Sunday, February 1, 2015

Bond Girls From Dr. No to Skyfall

The girls in Bond films are one of those MUST HAVE elements and they're often discussed, but generally in terms of how attractive they are. No series of posts on the James Bond films would be complete without one that looked at all those wonderful ladies who have helped make them what they are. I did originally consider making this a ranking, but that like the rating of the films themselves is very subjective, not to mention a bit tacky, plus it's been done to death by all and sundry over the years. So what I'm going to do here is mention each character and the actress who portrayed them and have a brief look at how I saw the performance and the character.

Dr. No - Honey Ryder/Ursula Andress

Honey Ryder was the first time any of us really got to see a Bond girl on the screen. Linda Christian played a character called Valerie Mathis in the 1950's TV adaptation of Casino Royale, she was kind of a replacement Vesper Lynd, but I don't count her as such. The character of Honey and the actress Ursula Andress have both become associated with her iconic introduction where she rises out of the water like a mermaid given human form, wearing the white bikini. As a character Honey struck me as both inconsistent and unnecessary. The story doesn't change much if she's not there. I've never seen Andress as a particularly talented actress either. I know her dialogue was dubbed due to her accent, but even then she doesn't bring much to the role other than physical attractiveness.

From Russia With Love - Tatiana Romanova/Daniella Bianchi

Prior to being cast as the naive Russian cryptographer Tatiana Romanova in From Russia With Love, Daniella Bianchi had been Miss Italy in a beauty pageant. It's not hard to see why. Even now 50 years and many girls after, she remains one of the most beautiful women to star alongside any incarnation of James Bond. Tatiana is vitally important to the story, it simply doesn't work without her. For one Rosa Klebb would have stabbed James with the toe of her poison tipped shoe (she actually did in the book) if Tatiana had not been on hand to shoot her former boss. Despite her dialogue also being dubbed, Daniella Bianchi uses her face and her body to put in a more than credible performance alongside Sean Connery and I think it's one that's often underrated.

Goldfinger - Pussy Galore/Honor Blackman

Ursula Andress' Honey Ryder tends to be known for one thing and that's her entrance in Dr. No. Honor Blackman's Pussy Galore is similar, but she's remembered for the risqué, frankly quite silly name. When asked to name a Bond girl a lot of people say Pussy Galore, because whatever else it does, the name sticks in the memory. Despite being a fairly small role, it is vital, because without her Goldfinger's raid on Fort Knox would have worked. The performance of Honor Blackman though was oddly flat and one note. Being already known as an actress for her work on The Avengers I expected her to bring more to the role, but she unfortunately didn't.

Thunderball - Dominique 'Domino' Derval/Claudine Auger

Like Tatiana, Dominique 'Domino' Derval (generally known as Domino) performs the vital task of shooting the SPECTRE operative in Emilio Largo, which saves Bond, although it has the consequence of saving herself and James as it allows them to leap to safety before the boat they're passengers on crashes and blows up. She's used as scenery most of the time, but her presence is needed because she's how Bond gets in with Largo and how he works out who has the missing nuclear missiles. The elfin Claudine Auger (also a former Miss France) does a good job with the role, despite her dialogue also being dubbed for the most part, but it mostly involves looking pretty in and out of the water.

You Only Live Twice - Aki/Akiko Wakabayashi & Kissy Suzuki/Mie Hama

Yes, there are two Bond girls in my opinion in You Only Live Twice. Top billing went to Mie Hama, but the larger role is actually that played by Akiko Wakabayashi. Aki is a wild Japanese agent who provides Bond with his introduction to Japanese intelligence in the form of Tiger Tanaka, and it's Aki who ingests the poison that was meant for Bond, this kills her. She's the first of the Bond girls to die in the course of the film. To a large extent the role was invented by the actress as a way of getting out of a extraordinary situation which could have resulted in her co-actress committing ritual suicide. She plays it very well and with a great deal of energy, she deserves most of the acting credit in a female role in the film.

The role was reduced from the book and she's really not required to do a lot other than be pretty and appear in a bikini. Just as well, because Mie Hama could not act. She'd done a lot of Japanese monster films, but she was dreadful in You Only Live Twice, she wasn't helped by the dubbing of her voice not sounding at all Japanese. The character could have been easily written out, but she appeared in the book and the screenwriter; Roald Dahl, had already made significant changes. She's never actually referred to as Kissy (very silly name) in the film, but is credited that way at the end.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service - Tracy Di Vincenzo (Bond)/Diana Rigg

If I'd rated the girls Tracy and Diana would have rated highly on all counts: depth of character, importance to the story, attractiveness and acting ability. Diana Rigg was the best actress they'd cast by a long shot and one of the most beautiful (although Daniella Bianchi edges her out for the title there). The character of Tracy has a proper backstory, she helps Bond and winds up marrying him, she is unfortunately killed at the end, but that provides the impetus for Bond's revenge mission in the next film. The only thing wrong with it on film was that due to George Lazenby's lack of acting talent, not even Diana Rigg could make the relationship believable or generate any chemistry between the two, but she is a very memorable Bond girl, even without that.

