1. 40 Years Of Bond Women

    By The CBn Team on 2002-09-30

    By Barbara K. Emanuele

    Much has been written on CBn’s forums about the prevalence of Jinx in all the print and electronic ads for Die Another Day.   Only recently have we been reminded of the name of the actor who plays Bond.  Forty years after Honey Ryder came out of that clear Caribbean ocean another actress is poised to take the attention off of 007, if only for a moment.  From Ursula Andress to Halle Berry countless women have distracted the audience and Bond from the plot at hand.  Who are these women that the untrained dismiss as mere girls?  They are independent and strong or ingénues about to get a crash course in how cruel the world can be.  They are evil henchwomen and the ladies waiting by the window for that Aston Martin to appear.  We have cheered for them, envied them, rooted for their demise, and yes, even mourned them.  They are, simply, the best sampling of the females of planet Earth that any movie franchise has been able to produce. Since Dr. No’s debut in 1962, we have come to expect that the heirs of Sylvia Trench, Honey Ryder, Miss Taro, and the lovely lady Photographer, will tease and taunt James Bond in some gorgeous location, in a heart stopping moment.   Because of these women, we have expectations of what Jinx will say, what Miranda will do, how the Scorpion Girl will try to foil Bond, and how Moneypenny will once more be going home alone.   To understand why fans have such expectations, we need only look at the first four Bond women, or Bond Girls if you rather, to see the pattern that was established and brilliantly maintained through major social upheaval and cultural revolution.

    If we lived in a cave, and had no idea who Sean Connery is, or that he made a movie called Dr. No, when we watch the Blades scene in that very first Bond movie, we would know that the man sitting at the Baccarat table is a man not to be missed.  James Bond is a man who needs no introduction really.  He walks into a room and by the strength of his will we know he is there.  And yet, we are introduced to Bond, not by another man of equal stature, but by a woman, a very attractive woman, by the name of Trench.  Sylvia Trench.

    It has been argued that the line “Bond, James Bond,” would never have been uttered had Eunice Gayson not introduced herself to the film audience by replying to Bond’s “I admire your courage Miss?”  with “Trench, Sylvia Trench.”  Already we owe Gayson a debt of gratitude for giving us the example of the ultimately cool way to say one’s name, but her contributions do not end there.  Trench sets a two fold standard for the Bond women that followed her:  the independent and sophisticated woman and the “comfort zone” woman.

    By her clothing and carriage, we know that Trench is a woman of independent means.  She can pay her own debts at the card table, (not to mention hold her own against other formidable card players), she dresses in an elegant and timeless manner, and most importantly, she knows what she wants.  Women of the sixties were expected to be demur, quiet, prim and proper.  They would certainly never go to a gentleman’s apartment when he was not there, let alone put on his nightshirt and while waiting for him!  And yet, this is precisely what Trench does, while enjoying a spirited session of practice on her chip shot.  And this is precisely why 007 delays his leaving for Jamaica.  It would not do to have a woman who does not know how to behave in society, but it does do well to have a woman who knows how to bend those rules to her advantage.

    Although Gayson’s association with the Bond series ended with Terrance Young’s, we can still feel Trench’s presence in the women that followed her.  Her pluck at the card table is echoed in Tracy’s insistence on paying her own debts in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and in Ruby’s creative writing exercise in the same film.  Sylvia’s class, style, and most of all bottom line knowledge of what her relationship with Bond will be, is echoed in Cassandra Harris’ portrayal of Lisel in For Your Eyes Only.  The good Doctor Warmflash of The World Is Not Enough certainly learned from Miss Trench how to make the most of her time with Bond.

