The banality of Bond girls
How American women have ruined James Bond
Bond 21 is under way now for next summer. It might seem a tad early to speculate, but I think it's going to be a yawner. The last couple of Bonds (20, 19) have been weak for various reasons, none of them Pierce Brosnan, who is the ideal James Bond in my book. It's the women.
007 has had his share of American girls over the years, from Jill St. John to Halle Berry. And they've almost always been the weak link in the film.
A big part of the attraction of James Bond is the exotic atmosphere the films create. European and Asian cities, menacing foreign villains, and thickly-accented babes you've never seen before all work together to create a decidedly non-Hollywood feeling.
But for years now, the Bond films have been essentially all-American productions, and the use of well-known actresses who have their own audience—and that mostly means American actresses—has become standard, much to the detriment of the Bond mystique.
When the Bond films started with Dr. No in 1962, the producers chose the young and exotic European model Ursula Andress for the role of Honey Rider. The other female roles also went to Europeans. America was represented only by CIA man Felix Lieter, played by Jack Lord, who aided and abetted Bond in only the most minor of ways. The message was simple: this was a British hero taking care of British business, and it was none of America's concern.
Next came Daniela Bianchi in From Russia With Love, followed by Shirley Eaton and the delightful Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (go on, say it out loud; no one's listening). Felix Leiter was a continuing character, but always in a minor role and played by various actors (not all of them even American).
A couple of Japanese cuties and Karin Dor met up with Bond in You Only Live Twice. The idea of Bond "turning Japanese," as it were, was silly, but the Asian dishes were a nice diversion from the usual European fare.
Then, not only do we see a change of Bonds, but arch-nemesis Ernst Blofeld returns in On Her Majesty's Secret Service and it's Telly Savalas! Nevertheless, this is actually one of the better Bond films, thanks in no small measure to the wonderful—and very British—Diana Rigg.
It is only in the seventh film, 1971's Diamonds are Forever, that Bond finally meets up with an American girl, and they come as a matched set. Los Angeles native Jill St. John plays Tiffany Case, and Santa Monica native Lana Wood plays Plenty O'Toole. It was an inauspicious beginning.
St. John's character is about as dumb as bimbos get, even for the 1970s. Worse, it's the end of Sean Connery (more or less). It's not a bad film, but something intangible goes out of the series that will never return. I think it's ass-smacking machismo.
Quick on the heels of the Americanized Bond came 1973's Live and Let Die. This was actually set in America, of all places, and 007 teamed up with Gloria Hendry as Rosie Carver, possibly the weakest of all Bond girls. She's annoying, not sensual or even especially beautiful, and no real help to James at all.
Plus, she works for the CIA. I don't know about you, but I don't think James Bond needs or wants help from the CIA. It just doesn't feel right.
But English rose Jane Seymour steals the show, and she (and the creepy voodoo villains) makes the film worth watching... but only just barely.
Bond got back on track and stuck to European locations and European women for a while, with Britt Ekland and Maude Adams, then Barbara Bach and Caroline Munro. The Man with the Golden Gun is not a great entry, but The Spy Who Loved Me is, and it's one of the best.
Barbara Bach was born and raised in New York, but she doesn't count as an American, if you ask me, because she moved to Italy and took on that Euro-babe look and sound that made her exotic.
The Spy Who Loved Me has a special place in my heart, in fact, because it's one of the very first movies I ever saw in a theater without my parents. I remember being much more excited by it than I was by Grizzly or The Incredible Melting Man.
Then, with Moonraker, Bond hooks up with a real American again, this time Lois Chiles as Holly Goodhead. Again we find that this is one of the weakest entries in the series, with a rather silly space-based plot and the unlikely return (and happy resolution!) of the metal-mouthed Jaws.
As will become a trend, Chiles is pretty buttoned up thru most of the film, but Euro-babe Corinne Clery as helicopter pilot Corinne Defour is nice and saucy.
Bond bounced back in For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy, but not completely. Carole Bouquet and Cassandra Harris and then Maude Adams (in a returning role) and Kristina Wayborn maintain the mystique of the Bond women.
