To celebrate James Bond’s 50th birthday on screen (and the release of Skyfall), we’re going to take a look at the character and his films. We’ve already reviewed all the classic movies, so we’ll be looking at his iconic baddies, and even at the character himself.
For Your Eyes Only is often overlooked when discussing Roger Moore’s time as the iconic secret agent. Positioned between the camp excesses of Moonraker and the rather disappointing blandness of Octopussy, Moore’s fifth film in the role is arguably the actor’s best. It distinguishes itself from its peers in several ways. Most obviously, it’s a relatively low-key espionage thriller, rather than a spectacular action film. The narrative is driven by mystery and intrigue at least as much as it is by action and adventure. The stakes are relatively grounded when compared to those in Moore’s other films. There’s no planned genocide here, not even the immediate threat of nuclear war. It almost feels like a spiritual companion to the Timothy Dalton films, or the early Sean Connery adventures. And yet, despite the fact its tone feels a little out of character, For Your Eyes Only really feels like it plays to Roger Moore’s strengths. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is the villain, Aristotle “Aris” Kristatos, who serves as the best foil for Roger Moore’s Bond in any of Moore’s seven films.
In a way, Kristatos feels like he might have wandered in from some other spy film that was being produced on a nearby lot. He certainly has very few of the trappings we associate with the typical Bond villain. For one thing, he doesn’t initiate the movie’s plot. Bond films typically feature Bond responding to some aggression from the bad guy. Blofeld is kidnapping space ships, Stromberg is stealing submarines, Julius No is murdering British agents. The plot of For Your Eyes Only is driven by a fluke occurrence, when a British ship accidentally hits a mine, sending a valuable piece of technology to the bottom of the ocean floor. Kristatos was not behind the sinking of the ship, and he doesn’t even immediately move to recover it. Instead, he’s sub-contracted out by the Russians to do their dirty work.
Kristatos isn’t motivated by some philosophical ideal. He isn’t plotting the overthrow of the West. He doesn’t aspire to Armageddon, and he doesn’t seem to actively covet weapons of mass destruction. As far as his ambitions go, Kristatos seems relatively modest. He just wants to continue to do business and to make money. While Bond villains like Elliot Carver or Auric Goldfinger have been willing to go to tremendous lengths to increase their own material worth, Kristatos seems a bit more realistic in his objective. He simply plans to continue making a bit of money by playing all sides against the middle, and occasionally trick a foreign power into sorting out a local power feud for him. In short, his motivations are perhaps the most realistic of any primary antagonist in the entire series, save perhaps Le Chiffre’s desperate attempts to save his own neck.
The vast majority of Bond villains are renowned for their gimmick henchmen. Think of Xenia Onatopp, Oddjob, or even Jaws. On the other hand, Kristatos seems to have recruited the most generic henchmen possible. Emile Leopold Locque is just a bit of sleazy Eurotrash who is so bland that it takes Q and Bond quite a while to recognise him using MI6′s databases. (“I’ll lock up,” Q promises as they finish up.) Erich Kriegler is an Olympic athlete renowned for being able to ski and to shoot his gun at the same time. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Blofeld had an army of those guys. Kristatos’ henchmen seem more like hired muscle from a more generic franchise, with none of them especially likely to linger in the memory.
When it comes to death traps, Kristatos seems to prefer the simple things in life. He doesn’t have lasers or trap doors. He doesn’t have a massive budget devoted to developing slow and painful ways to die. Instead, like Le Chiffre, it seems that Kristatos favours efficiency over nuance. While he stops short of just shooting Bond in the head, he does decide to keelhaul the secret agent. While this gimmick was taken directly from Fleming’s books (Live and Let Die), it seems positively quaint when compared to the more extravagant tortures concocted by some of his great Bond villain peers.
Kristatos doesn’t even appear to have a leg on the evil genius property ladder. Stromberg had an underwater city and a boat that ate submarines. Drax had a space station and a stylish futuristic temple in the Amazon. In contrast, Kristatos has “an abandoned monastery” that he remembers from his time the Second World War. The movie’s ambiguous on whether he even actually owns it – Bond doesn’t follow him there via paper trail at any rate. The interior and exterior look pretty generic, with the only hint of modification being the gym that Kristatos installed for his ward, Bibi. I bet that the other Roger Moore baddies laugh at Kristatos behind his back.
