50 YEARS of BOND GIRLS
By Nathan Pasko
Part One of Sticky’s 50 Year Retrospective of James Bond
I watched five James Bond movies to prepare for the upcoming release of Skyfall — marking the 50th anniversary of Bond in cinema — looking more narrowly at the famed “Bond Girls” themselves and observing the differences between them. It becomes apparent that all Bond Girls are different iterations of the same deific idea, varied slightly over time in accordance with the needs of each film.
Like Disney princesses for adults, Bond’s women sacrifice a large amount of individuality in favor of fulfilling a certain filmic role: capable, beautiful, hyper-sexual, and all too often, dangerous (for Bond at least). Ultimately, most of them become disposable to Bond, though in Octopussy and Casino Royale the female characters strike a more meaningful chord and expose a greater depth and purpose. My viewing began chronologically however, and explored several more forgettable Bond women on the way.
From Russia With Love (1963), the second Bond film, stars the immortal Sean Connery as 007 and Daniela Bianchi as Tatiana (“Tanya”) Romanova. The opening title sequence: a dark scene in which the producers’ names are projected over, obscured, and manipulated by a shapely woman’s body, immediately establishing the hierarchy of physicality in the world of Bond.
In the movie, Tanya is meant to meet with Bond to negotiate the trade of a Russian decoding device called Lektor. Bond’s associate (Pedro Armendáriz) tells him, “She said she would make her own arrangements. You’ll just have to wait.” I discovered the “arrangements” were: she sneaks naked into Bond’s hotel (bridal suite) room bed. Tanya and Bond’s guardian-angel-type romance is only interrupted by an exotic gypsy girl fight, which in turn is only interrupted by a man-fight with guns. Later, Bond records to tape Tanya’s description of the Lektor device he is charged to retrieve; her technical data regarding the machine is constantly interrupted by sexual pleadings. Luckily James Bond knows how to handle women: he charms Tanya on a train by giving her elegant new clothes.
A romantic conclusion in Venice? Bond and Tanya in love?
In The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) Roger Moore plays James Bond; Barbara Bach plays opposite him as Major Anya Amasova, the notorious Agent Triple-X. In this film, Bond’s innuendoes constitute most of his spoken lines. Exotic Arabian beauties; “When one is in Egypt, one should delve deeply into its treasures,” quoth Bond.
Agent XXX proves more capable than Tanya Romanova. She holds the monstrous Jaws at gunpoint. She fights him off in a van. She seduces Bond with the eloquent nonverbal promise of sex, and then expertly blows sleep powder at him, out of a trick cigarette. Bond appeals to her womanly heart later by saving her life, moving her only then to sexual penetration.
Given orders to destroy the enemy base, Bond goes in to rescue Tanya first, hinting at a deeper-than-physical connection between the two. Despite his life-saving gesture, she still threatens to kill him, having discovered that Bond killed the man she loved three months prior. But Bond convinces her to grant him a last request; and after a moment’s thought he chooses: “Let’s get out of these wet things….” The old British wise-men raise up the lovers’ sub-capsule, their nude, passionately entangled bodies visible on the bed, through the window and silk sheets.
“Keeping the British end up, sir,” Bond explains before pulling the curtain closed.
Roger Moore returns once again in Octopussy, now in the year 1983. Maud Adams joins him as the titular “Octopussy,” a distinguished jewel thief and head of a cultish island of amazon-jewel thief women somewhere off the coast of India.
The opening scene of the film shows Bond gratefully accepting help from an unnamed female assistant. She distracts Bond’s enemies — generic Latin American government men — by flashing her curves. The female body again proves itself a loaded weapon.
In Delhi, Bond meets Magda (Kristina Wayborn); initially she regards him coldly; she does not return his genteel flirtation like the other girls. Observing this, I grew excited, for, praise the lord! a woman immune to James Bond’s rehearsed and banal “charms.” But soon they are meeting at a hotel — and now Magda appears more sentimental, mentioning suddenly a scrapbook she keeps of “memories” — and now Bond and Magda are buried in the sheets of her decadent hotel room bed. In the morning she dresses silently, pockets the all-important, plot-central, Russian antique egg trinket — but Bond wakes up and sees her — she outwits him, and departs sensually over the balcony and hands the egg over to the enemy (Louis Jourdan). A turbaned thug knocks out the stymied Bond, once again prey in a sexual trap. Hasn’t he learned?