    Another element to Trench’s influence comes from the fact that she is the original hometown girlfriend.  From her brief appearance in From Russia With Love, (the second Bond film), we come to realize that Sylvia is part of Bond’s comfort zone at home.  Like his lunches in the canteen, his car, and his apartment, Bond can count on Trench to be there for him when he needs her to be.  Their interaction in From Russia With Love, displays a side of Bond that is later repeated in his moments with such lovely ladies as Miss Caruso in Live and Let Die and Professor Bergstrom of Tomorrow Never Dies: Bond enjoys his time in the comfort zone, but will gladly leave these women to return to what is his reality: the mission.  And once he is on the mission, Trench, Caruso and Bergstrom are out of sight and out of mind – until James comes home again, of course.

    Sylvia Trench and her successors are not the main Bond women of the films they appear in.  Trench, Caruso, and Bergstrom appear to give fans a hint of what Bond might be up to, when not saving the world or they appear within his adventure, helping to move the plot along while beautifying the scenery.  But even the main Bond women owe a heavy debt to Trench because she set the standard of what it takes to get Bond’s attention, or should I say, she set up a very reliable way to get his attention.  Another very reliable way to do so is to rise out of a ocean in a bikini, singing to yourself as you clean your shells.

    Most women can only dream of making an exit from the ocean the way Honey Ryder does in Dr. No.  Of all the great iconic images of women from the franchise (Jill Masterson’s golden touch, Melina Havelock’s look of despair, Xenia Onatopp’s creative yoga), Ursula Andress coming out of the Caribbean is the one that fans and filmmakers point to as the defining moment in the history of Bond women.  While I personally think that there have been stronger images of women and their power over Bond, and there have been (frankly) much better looking women, it is Honey’s entrance into Bond history that is being repeated in Die Another Day, a true testimony to the enduring power of that one image.  But a character is not made by an image alone, and Honey Ryder’s influence stretches far behind her walk on the beach.

    Like Sylvia Trench, Honey Ryder is independent.  Honey educated herself, supports herself, and lives by herself.  But unlike Sylvia, Honey is an innocent.  Trench has a worldliness about her that Ryder could never have gotten by reading the encyclopedia.  Nor is she as intelligent or professional as some of the later leading ladies (Holly Goodhead, Pam Bouvier, and Natayla Simonova for example).   What Honey is, is beautiful and useful to Bond.  Honey had a moment or two of hysteria, but when 007 really needed her to, she pulled herself together, and was a decent partner for him.  

    Honey Ryder is a very inviting Bond woman, not only to the men in the audience, but to the women as well.  At the time of the filming of Dr. No, Ms. Andress was a very nicely and realistically shaped woman with excellent proportions.  She was very attractive and alluring, while not being classically beautiful.  Honey Ryder herself is in many ways a very ordinary girl, with an ordinary life, until Bond shows up.  Other “ordinary women” like Stacy Sutton and Natalya Simonova have found their lives changed in the same way as Honey’s was, by the presence of James Bond.  These characters give hope to all women that someone dashing like James Bond may one day see an ordinary woman like us, in the right moment, will spend a few minutes in the sand with us too.

    Yes, Honey is responsible for giving women Bond fans hope, but she is also responsible for an unfortunate trend in the Bond franchise.  Starting with the casting of Ursula Andress and continuing through to the present day, Eon Productions has chosen to cast women who are beautiful while occasionally overlooking their flaws in their craft.  Ms. Andress has become a good actress, but in Dr. No, it is clear as to why she was cast.  That pattern of beauty over brains continued most unfortunately in such leading ladies as Stacy Sutton in A View to a Kill, and Christmas Jones in The World Is Not Enough.  While these ladies no doubt make certain members of the audience happy with their presence, other audience members might be wondering what good actress missed the casting call.

    Luckily however, the casting director always managed to find someone who was beautiful and talented to play the juicy roles of the henchwoman.  The typical Bond henchwoman is bewitchingly beautiful, devious in her demeanor, and always a pleasure to watch.  While not getting as much screen time as her successors such as Mayday in A View to a Kill and Xenia Ontaopp in Goldeneye, Miss Taro created the perfect femme fatale formula that has remained unchanged for forty years.

