One of the highlights of the past year in film terms, was the 50th anniversary of the James Bond francise: who would have thought back in 1962 with the release of ‘Dr No’ that twenty three other Bond adventures would be spawned on to the big screen over the following five decades? Since the legendary Sean Connery defined the iconic role of James Bond on the big screen, many have followed and tried to cement their place as a landmark figure illustrating a ‘contemporary-Bond’ of the times.
These fellow actors include: George Lazenby who only managed to triumph in one Bond-epic which over time has made Bond-fans whished he did more; Roger Moore, who holds the record of being in seven Bond films but still to this day was very ‘hit and miss’ in his portrayal of the character; Timothy Dalton, who brought a more serious and realistic tone to the films similar to Ian Flemings novel character; Pierce Brosnan, who for me, had an unfortunate run due to the unrealistic nature of his films topics (I mean, an ice palace, come on) and last but not least Daniel Craig, who has recently managed to ground the character firmly back in the Bond-esque routes that everyone fell in love with when the franchise begun fifty years ago.
But what is it we love about Bond films? It doesn’t take a radical fan-boy to see that the Bond films constantly recycle their narratives and story-types. Yes, in every film we do have Bond chasing a villain who threatens world domination in one form or another. Yes, we do have an exotic scene where Bond first rendez-vu’s with his ‘Bond Girl’ usually in a sultry scene. Yes, we do have the double crossings of a contact who’s loyalties lie elsewhere.
We constantly see the same recycled pattern of narrative and genre in Bond films and we welcome them with open arms. Why, you ask? Because over the years we have come to accept that the Bond films have created their own identity, they have conformed to their own style and conclusively, they have created their own genre: the Bond genre. Some will disagree and state that the Bond films belong to the action and adventure genre but essentially, over the years they have created their own unique genre: one where they call the shots on the character types, narrative structure and typical situations.
To create your own genre you have to develop the key elements that build up the structures of a genre: typical situations, character types, themes, iconography and settings. This is what defines a genre and over the years the Bond films have conformed to their own way of structuring the genre.
The ‘Bond Girl’ is just as iconic in the Bond films as James Bond himself. From the sultry Honey Ryder in ‘Dr No’ to the mysterious and intriguing Sévérine in ‘Skyfall’, the ‘Bond Girl’ is a traditional character type created by Mr Fleming himself as a counterpart to Bond while on his adventures. The ‘Bond Girl’ belongs nowhere else other than the Bond genre: it could be argued that this is similar to the ‘Icy Blonde’ character type in Hitchcock’s films questioning Hitchcock, not only as an auteur but a genre himself.
The stereotypical villain in a Bond film isn’t a normal villain you’d encounter on any action/adventure film: they each have their own unique feature that represents them as a classic Bond villain. Tee-Hee had claws for hands in ‘Live and Let Die’, Scaramanga had a third nipple in ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ and more contemporary, Le Chiffre’s eye would weep blood in the first of the Daniel Craig adventures, ‘Casino Royale’
Themes of revenge and binary oppositions such as good against evil are common in most films if not all action and adventure films but themes of world domination and empowerment link in with the typical situations often witnessed in a traditional Bond film. Auric Goldfinger wanted to blow up Fort Knox bank making him the richest man in terms of gold in ‘Goldfinger’, Dominic Greene wanted to control Bolivia’s water supply in ‘Quantum of Solace’ and Elektra King wanted to control her fathers oil, killing him in the process to achieve her goal in ‘The World is not Enough’. Power and control are two main themes often toyed with in Bond films when in terms of the villain as it normally turns them into delusional psychopaths who will do anything to achieve what they want.
It also doesn’t take a massive fan-boy to know that each Bond film is primarily set in an exotic and luxurious place, sometimes a city and on occasions an island. Bond films have gained a reputation for being set in foreign locations although the heart of MI6 is based in London, where Bond will at least spend one scene being briefed by his superior M. Part of the films appeal with audience is due to the fantasy nature of the stunning locations used such as Montenegro in ‘Casino Royale’, Jamacia in ‘Dr No’ and Switzerland in ‘On her Majesty’s Secret Service’. As audience members we see these beautiful locations on screen and only wish that we could be taken there.
What are the two things we immediately think off when Bond pops in to our head? For men it will be the Aston Martin DB5 and his trusted Walter PPK; for women it will probably be something different. Two iconic pieces of iconography that over time have generated a reputation of being linked with the Bond franchise. I know when I walk down the street and an Aston Martin drives past me the first thing I think off is Bond’s Aston Martin in ‘Goldfinger’: over time, it’s repeated usage has made it part of defining the Bond films as a genre in their own right.
With the fifty year anniversary of the terrific Bond franchise I think it’s time for a new era of defining the films in terms of genre: all twenty three of the Bond films belong to the Bond genre, not the action and adventure genre. That’s too vague, the Bond genre however is more narrow: we know what to expect, we know that the villain will get his comeuppance, we know that one of the Bond Girl’s will more than likely be killed during the film, we know Bond will use his Walter PPK, we know Bond will be more than likely captured and taken to the villains lair, we know Bond will be double crossed along the way, we know Bond will save the day and yet we still watch such a predictable film, all becuase we want to see a traditional Bond genre film, which we don’t question as each film conforms to the stereotypes it has created itself over the fifty years and as audience members, we have conformed too.