Octopussy herself is introduced with some greater bearing. Initially we see only her octopus-clad bathrobe, not her face, only the vague shape of her body emerging from a swimming pool. Mysterious. Intriguing. A sense of danger. Octopussy attracts more of the audience’s (and Bond’s) respect, emphasized in her dramatic introduction, and her character speaks to more than sexuality.
“Oh James,” she says, attempting to convince him to stay overnight in her palace, “we’re two of a kind.” She makes a good point. Both Bond and Octopussy evoke larger-than-life characters, archetypal fantasies, or “gods,” deities hovering outside typical human lifestyles. Octopussy warns Bond (merely “a paid assassin”) not to judge her. She leaves the room angrily. Bond follows, grabs her, kisses her, and following her weak/brief protests, the pair finally make love.
Octopussy gives more weight to the romance between Bond and Bond’s leading lady. Older than the other girls, closer to Bond’s age, Octopussy presents an image more masculine — that of a fearless killer and ambitious businesswoman — but at once more womanly as well (mother figure to an island full of women). She draws a unique respect from James as a result, one not seen in many of 007’s films.
The famed Goldeneye (1995) presents the problem of two equally fascinating Bond Girls: Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco) and Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen). Natalya, James’ hacker-damsel-in-distress love interest, gets saved. The enemy fighter-pilot Xenia makes a stronger impression: her vigorous and animalistic sexual urges often give way to the (conspired) death of her partner, nearly including James Bond. She delights in observation of a train soon-to-be-derailed. She participates, covered in only a towel, in a sauna battle with Bond. Her primal presence emanates rays of danger-coitus into the room wherever she appears, but her exclusively sexual nature ultimately renders her inconsequential.
Daniel Craig’s first portrayal of James Bond in Casino Royale (2006) sheds some light on the Bond Girl tradition and trajectory. He meets Vesper Lynd (portayed by Eva Green), they size each other up, and consequently earn each other’s respect. Vesper’s role as accountant and financier of Bond’s high-stakes terror-preventive poker game makes her crucial to the mission’s success. The film affords her a certain dignity shown previously only to Octopussy.
Over the course of the mission Bond develops a passionate love for Vesper. The turning point (that is, the moment when Bond crosses the “devotional threshold,” based on the standards established in his previous films) occurs when Bond comforts Vesper in the shower after she witnesses him kill several enemy thugs in a messy fight. Unfortunately, Vesper has ulterior motives. She betrays Bond, steals his winnings, and delivers them to her mysterious boyfriend. Bond steels himself (dresses himself), and sets out for revenge.
Director Martin Campbell adapted Casino Royale from Ian Fleming’s book of the same name (true of many of the Bond films), the first book in Fleming’s twelve-novel series. In James Bond’s first adventure, he meets and falls in love with a woman, but ultimately she returns his affection with nothing more than betrayal. Bond continues from that point on (the early 1950s) with a certain distrust in and distaste for women, a misogynistic view of their holistic use, and a jaded attitude toward love, now proven ephemeral.
Casino Royale represents only one entry into a shift in popular cinema toward realism, or at least a prevalence of certain “realist” tropes; a “gritty realism” obvious in crowd-pleasing movies like Christopher Nolan’s Batman series and Michael Bay’s Transformers series. Despite the appearance of some of these tropes (the “shaky cam” of ‘90s reality TV, the popular desaturated pallette of “contemporary realists” popularized by the limited quality of digital video) in Casino Royale, the film also utilizes another popular idea in current cinema: a trend toward clearer psychological realism. The film explains by way of James Bond’s romantic betrayal the genesis of his inattentive and patronizing attitude toward women.
In two of the above films, Octopussy and Casino Royale, the romance between Bond and his female compatriot occurs less incidentally, less routinely, and with more significance. These romances receive a greater gravity within the story lines of their respective films. The reason for this: the mutual respect between Agent 007 and his femme fatale. In both Octopussy and Casino Royale a standard of respect between the characters forms at their meeting. Bond recognizes in these women the same larger-than-life, super-human, or god-like traits that he sees in himself (speaks to the size of Bond’s ego as well). It seems like an old-fashioned notion, but even James Bond has something to teach us regular guys about gals: respect, respect, respect, ya need it. Every one of Bond’s women seems taken from the same mold, Vesper and Octopussy included, but these two exemplify the greater potential that the role of Bond Girl still holds. After all, the super-sexy, super-capable Bond meeting his female foil creates a powerful cinematic vacuum.