    For every classy Sylvia, for every ingénue Honey, Bond has bedded two bad girls.  What is there not to be attracted to?  Miss Taro is an agent for a powerful organization, albeit an evil one, so she understands in great measure what life is like in the world of James Bond.   And these women tend to be spitfires.  For example, when Miss Taro learns that she has been tricked, or when Fiona in Thunderball realizes that Bond has not really fallen for her charms, they fight back, and the banter that ensues are some of the best lines in that particular movie.  Who can forget Bond’s line, “Careful of her nails,” a more than fair turnabout on Miss Taro’s earlier protective plea for her poisoned tips, or 007’s classic dumping of Miss Volpe: “Can my friend sit her?  She’s just dead.”  No, the repartee does not usually get better than the dialogue between Bond and his bad women.  Unfortunately for all of us Miss Taro set one more standard that other Bad Bond have followed:  they are expendable to their employers and never make it to the closing credits.

    More unfortunate for us fans of Bond women are the all too brief appearances of what I call the “Plot Moving” Bond women.  The lovely Lady Photographer that harasses Bond and Quarrel at Pussfeller’s Bar was the first in a long line of ladies who, like the main henchwomen of the films, tend to be beautiful and of the evil persuasion, appear in a key scene that forward the plot along, and almost never appear in the second half of the film.  Indeed, the beautiful shutterbug barely has time to call the assembled dinner party a bunch of rats before she is whisked away.  Saida in The Man With a Golden Gun,  Felicca of The Spy Who Loved Me, and The World Is Not Enough’s Cigar Girl, all owe their place in our minds and hearts to the original “Plot Moving” woman, Miss Jamaica 1961, Margaret LeWars Gordon.

    There is one more woman that has had tremendous influence on the series.  While not a henchwoman, or a woman lacking brains, she most definitely is classy, elegant, and independent, can more than hold her own when sparring with Bond, and has even been known to appear at the end of a Bond film now and again.  I am of course referring to the only other woman to have appeared in more than one Bond film playing the same character.  She is Miss Moneypenny, and Caroline Bliss and Samantha Bond owe their success to the talent, charm and grace of Lois Maxwell.

    As clearly evidenced from her appearances in all the Bond films starting with Dr. No and ending with A View to a Kill, Moneypenny, as portrayed by Maxwell, fits perfectly into Bond’s world.  Right from that first night briefing with M, Bond and Moneypenny’s relationship is firmly established by the clever back and forth between Maxell and Sean Connery.  Moneypenny is a greater part of Bond’s comfort zone, more than his hometown girlfriend, because Bond knows he does not have to wine, dine, charm, and bed Moneypenny.  She has that sense of propriety, grace under pressure, and no nonsense attitude that got her the job as M.’s secretary in the first place, while retaining the tiniest bit of flirtation, feminity and playfulness that endears her to 007.  It is Moneypenny’s ability to blend these qualities that makes Bond feel something for Moneypenny that he rarely feels for another woman: respect.

    Though he may hint at it in From Russia With Love,  The Man With a  Golden Gun, and The World Is Not Enough, and she may long for it, as she does in Diamonds Are Forever, The Living Daylights, and Goldeneye, nothing will ever happen between those two, and that is OK, because what Bond and Moneypenny share is something he can find nowhere else: the constant affection of true friendship and admiration.  

    If one was to merely look through forty years of photographs, a casual observer might walk away thinking that Bond loves women, and his only criteria for deciding whom he beds at that moment is her looks.  But we the devoted fans know that Bond’s taste in women is far more developed than that.  Of course beauty is a factor, but there are so many other character traits – class, style, courage, strength, pluck – that inform Bond’s decisions that it is impossible to simply characterize Bond as a lover of beautiful women.  Bond is a lover of women, and the women he loves, starting from the examples set by the actresses in Dr. No, are the definition of woman, herself.

    Works Consulted:
    Greaves, Tim. The Bond Women 007 Style. United Kingdom: 1Shoot Publications, 2002.