Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Shaken. Not Stirred. -- Part 2 -- The Women

The Bond Girl
The Bond Girl has always been a pretty broad defining term, because it eventually extends to any female in the movie Bond sleeps with, and ostensibly, any female in any Bond movie is there to be slept with because that's just how the Bond universe works.
However, most "purists" will more narrowly define the Bond girl as either the ever-present sidekick (often a fellow spy, but occasionally just a pure love interest, maybe initially working for the other side) who may or may not be completely useless, and the more villainous female lead who Bond eventually woos through some sort of Mr. and Mrs. Smith-style brawl that leads into a Mr. and Mrs. Smith-style sex scene. The Mayday scene from A View to a Kill is the one that comes most readily to mind, mostly because she's so damn scary and Roger Moore by this point is the dandiest of Bonds, I don't believe for a moment that the gender roles are stereotypical. These are my 4 favorites and my 2 least.

My 4 Favorite Bond Girls...
4.) Honey Ryder - Ursual Andress (Dr. No)
Not even Halle Barry in Die Another Day could compare when they tried to recreate Andress' iconic emergence from the water in the very first Bond movie.

Andress was beautiful, smart, and secure. She had that faint accent and even when she wasn't, always looked like she was posing. And every mark she hit was stunning.

Honey Ryder, while not as overtly sexual as some of the names that were to come later, is still pretty indicative of the role of women in the Bond universe. More recent movies have attempted to make more progressive strides in this (the aforementioned Barry was much more of a co-star than a sidekick for that movie). But what I find most striking is how Ryder was actually quite useful, strong, and independent. If they'd followed that template more closely sooner, I think the modern Bond girls would've evolved more logically.

3.) Andrea Anders - Maud Adams (The Man with the Golden Gun)
Ms. Adams has the unique distinction of being two different Bond girls during the Moore-era of Bond films. While she would return later as the titular Octopussy, it was her more tragic turn as Andrea in Golden Gun that first made me take notice of her.

Adams' role in the film was a difficult one, and easily one of the more nuanced turns of a Bond girl, skirting both sides of the law in her attempt to make her own life meaningful. I find it to be one of the more interesting Bond girls, especially with "Dead Woman Walking" performance throughout. As soon as she first sleeps with Bond, she, and we by extension, know that she is not surviving to the final act of the movie. Especially when contrasted in the same movie with the utterly useless Mary Goodnight (played to utter airhead perfection by Britt Eckland), Adams' Andrea Anders becomes even more a thing of beauty years later.

2.) Sévérine - Bérénice Marlohe (Skyfall)
When she first appeared onscreen during the movie, I was immediately taken. I try very hard not to objectify, but I mean, just look. They made her look absolutely stunning.

As the movies have progressed down a darker path over recent years, the Bond girls have followed in a more haunted and complex line, going off that Maud Adams line I was talking about in the previous entry. Severine follows this pattern. Very close to the villain Silva, she quickly falls for Bond and again understands pretty soon how doomed she is.
Her moment as a Bond girl is shocking and brief but in her little screentime, she makes an intense impact with some great acting and of course, striking beauty.

1.) Teresa "Tracy" di Vicenzo Bond - Diana Rigg (On Her Majesty's Secret Service)
Speaking of haunted and doomed, my favorite Bond girl is the Contessa herself, eventually the Mrs. Bond.
Diana Rigg, along with Honor Blackman in Goldfinger, were two of the first women who were already more established prior to becoming a Bond girl. Interestingly enough, both found their fame in the same TV series, a comedic spy serial called The Avengers (opposite the infinitely-more-charming-than-Bond Patrick Macnee as John Steed). Blackman had played partner Cathy Gale on the show, before becoming Pussy Galore for Goldfinger (see, I told you the names quickly got more overt), and Rigg was and is probably more famous as Emma Peel, fan favorite partner of Macnee on the Avengers.
Needless to say, we knew she was more than capable of handling a more action-heavy Bond film, but what we got instead was a subdued and dramatic script in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. One of the longer films, and undeniably the most emotional, Rigg reminded us that she was also a phenomenal actress in addition to beautiful, in addition to strong and sassy. While she maintained all of those things in the movie as well, it is most remembered that she didn't make it to the end of the movie, and occasionally served as a haunting reminder for Bond in later films as to why he never allows himself to get close to anyone. It simultaneously connected us to him and somewhat rationalized his womanizing in a complex and not immediately empathetic way.
To play the woman that made Bond fall in love, give up his ways, and almost give up what he loved doing the most, you needed to be a damn fine actress. And Rigg made us as well as Bond fall in love with her over and over again each time she appeared onscreen.

...And My 2 Least Favorite
2.) Christmas Jones - Denise Richards (The World is Not Enough)
The name was done simply for the innuendo line at the movie's conclusion ("I thought Christmas only comes once a year.") and then the casting was done simply because nobody cared anymore. I'm not sure what happened, but Izabella Scorupco as Natalya in GoldenEye was unbelievably smart as a Russian computer hacker (Famke Janssen as Xenia was no laughing matter either, a strong, smart, capable, and somewhat crazier version of Mayday), then Michelle Yeoh was the more than capable sidekick in Tomorrow Never Dies (with Teri Hatcher not being completely useless either), and then we get to World is Not Enough, and we cast Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist, and they gave her not-even-a-good-stripper name? Wrong, wrong, wrong.

1.) Mary Goodnight - Britt Eckland (The Man with the Golden Gun)
While the name may not be as egregious as Christmas Jones (or for that matter, Holly Goodhead from Moonraker) Goodnight the character is completely, utterly useless. She screws everything up, she doesn't do anything, and she's supposed to be a fellow agent! What an unforgivable backward step for the Bond Girl. Goodnight almost gets Bond killed at least twice in the film's proceedings and nearly unravels the entire plan that the heroes so painstakingly put together.