Monday, September 24, 2012

The Top Five: James Bond Femme-Fatales


A femme fatale is literally a “deadly woman.” 

And the James Bond films have, for nearly fifty years, given audiences many fine examples of this cinematic breed. 

In fact, villains in the Bond films tend to come in three categories: General Villain, Soldier Villain and Femme Fatale.  Sometimes these categories overlap, and sometimes they don’t.  But the femme fatale -- the dangerous and seductive woman -- is a critical element of the James Bond movie mystique.

The James Bond femme fatale is usually ravishingly beautiful, of course, but perhaps more important than that quality, she is also incredibly, well, lusty.  Whether or not this is a sexist stereotype left over from the 1960s, I’ll leave you to decide. 

Regardless, in keeping with recent “Top Five” posts on James Bond, today I make my selections for the top five Femme Fatales in James Bond movie history.   

5. May Day (A View to A Kill [1985])

Grace Jones portrayed May Day, bodyguard to and operative for Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) in Roger Moore’s last outing as Bond, A View to A Kill (1985). Dangerous, powerful, and physically intimidating, May Day not only is good in a fight, but makes a terrifying leap from the top of the Eiffel Tower (with parachute) following her assassination of an informant. 

May Day is seen in the film fighting both Zorin and Bond, and, finally, bedding Bond (while they are still enemies).  It’s for this particular scene (the bedding of 007) that May Day primarily makes this top-five list. 

It’s a bit of a surprising (and funny…) moment, actually. Bond leans in for the romantic kiss, and May Day violently pushes him over and down, and then assumes the dominant position atop him

This moment serves as a good reminder that -- mid 1980s -- this wasn’t the 1960s or 1970s anymore in terms of a woman’s traditional role, even a femme fatale’s, in the Bond flicks.  I like that May Day takes the fight to Bond where he is comfortable, and then asserts her superiority over him in bed. 

4. Elektra King (The World is Not Enough [1999])

Sophie Marceau plays the delectable but deadly in Elektra in Pierce Brosnan’s third Bond film, The World is Not Enough.  Like all the femme fatales, Elektra is gorgeous, of course, but Elektra is memorable because she pretends to be vulnerable, thus exploiting 007’s penchant for protecting beautiful women. 

In truth, Elektra is allied with the evil Renard (Robert Carlyle), and using Bond for her own devious purposes.  A puppet-master combining elements of the femme-fatale and the General Villain, Elektra makes for a powerful threat to Bond.

Even today, in the era of Daniel Craig, it’s still a bracing -- and deadly serious -- moment, when Bond kills Elektra.

3. Fiona Volpe (Thunderball [1965])

I try not to make these lists a commentary on my personal taste in women, but sometimes that’s difficult.  I must confess that I find Luciana Paluzzi really irresistible in Thunderball, and, in fact, a far more intriguing villain than Adolfo Celi’s bland Emilio Largo. 

In Thunderball, Paluzzi plays a SPECTRE agent named Fiona Volpe, an operative who isn’t afraid to use either lethal force or her feminine wiles to get the job done effectively.  Alas, Volpe lives by the sword and so must die by the sword too.  In one of the Bond franchise’s greatest scenes, Volpe and Bond dance together at the Kiss Kiss Club while Volpe’s assassins circle in for the kill.  Bond detects the ambush, and spins Volpe into position -- as a human shield -- right as the lethal bullet is fired.  That’s the end for sexy Volpe, but this motorcycle-riding, sexy villainess lives on in the memory. 

Paluzzi’s performance -- and indeed her charismatic screen presence --  may just be my favorite quality of Thunderball, which I generally don’t enjoy as much as many other Bond aficionados do.

2. Xenia Onatopp (Goldeneye [1995])

There’s not much I can say about a femme-fatale named On-a-top who squeezes her male enemies to death with her killer thighs, and virtually orgasms while conducting a machine gun massacre.  Yikes!