Diamonds Are Forever - Tiffany Case/Jill St John

As a character she's saddled with that stupid name and a giant size attitude, she lacks class, which makes one wonder why Bond is interested in her. She's not all that necessary to the plot and I kept wondering why she continued to pop up once Bond had smuggled the diamonds into the US. She's more of an annoyance to him than anything else. Jill St John was the first American Bond girl and the first redhead (Diana Rigg is not a natural redhead), she fills out a bikini nicely, but her acting leaves a lot to be desired.

Live And Let Die - Solitaire/Jane Seymour

Being an English rose in appearance and yet having been born and raised as a virginal tarot card reader on a Caribbean island, Solitaire (that's the only name she ever has) is one of the odder Bond girls. She's not really all that vital to the plot other than James has to sleep with someone and it allows Roger Moore to make a lot of bad tarot card jokes. It's another example of how a role can be improved when an actress with some ability is cast in the role. Jane Seymour remains up there with Daniella Bianchi and Diana Rigg for sheer beauty.

The Man With The Golden Gun - Mary Goodnight/Britt Ekland

The question I find myself asking about both character and actress is why? If they wanted a Bond girl they only needed to cast Maud Adams as Andrea Anders. Britt Ekland has never been able to act and having her playing a fairly comically inept inexperienced agent with the ridiculous name of Mary Goodnight is only exacerbating the problem. She's more annoying than anything and yet another example of why The Man With The Golden Gun is one of the worst Bond films ever.

The Spy Who Loved Me - Anya Amasova (Agent XXX)/Barbara Bach

As a character I love Anya. She's got a proper name (forget the stupid code name of XXX) and she's kind of a Russian female equivalent to Bond. She has a definite impact and can almost out spy him, plus she has an avowed intention to kill him after the mission (that's the one flaw, she gives in a little too quick). A lot of people have issues with Barbara Bach's portrayal. For an ex model, who was cast late in the day I think she did a good job. She is a little wooden in parts, but she enters into it all with gusto and does a passable Russian accent.

Moonraker - Holly Goodhead/Lois Chiles

Holly was an attempt to make lightning strike twice in the same place. She was meant to be a CIA equivalent of Anya, only with a Phd in aeronautics as well. She bobs up here and there for some pretty strange reasons. The name is another play on words similar to Pussy Galore, but not nearly as memorable. For an ass kicking CIA agent she's not very effective and needs a lot more saving than she should. Because of how poor the performance was I thought Lois Chiles was another ex-model, but apparently she was an actress. It's a lifeless performance and taking money for it is almost cheating.

For Your Eyes Only - Melina Havelock/Carole Bouquet

Melina is a strong girl, she's a dab hand with a crossbow and knows how to look for ancient cities under the sea. She's out for revenge for her parents and if it weren't for her Bond would never have recovered the code breaking machine that is at the heart of the story. She was played by French model/actress Carole Bouquet, who had the perfect look for the role, she's a little uncertain at times, but holds her own throughout.

Octopussy - Octopussy/Maud Adams

The character is rather silly before the name. She's an internationally notorious outlaw based in India, but is gradually moving from crime into legitimate business. She has another name (she has to), but they never use it, which is lazy writing more than anything. Maud Adams had impressed in The Man With The Golden Gun, but with a multifaceted character she's way out of her depth and flounders through the film.

A View To A Kill - Stacey Sutton/Tanya Roberts

Stacey suffers from the need to have a Bond girl and then make her relevant to the plot, so they turn her into a seismologist, she's not at all believable and she seems to need James to save her all the time. She's rather whiny to be honest. Tanya Roberts got a raw deal here, she wasn't that great an actress, but she did handle action pretty well, so they give her a character that is the modern day equivalent of a damsel in distress. I think most people wanted James to drop her off the bridge at the end.

The Living Daylights - Kara Milovy/Maryam D'Abo

I had not thought it was possible to create a more useless character than Stacey, but they topped her with Kara. As a secret agent Kara makes a great cellist. There's just nothing at all believable about the character. She doesn't need saving as much, but that in itself is ridiculous because she suddenly develops all these skills and abilities that had never been evident before. Maryam D'Abo is a very pretty lady, but her acting ability is on par with Britt Ekland's.

Licence To Kill - Pam Bouvier/Carey Lowell

I really like Pam as a character. She's tough, smart, resourceful. She's the complete package. Probably the best since Anya. If Holly had been more like Pam, Moonraker would have been a better film. Generally she works independently of Bond and she seems to save him more than he saves her. They also got lucky when they cast Carey Lowell, she was predominantly a model before, but understood the role and played it to perfection, she's also stunningly beautiful.