And, yet, all these aspects conspire to make Kristatos perhaps the perfect foil for Roger Moore’s Bond. He certainly seemed an antagonist well-suited to that particular Bond. The Man With the Golden Gunhad attempted to compare and contrast Bond with the hired killer Scaramanga, but Moore’s Bond was too suave and sophisticated to really work as a successful counterpart to the assassin. Despite the film’s attempt to give Bond a rougher edge, the comparison had never seemed entirely valid.
Moore’s Bond was certainly one of the more pleasant interpretations of the character, seeming like a genuine gentleman underneath the expensive suits and the raised eyebrows. He was cheeky and flamboyent, but he was practically a boy scout. While Moore could play an aggressive Bond, he was nowhere near as brutal as Sean Connery, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan or Daniel Craig. Instead, he was a charmer and a lover. “A giggler,” as Moore himself has described the character.
So setting Moore against other larger-than-life characters never really worked as well as it had with Connery. It always seemed like Moore and his foe were trying to up-stage one-another, to the point where it became a little too cheesy. Kristatos works as a contrast to Moore because he doesn’t try to steal the spotlight from Bond. He’s everything Moore’s Bond isn’t. He is subtle, he is nuanced. While The Man With The Golden Gun presented Bond as something of an international celebrity, with his name a brand and his face on a dummy in Scaramanga’s funhouse, Kristatos exists almost anonymously. While the movie gives him a first name, Ian Fleming’s Risico left even that as a mystery, referring to the character as “Signor Kristatos.”
Moore’s Bond was defined by his ostentatious nationalism. The opening of The Spy Who Loved Me gave us an undercover British operative in Austria who branded the Union flag across his parachute, while in The Man With the Golden Gun, Bond justified his violence by arguing that it was state-sanctioned. In contrast, Kristatos is decidedly apolitical, a double- (or even triple-) agent working for the highest bidder. Columbo mocks Bond’s defense of Kristatos as an upstanding British source. “During the fighting in Crete, he was a double agent. King’s Medal! I would laugh if my heart was not so heavy… about my poor Lisl.”
Of course, all of this is rooted in Fleming’s short story, where Kristatos was recommended to Bond by the Americans – perhaps Fleming intended that plot point to arouse the reader’s suspicions about his loyalties. Like in the short story, Kristatos conspires to play both sides against the middle, recovering the A.T.A.C. device for the Russians and getting Bond to kill his chief criminal rival. However, Bond’s response seems quite different in the short story and in the film, and that’s what delineates Kristatos as a functional Bond villain and a fantastic counterpart to Roger Moore’s Bond.
It’s interesting that the short story and the film shift the responsibility that Kristatos holds for his actions – or at least his responsibility for the sadism involved. In Risico, Kristatos is clearly a pawn of the Russians. He’s receiving free opium to process into heroin as part of their larger gambit against the West – he’s just turning a tidy profit off it by doing what drug dealers do. He doesn’t seem shrewd enough to have his own plan. In the film, Kristatos seems to operate with greater autonomy. The Russians merely tell their “usual friend in Greece” that they want the A.T.A.C. device.
Of course, this change in emphasis reflects shifting times. The Russians were never the real Bond baddies, even in movies like From Russia With Love. By the time For Your Eyes Only came around, detenté was well in effect, so it wouldn’t do to make the Russians the main bad guys. Indeed, General Gogol even shares a knowing smile with Bond and declines to kill him after he destroys the device. This shift in emphasis makes Kristatos seem like a bigger and more threatening bad guy – but also emphasises him as a cynical apolitical sadist rather than a mere political pawn. And that aspect of his character contrasts with Moore’s exaggerated nationalism. (To the point where a Margaret Thatcher look-a-like pops up at the end.)
Kristatos’ cynicism and calculating nature also serves as an effective contrast. In the short story where he appears, Risico, Bond immediately figures out what Kristatos is planning to do from the moment he suggests assassinating Columbo:
Bond sat back. He gazed quizzically at the other man who now leaned slightly forward over the table, waiting. So the wheels had now shown within the wheels! This was a private vendetta of some sort. Kristatos wanted to get himself a gunman. And he was not paying the gunman, the gunman was paying him for the privilege of disposing of an enemy. Not bad! The fixer was certainly working on a big fix this time – using the Secret Service to pay off his private scores.
This seems quite in character for a world-weary Bond familiar with how the international espionage game is played. Towards the end of his time writing Bond, Fleming portrayed the character as increasingly jaded and cynical. It’s easy to imagine Connery, Dalton or Craig feeling the same way.