Famke Janssen is absolutely a marvel in this iconic role, and her scenes sizzle with danger, and also, not incidentally, a high-degree of humor.  By this time in the Bond mythos -- the mid-1990s -- we were all in on-the-joke, so-to-speak, and so when Janssen goes “big,” it’s not a campy misstep but a brilliant calculation.

From her wickedly funny name to her unusually physical assassination techniques, Onatopp may actually be Overthetop, but who cares?  Janssen brings a lot of sex appeal and fun to the first Bond film in six years, and remains a favorite to this day for good reason.

1. Fatima Blush (Never Say Never Again [1983])

Whenever someone claims that Never Say Never Again isn’t a great Bond film, I just instruct them to look at the caliber of the villains in the film, namely Klaus Maria Brandauer as Largo and Barbara Carrera as his mad femme fatale, Fatima Blush.  

Both characters are extraordinary well-drawn, and bring the movie to life with a sense of anarchic energy.  Barbara Carrera makes Fatima Blush almost schizophrenic in her extreme good cop/bad cop routine with Jack Petachi, and then reveals inordinate, mad delight when Largo gives her the order to kill Bond. 

But it’s her death scene that really distinguishes Fatima Blush, in my book.  Bond (Sean Connery) knowingly plays on her oversized ego, and she demands that he leave behind a note (with his corpse…) stating that sex with Fatima was the best he ever had. 

This demands leads, of course, to Bond using a secret gadget – a pen gun – against Blush.  I wrote about this dynamic some in my review of Licence to Kill, vis-√†-vis Sanchez, but the best Bond characters are the ones who possess psychological foibles…ones that Bond can manipulate or exploit. It’s ever so much more interesting to see Bond hoist villains (or femme fatales) by their own petard rather than just haul out a gadget or fire a gun.  Here, we get a combination of the two approaches. 

 Fatima Blush is such a charismatic character and important player in the film that it never quite seems the same after she’s been dispatched.  Blush is the best Bond femme fatale of all-time in my book, and Never Say Never Again’s great source of renewable energy.

3 comments:

  1. Fine list, John. Very close to mine:
    1. Elektra King - because she has the greatest transition of any of the Bond Femme-Fatales. Enters as victim, segues to JB's lover, and finally reveals to be the true villain of the film -- Renard, who the audience assumed to be that, was really only her henchman. Plus, Sophie Marceau portrayed her so beautifully.
    2. Fiona Volpe - Luciana Paluzzi gave Sean Connery all he could handle in whatever scenes they shared. She's easily the best Bond Girl and henchmen in 'Thunderball'.
    3. Xenia Onatopp - Famke Janssen can do no wrong in my book. Sexy, lethal, and just this side of nuts. She's a notch better than the next one on the list because she wasn't as over-the-top.
    4. Fatima Blush - I'm a long-time Barbara Carrera fan. And she was easily the best thing in this 'Thunderball' redux, so I can forgive her excesses with the role.
    5. May Day - okay, we can finally agree on something, and for the same reasons you've stated (plus she's one of the few things I actually enjoyed in what turned out to be my lowest rated OO7 film in the entire series).

    Thanks, my friend.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Le0pard:

      It's amazing that we have all the same candidates here, with the only difference being the ranking. Incredible. It's funny, though, I actually find Janssen in Goldeneye more over the top than Blush in Never Say Never Again. Subjective taste, I guess. Perhaps both are a little over the top (or perhaps it's just the territory of these characters).

      I absolutely share your affection for Paluzzi and her character, Volpe. Wow! She gives the movie a lot of life, that's for certain.

      So far as A View to a Kill, it was actually my lowest rated Bond film until Die Another Day, which took the prize by a mile. It makes View to a Kill look like high art...

      Great thoughts, my friend.

      best,
      John

      Delete
  2. 1 and 3. Helz to the yeah!

    ReplyDelete