim reached for his and poured himself a tumblerful, everyone followed suit. Kerim added some water and raised his glass. Bond did the same. Kerim made a short and vehement speech and all raised their glasses and drank.
Similar to absinthe, adding chilled water to rakı turns the drink into a milky concoction. The white color resulted in the rakı-and-water combination known colloquially as aslan sütü, or “lion’s milk”.
Like Bond and his fellow MI6 agents, Kerim Bey carries a Walther PPK that he draws and fires during the gypsy camp gunfight, though it spends the bulk of the battle out of battery after a jam. The jam is actually depicted in one shot, but it hasn’t been cleared when Kerim is shown firing back at the Bulgar assassins.
Kerim’s PPK is likely chambered for .32 ACP (7.65mm Browning) like Bond’s sidearm, though the pistol is typically offered in both .32 ACP and .380 ACP with the latter caliber more popular for its relatively higher stopping power. Even 007 was issued a .380-caliber Walther PPK/S as recently as Skyfall (2012), albeit with the addition of a palm-reading safety mechanism.
How to Get the Look
Like his London-sent colleague, Kerim Bey displays a keen sense of style, and he appropriately wears his gray lounge suits for business (and business-related travel) while reserving this beige suit for more recreational pursuits, such as his dinner with 007 at Vavra’s gypsy camp.
- Beige gabardine suit
- Single-breasted 3-button suit jacket with “clover” notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Flat front trousers with turn-ups/cuffs
- Light cream poplin shirt with spread collar, front placket, and double/French cuffs
- Black, silver, and rust multi-striped tie
- Gold tie bar
- Natural-colored straw hat with narrow black band, pinched crown, and upturned brim
- Dark brown suede derby-laced ankle boots
- Charcoal socks
- Yellow gold wristwatch with silver dial on flat gold bracelet
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
It seems we’ve come on the wrong night. Two girls in love with the same man threaten to kill each other. It must be settled the gypsy way.