Then came Never Say Never Again in 1983. This is a strange, pointless remake of Thunderball with an aging Sean Connery returning one last time, engineered out of some weird licensing issue that I've never understood. Bond meets up with Georgia peach Kim Basinger as Domino Petachi. Kim is beautiful, but without the real spark that makes her so attractive in some of her other films.
On the other hand, Barbara Carrera shows up as Fatima Blush, one of the more lovely and mysterious women in the Bond collection. Again, an all-American girl lead is out-done by a European uber-femme who knows how to turn beauty into sex appeal.
Roger Moore returned the same year with the equally weak A View to a Kill, also his swansong. Tanya Roberts is the girl, a dumb, frightened blond without many redeeming qualities.
She gets undercut by bonafide Euro-babe Fiona Fullerton as Pola Ivanova, a delicious dish that gets swept away much too quickly. Note the continuing trend. We're given a pie-eyed American to love and a sultry European to lust after... only to see her disposed of. Is this feminism or misogyny?
The baton was passed to Timothy Dalton with 1987's The Living Daylights, but it was a bobbled pass. Worse, Maryam d'Abo is pretty but not sexy. It's definitely a weak entry, and no Americans in sight to blame.
Next up is Carey Lowell in Licence to Kill, with an assist from Talisa Sota. Puerto Rican New Yorker Sota as Lupe Lamora has the exotic mystique. Lowell as Pam Bouvier is just a white girl with good cheek bones.
Izabella Scorupco and Famke Janssen do fine in Goldeneye, the first Brosnan Bond. Janssen seems pretty American nowdays, but is a native of the Netherlands, so she doesn't count. Besides, she's playing a Russian, and she's downright medieval in her ferocity.
This makes Goldeneye the last Bond film with no American girls. It's an all-Euro tour de force.
Teri Hatcher and Michelle Yeoh help Bond in Tomorrow Never Dies. Despite both Hatcher and Yeoh's complete lack of sensuality (and the general weakness of Hatcher's Paris Carver as a character) the film holds up, altho fans are quite divided on it.
Denise Richards as Christmas Jones in The World is Not Enough overwhelms the deliciously pained and pouting Sophie Marceau to virtually ruin the film. Other factors contributed, tho, including crushingly boring villains.
Moreover, Richards is the first Bond girl whom the majority of film-goers have probably already seen naked. It's hard to maintain your mystique after that... especially since she is supposed to be a brilliant scientist but comes across more as an ill-tempered high school cheerleader.
Somewhere in here the female lead has stopped falling into Bond's arms and starting competing with him. The producers seem to have come to think that the only good Bond girl is a sexless yet aggressive rival. Bond has frequently encountered tough dames in his career, but now they're just cold and standoffish.
A casual attitude toward sex was part of the allure of European women in the older Bond films. Sex was a tool, a weapon, a reward, and a casual diversion. To most Bond girls today, it is a violation of their independence. Again: feminism or misogyny?
Briton Rosamund Pike plays the icy Euro-bitch Miranda Frost, another standoffish rival, in Die Another Day, another weak entry. And we are back to Halle Berry, in the worst possible position: she is an American, a famous actress whom we've already seen naked, and she plays an American agent. Only once before has a Bond girl been working for the US government (Live and Let Die). Berry does better (partly by looking like a million bucks), but there's not much life in it.
I think the problem is that intelligent American women are always portrayed as uninterested in sex (both in Bond films and elsewhere), especially if they are already famous actresses (Hatcher, Richards). There's an immediate wall between them and Bond that drains the life out of the film. Berry does better than most, but what's next? Will Bond date the president's daughter?
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Jason Botwick writes:
I'll tell you what, I watched that Halle Berry one the other day and not
On a related note, Lucy Liu is so hot.
Andrew Cole writes:
Are you suggesting that she belongs in a Bond movie? An American we've already seen naked? <sigh>
Jason Botwick writes:
You know, that quote makes me sound like a real pig.
Derek Jensen writes:
Yeah, but we know it's coming from the heart.
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