Monday, September 10, 2012

The Top Five: The Women of 007


A reader asked me last week about my favorite James Bond actors and my favorite James Bond films. 

I’m going to follow up that post this week with a tally of my top five Bond “girls” (or women) and my top five Bond songs.  Today, it’s the women, tomorrow it’s the song…

My list of favorite Bond women leans heavily towards early Bonds, I’ve noticed, and I’m not exactly certain why, except perhaps that I encountered these strong characters at a formative period of my life, and therefore they had a  more significant impact on me. 

Also, I have this creeping sense (especially after watching The Hunger Games) that the nature of casting has changed a lot in the last thirty years.  Today it doesn’t always seem like the best person is sought to inhabit a role, but rather the person with the biggest “brand identity” who can lure the most people into theaters.   I’m not saying that the Bond films have necessarily fallen prey to this trend, only that the early Bonds seem practically flawless in terms of casting.

5. Solitaire (Jane Seymour) in Live and Let Die (1973).

 Jane Seymour is a terrific actress, and I’ve enjoyed her performances in Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) and Battlestar Galactica (1978) as well.  

But I always find Solitaire one of Seymour’s most intriguing characters.  She’s young and naive, to be certain, and yet Solitaire goes against the very tenets of her belief system, and indeed, jeopardizes her safety and well-being for Bond (Roger Moore).  She must possess no illusions that they are always going to be together -- he’s clearly not that kind of guy -- and yet Solitaire definitively chooses something “of the moment” instead of  something “of the future,” which is a powerful and counter-intuitive decision for someone in the fortune-telling business.  How it plays out in the film is that Bond "tricks" Solitaire with the Tarot cards.  So it seems, anyway.  But Solitaire's decision still feels like one that defies expectations, rather than playing into them.  I don’t consider Live and Let Die one of the very best Bond films, but I do hold it in high esteem, in part for the way the script navigates the Bond/Solitaire relationship.



4. Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) in Goldfinger (1964).

Let’s put aside that name for a moment, and consider that Pussy Galore is tough, independent, and also a leader.  She isn’t easily intimidated, and she doesn’t fall immediately for Bond’s amorous advances. 

In the film, Pussy may or may not be a lesbian, but the important thing is that she is characterized as capable and intelligent.  Honor Blackman at age 39, was the oldest of the cinematic Bond women, and as Pussy Galore she not only exudes raw sex appeal, but also a strong sense of self.  She knows who she is, and that confidence makes her incredibly attractive. 

There’s a difference, perhaps, between Bond Girl and a Bond Woman, and Pussy Galore is really a Bond Woman, a fully-dimensional character who doesn’t need Bond, or take her cues from Bond.  She is an equal, and that makes her a great ally.  I love the character’s strength, and her sharp sense of humor.  And the scene where Galore and Bond take a "roll in the hay" together is still awesome, almost fifty years later.


3. Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) in Dr. No (1962).

The first ever movie Bond Woman…and still one of the absolute greatest. Many critics and bloggers still remember and rave about Honey’s trademark entrance in the film emerging from the ocean in a white bikini.  To say that Ursula is statuesque is to understate the matter dramatically. 

And yet, we expect Bond women to be gorgeous, just as we expect Bond himself to be physically attractive.  What makes a Bond woman memorable, then, in my opinion, isn’t mere good looks. Instead, it’s a combination of the performance, the chemistry between leads, and the writing of the character.  In terms of Honey Ryder, she’s another independent woman who makes her own way (selling sea shells) and is fully capable of defending herself and fending off Bond’s advances.  She is also incredibly fiery and passionate.



2. Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) in From Russia with Love (1963).

Tatiana is a young Russian patriot manipulated into working for Rosa Klebb and SPECTRE. Not unlike Solitaire, however, Tatiania is able to discern -- separately from governing ideology or belief system --good from bad, and makes her choices accordingly. 

Tatiana is a personal favorite of mine, as is From Russia with Love.  

