The evolution and significance of
By Anandita Chandra
The man who could be Bond
Born into an affluent family in the wealthy London district of Mayfair, Ian Lancaster Fleming would go on to ‘write the spy story to end all spy stories.’ While awaiting his marriage in the spring of 1952, he started working on his first novel, which he finished in just over a month, on the 18 March 1952. This is the novel that started it all; it paved the way for eleven more novels, it laid the foundations for one of the most celebrated film franchises of all time, and it marked the beginning of the notorious spy's career as Agent 007, it would also go on to be the 21st film in the series. This novel was Casino Royale.
Fleming, a member of the Naval Intelligence Division, used his wartime experiences to flesh out the character’s idiosyncrasies. The British Secret Service Agent- Bond, James Bond, has the style and semblance of his creator and the same tastes in cocktails and cigarettes. However, what they do not share is the fame and popularity. Few know of the Spy-maker, but his influence through James Bond and the franchise as a whole is massive, with 14 novels, 24 official movies, and 27 video games. With an extravagant and extraordinary life to match that of his creation, Fleming, the charming rogue, was the man who would be Bond.
Guns, Gadgets, and Girls
Bond is quintessentially British; so his character is predominantly based off of a typical British baddie- surrounded by blood, bullets, booze and babes. It was never about solving the case, it was about using skill and seduction to save the day, and get the girl. This not-so-subtle hedonistic approach has triggered a number of criticisms, accusing the films of misogyny and sexism. For an espionage genre with a heterosexual, white, uber-masculine male, it comes as no surprise that there is an inherent discrimination in the films and the books which feature the original mélange of violence and sex; classic masculinity married to the media-endorsed concept of the overly sexualized female. The British agent could put the American playboy to shame; Hugh Hefner once described the films as “a Playboy magazine with a gun”. Therefore, accusing the film of misogyny has left no one shaken or stirred.
Making his way in and out of boltholes and bedrooms, 007 has personified the definition of saucy and smooth. From Sean Connery to Daniel Craig, every one of the seven actors bought their own unique suave sophistication to the screen, but nothing could tarnish the Bond mystique. He remains the "Hyper-heterosexual “male- "more masculine, more sexually desirable, and more heterosexual than those around him”. However, while Bond is always Bond, his feminine foils have evolved with the time, each one molded according to what her era believes a woman can do.
The Bond Girl
They say behind every great man, there is a woman. Bond, takes it to a whole other league. Behind 007 stand 77 of the most bold and beautiful women to have ever graced the big screen. Bond girls, as they've come to be known, are extraordinarily independent women equipped with not only the looks, but also the license to kill.
But what makes a Bond Girl?
Ever since Ursula Andress’ Honey Ryder walked out of the ocean 50 years ago in a white bikini (and a tool belt) in Dr. No (one of the most classical scenes is cinematic history) the term Bond girl has stood for a sexually independent and attractive woman with whom 007 shares a certain… bond, or more than a bond. Sometimes she turns out to be evil, most of the times she ends up dead, but she always, leaves an impression.
The fundamental formula of the Bond-Bond girl equation remains constant for almost all the films: the first girl is the friend, pro-Bond. This incredibly beautiful woman would assist 007 as mere passing fancy before she is bumped off by the enemy, preferably in Bond's arms. The next girl is the foe, the Femme Fátale from whom Bond will have to save himself by using his charm and sexual potency. She is irresistibly seductive while Bond is more concerned with survival. The third girl will survive and end the film in Bond's embrace.
Bond keeps his enemies close, but keeps his women closer, because he never knows what a beautiful woman might be hiding up her skirt. Essentially Bond girls are killed off to make way for new Bond girls. Simple.
To Seduce or to Slaughter?
The best Bond Girls
During the pre-production stage of Bond films, the most scrutinized task is the casting of the Bond Girl.
Through the years the most iconic Bond girls were indisputably, Honey Ryder - Dr. No (1962) invented the classic Bond girl image, emerging bikini-clad from Jamaican waters, looking both darling and dangerous.
Jinx - Die Another Day (2002) Honey redux: she paid an obvious homage to Honey Ryder, as Bond first glimpses her as she strolls from the surf (this time Cuban), sporting an orange bikini and holstered knife.
Pussy Galore - Goldfinger (1964) is one of the several femme fatales that Bond seduced into going straight. In 1964 it seemed like a good idea, turning women straight with the male Midas touch.
Xenia Onatopp - Goldeneye (1995) was famous for strangling her victims while, obviously enjoying it.