Moore’s Bond, on the other hand, seems relatively trusting. Explaining the situation to Bond, Kristatos states, “You may have to kill him. Does this discourage you?” Bond doesn’t challenge the observation or question Kristatos’ motivations, instead responding, “Just tell me where he is.” Columbo has to capture Bond and expose Kristatos’ operation before the British secret agent realises exactly what the Greek is playing at. While Bond is trusting and accepting, Kristatos is positively manipulative and cold.
For Your Eyes Only works as the best Roger Moore film because it explicitly plays to the actor’s strengths in the role. In particular, Moore was frequently criticised as being too old for the part, and it was often cringe-worthy to see him hooking with younger actresses or trying to mask his age. (Remember the leather jacket from A View to a Kill?) Rather than pretending that Moore is a younger man, For Your Eyes Onlyseems to acknowledge that Bond is an elder statesman, and a gentleman who has considerable experience.
Kristatos has a past firmly rooted in the Second World War. Describing a rival crimelord, he states, “We fought together in the Greek resistance… then against the Communists. After that, he took a different path.” He moves into a monastery he used to hide from the Germans. For Your Eyes Only establishes him as something of a contemporary of Bond. Ironically, the film had been mooted as the first to star Timothy Dalton, an actor who would have barely been born during the Second World War. Instead, it acknowledges Moore’s age.
Consider the movie’s Bond girls. The Countess is the Bond girl closest to Moore’s age – Cassandra Harris was fifteen years younger than Moore, but the difference is much less noticeable than that between Moore and Jane Seymour or Tanya Roberts. Although their hook-up is relatively brief, Moore actually feels much more comfortable with her than with any of his other female co-stars. The interactions between the pair are relatively sweet and strangely sincere.
The movie also plays Bond as an almost paternal figure to the two other major female characters. Dealing with Bibi’s crush on him, he’s more like a stern father figure, staunchly refusing to abuse his position of authority. “Yes, well, you get your clothes on, and I’ll buy you an ice cream.” Even to the more mature Melina, the film casts Bond as a surrogate father figure, advising and consoling her – trying in some small way to help her cope with her grief. He warns her, “The Chinese have a saying: Before setting out on revenge, you first dig two graves.” Later on, he advises Melina against flat-out murdering Kristatos, “No, Melina, that’s not the answer.” Any other Bond would cold-bloodedly kill the villain himself.
In contrast, Kristatos is introduced as the father-figure to Bibi Dahl, and it’s suggested he would not hesitate to abuse his position of authority. Late in the movie, Bibi confronts him, “I know what you want. But you’re too old for me.” While Moore’s flirtatious banter masks a man who genuinely cares about the women around him – his grief over the loss of the Countess is tangible – Kristatos’ cold demeanour veils a none-too-subtle streak of misogyny. In the short story, he refers to the Countess as a “luxus whore”, while here he settles for describing her as “an expensive mistress.” He still acts like he owns Bibi, as if his position as her “sponsor” means that she is bought and paid for.
While Moore’s Bond uses his aloof exterior to mask his inner sensitivity and vulnerability, Kristatos uses his own aloof exterior to hide his pettiness and vindictiveness. His method of executing Bond and Melina is clearly rooted in some deep-seated sadism, while he flies off the handle when denied something he feels he deserves. “You have poisoned her against me!” he yells at Bibi’s trainer after she shoots him down. “I will deal with you… as I deal with everyone who betrays me.”
I think Kristatos tends to get ignored when discussing the great Bond villains because he lacks a lot of the ostentatiousness we take for granted in th franchise. However, I think that’s why he works so well when pitched against Roger Moore’s somewhat louder Bond. For Your Eyes Only works as a film that plays to Moore’s strengths, and giving him a worthy foil is perhaps a major part of that success.
You might be interested in our other Bond villain character studies:
- Doctor Julius No (Dr. No)
- Auric Goldfinger (Goldfinger)
- Ernst Stavro Blofeld (You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever)
- Francisco Scaramanga (The Man With The Golden Gun)
- Aristotle “Aris” Kristatos (For Your Eyes Only)
- Max Zorin (A View to a Kill)
- Franz Sanchez (Licence to Kill)
- Alec Trevelyan (GoldenEye)
- Elektra King (The World Is Not Enough)
- Le Chiffre (Casino Royale)
Filed under: Movies Tagged: | Bibi, bond, casino royale, Crete, East Germany, for your eyes only, ian fleming, james bond, James Bond in film, Kristatos, Man With The Golden Gun, moonraker, Moore, Octopussy, Roger Moore, sean connery, taliban, timothy dalton