I don’t want to make this list of favorite characters overtly crass in terms of who’s “the hottest” but in terms of personal preferences, let’s just say I happen to find Daniela Bianchi…exceptionally compelling.

The scene she shares with Sean Connery’s Bond in a hotel room (in which they are secretly being photographed…) is incredibly erotic, shockingly so, in fact, for 1963.  The Connery/Bianchi chemistry is just really, really powerful in this film.


1.Teresa di Vincenzo (Diana Rigg) in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Class, intelligence, wit, humor and devastating charisma.  These words describe Tracy perfectly. 

You’d think this fiery woman would be a spoiled brat because of her upbringing as the rich daughter of Draco, but as we learn in the film, Tracy’s “acting out” against her father’s wishes is more about personal independence than self-indulgence.  Also, she's a bit of an adrenaline junkie...

Like Pussy Galore, Tracy is eminently capable.  Like Honey Ryder, she is passionate and fiery.  Like Solitaire and Tatiana, Tracy makes her own decisions by her own rules.  I’ve always admired Diana Rigg-- ever since I first saw her in The Avengers as Emma Peel.  But Tracy is not just Bond’s perfect match in temperament and style, she is his soul mate, and, indeed, tragically so.  

The ending of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service never fails to leave me devastated, and in part that’s because Rigg does such an exquisite job of making Tracy a fully-developed individual, right down to a quirky sense of humor.  She’s amazing in the role, and Rigg's success is evident from all the brief but critically important “call backs” to Tracy in later Bond films (The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only, and Licence to Kill).  Tracy is, in a word, unforgettable.

6 comments:

  1. Always great to have your thoughts on the subject of Bond, James Bond. If you're interested, my list would be included in my comment over at Ruth's Flixchatter site on this similar subject. Thanks, John.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Awesome list! "Passionate and fiery" is a good recipe for a memorable Bond girl! I definitely remember the brief reference to Tracy in LTK, it was very subtle but it was a quite heartbreaking moment and Dalton's expression captured it brilliantly.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anonymous7:27 PM

    John brilliant analysis of the 007 women. I loved them all in the Bond mythology. However, like you, I place Diana Rigg(Tracy) as number one too. As a boy in the '70s, I first loved her as Emma Peel in Avengers reruns, then saw her on television in On Her Majesty's Secret Service(1969) with the devastating ending. George Lazenby was great as Bond, but I always wondered how Connery would have been opposite Rigg's Tracy. John I am glad that you noted the continued mentioning of Diana Rigg's character in later Bond films.

    SGB

    ReplyDelete
  4. I love the choice of Diana Rigg. I think a lot of people forget about her. I agree with 'Anonymous' that mentioning Rigg in later installments, like License to Kill for instance, helped form the mythology and some of Bond's motivations.

    I just wrote so much in the comment section I decided to write my own post on The Paxton Configuration. I will send you a link shortly. Great article!

    Will

    ReplyDelete
  5. I gotta say I agree with you, I think Diana Rigg is my favorite as well. But Eva Green's Vesper from "Casino Royale" a close second. She has a similar personality and does a great job with the role. I also liked Sophie Marceau as Elektra from "The World is Not Enough". That movie has a lot of interesting ties back to OHMSS and the links between Elektra and Tracy offer a lot of potential (which the movie doesn't do enough with. But I still think think she's an excellent character (even if you could classify her as the villain). All in all a great list. I think the ladies with those earlier Bond flicks had the benefit of better scripts with juicier roles. In some cases not a fair comparison to the more underwritten roles in later films.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Nice list! It is a really tough call as there are so many to choose from over the years. My picks would be:

    1. Domino Derval - Thunderball
    2. Vesper Lynd - Casino Royale (2006)
    3. Melina Havelock - For Your Eyes Only
    4. Pam Bouvier - Licence to Kill
    5. Honey Ryder - Dr. No

    ReplyDelete

Cult-Movie Review: The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972)

I post this review today as a shout-out to a beloved horror film celebrating a restoration and release today, in Texarkana: The Legend o...