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Something I wanted to do to celebrate the fifty year anniversary of the franchise that rightfully deserves its place in movie history is pin-point my own top ten Bond Girl list. I’ve often looked at other people’s list and thought, where’s such-a-body so here’s my list after looking back on the twenty three films.
10. Solange Dimitrios portrayed by Caterina Murino in ‘Casino Royale’
The first of the Daniel Craig Bond Girls got off to a stunning start riding on a white horse along a beach. Solange defined the Bond Girl of the Craig era: you sleep with Craig’s Bond and you’ll end up dead, no question. Seiously, check out the Bond Girls who slept with Craig’s Bond compared with the ones who didn’t: it’s pretty much signing your own death sentance.
9. Fiona Volpe portrayed by Luciana Paluzzi in ‘Thundrball’
The first Bond Girl villainess was Fiona Volpe and she never seems to get any credit on other top ten Bond Girl lists. Luciana started a trend of deadly Bond Girls, something which has become common in today’s Bond epics. It’s more than likely that at least one of the Bond Girls in a modern Bond film turns out to either be a double agent or a sly-villain. Paluzzi is one of the main reasons to watch ‘Thunderball’
8. Aki portrayed by Akiko Wakabayashi in ‘You Only Live Twice’
Another Bond Girl who dodges praise: was it because she wasn’t the traditional Bond Girl of the era or that her fate is sealed half way in? Aki was one of the best allies and counterparts to Connery’s Bond, probably saving him more times than he saved her (figure of speech). Looking back on the Connery Bond films, ‘You Only Live Twice’ stands out as a classic addition to the franchise: because of Wakabayashi and becuase Roald Dahl wrote the screenplay.
7. Elektra King portrayed by Sophie Marceau in ‘The World is Not Enough’
Elektra is the first independent Bond Girl villainess: she has her own vendetta unlike Volpe and Helga Brandt who were working as pawns in SPECTRE’s game of chess. ‘The World is Not Enough’ is actually the best of Brosnan’s Bond films and part of that praise goes to the double crossing Elektra portrayed by French beauty Sophie Marceau. Sorry love, but you deserved what you got in the end.
6. Sévérine portrayed by Berenice Marlohe in ‘Skyfall’
Sévérine’s on the list becuase she made a lasting impression on me when I left the theatre after watching ‘Skyfall’: considering Marlohe was the most unknown of the big names in the film she pulled of a terrific performance to make herself rememberable. Marlohe’s character is a traditional femme fatale – something they needed to spice the franchise up after the mediocre Bond Girls of ‘Quantum of Solace’ and she will go down in Bond Girl history after having a contemporary memorable scene including a shot-glass.
5. Anya Amasova portrayed by Barbara Bach in ‘The Spy who Loved Me’
Amasova normally finds herself high on the list on best Bond Girls but that is because she is, without question. It was actually a tough call between her and fourth place but Amasova’s only downfall was that she still got caught by the villain after making a statement the entire movie about being independent and just as strong as Bond. That taken into account, Bach still portrayed Amasova with coolness and the character still remains to this day, one of the best written Bond Girls of all time.
4. Melina Havelock portrayed by Carole Bouquet in ‘For Your Eyes Only’
This may anger a few fans but every time I went over the list Melina moved higher and higher and a main reason she’s in forth place, in comparison with Amasova in fifth, is that she never get’s caught by the villain. Like Aki, she probably saves Bond’s life more times than he could for her. Melina is a true independent Bond Girl with her own motives: she wants revenge and she’ll stop at nothing to get it. Wielding a crossbow and hardly showing emotion, Melina proved she was strong and free-willed: the best of Moore’s Bond Girls
3. Honey Ryder portrayed by Ursula Andress in ‘Dr No’
Once again this could anger many fans as Ursula normally cements her place as the number one Bond Girl. Yes, her entrance is iconic in film history but looking at the character as a whole, she isn’t that helpful to Bond in the long-run, getting captured making Bond have to spend his time finding her. This is what nearly knocked Ryder down to fourth place: but then again, she was stunning and that bikini. She can stay at third
2. Teresa Di Vicenzo portrayed by Diana Rigg in ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’
Probably the most cult Bond film of todays day and age stars one of the best Bond Girls of all time. At the beggining Teresa is represented as a melancholic woman on the verge of suicide but as she meets James Bond, she turns into a fighter, helping battle henchmen during the penultimate finale. Of course, she is the only woman to marry Bond, but not to steal his heart, but this sends her too a speedy death which is a shame as the character was a well built modern-female of her time.
1. Vesper Lynd portrayed by Eva Green in ‘Casino Royale’
Yes, the number one spot goes to Vesper Lynd: the first woman (in novel and re-boot of the franchise) to ever steal our heroes heart. The character of Lynd was a Bond Girl that hadn’t really been seen before: she was more complex and dark then your usual Honey Ryder or Pussy Galore with the film being more about her than probably Bond himself. Green herself deserves all the credit for bringing the character to life on screen. The film boosted her career and established her as an interesting actress: chosing specific film roles to challenge herself. The character will remain as one of the best over the years to come, I’m sure, but at least for now, Vesper Lynd reigns as the best Bond Girl of the past fifty years.
Finally, memorable mentions go to Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore, a decision by me that I’m sure will baffle some readers minds wondering why she wasn’t on the top ten list (she was close but each time she kept falling places), Cassandra Harris as Lisl Von Schlaf, Carey Lowell as Pam Bouvier and Maryam d’Abo as Kara Milovy.