Goldeneye - Natalya Simonova/Isabella Scorupco

Both character and actress are overshadowed by Famke Janssen's delightfully over the top villainess Xenia Onatopp. It's a shame really because Natalya is every bit as resourceful as a number of Bond girl's and a good deal more useful than plenty of them. She's a vital link to the story and someone without whom Bond would not have been able to complete his mission. Isabella Scorupco is more of a model than an actress, and she's usually blonde, which Natalya is not. It's a multi layered character and the performance matches it, there could have been more chemistry with Pierce Brosnan, but it's not totally absent and that has a lot to do with a fairly clumsy love scene that was inserted because it's expected. She's consistently underrated, but I quite like her even though she's not astonishing or even all that memorable.

Tomorrow Never Dies - Colonel Wai Lin/Michelle Yeoh

Oh they struck so much pay dirt with both character and actress! She actually overshadows Bond, she carries him through this from the time they reluctantly agree to work together in Asia. If they'd made Tomorrow Never Dies with Wai Lin as the central character and Bond as the eye candy/sidekick it would have been a better film. I really like her, does it show? The second brilliant move after creating a fantastic female character that was more than just scenery was casting Michelle Yeoh. Yeoh's background was working with Jackie Chan and she was one of the few actresses he'd allow to do her own stunts, she wasn't allowed to in this for insurance reasons, but she did do her own fight scenes and she was excellent. She's close to being one of the best actresses to ever appear in the films and her performance matches that rating.

The World Is Not Enough - Elektra King/Sophie Marceau & Dr. Christmas Jones/Denise Richards

Yes another two! Technically Elektra is probably a villain, but that isn't revealed until late in the movie and James doesn't seduce her so much as she does him. She's a vitally important catalyst and Bond even falls for her, even though she was faking it. She's the only role I would classify as a Bond girl where James actually causes her death. Sophie Marceau was an experienced and respected actress when she took the role and she makes it her own, she almost sizzles off the screen.

Elektra was a hard act to follow and Christmas Jones just can't do it. She's quite abrasive, which makes her annoying and unbelievable. Like Stacey she suffers from having a job that she simply doesn't sell, she's a nuclear physicist responsible for assisting with disarmament, yet she looks like she's too young to have graduated college yet. Denise Richards is unfairly slated for the role. First of all comparing her to Sophie Marceau is downright mean (the two are on totally different levels) and then it's clear she suffers from lack of direction and she's trying to sell a role which simply doesn't work. Under the circumstances she does the best she can and I've always felt Eon threw her under the bus.

Die Another Day - Giacinta 'Jinx' Johnson/Halle Berry

Did they not learn from Holly and Moonraker? I don't know why it is, but American agents (Jinx is NSA and Holly was CIA) and Bond simply don't seem to work. Maybe it's because they're on the same side and if Bond wants American help he has Felix Leiter or Jack Wade to call on. Jinx starts out looking like an equal and winds up having to be saved before going back to being Bond's opposite number for the NSA. For some reason Eon thought the character warranted her own spin off series. Thankfully MGM canned that before it wound flushing a lot of money down the drain. Now if they'd been able to get a Wai Lin spin off out there, yes please! Halle Berry came to the role fresh from an Oscar winning performance in Monster's Ball, but didn't seem to really know what was expected of her. Her comments about the role indicate that she saw it as a clotheshorse rather than an acting performance. She never struck the chord that they wanted with audiences and while Denise Richards wore a lot of flak for Christmas Jones, Berry escaped a lot of the harsher criticism that she deserved for Jinx.

Casino Royale - Vesper Lynd/Eva Green

As a character and a performance Vesper just works. From the moment she walks into the train and sits down opposite Bond they simply click. The character is well written and behaves the way one expects her to. The relationship between her and Bond is believable and solid. Such a shame she dies. Eva Green was perfectly cast, she should have been named Vesper. She's a beautiful woman and you can get lost in those big dark sparkling eyes. There's more chemistry between Green and Craig than I can remember seeing between any other actress and actor in the franchise's history. Her death scene and the rage Bond feels is more real because of that. If I had to rate the girls and I do this more on character than anything else I put Tracey, Pam, Wai Lin and Vesper at the top of my list.

Quantum Of Solace - Camille Montes/Olga Kurylenko

Camille seems to be in this film because there's an unwritten law that says Bond must perform some of his mission with a beautiful woman by his side. Admittedly they both want the same outcome, but they're going after different targets. I kept asking myself why Camille was in this film and why was I supposed to care. A better option would have been to use Agent Fields as the girl. Olga Kurylenko gives a flat one note performance that languidly runs from the range of A - B, there is no chemistry with Daniel Craig and really the actress could only go up from here.

Skyfall - Severine/Berenice Marlohe

There isn't really a clearly defined Bond girl in Skyfall (cases can be made for thinking of both Eve Moneypenny and M as the Bond girls in Skyfall), but as Bond sleeps with Severine she makes as a good a choice as any. Her only real function in the film is to prove what a callous bastard Silva is when he shoots her in the head. It wasn't necessary because I think audiences had already worked that out for themselves by that point. Berenice Marlohe did as best she could with what she had to work with, but she's not particularly memorable and the performance reaches no great heights.

So there we have it, Bond from go to whoa. I'll come back when SPECTRE has been released and do it all over with that again.

No comments:

Post a Comment