Jill Masterson - Goldfinger (1964) was literally the Golden girl- death by paint suffocation, an iconic image re-created with crude oil in Quantum of Solace, seducing Bond and the audience even as she is turned literally into an object.
Finally, Tracy Di Vicenzo - On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) who remains the only bond girl Bond marries. But she gets one minute of wedding bliss before she is shot in the head. The film ends with a sobbing 007 cradling his wife’s dead body in his arms, and just like that, the best Bond girl of them all was gone.
What’s in a Name?
“When I wrote the first one in 1953, I wanted Bond to be an extremely dull, uninteresting man to whom things happened; I wanted him to be a blunt instrument ... when I was casting around for a name for my protagonist I thought by God, [James Bond] is the dullest name I ever heard.”
Ian Fleming may have chosen a dull name for his male protagonist, but his female creations have names more notorious than their deaths.
Hilarious, horrendous, and downright hideous, some of the worst (or best) Bond girl names are:
1. Pussy Galore - Goldfinger
2. Octopussy - Octopussy
3. Plenty O’Toole - Diamonds are forever
4. Chew Mee - The man with the golden gun
5. Mary Goodnight - The man with the golden gun
6. Thumper- - Diamonds are forever
7. May Day - A view to kill
8. Kissy Susuki - You only live twice
9. Holly Goodhead - Moonraker
10. Molly Warmflesh - The world is not enough
Fighting, Flirting, Feminism: The Bond Girl Evolution
The enduring mystery of Bond’s bevvy of beauties is how each manage to conform to a stereotype, yet remain utterly unique. A typical Bond girl happily beds Bond almost without any inhibitions, casually, whether or not she actually seems interested in him. A typical bad Bond girl not only has “too much” agency over her own sexuality, but she’s often sexually deviant in ways that threaten the Great White Male order of the world. This trope has remained the same over the 5 decades the franchise has been running, but that being said, many actresses who have played the Bond girl, have been adamant that they were breaking the mould. The evolution of Bond girls is parallel to that of the actor in the titular role.
The Connery Years codified the Bond girl formula both by virtue of being the first and the most formulaic. The Moore Years saw a lot of Bond girls, ranging from the first African-American Bond girl in the Blaxploitation Live and Let Die to the eponymous Octopussy, who is largely only notable for her name. At this stage, a grittier, more realistic old Bond romances a much younger Bond girl. The Dalton Years Bond girls are somewhat just ordinary. Bond seeking revenge for the rape and murder of his friend’s wife is a textbook example of Fridging, where a female character is killed off to fuel the feeling of hatred and vengeance in the male protagonist. The Brosnan Years introduce Dame Judi Dench as ‘M', one of the greatest casting decisions ever made. The bond girls now are on their own, out for revenge, and aid Bond with their skills, but with the added bonuses of actually developing a relationship with Bond organically, even challenging Bond occasionally. The Craig Years sees strong leading woman with no intention of falling for the baby blues, they are independent and ready to fight for their life, which is very different from the usual Bond girl characteristics—submissive, helpless, and accommodating.
Always the Backdrop,
Never the Bond?
Or for male eyes only? The future of Bond Girls
Though most of the movies have a classic sequence—chase scene, shooting scene, find girl, lose girl, fight scene, chase scene, the most riveting aspect was the role of the Bond girl. As the wheels are turning, it is clear that the roles of women in films are revamping. Representation has become a huge regard for characters. These days movies have leading ladies who aren’t afraid to take the shot, speak her mind, or substitute the male lead.
In James Bond, things have clearly improved, but it is not all better. In the most recent Bond film, Spectre (2015) Monica Bellucci is tragically wasted, even after all the positive press over finally having a Bond girl in her fifties.
Former British Prime Minister Theresa May believes that one day there should be a female James Bond. However, Barbara Broccoli, who is in charge of casting 007, argues that Bond is a male character, written as a male and will probably stay as male. Similarly, most actresses who have played the Bond Girl, believe that women deserve better. It would be better to have a female director, or screenwriter for the franchise, rather than turning the character on its head. Specific female characters should be customized for the films. It’s true that the series has a history of blatant sexism and sexual inequality. And it’s also true that the presumptuous, pompous womanizer has been forgiven for far too long and maybe a female Bond is just what the world needs, but will this tokenism be enough?
Why can’t there be original, dynamic and vibrant stories created for fiercely independent female roles, rather than creating female spin-offs that are constantly compared to the male predecessors?
So although Bond has come a long way, there is a long way to go. For the man on her Majesty’s secret service, clearly all the women in the world are not enough, but with 50 years of legacy, and maybe another 50 to go, they will probably never be.